knowledge management

Knowledge Repositories. “No one goes there any more; it’s too crowded”

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Yogi Berra: “No one goes there any more; it’s too crowded”

The success of any knowledge repository  within an organization depends (largely) on the information contributed to the system by employees, project teams, communities, departments. However, the truth is that knowledge repositories in most organizations end up rarely being used.

Contribution to knowledge repositories remains minimal — although employees are required to contribute lessons learned to the knowledge repositories and also consult the repository regularly. In reality, with passage of time, as less people use the repository, the information becomes stale and irrelevant — presenting another reason for employees not to use the system. And, not surprisingly, soon the word spreads that  the repository is outdated and does not include the information they are looking for. That reinforces the  famous quite from Yogi Berra: “No one goes there any more; it’s too crowded”

Employees could have gripes that the knowledge repository  is not user friendly, lacks certain features & capabilities. Those are often the right reasons for people not using the knowledge repository but not the real reasons. The real reason is that the knowledge repository is NOT part of the day to day work process of an average employee in the company. it is at the periphery, something that needs to be transacted with ‘after work has been done‘ or during appraisal cycles.

Knowledge Repositories need to be treated like living ecosystems, living things, like a garden with continuous need for tending, monitoring, careful purging and at times a full over haul. Then only will the garden bloom with flowers that provide value to the whole ecosystem.

Till then the adage  “No one goes there any more; it’s too crowded” will continue to hold true for knowledge repositories


Reporting on activities vs problem statements & outcomes

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Recently I was invited to be part of a review meeting for some corporate initiatives. The team members made a presentation that had a list of activities they were doing, the status of those activities & the planned next steps. This presentation would later be made to the senior management as part of a larger change management initiative.

What I observed was that the complete focus of the presentation and the thought process was on “activities they were doing and not on why they were doing what they were doing“. Somehow the purpose of the activities they were doing, the problem statement on what they were trying to solve, what were the business benefits, what outcomes they were looking at, how would the next steps scale or be fed into organizational processes — in short the bigger picture was not at all there.

In my opinion; the aim of reporting, for any change management program initiative, should be to make the message viral and memorable. One of the key success criteria of reporting on change management initiatives should be to make the message reach the corridor & hallway conversations (in a +ve manner). This becomes more important if the presentation & reporting is for senior management who are crucial in propagating the message further.

So, ensure that the first slide of your reporting/presentation is about the bigger picture, problem statement, the why, business benefit, outcomes…. and only then state the activities you are doing for the above. That will make your audience get it — in a dumb proof way and the message can be propagated further without dilution.

If you are not doing that, then reporting (on just activities) is purely for the sake of reporting & all you will hear in the hallways would be: “yeah they seem to be doing something… but..

Why project managers act like a frog in boiling hot water

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Imagine a frog and then imagine a pan of boiling hot water. Now imagine that some crooked mind lifts the frog and puts it in the pan of boiling hot water. What do you think will happen? Yes, the frog will jump straight out of the pan within a faction of a second (if the lid of the pan is not closed).

Now imagine the same frog and a pan with room temperature water. Now imagine an even more crooked mind leaving the frog in that pan and putting that pan on a burner with a slow flame underneath it. What do you think will happen now? Yes, in this case the frog will not jump out but will feel at home in water.

Now, over time, the water in the pan will get warmer. What do you think frog will do? It will feel even more at home; feel happy at the warm water giving it a gentle massage to its skin & legs.

Now the crooked mind increases the flame and slowly the water starts getting warmer & warmer and then hot. What do you think the frog will do? As the water gets warmer, it will feel happier but it will not be able to realize when the water has become too uncomfortable for its own good. As the flame gets bigger underneath & water gets boiling hot, the frog will have lost all the energy in its legs to jump out. Its mind will tell to bail out but there won’t be any energy left in the frog and it will continue to be in the pan and face a slow death…

So, what has this got to do with project management & project managers?

Well, analyze carefully and you will realize that there is not much difference between a frog & the most project managers. There is also not much difference between the pan (with water) & the project environment. Most project managers, if asked to take over a project in between, would know how ‘hot or cold’ it is and then take appropriate action. This is just like the frog being put in hot water and it taking immediate action.

However, what most project managers don’t realize the 2nd scenario they land up in — where they start with water at room temperature & the water gets warmer at first and with the flame getting bigger over time the temperature under the collar gets soaring. At the start of the project, just like the water in the pan at room temperature, things look perfectly in control for the PM – a small team, key members staffed, not much confusion.
Things remain fine for some more time (till the water is warmer) but somewhere down the line things just implode and before the PM realizes things have gone out of hand (water is too hot, in the pan, for the frog to take any action). There are quality issues, builds are failing, customer is dis-satisfied, the team is unhappy & clueless, senior management is watching with eagle eyes, your family life is ruined and while driving to office you wonder how things came to be where they are today…
You wonder how & when that excellent Tech-Lead became a bottleneck & the go-to person for even small things – such as from where to setup the development environment or which version of IDE to be used with what plugins — you wonder why the leads are spending more time in answering routine questions & forwarding emails rather than doing their actual work. You wonder why the testing team doesn’t have access to the latest requirements in order to prepare the test cases. You wonder why the same question is being asked and answered a gzillion times. You wonder why customer wants you to resend the status update report of last month. You wonder when this project will end..!!!!

The fact is that we don’t realize or observe or are blind to the small changes happening around us and the long term impact of these small changes. Many downstream issues are caused by our inability  to react to significant changes that occur gradually. And in today’s era, nobody pays attention to anything ‘small’ unless it is on fire or priority#1. Everybody loves a hero – a person who turns around a losing situation into a winning one (organizations reward people who get troubled projects back on track but not necessarily those who avoid trouble and go unnoticed.) Because changes (from room temperature to warm to hot to boiling hot) happen so slowly that they go unnoticed and you are then left to wonder where and when things went wrong.

The irony is that it is not just first time PM’s who fall for this. Experienced PM’s also fall into this over & over again and then blame the ‘system’. Great PM’s foresee & preempt the ‘upcoming changes’ and plan accordingly. They plan like good chess players – several moves in advance and multiple scenarios. They manage the environment of the project accordingly to prevent the effects of ‘global warming’ within the project. Such PM’s ensure satisfied customers, happy people and predictable outcomes.

So, how can PM’s foresee & preempt the ‘upcoming small changes’ and prepare well? What can they do?  That’s for another post 🙂

iKAMP, a BarCamp for Innovation & Knowledge Management | 9th July 2011 | Bangalore Whitefield

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iKamp BarCamp MindTree unconferenceThe innovation & KM unconference is being planned for the 9th July 2011 in Bangalore on the 9th July 2011 @ MindTree Ltd Campus in Whitefield.

This will be a gathering of  practicing KM & Innovation professionals for discussing topics that are important to KM & Innovation professionals and get insights from fellow colleagues in an informal environment.
In true unconference style, there will be no KeyNote speakers or Chief Guests. All topics to be decided by the participants themselves. So everybody is requested to actively take part by contributing to the event wiki with your ideas!

The list of suggested topics to be discussed is quite interesting & relevant for the innovation & KM professionals.

  • Why KM alone will not work. KM need’s to collaborate better with other departments KM Systems.
  • Why “build it and they will come” doesn’t work
  • Compliance or Adoption: Key to success of KM
  • Everyone, including their Mother-in-law & their dog has an opinion on KM/Innovation. Challenges for KM/Innovation professionals
  • Social/Web2.0 Systems & approaches to KM & Innovation. Have they delivered?
  • Boot-strapping KM & Innovation within organizations without formal mandates
  • Future of KM/Innovation professionals. Is there any; beyond content management?
  • Reality Check: The organization cares two hoot about KM and is just a ‘nice to have’ function
  • Communities: In the age of internet & google, what’s the advantage of communities within organizations
  • KM for Project Delivery & Large Accounts
  • Innovation 101. What are we talking here? Innovation in IT Services business? You must be joking

More details here on this barcamp wiki page

Google Map for the MindTree Office

What do you want? User adoption or compliance?

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I believe that successful KM initiatives & professionals pay a great deal of importance to the change management aspects. If, there is one place where “build it and they will come” doesn’t work, it is KM. After all, users are tuned to a way or working and majority of them would resist any kind of change. It’s a natural reaction and for various reasons a very tricky area to deal with.

Now to counter this tricky area of change management, KM initiatives/professionals rely on approaches which could be counter-productive to what their intentions are. Once such approach, that is commonly adopted is the “top down” mandated approach. On the surface of it, this looks simple, obvious, fast, scalable, logical and the most powerful approach that one can envision. What could be better than the top most management sending out a ‘memo’ asking people to do things a certain way.

I have seen this approach and have observed that this works best when you need ‘compliance’. Areas such as ‘time sheet entry’, ‘filing expenses’ etc are best suited for this approach. Anything transactional can be rolled out on a mass scale using this approach.

The issue arises when you try & roll out KM initiatives with this compliance driven/top-down method. Chances are that more often than not this will not yield the desired results and one can get in a vicious cycle of asking for more ‘top down compliance support’. This can frustrate the hell out of people who are leading these change management initiatives as they can’t fathom why on earth the seemingly obvious method of top down/compliance driven approach is not working.

We all know the results of a top down approach that mandates submission of 2 documents to the knowledge repository every quarter by each employee. On the last week of the quarter you will have a deluge of submissions and most of them would be not worth the bytes contained in them.

On the other hand, KM initiatives/professionals that rely on the adoption approach have greater chances of success. On the surface of it, the adoption approach looks to be an insurmountable obstacle but with patience & a long view of time this can be achieved. Adoption happens when people ‘buy into’ things and not because they are being ‘told to do so’.  Adoption happens because people see that things actually help them, appeal to them on an emotive/cognitive wavelength. Adoption happens when people, who we trust, tell us that it is good, they are using it & it makes sense. Adoption happens ‘through’ people… (We adopted facebook, twitter etc using these principles of adoption.)

The key to adoption approach also lies in finding the right set of people, who you will work with initially. They are going to be your evangelist and believe me they will be like customers who “tell 1 more person, at best, if they satisfied and will tell 100 people if they are not satisfied”.  Starting the process of adoption is slow and takes time. However the growth over time can be exponential and usually has a more stable foundation which is not only dependent on ‘top down’ directives. Adoption approach is akin to trying to move a heavy flywheel… lots of effort & commitment is required initially to even move the flywheel but as the revolutions go by the speed increases and over time the flywheel literally moves on an auto-pilot mode.

I have also observed that a combination of adoption (at a macro level) & top-down (at a micro level) also works in several circumstances. The key is in knowing which one to use when and for what. And that’s comes from experience & losing your hair over the years 🙂

Compliance is best achieved through systems & adoption is best achieved through people. So, if you need compliance of initiatives then build systems that monitor themselves for the compliance automatically. However; if you need adoption then be prepared for the long haul & work with people

How to best make use of your organizations social computing platform

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Should you use your organizations social networking platform just like you use Facebook with your friends? Should you micro-blog the same way as you do on Twitter?

Maybe NOT.!!!
The purpose of social networking platforms within the enterprise are very different from the personal ones (the ones we use outside of work) — even if they look and feel the same. Social platforms within the organization are there to support the work of the organization and not to let individual employees do and say whatever they want.

So, what can you use corporate social networking platform for?
As part of your day-to-day work, you can micro-blog about the tasks and projects you are working on (subject to IP clauses), blog your views on various topics; you can bookmark the online links & resources you find useful; when stuck, you can ask questions to the communities for help, share documents etc.
This way, your digital footprints on the platform will become searchable, findable, and reference-able; helping people know what you are working on and in process make your existence and expertise better known throughout the organization, and benefit the organization as a whole.
This will let others discover what you know and what you’re good at. It will make you easier to find and increases the chances of you being a helpful colleague to someone. You can use the social platform to build relationships by adding value, being relevant — thereby fostering trust and respect; eventually helping in forge lasting connections.
Do all this on your organizations social computing platform and it will help build your personal reputation and brand.

What you should avoid

  • Don’t talk about what you had for lunch or how the food in cafeteria sucks!!!. We all know that 🙂
  • Don’t make personal attacks on people. It’s ok & perfectly acceptable to have difference of opinion and debates. But do those in a civil manner – without making personal attacks. 
  • Don’t discuss sex, politics, or religion. In an organizational context, these are taboo topics and it’s just too easy to upset people and start nasty, pointless fights on these subjects.
  • Be overly negative & cynical. Yes, there can be 1000 things that are not correct in the organization but try not to post/comment ONLY the –ve aspects. You can also look at the glass half full & then make +ve suggestions for improvement.

Social Memory | Conversations are as important as the content itself

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Traditional content systems focus only the ‘creation’ aspect of the content and this is achieved through individual contributions or through collaborative efforts.
With the advent of Social Software – like Blogs, Artifacts, Q&A, Bookmarks and any ‘knowledge object’, apart from building value through collaboration one can build value through leveraging the individual actions around those knowledge objects and build a long term social memory.

Such individual actions are of low engagement and, individually, on a standalone basis they have little vale but the aggregation of these add up to lot more value  — like the ‘long tail’ phenomenon.

Social Software gives people the ‘choice’ to move between low engagement to high engagement depending on their interest levels and time. For example for a particular artifact or a category of artifact person A may choose to be just content with reading, subscribing or adding tags but at a different time & for a different category of artifact the same person may choose to refactor, comment, collaborate and have high levels of engagement.

The power that social software brings about is ‘providing the choice’ to the people to do all this and in the process making the conversation around the content as important as the content itself.