T1-5 High-Octane Knowledge Products by a Development Organization

January 29, 2010

Imagine: the top managers and executives of a development-oriented organization are ready to listen to you about KM. They are open to KM but they want to be sure that KM will benefit their organization. They are all busy and although it is difficult to bring them together, you succeeded in scheduling a one-hour slot for a KM activity you will design and execute. What will you do?

I was actually faced with this situation in two instances: a regional inter-governmental organization and a United Nations regional office. What I did then I now call “Zeroing in on High-Octane Knowledge Products”.

Development-oriented organizations are after results and outcomes that are far more complex than those of private corporations. Their stakeholders (the equivalent of “customers” for private corporations) pursue varied interests and agendas, operate at different levels (some are at the community and local level, some are at the national level, and others may be at the bilateral, regional or international level) and wield different types and magnitudes of power (financial clout of donors, regulatory clout of governments, military power of rebels and militias, local monopoly power of dominant businessmen, etc.).

The process I designed and found quite effective proceeded as follows:

  1. Brief lecture (5 minutes): using prepared PowerPoint presentation on what is “knowledge” (assets that enable effective action) and “knowledge management.”
  2. Small-group workshop (20 minutes) on the first question: “List three of your most important stakeholders, and for each one, what important action does your organization want them to do more effectively?” The group outputs are written in large kraft or Manila paper and posted where everyone can read. If there are 5 groups, there will be 15 important stakeholder-actions (duplication can occur across small group outputs).
  3. Voting (5 minutes): Each participant is given a red ball pen and he/she is asked to read all the important stakeholder-action pairs listed by all the groups. He/she selects three which he/she regards as the most important, and writes a red asterisk on each of the three.
  4. Plenary discussion (15 minutes) on the following questions: “Which stakeholder-action pairs garnered the highest votes? Do you agree or disagree? Comments? Did we miss any important stakeholder-action pair?”
  5. Last question followed by plenary discussion (15 minutes): “What knowledge product/service (existing or still to be innovated) of your organization can best support each of the top three stakeholder-action pair?” Those are “high-octane knowledge products” or services the organization is producing or can produce.

The logic follows from the same KM framework discussed in the F Series of my blogs (and the same color-coding also applies).


Identifying high-octane knowledge products

My observations:

  • The workshop illustrates the principle that knowledge enables more effective action, and makes this concrete via the concept of “knowledge product” or “knowledge service.”
  • Best ideas tend to come from the topmost executives, most likely because they are the ones more familiar and concerned with stakeholders in relation to the organization’s strategic objectives.
  • Development organizations often do not directly produce the desired social outcomes they aim for. What they do is to provide products/services to various development actors or stakeholders who produce or contribute to those outcomes. The workshop is a good way to prioritize and identify the greatest social value-adding outputs (or “high-octane knowledge products“) that the organization can produce.
  • The exercise can lead to identifying a high-octane knowledge product/service that the organization is not yet doing, i.e. it can help them set specific targets for R&D or innovation/design of new knowledge products/services.

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T0-5 Estimating the Financial Impact of an Intranet Enhancement

January 15, 2010

One of the purposes of an intranet is to speed of work, including reducing time wasted in hunting for documents and information.

In one of CCLFI’s clients, we developed and installed an intranet enhancement, uploaded documents often needed, and provided users training. CCLFI asked the following questions to the staff members:

Before installation:

  • Approximately what percent of your time do you use every day looking for documents and information in relation to your work? (=T1)

Six months after installation:

  • Approximately what percent of your time do you use every day looking for documents and information in relation to your work? (=T2)
  • Approximately what percent of the hunting time you saved do you attribute to your use of the intranet enhancement? (=f)

If P = total annual payroll, then an estimate of financial impact is (“ave” suffix means “average over all staff”):

Financial Impact of Reduced Hunting Time = P x f x (T2ave – T1ave) pesos per year

Percentage Increase in Productive Time (due to faster retrieval of information using the intranet enhancement) = f x (1 – T1ave)/(1 – T2ave) percent

Cheers!

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T4-5 What Information Input Limits Your Productivity the Most?

January 9, 2010

A question I ask in a two-week sample survey of knowledge workers’ operational issues is: “What needed information, data or document were you unable to locate today, or took you too much time to locate?” The sample survey consists of questions that I ask knowledge workers to spend 5-10 minutes to answer at the end of every working day in a typical two-week period (or 10 working days).

The consolidated list of answers by all knowledge workers in an operating unit is useful information for the knowledge manager. Whatever the set of solutions, the most cost effective ones must be implemented soonest to reduce knowledge workers’ “down time” (or unproductive time wasted while hunting for information they need).

The solution depends on the nature of the missing or difficult-to-find information, data or document. The solution can be one or more of the following:

  • Locate the information and place it in the intranet.
  • Improve the set of keywords used in searching and/or add more tags/keywords in the target document.
  • Use a better search engine (e.g. Google Desktop’s search works more effectively and faster for me than the search in Windows Vista in my laptop).
  • If the information can be generated from an automated or semi-automated business process, ask the software or systems engineer, in coordination with the process owner, to automatically generate the information for you.
  • Place a hard copy of the document within easy reach from where you sit in the office.
  • Annex it to whatever is the working document that always needs that information.
  • Make the document accessible on-line and mandate/authorize data originators to update their respective fields promptly.
  • Cultivate a closer or more trusting relationship with the external institution or person from whom you depend for the needed information, data or document.
  • Adopt protocols in the organization to define the circumstances and procedures whereby anyone who needs information badly or regularly from another unit can call anybody there directly without “going through channels” and other time-consuming bureaucratic steps.
  • Undertake special research to produce the desired quantity, quality and timeliness of information.

    Cheers!

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T2-3 Cues for Product or Service Improvement

December 22, 2009

An inexpensive source of valuable knowledge for product and/or service improvement is customer complaints and customer dissatisfactions. Of course, solving customer complaints or dissatisfactions prevents or reduces loss of customers.

Some customer dissatisfactions are so mild that the customer herself may not be aware of them. Ask a customer for feedback during the initial stages of use; long afterwards, she would have adjusted to the product and forgotten her mild dissatisfaction. Ask “What feature(s) of the product do you like least? Why?” Different features of a product produces different value added for the average customer; least value-adding features offer the best opportunities for product improvement. Non-value adding features could be removed. Two different product features appealing to different customer segments suggest creating two versions of the product that are customized (i.e. more value adding for both) to their respective segments.

Observe if the customer makes improvisations (which can be unconscious) in the product or how she uses it. These little customer improvisations are cues that she perceives a gap in the product’s usefulness.

A bakery company in Japan involves customers (housewives) during all stages of their R&D, from the evolution of the product idea to exploring and testing various options and on to product launching. Of course, if you are one of these housewives it would be natural and expected that you personally promote the product to other customers after product launching!

An indication that a company sees and captures the value of customers’ feedbacks for its R&D is when the R&D unit and the sales or after-sales services (or other frontline or customer-facing unit) is under the same company executive. Otherwise, the flow of feedback information from frontline units to the R&D unit is either absent or inefficient. These two seemingly unrelated departments are actually crucial for value creation by the company. Management guru Peter Drucker said, “Marketing and innovation produce results. All the rest are costs.”

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T5-4 Convince Managers of Benefits of KM

December 13, 2009

Organization M (a real organization) is a network consisting of 15 related professional organizations. The President of Organization M, upon the recommendation of a Board member who understood the value of KM, decided to launch a KM initiative. Organization M functions through (a) a small secretariat of less than 15 staff members, (b) about two dozen technical committees, and (c) several geographically-distributed chapters.

The KM initiative was launched with three KM briefings for: the Board, the secretariat staff and the chairmen of committees and chapters.

Committees and chapters are composed of volunteer professional members who donate their services despite their busy work schedules. Committees have specific technical tasks, such as planning and executing conventions and forums, accreditation, professional journal, awards, professional ethics, etc. Chapters’ work revolves around providing continuing professional education and training for Organization M’s thousands of members.

Committee and chapter chairpersons perform management roles. A well-designed KM initiative can definitely help the work of committees and chapters, but the challenge is to convince committee and chapter chairpersons that KM would be beneficial to their work. When the third KM briefing was scheduled, few chairpersons signed up. They were either too busy or did not appreciate the value of investing their time for KM. To encourage more chairpersons to sign up, we sent the one-page “Invitation to a Conversation about KM” below.


AN INVITATION TO A “CONVERSATION ABOUT KM”

Organization M has engaged a KM consultant to assess secretariat staff, committees’ and chapters’ work processes, and to recommend appropriate KM tools or solutions.

KM can help your Committee or Chapter work in many possible ways:

  • Speed up your work process
  • Shorten duration of meetings or reduce frequency of meetings
  • Enable and facilitate meetings among members who are geographically separated
  • Conveniently monitor activities among committee members
  • Quickly locate needed information
  • Respond to members’ needs more effectively
  • Find out quickly who is most likely to know the solution to a specific question
  • Identify ICT (information and communication technologies) skills gaps among members and missing ICT tools that are holding back the efficiency of your committee work
  • Most pressing information and knowledge gaps that needs to be addressed first
  • Determine which of the above (and other KM issues) should be addressed first.

Our KM consultant would like to invite interested Committee and Chapter Chairs for a “Conversation about KM” so that your Committee/Chapter can avail of the above assistance. One hour invested in this Conversation could be worthwhile for your Committee/Chapter work, and you may also get useful KM tips for enhancing efficiency and effectiveness of your personal professional work.

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T1-4 Convince Board Members on KM in One Hour

December 3, 2009

In September 2005, the Executive Director of STREAMS (an international network of NGOs in water and sanitation, which was one of CCLFI’s partners) asked for our help. STREAMS Board members flew to Manila and are meeting together with an Observer from their major funding sponsor, the Netherlands Government. She asked, can I please convince her Board that KM is important? My time slot was only one hour. And she warned that the Observer is avowedly skeptical of KM!

I did a quick workshop with the Board members, where I asked a series of 3 questions.

I asked the Chairwoman (the CEO of the Water Research Commission of South Africa) Question 1: To an outsider like me, can she please tell me in a few brief sentences what are the valuable development results their network wants to achieve?

I then wrote the key phrases on the whiteboard; the result was 2-3 key outcomes.

We next distributed metacards (similar to Post-Its) and felt pens to the Board members including the Observer. Then I asked them to write down (in short phrases) answers to Question 2: What programs, functions or projects of your network and its members are most important in achieving those development results?

We posted and clustered their answers on the white boards. After about 20 minutes discussion, we picked out a very important function or program. There was much debate what is the “most” important; so we settled for “a very important” program.

I next asked them to write down again in metacards, their answers to Question 3: What skills, information/knowledge, support systems and relationships are most important in implementing this program well?

Again we posted and clustered their answers. We then discussed the results and after about 30 minutes arrived at a priority shortlist of Generator Knowledge Assets or GKAs.

Finally, I concluded, “according to your collective judgement, the successful performance of your organization hinges on how well you manage these few Generator Knowledge Assets.”


Working backwards to identify GKAs

High-Octane KM: Working backwards to identify GKAs


In about one hour, the Board members saw: (a) the importance of KM to their organization, (b) the link between KM and their organization’s goals, and (c) that focused KM can be inexpensive.

Managing only the GKAs is “high-octane KM”. It is “lean and mean” KM.

During coffee break, the Observer approached me and said something to the effect that KM is indeed important.

I maintain that KM initiatives must be driven by the socially (or commercially) valuable outcomes an organization wishes to achieve or contribute to. One way to ensure this is to ask your internal and external customers’ needs and requirements. In other words, KM must be demand-driven, not supply-driven. KM must start with customer needs.

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T4-4 Collect and Re-Use Work Templates

November 25, 2009

Re-using work templates developed by someone who has been efficiently performing a particular task is another inexpensive KM approach. This approach also works very well for shortening learning curves of new recruits.

A work template is a document, code or material that was used in performing a task well and can be re-used to perform other identical or similar tasks. By guiding action, a work template helps perform a task quickly and with fewer mistakes especially by those who are doing the task for the first time:

  • A checklist of things to do or to watch out for
  • A form letter for a type of communication that is repeated many times
  • A spreadsheet to compute something or to summarize something
  • A workshop session guide
  • A step-by-step action guide
  • A successful proposal that can be used as a pattern for drafting future proposals
  • A course outline or course syllabus
  • A well-written report to guide writing of next similar reports
  • Etc.

Knowledge workers (often unconsciously) improvise, re-use and improve work templates as a matter of course. They do these little things to simplify and speed up their work. They do not call what they are doing as “knowledge management” and often they do not recognize that they are creating and reusing valuable “knowledge products.” Nevertheless their intended result is what KM is really aiming for: more effective action.

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T5-3 Motivating Knowledge Workers Need Not be an Expensive Proposition

November 20, 2009

Motivating knowledge workers in KM projects does not have to cost much money. A survey of 22 Asian organizations performing good KM practices (conducted by Asian Productivity Organization) reveal an interesting pattern: they employ various (low-cost) ways to motivate knowledge workers:

  • Rewards and recognition schemes are often used. Airtel in India instituted the Knowledge Dollar (K$) as the unit of performance credit and the Joint President’s and CEO’s Knowledge Management Award. A Learning Award for knowledge transfer and an Enterprise Award for intrapreneurship were established by Unilever Indonesia. Wika in Indonesia instituted ten different awards. The Learning Award resulted in “new enthusiasm for learning, confidence in trainers to conduct sessions, new standards of module development… and preservation of knowledge not captured before.”
  • Infosys uses measurable returns from KM initiatives to demonstrate the benefits and rationale for engaging in KM. Initial positive feedbacks on outputs/benefits of KM were encouraging and provided motivation for the continuing development of KM at Goldsun in Vietnam.
  • At the Department of Health in the Philippines, members of the KM Team through a workshop surfaced their personal talents, passions and life goals and each member clarified how he or she can optimize the conscious convergence between personal and organizational goals.
  • Management of Qian Hu in Singapore designed a mix of informal and formal communication modes to strengthen buy-in from employees and customers. This includes “floor walks”, tea sessions and informal gatherings besides more formal modes such as seminars and focus group discussions.
  • At SCG Paper in Thailand, a balance of virtual interaction and physical or face-to-face meetings is employed. Physical spaces designed for interactions are provided that can foster openness and trust among employees. Similarly, Bank Negara Malaysia redesigned its library environment to make it more reader friendly, using ergonomics furniture and encouraging a more cheerful mood using paintings and appropriate color scheme for walls and furniture.
  • The importance of senior management commitment or executive sponsorship was mentioned in many case studies. In a survey of more than 200 organizations in Thailand this factor was ranked highest among critical success factors for KM. At Siriraj Hospital in Thailand, the CKO (Chief Knowledge Officer) was selected on the basis of commitment, leadership ability and recognition from other staff. Leadership and policy was ranked second in a study in Malaysia of success factors in KM. JTC Corporation’s managers created “a motivational organizational culture characterized by a caring leadership behavior which supports active questioning and allows for mistakes… Employees are thus able to trust each other and to share their opinions about work related issues more freely.”
  • Learning is a win-win activity for employees and the company. CAPCO in Taiwan established an on-line learning program for its employees, the Multimedia Cyber College. It has motivated its employees by including on-line training and certification as part of the employee evaluation and promotion processes.
  • The motivational value of learning through face-to-face interaction in a team or CoP is mentioned in many case studies. Unilever Indonesia, SCG Paper and Siriraj Hospital in Thailand, and SAIT in Korea are examples of organizations that set up and nurture many CoPs. To sustain employee interest in KM activities, Bank Negara Malaysia initiated cross-functional teams, benchmarking projects and study visits or attachments.
  • At SCG Paper, the honor of being a mentor or coach is seen as a motivating element in tacit knowledge transfer processes such as the buddy system, job rotation and cross-functional group activities. Designating functional heads as the knowledge champions and setting up a community of experts were instrumental in gaining buy-in for KM at Airtel. Wika and Bank Indonesia created the role of “begawan” (sage) for mature and experienced mentors.
  • “Praise Ground,” which is an avenue for peer-to-peer public compliments for exemplary KM behavior, is an innovative process at Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology. According to the case study author,
    “A member identifies another employee who has done something worthy to be praised and writes a short, but entertaining note about it on the website. That member, then, identifies still another employee to praise and the process is repeated over and over… The Praise Ground is one of the most popular and most frequently visited website at SAIT. Most, if not all, members at SAIT consider it a great personal honor to be mentioned at the Praise Ground.”

If you wish to read more about these 22 KM case studies which I edited, click here and access the 3rd item in “Downloadable KM e-books”.

KM in Asia

KM in Asia (22 case studies)

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T4-3 Using the Performance Evaluation System for KM

November 18, 2009

A simple tool for increasing the likelihood that employees will perform desired KM behaviors is to incorporate those behaviors into the periodic Performance/Personnel Evaluation System. Personally, I prefer that employees (for example through a briefing) are assisted to understand and appreciate KM and what KM can do for them (see previous blog on “T3-1 Showing a concrete benefit of KM to the knowledge worker”). Demonstrating success of a KM pilot project in a selected unit within the organization is even better. However, a combination of many approaches may be the best approach, whichever is suited to the culture and problem of the organization concerned.

An innovative approach used by SEAMEO INNOTECH in lieu of a generic Performance/Personnel Evaluation System is the individualized Personnel Development Plan whereby each employee, in consultation with his/her superior, commits to take specific actions or duties towards gaining or enhancing specific competencies during an evaluation period. Presently, the management of INNOTECH is considering incorporating the practice and learning of specific KM competencies in the Personnel Development Plan.

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T2-2 Mapping Interests and Power Relations among Stakeholders

November 8, 2009

KM for development-oriented organizations (government agencies, non-government organizations or civil society organizations, non-profit foundations, aid or donor agencies, social enterprises, etc.) is more complex than KM for private corporations. In development-oriented organizations, external KM (or KM to serve stakeholders) must consider the multiplicity of stakeholders and external actors, each with their own different or sometimes conflicting interests and agendas, complex power relations, differences in cultural background, different “knowledges” or epistemological assumptions, etc.

A simple way of quickly grasping the differences in interests and power relations among a group is through a sociogram. Below is a sociogram drawn for the members of the Executive Committee of an ad hoc network consisting of local and national government, non-government, private and academic members.

execom sociogram

The sociogram was constructed after interviewing and iterative discussion/refinement of the diagram with a knowledgeable informant who knows and have worked with everybody in the Executive Committee. The sociogram has two dimensions: extent of informal power/influence and position along an issue or policy dimension, in this case environmental beliefs or ideology. Note the following:

  • The members are generally clumped at the high-power, right-leaning end of the diagram. This means somewhat general agreement and power equality.
  • The widest gaps between any two members show the potential conflicts. An actual conflict can be depicted in red. In the figure the widest gap is more horizontal then vertical, which means that the conflict is more along beliefs than along power differentials.
  • The Chairperson (Person #1) and Vice-Chairperson (Person #2) are more-or-less ideologically at the center of the group, which means that they are in a position to mediate or balance the groups “to the left” and “to the right”. The vertical position is informal power. Note that the Chairperson is at the top: he has both formal and informal power. However, there are two members (Persons #6 and #7) who exert slightly more power than the Vice-Chairman, and they are both “rightists”. Hence, if the Vice-Chairman takes over, he may not be able to play the balancing role because two “rightists” may tend to overpower him.
  • The person with the most extreme position in the group, or the farthest away of everybody else is Person #4. She is the head of a network of local civil society organizations. She is somewhat aligned with Person #3. She is always at odds with Person #7 who is represents a private corporation. The power of Person #7 comes from the fact that this corporation is a major funder of the operations of this group.

Can you see now that a simple sociogram can give you that much insight?

In fact, an ordinary organizational chart tells you very little, namely, only the formal reporting relationships. It shows vice presidents at the same level but we know that in reality, vice presidents are never equally close to the president, and they often have unequal informal power or influence. In fact, it can happen that the secretary to the president is more powerful than any of the vice presidents! Ha ha!

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