Managing Knowledge on Slack 2.0

SummarySlack Logo

The proliferation of Slack into the work place has been just amazing. While the jury is still out whether Slack can replace emails, however there is no questioning the important place it has come to occupy when it comes to communication and collaboration in several businesses. While Slack has many advantages as compared to previous enterprise messaging and collaboration tools, however managing knowledge on Slack is still a challenge. This article explores the importance of knowledge management on Slack, some of the challenges and why we need a tool that has been specifically built for Slack to actually enable knowledge management on Slack.

Introduction

We are all in love with Slack. Slack has over 4 million users now and continues to grow at a rapid pace, turning the enterprise communication industry on its head. A survey conducted by Hiten Shah of CrazyEgg in 2015 reveals the reasons why people use Slack – the significant ones being reduction in email volume, better interface and lots of Integrations.

Slack wasn’t the first messenger service that entered the enterprise arena. Yammer, Lync, and HipChat are some of the other chat and messaging services for business and enterprise.

Slack User Growth

Slack has a few unusual features that make it perfectly suited for work, including automatic archiving of all your interactions, a good search engine and the ability to work across just about every device you use. Another reason is that Slack is fun to use. Part of this is the helpful Slackbot that guides users and provides assistance with a playful, yet helpful personality as well as the myriad of other bots that are available to add in. Besides Slack also brings a feeling of intimacy with co-workers on the other side of the country.

When email just started out it was still a luxury; not many organizations had email. Over time, it has become an indispensable means of communication. Team messaging is heading in the same direction, and as they take the center stage in business communication, other enterprise tools too need to adjust and build on the new workplace normal. One such tool is knowledge management: how we capture, organize and share knowledge within teams.

Should We Care About Knowledge Management in a Slack Setting?

As a recent report from the Society of Marketing Professionals (SMPS) notes, as we “transition from the Information Age to the Knowledge Era . . . continued training of both marketing and technical staff is vital to a firm’s longevity. So while ignorance may be bliss, knowledge is indeed power.”

Knowledge sharing is probably the most common type of interruption at any company. Team members frequently have to share their knowledge with other team members. This is where it can become quite costly, certainly in terms of employee productivity. A lot of companies don’t have a robust enough process and lose knowledge when employees move on or change roles. They lose their team’s deep smarts: the skills and know-how that have taken a lot of time and effort to cultivate. The cost of this loss is high.

Email, by design, has an inherent filter built into it. To put something down in an email and send it out to people (and have it stay in their inboxes), it had to be sufficiently important. By contrast, chat-based tools such as Slack simply do away with this filter. While this may result in more noise, but it also results in higher conversations, more sharing of data and files. With a more intimate team more conversations can happen in channels, which anyone on the team can join. Those conversations in Slack are what create that magical sense of “ambient awareness” of what’s happening, as well as an archive of organizational knowledge over time. Hence an increasing need to better capture, organize and share all this knowledge.

Challenges of managing knowledge in Slack

Slack uses a product architecture that is based on streams of data ordered by time. That means, by essence, things will get lost as new stuff comes up in an endless waterfall of information. For group chatting and social networking, this is extremely useful. But, for managing knowledge and making it accessible, could become a nightmare

Here are some of the reasons why managing knowledge on Slack can be a challenge:

Information Overload

New knowledge is organically created and shared everyday on Slack, but it quickly moves out of sight in the constant stream of new updates. This sometimes makes it challenging to find, record and share that fleeting knowledge.

Take one look at any team’s Slack channel, and you’ll find people having casual conversations, sharing everything that they would share in an email, including pieces of information that they want their co-workers to have easy access to (like in an email where you bolden or italicize parts that need their attention) – An important link, a piece of code that needs feedback, a file that needs to be viewed, a process document, an important topic that needs discussion. Since Slack is moving fast, most of these pieces of information or knowledge, are lost in the thread.

Users shouldn’t have to always be there just so that they don’t miss out on the important things shared. The chat history becomes way too big for users to mine all the important things they’ve missed out on.

Repetitive Questions

A challenge that several teams face with Slack is repetitive questions that clutter Slack channels. For team members, repetitive questions are annoying and reduce their productivity. Slack is great to preserve conversations but not so for finding answers.

Search

Search in Slack is actually pretty good. Not only is Slack good at retrieving past messages and conversations, but anything that is linked to in Slack or attached as shared objects (text related or with text metadata) in Slack all become searchable. The challenge here is not the search engine itself but the fact since the platform generates so much conversation, getting to the right knowledge actually takes a lot of time. Also, finding related threads and discussions across channels can be cumbersome in search when different terms (synonyms / fungible technical terms) are being used, even if search is good.

There are also situations where you know a specific person uploaded a file but you can’t remember what it was called, or someone talked about a particular subject but you can’t remember who. This makes the information particularly hard to find using Slack’s existing search, and the information gets lost in the ‘noise’ of the channel. This problem is compounded by the high numbers of messages that Slack processes.

Slack Search

Analytics

It’s often hard to find specific things (documents especially) and even harder to aggregate bits of information to make sense of what’s going on in the environment. Slack way to unlock what’s going on at a “higher level”, aggregating conversational data to find trends that would go unnoticed at a lower level and remain lost in the noise of the conversation.

An important feature of knowledge management is to elicit not just the explicit knowledge shared by people but also the tacit knowledge that can be built by analyzing user behavior and actions. This can be immensely beneficial for organizations to improve their productivity.

Knowledge Management framework

We can apply the model of knowledge activities based on Probst’s building blocks of knowledge management (Probst 2002) to understand how Slack plays a role with respect to a knowledge management framework.

Probst KM building blocks

Probst knowledge activities

If we focus on the application of knowledge within the activities of business process, we see that:

Knowledge generation

Knowledge generation can happen:

  • Internally i.e. knowledge is created within the organization by employees or
  • Externally i.e. knowledge is created together with partners or customers

And knowledge generation includes both creation of new knowledge as well as construction of existing knowledge. Slack does really well in generating knowledge, especially given the collaborative processes of knowledge building.

Knowledge transfer

Knowledge Transfer is basically sharing of knowledge which also happens on Slack but with its own limitations. E.g.  although knowledge in Slack channels can be searched but those in Direct Messages can get lost. Similarly sharing knowledge with external audience, e.g. with customers or channel partners, can be a challenge.

Knowledge organization

The organization of knowledge is building the relevant metadata and taxonomies so that its categorization and access can be improved and secured. The only knowledge organization we can do in Slack is associating it with different channels.

Knowledge Saving

Although Slack maintains a log of all conversations but the possibility to distribute this or refine or perform any intelligent operations on it is not possible.

Does this mean Knowledge Management Cannot Happen on Slack?

Absolutely not. Slack cannot do everything for everyone. And this is why they have created an app marketplace to allow others to build applications that plugs these gaps. Slack’s API’s are also very well documented and they actively support the community in developing helpful extensions to the Slack environment.

The early adopters of Slack were developers, and we can take some cue from them on how they managed their knowledge. The organization of conversation into channels combined with integration of tools such as Trello, GitHub, SVN etc. really helped to efficiently access the needed information and reduce redundancies.

These tools helped users to identify relevant or needed knowledge, follow the progress of a task or project and being aware of dependencies or responsibilities by providing notifications for the tool itself. In fact integration of these tools increased awareness about what the other is doing and what is expected from one, because there is more synchronization and each time for example a card moves in Trello, users get a notification. At KnoBis, we use Trello a lot and the Trello integration has been incredibly useful to us. It automatically posts to our #engineering channel every time a team member adds an update to product backlog board.

This way, Slack included the identification of knowledge, which was stored elsewhere. Slack is used as a central contact point to summarize knowledge that existed on other platforms.

As Slack extends usage to other cross functional teams, there becomes a need for a broader knowledge management system to enable similar knowledge sharing and capturing

Knowledge Management for Slack needs to be thought differently

Slack’s features and uniqueness, which of course makes it more popular, also means that knowledge management for Slack needs to be thought differently. Most existing knowledge base softwares were developed before the era of enterprise messaging and aren’t able to latch on to the uniqueness provided by these platforms, such as:

Conversations as Knowledge

More often than not, knowledge in Slack gets built as casual conversations and not necessarily long form rich text articles or documents. With conversations, the context and history is there to be seen and can be incredibly valuable for someone to understand the background. This is very different from traditional systems, which approached knowledge mostly as rich text articles.

Introduction of Bots

While bots have long lived in the quieter corners of the Internet, Slack is pushing it into the mainstream. Bots are great at making sense out of lots of different types of information (schedules, meeting notes, documents, notifications from other business applications), and making all of that data more useful by allowing people to interact with it like they would in a conversation with a person.

Slack bots range from the obvious—bots for recognizing good work, posting photos, translating text—to the utterly inane, like playing poker. Another tells you who’s talking too much, seemingly to shut them up. There’s one to notify you each time your startup is mentioned somewhere online, streamlining that whole wasting time on the Internet thing. They absolutely can save you time.

This of course presents a very exciting opportunity for knowledge management as a “knowledgeable bot” can answer a lot of questions for team members without them now needing to disturb their team mates.

Text Editor

Most traditional knowledge management systems tend to support WSYWIG editors that do not support Markdown, while Slack uses Markdown. This can create challenges when either capturing content from Slack or posting it to a Slack channel.

Slack APIs

Slack doesn’t allow integrations to create any custom views, instead limiting apps to plain or lightly formatted text. As a result, complex integrations generally have a pseudo-command-line interface, requiring one command to display information and yet another to act upon it. This can make it a bit of challenge for knowledge bases that often depend on a lot of multimedia and metadata for each knowledge content.

Conclusion

It is important to note that Slack doesn’t replace everything. Dave Teare, founder of Agile Bits (developers of 1Password), recently wrote that his company’s “Slack Addiction” led to “using it over all the other tools at our disposal,” which meant that employees posted support issues and development issues into Slack instead of ticketing systems and knowledge bases. This is a classic example of what happens when we try to substitute Slack for everything.

Slack does well to sit alongside those services for conversational interactions and sharing results out of them. It isn’t going to replace a social search or a document management service or a collective aggregation service like KnoBis. Slack not only integrates things into itself, but also can have what is in it as fodder to integrate out, so conversations and things shared in Slack can be honed and more deeply framed and considered in other services and then have results and outcomes of those considerations shared back into Slack. It is a good partner for it to add context and easily drop documents that are relevant from the service into Slack. But, Slack isn’t going to replace document management, even if its search is good, the versioning, permissions, and access controls for compliance and other valid needs aren’t there in Slack. Your document management service could become more pleasurable to use though. And therefore Slack users need a “Knowledge Network” – A place where Slack users can post things that others “need to know”, preferably integrated with Slack so that you can post-once-show-everywhere.

About Rajat

Rajat is the founder of KnoBis. KnoBis is a knowledge base software for Slack and Google Apps teams. Powered by a strong search, KnoBis makes it easy to capture and share knowledge in any format: conversations, rich text articles, multimedia documents etc. Use cases of KnoBis include sales enablement, customer support enablement, intranet/internal team knowledge base and self support module for customers.

Rajat has close to 12 years of experience in the computer software industry in engineering, product management and marketing roles. Rajat is a graduate from IIT BHU.

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How a knowledge map can help to identify knowledge gaps and needs, against all odds

Without understanding their knowledge needs, organizations can hardly decide on relevant KM activities to strengthen the necessary knowledge domains and advance in their business. Knowledge mapping can be an optimal way to address the challenge.

Knowledge is undoubtedly the trickiest organizational asset: possessing it alone is never enough for organizations to use it in a proper and advantageous way. That’s why, when put into the knowledge management context, organizations often look like antique shops: there are zillions of articles, but it’s absolutely unclear which ones are the most valuable – maybe, a golden statue that shines brightly or a rusty chandelier?

In this context, companies do possess a certain knowledge wealth but, unfortunately, can hardly understand what knowledge they really have and what knowledge they need in order to foster business development. What’s even worse, organizations may overlook critical knowledge gaps, which makes them an arm’s length close to disappointing and recurrent business mistakes. In this respect, the only way for organizations to understand clearly the value of each knowledge item is to go for knowledge mapping.

5 steps to a better understanding of knowledge needs

Knowledge mapping is a knowledge management technique that helps organizations to inventory their explicit and tacit knowledge residing within different departments, business units or the entire organization. As a part of a knowledge management solution, a knowledge map shows companies what knowledge they have, where it is located, who owns it, then allows to understand if the available knowledge is sufficient to cover business needs.

The knowledge mapping process can be divided into 5 logical steps:

Step 1. Outline a general approach to knowledge mapping. This includes:

  • Defining a knowledge map type (for example, strategic, functional, process-based, etc.).
  • Choosing the map’s scope (for example, departmental, cross-departmental, organization-wide map).
  • Identifying key elements of the map, such as knowledge items, knowledge assets, knowledge domains, knowledge owners.
  • Creating relevant questionnaires that will help knowledge managers to inventory knowledge of each particular employee and assess its depth.
  • Bringing questionnaires to a knowledge management system (for example, companies can leverage SharePoint’s capabilities to create surveys of various complexity).

Step 2. Carry out knowledge overview, assessment and structuring through questionnaires and face-to-face meetings.

Step 3. Evaluate available knowledge and benchmark it with both the minimum required and desirable knowledge levels.

Step 4. Reveal knowledge needs and prioritize them to define those that affect business processes and hinder organizational development.

Step 5. Define relevant knowledge management activities to meet critical knowledge needs and patch severe knowledge gaps.

Although these 5 steps seem to be easy, in reality each of them requires important efforts of knowledge managers and employees in general. As a part of our knowledge management consulting practice, we’ve analyzed efforts required to create a comprehensive knowledge map and revealed that the initial organization-wide knowledge mapping is one of the most time-consuming and complicated KM tasks.

However, not only time can be a stumbling block on the knowledge mapping way. Stakeholders’ collaboration can also get burdensome, and here is why.

Why employees block knowledge mapping?

Knowledge mapping means that human-to-human interaction is inevitable. This naturally leads to possible pitfalls since employees may resist it.

  • Line managers resist knowledge mapping as they claim they understand knowledge needs in their departments better than knowledge managers. This can be a result of managers’ protective behavior and their wish to prevent other employees from interfering into the departmental life.
  • Key knowledge owners confront knowledge mapping as they are busy with daily routine and have no time for KM-related interviews and continuous collaboration.
  • Employees can get hostile to knowledge mapping because they aren’t ready to face knowledge gaps and admit them. Accepting a knowledge gap can be difficult from the psychological point of view, as it reveals employees’ imperfections and forces them to take additional self-learning or training activities.
  • Top managers can be skeptical to knowledge mapping as the process itself requires substantial efforts. To add more, it brings no benefits to organizations if nobody takes further improvement steps.

Fortunately, knowledge managers can change such an unfavourable organizational climate if they act according to one of the following scenarios.

2 scenarios to overcome human resistance and map knowledge

To break the resistance, knowledge managers can apply two feasible approaches to bring knowledge mapping into an organization. The main difference between these approaches is how quickly organizations accomplish knowledge mapping and how fast they get decent outcomes.

Scenario 1. Slow and organic knowledge mapping. While opting for this scenario, knowledge managers should look for devoted and engaged employees who are ready to participate in knowledge mapping willingly. This scenario will definitely be slow, and the first positive results won’t come quickly. However, fulfilled by voluntary enthusiasts, knowledge mapping can bring much better outcomes than if enforced. Engaged ‘mappers’ will also spread their positive experience among other employees and will incite them to participate in the mapping process.

Scenario 2. Quick and forced knowledge mapping. Unlike the first option, this scenario requires accomplishing knowledge mapping without waiting for employees’ consent. This is a suitable model if a company starts a new important business program (for example, enters a new market, launches a new product category or implements a new development strategy). In this case, knowledge needs should be defined without any delays, so that managers could understand clearly if the planned initiatives are reasonable and can be successful. The mapping scope also decreases in this case, which is great to get top management’s support and create a KM success story that will be reproduced while enterprise-wide mapping.

Knowledge needs unveiled… what’s next?

Regardless of what model organizations choose, knowledge mapping will lead them directly towards their knowledge needs. This has a great strategic value for any company that considers further business-oriented KM activities. Clearly understanding their knowledge strengths and weaknesses, it is much easier for companies to define what KM steps to take and when, as well as to align the defined KM course with the general business development plan to make knowledge work to the enterprise’s advantage.

By Sandra Lupanava

Sandra Lupanava is SharePoint Evangelist at ScienceSoft, a software development and consulting company headquartered in McKinney, Texas. With her 5+ years in marketing, Sandra voices SharePoint’s strengths to contribute to the platform’s positive image as well as raise user adoption and loyalty. Today Sandra advocates harnessing SharePoint’s non-trivial capabilities to create business-centric, industry-specific innovation and knowledge management solutions.
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Communities of Practice – Planning For Success

Community ManagementMy experience of knowledge sharing in organisations stems mainly from my involvement in setting up Communities of Practice (CoPs) for UK local government. This was part of a broader Knowledge Management strategy that I was commissioned to deliver for the Improvement and Development Agency (now part of Local Government Agency -LGA). An online collaboration platform was launched in 2006 to support self-organising, virtual communities of local government and other public sector staff. The purpose was to improve public sector services by sharing knowledge and good practice.

Over the past 10 years, the community platform has grown to support over 1.500 CoPs, with more than 160,000 registered users.  This has led to many service improvement initiatives, from more efficient procurement and project planning to more effective inter-agency collaboration in delivering front-line services, such as health and social care. It has also provided some useful information on the dynamics of social collaboration and community management, e.g. the factors that influence the success of a community.

What does a successful CoP look like?

Success will of course depend on the purpose of the community. Some CoPs have been set up as networks for learning and sharing; others have a defined output, e.g. developing new practice for adult social care.  It is clearly more difficult to establish success criteria for a CoP dedicated to knowledge sharing than it is for – say – a CoP that has a tangible output. Success for the former will rely on more subjective analysis than for the latter, where there will probably be more tangible evidence of an output, e.g. a policy document or case study.

However, rather than argue and debate the criteria for assessing the “success” of a CoP (or other organizational learning system), I’d prefer to consider how we monitor and assess the “health” of a CoP. For this approach I think we have to consider the analogy of a CoP to a living and breathing organism.

A healthy CoP will show clear signs of life; this can be assessed using various quantitative indicators, such as:

  • Number of members
  • Rate of growth of the community
  • Number and frequency of documents uploaded.
  • Number and frequency of documents read or downloaded.
  • Number and frequency of new blog posts
  • Number and frequency of forum posts
  • Number and frequency of comments
  • Number of page views per session
  • Time spent on the CoP per browser session

…etc.

Not that any one of these indicators in isolation will indicate the good health of a CoP, but taken together they can give a general perspective of how vibrant and active the community is.

Continuing with the analogy of a living, breathing organism, different CoPs will have different metabolisms, some may be highly active; others may be fairly sedate. Understanding the community ‘rhythm’ is a key aspect of knowing when any intervention is required in order to maintain this rhythm.  Not all CoPs are going to be vibrant and active all of the time; there may be periods of relative inactivity as a natural part of the CoP lifecycle. But it’s important to know the difference between a CoP that is going through a regular period of inactivity and a CoP that is moribund.

A point to note: inactive CoPs may not necessarily be a cause for concern. One reason for inactivity could be that the CoP has served its purpose and its members have moved on. In which case the knowledge assets of the CoP need to be published and celebrated and the CoP either closed, or (with the agreement of the members) re-purposed to a new topic or outcome.

So, understanding the vital life-signs and metabolism of a CoP is a fundamental part of ensuring the continued good health of the CoP, and therefore more likely to achieve its goals.  And the key to the continued good health of a CoP is knowing how and when to intervene when one or more of the life-signs begins to falter.  Without wishing to labour my analogy of the living, breathing organism too much, it’s the equivalent of knowing when someone is not feeling too well and administering the appropriate medicine. [See concluding section for symptoms and potential cures for an ailing CoP.]

The Online Facilitator

Where does the CoP facilitator or e-moderator come into all of this? Well, I mentioned earlier that over the 10 years since its inception, the Local Government CoP strategy has provided some useful information on the dynamics of social collaboration and community management. For example, there is clear evidence that CoPs that have full or part-time facilitation/e-moderation are much more likely to succeed and be self-sustaining than those that rely entirely on self-organisation or community networks where there are no clearly defined roles or responsibilities.

The most successful CoPs (and I should clarify here that I’m using “success’ to mean “in good health”) are those where there is more than one facilitator/e-moderator and where interventions by the facilitator/e-moderator are frequent and predictable.  This may take various forms, such as regular polls of the CoP members; regular e-bulletins or newsletters; a schedule of events (face to face or virtual); regular input to Forum posts and threads, seeding new conversations; back-channeling to make connections between members of the CoP; etc.

In other words, show me a good and effective CoP facilitator/e-moderator and I can show you – in all probability – a healthy and successful CoP (or similar organisational knowledge sharing community).

Attributes Of A Good Facilitator

I’ve often been asked “what makes a good community facilitator/e-moderator?” This is a difficult one, and I’m of the opinion that it is more of an art than a science. The technical administration functions of the role can be taught, but the good facilitators/e-moderators that I have met bring another dimension to the role, i.e. empathy with, and understanding of, human behaviours and personalities. Something that I suspect comes with experience rather than a pedagogical approach. What I do think is important is having some knowledge (not necessarily ‘expert’ status) and enthusiasm for the topic or theme of the CoP (also referred to as the ‘domain of knowledge’).  This will help where interventions are necessary, and the community members are more likely to appreciate the facilitator/e-moderator as one of their own.

There have been various papers and blogs published about the role and responsibilities of an online CoP facilitator but maybe the following diagram captures the essence of the role. Click to enlarge.

Facilitator Role
Facilitator Role

(Reworked from an original by Dion Hinchcliffe)

Conclusion

The conclusion? Based on a significant body of evidence, coupled with personal experience, if you want to ensure the success of your Community of Interest or Practice, make sure you’ve invested in in a team of good/experienced community facilitators.

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Knowledge Management – Don’t Forget The SME’s!

Small is beautiful

The research paper by Cheng Sheng Lee and Kuan Yew Wong in the December of issue of  Business Information Review raises a number of interesting points that deserve wider discussion. Abstract as follows:

Knowledge management (KM) is recognized as an important means for attaining competitive advantage and improving organizational performance. The evaluation of KM performance has become increasingly vital, as it provides the direction for organizations to enhance their performance and competitiveness. A survey was carried out to test the applicability of 14 constructs based on knowledge resources, KM processes, and KM factors in measuring the KM performance for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Malaysia. This article intends to further explore the effects of company size (micro, small, and medium) and KM maturity on knowledge management performance measurement (KMPM). Two-way analysis of variance results indicate that company size and KM maturity do affect some aspects of KMPM in SMEs.

The research focused on the effectiveness of knowledge management techniques in Small to Medium Enterprises (SME’s) in Malaysia. Though the scope of the research is limited to one geographic region, the findings could – and should – be tested against a wider and more international cohort.

According to the research paper, in Malaysia, SME’s account for up to 98.5 percent of the total number of businesses and contribute up to 33.1 percent of GDP. They employ 57.5 percent of the total workforce.

To offer some comparison, UK, SME’s account for over 99.8 percent of the total number of businesses, they contributed over half of UK output in 2013 (GVA) and employ 48 percent of the total private sector workforce.

The EU average SME contribution to GDP is 55 percent.

It is clear from this data that SME’s make up a significant, and growing, contribution to the UK and European economies. It seems quite odd, therefore, that so little research has been undertaken into how knowledge management strategies and techniques have been utilized within and across this sector.

The Cheng Sheng Lee/Kuan Yew Wong research gives us some insights that could be tested against a wider geographic sample of SMEs. Some key points from the research as follows:

  • The literature research identified that the size of an organization affects its behaviour and structure (Edvardsson, 2006; Rutherford et al, 2001) and how it influences the adoption and implementation of KM (Zaied et al, 2012).
  • SME’s should not be perceived as homogenized groups. They themselves can be categorized according to relative size, e.g. micro, small and medium, which can influence the way that KM is implemented.
  • In terms of human capital, medium-sized businesses (SMEs) focus more on codification strategies (explicit knowledge) whereas micro-sized businesses (SMEs) are more dependent on socialization strategies.
  • An obvious point, but reinforced by the research – the need for better infrastructure, such as tools, office layout, rooms etc. increases as the organizations grows.
  • Knowledge Maturity is a key attribute that should be monitored measured. The value of an employee will increase in terms of their contribution to the success of the organization as they progress from beginner, intermediate and advanced staged of KM maturity. Clearly the impact of an employee leaving without an effective knowledge transfer process will be more keenly felt by a small organization. [NB. This is not an excuse for large organizations to treat this is a lower priority!]
  • Company size does make a difference to KM performance measurements. A number of factors are proposed, e.g. impact of high turnover, limited resource redundancy in smaller organizations, smaller organizations will likely prioritize implementation processes over performance measurements etc.
  • KM performance measurement (KMPM) is still new for SME’s, as the majority of analyst reports and case studies remain focused on large organizations, with a mindset that SMEs do not need or are not ready for KMPM.

Overall, this is an excellent piece of research, and highly recommended reading, which despite its limited sample size and geographic boundary, gives some very useful insight into how KM is being implemented across SME’s. Reassuringly it shows that a growing number of SME’s see KMPM as vital to the growth and success of their business.

The paper is also a wake-up call to academia, research, analyst and consultancy organizations in that we need far more definitive and comprehensive studies in this field, to embrace UK, Europe and other key industrial and economic zones.

To finish with a quote from the authors:

Enough with large organizations; SMEs should not be neglected as they play a major role in a country’s economic growth”.

On this evidence, who could disagree?

Image source: http://www.denisflorent.fr/small-is-beautiful/

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Connecting Knowledge Communities

Knowledge Communities

The forthcoming NetIKX event “Connecting Knowledge Communities“, scheduled for Wednesday 23rd September, is shaping up to be one of those ‘must attend’ events for anyone who is confused (or bemused) at the plethora of different groups and communities dedicated to the support of knowledge and information professionals.

To quote an abstract from the event promotion:

If you want to consider how membership organisations work and gather ideas and tips for your personal networking, this will be a good meeting to attend. You may also get information (and possibly knowledge) about the organisations that are concerned with knowledge and information!

It does appear to be something of a paradox that on the one hand knowledge professionals eulogise and promote the benefits of knowledge sharing, and on the other hand fragment into multiple organisational domains that – for a variety of reasons – operate more or less independently and with little opportunities for inter-organisation collaboration.  We tend to overcome some of these problems by joining multiple membership organisations in the hope that our personal knowledge integration will act as the ‘sum of the parts’. However, we can’t hope to join them all, and we’ve probably found that each organisation has a particular (and possibly unique) focus.

Currently appearing (in no particular order) are:

See  NetIKX75 – Connecting Knowledge Communities (PDF File) for further details of which organisations are appearing.

So, here then is an event which brings some of the organisations in the “knowledge” landscape together, in one place and at one time. An opportunity to learn about the different KM/IM communities, what they do and what they offer. Perhaps also an opportunity for reflection on our own professional development and the direction we want to travel.  Not least, it will be an opportunity to meet new people, to grow our personal networks, and to become better informed about the different professional communities and what they offer.

Can you really afford to miss this event? If not, register your attendance on the NetIKX website – soon, there is a limit dictated by the room size. I’ll be there!

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12 Principles Of Knowledge Management

Compass

I recently came across a paper by respected author, consultant and keynote speaker  Verna Allee on the 12 principles of Knowledge Management. Reading the paper, two thoughts occurred to me:

  1. The principles appear to be so simple and obvious
  2. Why didn’t I think of them!

I asked myself whether these statements meet the strict definition of ‘principles’, which is:

a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning.

and firmly believe they do.

I’ve reproduced the principles below, with due accreditation to Verna Allee. I think these should be imprinted in the minds of anyone aspiring to be a competent and successful knowledge manager:

  1. Knowledge is messy. Because knowledge is connected to everything else, you can’t isolate the knowledge aspect of anything neatly. In the knowledge universe, you can’t pay attention to just one factor.
  2. Knowledge is self-organizing. The self that knowledge organizes around is organizational or group identity and purpose.
  3. Knowledge seeks community. Knowledge wants to happen, just as life wants to happen. Both want to happen as community. Nothing illustrates this principle more than the Internet.
  4. Knowledge travels via language. Without a language to describe our experience, we can’t communicate what we know. Expanding organizational knowledge means that we must develop the languages we use to describe our work experience.
  5. The more you try to pin knowledge down, the more it slips away. It’s tempting to try to tie up knowledge as codified knowledge-documents, patents, libraries, databases, and so forth. But too much rigidity and formality regarding knowledge lead to the stultification of creativity.
  6. Looser is probably better. Highly adaptable systems look sloppy. The survival rate of diverse, decentralized systems is higher. That means we can waste resources and energy trying to control knowledge too tightly.
  7. There is no one solution. Knowledge is always changing. For the moment, the best approach to managing it is one that keeps things moving along while keeping options open.
  8. Knowledge doesn’t grow forever. Eventually, some knowledge is lost or dies, just as things in nature. Unlearning and letting go of old ways of thinking, even retiring whole blocks of knowledge, contribute to the vitality and evolution of knowledge.
  9. No one is in charge. Knowledge is a social process. That means no one person can take responsibility for collective knowledge.
  10. You can’t impose rules and systems. If knowledge is truly self-organizing, the most important way to advance it is to remove the barriers to self-organization. In a supportive environment, knowledge will take care of itself.
  11. There is no silver bullet. There is no single leverage point or best practice to advance knowledge. It must be supported at multiple levels and in a variety of ways.
  12. How you define knowledge determines how you manage it. The “knowledge question” can present itself many ways. For example, concern about the ownership of knowledge leads to acquiring codified knowledge that is protected by copyrights and patents.

Reading through these principles I’m reminded of a famous quote by Mahatma Ghandi:

Truth is by nature self-evident. As soon as you remove the cobwebs of ignorance that surround it, it shines clear.

Amen to that.

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Knowledge Management – Measuring Return on Investment

Apple_and_measure

A common and recurrent theme that I keep coming across is how to measure the value of knowledge management, e.g. the return on investment (ROI) of implementing a knowledge management strategy. This may cross over into having a social media strategy where the goal is to support knowledge sharing, so I’ll use these terms – KM Strategy and social media strategy interchangeably in this particular context.

I don’t doubt the importance of being able to measure results and it’s the job of managers to ensure they get value out of any investment in training, technology, organisational development or whatever.  However, these things are notoriously difficult to measure – for example – how do you put a price on a conversation? This led to me thinking about turning all of this on its head and considering how we should measure the cost of NOT having a knowledge management or social media strategy, or NOT making any change.

Using this approach we can at least examine the current status quo and determine whether business processes, capacity, staff knowledge etc. are fit for purpose.  So, rather than spending time and effort creating a business case for a KM or SM strategy, ask managers to justify why things should stay as they are.

Some pertinent questions for managers might be:

  1. Are your staff currently motivated and inspired?
  2.  Do your staff have all the relevant information to do their jobs effectively?
  3. Do your staff have the right tools for the work they are being asked to do?
  4. Do your staff understand their place in the wider organisation and their input and output dependencies for the business processes they contribute to?
  5. Do your staff have adequate opportunities to share knowledge and information with other parts of the organisation? Are they encouraged to do so?
  6. Are you confident that you can react to rapidly changing demands on your staff?
  7. Do you have sufficient knowledge and information to consider the impact of external events on you and your staff and to plan accordingly?
  8. Do you know what your customers are saying about you (within and external to your organisation)?
  9. Do current policies and guidelines support or hinder you and your staff in their work?
  10. Does your manager fully understand what you and your staff do?

There are probably other questions that could be asked, but the key point is that any question which triggers a negative response is potentially a catalyst for change.  This also means it could become a performance indicator if change is agreed, i.e. using qualitative or quantitative techniques.

So, we have the beginnings of a measurable approach to change; we know where we are now and we should know what the desired outcomes are. The difference is what we need to measure.

Of course, the problem remains that not all changes can be measured in strictly cash value terms, which is what many people consider to be the true meaning of ROI. I go back to the point I made earlier – how do you measure the value of a conversation or some information shared?  The answer is, you don’t, and the sooner that everyone recognises this the better. Measuring impact can be just as important as measuring value.  The impact might be things like improved customer satisfaction (measured using surveys), or less time to complete a task, or improved staff morale (measured using surveys). Any of these can – and potentially will – have an effect in terms of cash value to the organisation, but I firmly believe that converting impact to cash value is an exercise in futility, since more often than not, the formulae and algorithms have too many variables.

So, in terms of ‘ROI’, think ‘Return on Impact’ rather than Return on Investment when considering Knowledge management strategies, and develop the strategy from the starting point of getting staff to justify the present  status quo.  After all, change is part of life, and as Darwin once said:

It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.

(Originally published by Stephen Dale, June 2010)

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The Seven Principles of Knowledge Management

Tree of knowledgeWhat would we do without serendipity? I was looking through some of my archived blog posts just now and (re)stumbled across this from Dave Snowden. It’s from a blog he produced in 2008, but as relevant today as it was then. Worth (re)sharing I thought.

  • Knowledge can only be volunteered it cannot be conscripted. You can’t make someone share their knowledge, because you can never measure if they have. You can measure information transfer or process compliance, but you can’t determine if a senior partner has truly passed on all their experience or knowledge of a case.
  • We only know what we know when we need to know it. Human knowledge is deeply contextual and requires stimulus for recall. Unlike computers we do not have a list-all function. Small verbal or nonverbal clues can provide those ah-ha moments when a memory or series of memories are suddenly recalled, in context to enable us to act. When we sleep on things we are engaged in a complex organic form of knowledge recall and creation; in contrast a computer would need to be rebooted.
  • In the context of real need few people will withhold their knowledge. A genuine request for help is not often refused unless there is literally no time or a previous history of distrust. On the other hand ask people to codify all that they know in advance of a contextual enquiry and it will be refused (in practice its impossible anyway). Linking and connecting people is more important than storing their artifacts.
  • Everything is fragmented. We evolved to handle unstructured fragmented fine granularity information objects, not highly structured documents. People will spend hours on the internet, or in casual conversation without any incentive or pressure. However creating and using structured documents requires considerably more effort and time. Our brains evolved to handle fragmented patterns not information.
  • Tolerated failure imprints learning better than success. When my young son burnt his finger on a match he learnt more about the dangers of fire than any amount of parental instruction cold provide. All human cultures have developed forms that allow stories of failure to spread without attribution of blame. Avoidance of failure has greater evolutionary advantage than imitation of success. It follows that attempting to impose best practice systems is flying in the face of over a hundred thousand years of evolution that says it is a bad thing.
  • The way we know things is not the way we report we know things. There is an increasing body of research data which indicates that in the practice of knowledge people use heuristics, past pattern matching and extrapolation to make decisions, coupled with complex blending of ideas and experiences that takes place in nanoseconds. Asked to describe how they made a decision after the event they will tend to provide a more structured process oriented approach which does not match reality. This has major consequences for knowledge management practice.
  • We always know more than we can say, and we will always say more than we can write down. This is probably the most important. The process of taking things from our heads, to our mouths (speaking it) to our hands (writing it down) involves loss of content and context. It is always less than it could have been as it is increasingly codified.

As a corollary to the last point, I recall a conversation with a fellow knowledge professional some years ago, where she asked me what my favourite KM tool or process was.  I responded: “We’re doing it…now”.

“What?” she answered.

“Talking”.

At the end of the day you can’t beat face to face conversations as learning opportunities. Make the most of them when they occur!

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Content Matters – But People Matter More!

people and technololgyI was recently asked to participate in a KM roundtable event that APQC are organising on the subject of Content Management Systems (CMS).  They wanted to gather some perspectives from KM professionals and thought leaders (their wording, not mine) active on Social Media to answer a few questions on the best way for creating and gathering internal enterprise content, organising and maintaining that content and making it easily accessible to employees and other stakeholders.

The questions and my response as follows:-

1. Our best practices research says great content management systems have content developed around stakeholder needs.  Why is this not always the case, and what can companies do to make sure it happens?

I’m not convinced that many content management implementations make the effort to identify all of the potential stakeholders, or perhaps even understand what a “stakeholder” is. A content management solution must take into account the needs and motivations of the major stakeholders, which will include developers, content contributors, business owners, content administrators and production staff.

Some of the reasons why stakeholder needs are not met – or even ignored:

  1. The development-operational divide: IT/Developers don’t fully understand the business, and will opt for a technical solution that they do understand. This usually means some sort of compromise by operations staff, business users and other stakeholders
  1. Security: access blocked to some external services and websites.
  1. Support costs: need for standard applications and devices (not necessarily the best available).
  1. Accelerating rate of change: organisations are finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with a rapidly changing marketplace. New technologies and new content sources take time to be fully integrated into enterprise production systems.

I regret to say the answer may be too radical for some, but it comes down to having a clear strategy for managing rapid change. This will include using Cloud products and services, e.g. SaaS, PaaS or outsourcing some content production processes. Since it ultimately comes down to cost, any such strategy must be accompanied by rapid decommissioning of legacy production processes and technology.

2. What are the keys to having content that different generations of employees can use and understand?

As a first step, recognising that the organisation has employees with different needs, and not just age demographic. But focusing here on the need for more effective knowledge sharing:-

The organisation should strive to ensure that:-

  • Knowledge management efforts are aligned with the organisation’s strategic objectives.
  • Knowledge management activities (learning and sharing) are integrated into every individuals’ daily work activities.
  • More time is available for employee personal development (PKM)  and less on formal (e.g. classroom) training.
  • The use of and growth of personal networks is encouraged – both inside and outside of the organisation. This includes social media.

3. A lot of content management systems are filled with content that is no longer relevant or useful. What processes have you seen or used that ensure CMS isn’t cluttered with material of questionable value?

Any organisation that values the quality of its information assets (and the people who manage them) should have an information governance policy, with compliance owned and monitored by a senior executive or board member (e.g. CIO).

The policy should set out the organisation’s information standards and how compliance with these standards will be measured and reviewed. The policy would typically include:

  • The identification of information assets and the classification into those of importance that merit special attention and those that do not.
  • The quality and quantity of information for effective operation ensuring that, at every level, the information provided is necessary, sufficient, timely, reliable and accurate.
  • The proper use of information in accordance with relevant legal, regulatory, operational and ethical standards, and the roles and responsibilities for the creation, safekeeping, access, change and destruction of information.
  • The competence, suitability and training of people to safeguard and enhance information assets.
  • The protection of information from theft, loss, unauthorised access, abuse and misuse, including information which is the property of others.
  • The harnessing of information assets and their proper use for the benefit of the organisation, including legally protecting, licensing, re-using, combining, re-presenting, publishing and destroying.
  • The strategy for information systems (manual and digital) with particular reference to the costs, benefits and risks arising.

I think this response goes beyond what was asked in the question, but the key point I wanted to get across is that of the importance of information governance. In my experience, few organisations realise the value of their information assets, or recognise the importance of the IM/KM profession in managing these assets. The consequences of losing information, information gaps or using wrong information can range from reputational risk to costly litigation. To be absolutely clear – it’s a management and not a technical or process problem.

Addendum

1. Harold Jarche was also invited to respond to the same APQC questions. His blog post comes at this from a slightly different angle from mine, but still very relevant. In particular I fully endorse his last sentence:

While good content management cannot be done without technology, it’s not about the technology. It’s 90% people.

2. Martin White and Paul Corney have also responded to the APQC Questions at Intranet Focus

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We’re all Digital Content Curators (but some of you don’t know it).

Digital Content Curation is the emergent skill for 21st century knowledge workers. A skill as important as learning how to swim, and just as relevant if you don’t want to drown in a sea of (useless) information! A new workshop on the topic begins 20th June in London.

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drowning

I don’t think I need to convince anyone who regularly uses the Internet or World Wide Web that finding useful and relevant information amongst the volumes of dross we get from advertisers, marketers, brand mangers and those-that-want-to-be-heard-but-have-nothing-of-value-to-say which, unfortunately, accounts for the largest proportion of content that swills around our in-boxes and search results, is becoming increasingly difficult. Information is being pumped at us almost 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This was bad enough when we were shackled to an office desk and a “lobotomised” corporate desktop PC – you know, the ones where IT security bods and corporate policy makers have surgically removed all the useful productivity applications – but now that most of us are connected 24 x 7 via our smartphones, tablets and laptops, information can get to us wherever we are and whatever we’re doing.

So, it’s probably meaningless to conduct a survey that asks people if they suffer from information overload, because I can guarantee that the vast majority would say “yes”. The paradox is that many people don’t realise that they are in control of the situation, and not – as they perceive – helpless victims of this information deluge.

It helps if you’re not a victim of FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out, where you need to sleep with your smartphone under your pillow in case someone sends you an email or SMS text in the middle of the night (which you must of course read and respond to straight away). If so, you may need professional psychological help – which I’m not qualified to give!

But what about all of those unsolicited emails you get, or the inane Tweets you read, or the random messages from people you don’t know (or would rather not know) on various social networks. When was the last time you cleared out the clutter in your various in-boxes and put in place some intelligent filters that prevented the “mad and the bad” information from ever reaching you? When did you last trawl through your newsletters and unsolicited email sources to unsubscribe from anything you don’t need or don’t read? Just deleting them will not make them go away – they’ll be back next week or next month.

The worst of it is that with all of this useless information reaching you, you’re liable to miss the good stuff. Finding useful and trusted sources of information is becoming an art. This is the stuff you want, because it’s relevant to your job, profession or personal life. This is where you need to be a “Digital Content Curator”.

The role of the curator has been around for centuries, but specifically associated with people who practice their profession in the hallowed halls of the world’s museums and galleries. To suggest that digital content curators all bring the same depth and breadth of knowledge as a professional curator might be somewhat missing the point.

Curation, when it comes down to it, is all about creating value from building collections. Curators know that the sum of an experience can be greater than the parts alone. And you don’t always have to be an expert to tell a decent story.

Curators perform four basic actions; they find quality sources of content; they evaluate, organize and store the key elements of the content; they add insight and personal knowledge to what they’ve found; they publish and share through their preferred channels.

I’ll go out on a limb here, and go against the combined wisdom of many expert digital content curators and say that you don’t have to do that final step, publishing and sharing, if the audience is yourself. Perhaps that seems strange, but personal bookmarking is a type of content curation. You’ve found, evaluated, organised and stored something that you have found personally valuable, and you want to be sure you can find it again and use it.

In his Future Show episode 3: The Future Of Work and Jobs, Futurist Gerd Leonhard talks about the growing trend for machine-automation (e.g. robots) taking over repetitive and routine jobs, and identified digital content curation as one of the new and emergent jobs for 21st century knowledge workers, where creativity and human intelligence  – things that can’t readily be ‘roboticised’ – will become more prevalent.

Perhaps this partly explGoogle Trendsains why Google Trends for “content curation” keyword searches have risen 112% in the past week. More and more people are tuning into the topic and wondering if it’s something they should know more about. (The answer to that is “Yes!).

But to go back to the title of this post – “We’re all content curators”. The only way we can ever make sense of the world we now live in, where information permeates every aspect of our on-line presence, is to use and develop our cognitive skills to effectively apply filters that separate the signal from the noise; to know how and where to find trusted sources of content; to sort, organise and categorise information, and to ultimately create value and useful/actionable knowledge – for ourselves and for our audience (if we have one).

This, then, is “digital content curation”. A skill as important as learning how to swim, and just as relevant if you don’t want to drown in a sea of (useless) information!

If you’re still confused, check out this previous post on the topic and/or this Slideshare presentation.

I will be running a Workshop on Digital Content Curation on 20th June in London – there are still a few places left if you want to sign-up, but act soon!

In the mean-time, hone those curation skills and avoid the robots!

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