Sunday, February 19, 2006

Decision Styles Revisited

Cast your mind back to a previous post on the variability of decisions styles as compared to organisational seniority. Well those wacky folk at Decision Dynamics have published evidence in the Feb 2006 Harvard Business Review pretty much saying the same thing.

Only with actual data & proof.

Also check out the interesting distinction between private & public decision styles of senior execs.

A fourth metaphor

KM databases as dustbins.

Sometimes it's true. Database managers are dustmen. Users are scavengers. And content. Well, your content is...

KM & Learning: a match made in heaven?

Based on a question asked by Kaye Vivian on ACT-KM.

Having worked in this group for over 3 years I will make some observations:
- The training/learning/education space has been going through some changes. Traditionally, its methods were classroom training & textbooks. And its focus was around role-based skills development with side orders of career development & compliance (esp. in heavy industry & then financial services). Then in the 90s, computer-based training or eLearning became big news.
- However, most of those involved in learning have a shameful secret. We know that most learning does not occur within classrooms - but rather on the job. Coaching & mentoring programs can help here but increasingly they are looking to knowledge management for support around "just in time" learning programs.
- Some do claim that KM should be owned by learning. If the organisation perceives KM as primarily being a technical fix (e.g. a database or a portal) then the neglected "people" side of KM may be open to this.
- The actual ability of the learning function to take this on will be varied. People tend to fall back on what they know and if you are a fantastic workshop facilitator or a great instructional designer then nuturing a community of practice or running lessons learned activities can be an alien experience. The tensions between JIT Learning & prescriptive curricula are also becoming apparent.
- Most organisations manage where the cost goes rather than where the value is added. Training & education budgets tend to cost several times that of a KM program - so KM may end up a poor cousin.
- There is a lot of value to be had in linking F2F training with Community of Practice development and integrating eLearning with other content-based approaches to KM.

KM people have a lot to learn about the presentation/packaging/facilitation from the training community. In turn, trainers can gain a far broader insight into the lifecycle of learning & knowledge from KM folk.

I know of other organisations where these discussions are happening - e.g. a sales CoP at Roche Australia is being established by an eLearning expert.

A joint event around "Social Learning & Collaboration" is being planned between the eLearning Network of Australasia and various regional Aussie & Kiwi KM groups for the second half of this year. Stay tuned.

NSW KM Forum March Event - Karl-Erik Sveiby & Euan Semple

Treading Lightly - The Hidden wisdom of the World's Oldest People - Karl-Erik Sveiby, Professor in Knowledge Management, Hanken Business School

Followed by

Social Computing For The Business World - Euan Semple, Head of Knowledge Management, BBC

WHAT: Karl-Erik asked Tex: 'What is the word for knowledge in your Aboriginal language?' 'We don't have a word for it,' Tex replied. Tex is a Nhunggabarra man, painter and storyteller from northwestern New South Wales in Australia and Karl-Erik is a Swedish professor in knowledge management who currently lives in Finland. This was the first time they had met, and Tex's answer was so unexpected and so intriguing that Karl-Erik immediately became interested in learning more about the Nhunggabarra Aboriginal people. Karl-Erik was quite surprised when it turned out that the Nhunggabarra principles for organising society were context-specific leadership and knowledge-based organising; everyone in society had a leadership role in a specific area of knowledge and the leader role shifted depending on the context and who was the most knowledgeable.

WHO: Karl-Erik Sveiby is often described as one of the "founding fathers" of Knowledge Management. In 1986 he published his first book in Sweden, in which he explored how to manage "Knowledge Companies". His 12th book "Treading Lightly" is a celebration of, and a thank you to, Australia, the country where he lived nine years till 2004. It is a story about the oldest sustainable society on Earth and how they created value from their intangible assets. He is currently based in Helsinki, Finland where he is Professor in Knowledge Management at Hanken Business School. He is also Honorary Professor at Macquarie Graduate School of Management in Sydney, Griffith School of Management, Brisbane and Polytechnic University, HongKong.

WHAT: The internet enables "globally distributed, near instant, person to person conversations" - are you enabling such conversations inside your organisation? Are you interested in helping your people find each other, learn from each other and to use these connections to improve your efficiency and increase your ability to innovate.

WHO: In addition to 21 years culminating in a senior position in the BBC, Euan Semple has four years of unparalleled experience learning how to make the most of this wired-up world of work and how businesses can prepare themselves for the challenges and the opportunities they represent. He is highly connected to the most influential movers and shakers of this new environment and his workshops, which have often been described as inspirational, have already been experienced by many diverse audiences worldwide.

WHEN: 5.30 for 6pm Tuesday 7th March

WHERE: Standards Australia, 286 Sussex Street, Sydney NSW 2000.

HOW MUCH: Free! If you plan to attend, please RSVP by e-mail to:

To Summarise

3. And finally... The Warehouse

If you have knowledge workers then they must make and ship knowledge (or so the manufacturing analogy goes). So they need parts to do that - which they get from the stores (after all, there are plenty of data warehouses) to assemble into product. And these parts need to be stored somewhere.

The part of this metaphor that is often forgotten is that inventory depreciates over time. The goal of many organisations is to carry as little physical inventory as possible. The lifecycle for documented experience is rarely considered. We talk about knowledge assets - over what period of time do you depreciate a knowledge asset?

(Now several folk have promoted Just In Time KM in various forms - incl. Tom Davenport & Dave Snowden. One question I would put to them is: JIT supply chains are efficient (& effective) but fragile - if the flow of materials & information in them is broken then there is no inventory to pad this out. Are such JIT KM approaches similarly fragile?)

In manufacturing your parts belong to a bill of materials that make up specific products. Documented experience rarely fits together like this. Without this bill of materials it is difficult to see how individual artifacts relate to each other.

2. The Bank

This one is a little less intuitive than the library but still common. Put your intellectual capital in a knowledge bank just as you would put your financial capital in a bank. This metaphor has two parts: i. safety & ii. growth. You don't want to leave your capital hidden under your bed where mice or thieves can get at it. Put it in the bank and not only get peace of mind but a healthy rate of interest as well.

Managers have a perpetual fear of their key people walking out of the door and taking their knowledge with them. The KM database as bank calms this fear. It also equates knowledge with value - which was an exciting idea in the 90s when KM databases became popular. Whatever it may be, knowledge isn't the same as money. But the bank metaphor does provide some food for thought. The reason a bank can offer interest on deposits is that it loans out your capital to others at higher rates of interest - or invests them in some other fashion. Very few owners of KM databases sort to actively reinvest their intellectual capital elsewhere to generate additional value.

1. The Library

The library has long been associated with learning & information. Until the 90s this largely meant printed matter – papers, journals & especially books. In linking a KM database to a library the inference is clear: Just a library is a repository of human experience made accessible, so the database contains the experience of that particular organisation made accessible.

One aspect of libraries that is elided in this comparison is the importance of human interfaces. Most libraries have reference desks & front-of-house staff to assist users. These librarians must have a good knowledge of their collection plus the interviewing skills to find out what people want.

The metaphor breaks down when the relationship between users & content is examined. In most libraries, the content is owned by the library and the user borrows it and returns it unaltered. Writers & readers are clearly separate groups. In a KM database, the user may also be a creator. You would hope that users improve & update content to keep it fresh – writing comments in a library book is bad but this ain’t necessarily the case for project methodology. In short the library metaphor stresses a unidirectional flow between content and user.

KM Databases

If George Lakoff is correct that the primary human tool for understanding the world is the metaphor then knowing the uses and limits of the three metaphors that individuals and organisations use to understand KM databases is important.

I would like to suugest that these are:
- Database as library
- Database as bank
- Database as warehouse

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Subject Matter Experts (2)

There was one critical area I forgot to discuss in the last post: SME availability.

If your expert is good & their subject is in demand then you can guarantee they will face a million calls on their time - of which yours will be just one. So how do you avoid getting sidelined?

Some suggestions:

Agree with the project sponsor upfront how much SME time you will need & when in the project you will need it. If you are an external provider, get it written into the contract.

Remember that you will need SMEs to check the final outputs as well as for initial information gathering. Do not be stingy in time allocation for this as it will take longer than most expect & will almost certainly be subject to cuts.

The best way to get an SME's attention is to lock them in a room with an instructional designer and their mobile phone turned off. If the SME & the design team a re not co-located then expect to double or triple your allocated development time. If they are not in the same time zone then increase it by 5.

You may have to "sell" the development project to the SME. Take time to understand what motivates them and link this to your training development project. Motivators can include:
1. "I understand that a lot of yout time is taken up with answering simple questions & providing informal training. Invest your time in this project and we can reduce the time you spend on the simple stuff so you can focus on things that are more interesting"
2. "This project will raise your profile within the organisation"
3. "Here's some money" (works with external SMEs)

Know who the SME reports to. If it's your project sponsor - fantastic! If not, you not only have to know what motivates your SME but also what motivates their manager - and have a benefits case for them as well.

Be flexible. If your SME can only spare 3 hours on a Sunday morning then you may have to go with that.

Do not overload your SME with tasks that could be done by someone else - and do not allow them to take on those tasks if they are under pressure. If you can only get an hour of their time then they shouldn't be spending half of that spellchecking.

Often it's all about negotiation (see the reference below for Getting to Yes).

Subject Matter Experts (1)

Adam Shapiro from MCQI posted the following question on ElNet about working with subject matter experts for training materials development.

Having had some discussion of the role of subject matter experts, I'd be interested in hearing your strategies for ensuring that you get the best value out of your SMEs. I don't mean how do you flog them into a work frenzy, but rather, what are your strategies for ensuring that:

1. You have a good SME who knows their stuff to begin with;
2. You create an environment in which they can contribute to the best of their ability.

Also, what do you do when 2 SME's disagree and you're the piggy in the middle?

Just addressing the first question, a lot of this depends on the nature of the subject matter.

If it's widely understood, well documented & stable then finding an SME shouldn't be too difficult & neither should getting their work checked.

You will face more challenges if the subject:
- Is a niche area.
- Has a small or non-existent literature.
- Is changing rapidly.
- Has several divergent (& mutually hostile) approaches.

Some comments:

Trust & personal recommendation can play a key role. Is this person respected by their peers & by your colleagues?

Who is the ultimate decision-maker / stakeholder - i.e. who is paying for course development? What are their opinions of the SME or the SME's approach? And what does the SME think of them? Ideally, these two should be aligned.

Most experts have egos. These need handling. Some think their expertise expands beyond their actual domain areas - into things such as instructional design. How much you massage these egos vs. battle with them is a moot point. Establishing your own credentials as an SME in your space is crucial. Getting to Yes & Dealing with People You Can't Stand have some useful things to say here.

Some SMEs are highly articulate. Others seem to spout pure gibberish. Your own interviewing & communication skills will be therefore be crucial.

A final word about scope & audience: Pitching material at the right level of understanding is a fine art. If you are unclear about the needs of your audience then do not expect to get the best out of your SME.

Ideally your expert will be well-respected, modest & a good communicator (and I have been blessed with those). But do not rely on this.

Regarding Piggy-in-the-Middle. The critical thing is to get out of being in the middle. Depending on context you can:
- Lock them in a room until they come up with a single point of view.
- Present both points of view in the final deliverable.
- Get the key stakeholder to make the final call (if it's a major content point).
- Agree an objective criteria for deciding between the two.

Do not let them wage proxy wars through you or slip through changes on the sly. After many painful experiences I have learnt that you can never avoid conflict, only delay it.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Maister Plan

Ross has drawn by attention to David Maister's web site. Several of my colleagues hold him in awe as the consultant's consultant so I rushed to check out the site. And it's a delight. DM seems to have taken up blogging & podcasting, he "gets" RSS, there are articles, seminar handouts & videos. The content itself is rock solid - including an article with the title "Marketing is a conversation"...