Monday, December 27, 2004

KM challenges workshop

At KM world this past October, I attended a workshop entitled KM challenges. The purpose of the workshop was for participants to present a KM issue and then work in small groups to come up with a solution. I was asked today to provide some thoughts for an upcoming article for Information Today. Below are my comments:

I signed up for the KM challenges workshop because I was looking for a good networking opportunity. I didn't know many folks at the conference and thought this would be a great opportunity to meet people and discuss ideas. The workshop accomplished this.

The workshop offered a good framework for addressing KM problems with an opportunity to discuss my challenge with folks from a different industries. This offered new insights on my challenge. Because folks were from a industry, I really had to work hard to articulate my issue. This was good practice!

Presenting in front of the panel was a great chance to get feedback. First off it was a chance to practice presenting this issue to an audience unfamiliar with the specifics. Also, to have KM experts, adds insights without organizational issues or biases. I found that the workshop participants (all being KM practioners) also had a many valuable insights.

A few things I learned,

KM issues are similar among organizations across the spectrum of industries and size. We are all facing similar challenges.

The biggest challenges are often process related, not technology.

The biggest challenge is to clearly define the issue before jumping to the solution. The most common comment from the panel, was what is the business need? How would addressing this issue improve your business?

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

KM strategy

I recently completed the KM strategy for Board review. Since I haven't quite figured out how to link files to my blog, I'm just posting meat of the action items below.

From the KM strategy document

The KM strategy involves linking people, processes, and technology to achieve KM goals. The approach considers the need for short-term, visible improvements while at the same time developing the business infrastructure and culture to ensure long-term growth and success. A phased approach for implementation is presented below.

Phase 1 (2004) – Getting started – In 2004, the KM program started moving forward in earnest. The main objective was to begin focusing the Foundation’s culture on KM and to design and implement the business infrastructure. The following activities were accomplished:

Short-term/visible activities
- Developed processes for and provided information on ongoing research projects via the Web
- Started internal collaboration between RM and TT to identify “hot topics”

Long-term/infrastructure activities
- Designed the content management system (CMS) and prepared system cost estimates and requirements for BOT consideration
- Raised staff awareness of the needs for KM
- Developed KM strategy

Phase 2 (2005) – Managing content - In 2005, the main focus will be on structuring AwwaRF’s content. Details on 2005 activities have been reviewed and approved by the BOT ad-hoc committee. These include:

Short-term/visible activities
- Make all final reports available electronically via the Web
- Migrate paper files to electronic files (complete the knowledge base)
- Continue internal collaboration on “hot topics”
- Implement advanced search features on the Web site
- Begin using templates, workflows, and collaborative tools

Long-term/infrastructure activities
- Implement the CMS and basic functionality
- Continue to raise awareness of staff
- Develop strategy for adding value to content

Phase 3 (2006) – Adding value to content - In 2006, the emphasis will shift to transforming information into more knowledge-based products. Examples could include expanding the Featured Topic section of the Web site, providing an expert forum, improving researcher/subscriber collaboration through communities of practice, synthesis documents, etc. A detailed strategy will be provided to the ad-hoc BOT committee in the fall of 2005 that outlines options.

Also in 2006, there will be an increased use of CMS functionality that includes the use of automation of processes (i.e., workflow), further use of templates for more consistency of content generation, and use of collaboration tools. An online proposal submission process will be launched in 2006.

Phase 4 (2007+) – Provide customized content to subscribers and other stakeholder. In this phase, the Foundation could begin to offer more personalized, custom information for subscribers.

KM is having measurable benefits

This year's subscriber survey was just what was needed for holiday cheer. We had measurable improvements on our major KM indicators with numbers beyond what I would have dreamed of asking Santa for. I was hoping for improvement up to 5%, never expecting the numbers below:

Practical, useful results
- 13% improvement in performance

Providing outputs in formats that are easy to use
- 27% improvement in performance

Providing cost-effective solutions to your problems
- 7 % improvement in performance

There's still room for improvement and are planning market research activities to identify opportunities.

CMS presentation abstract

I was requested to prepare an abstract for a Content Management Strategies conference to be held on April 11-13, 2005 in Annapolis, Maryland. Preparing this abstract gave me a chance to reflect on the last two years and all the effort in getting to this point. Upon reflection, I learned so much during this period. Not only about technology, but also inter-relations between change management, process management, and knowledge management. I also watched a number of folks step-up and will be major champions as we move forward.

The abstract is below:

The Awwa Research Foundation has reached an agreement with Stellent, Inc. for purchasing a Content Management System (CMS). The system will be installed in March of 2005.

Our CMS journey started in early 2002 after managers saw a CMS demonstration and said “we need one too.” Over the next two years we went through efforts preparing our organization for CMS implementation. We learned what a CMS is, how it could help us, and what it takes to implement successfully. We built our information model and defined items such as business needs, taxonomy, use cases, and system requirements. Most importantly, we developed an organizational culture that will embrace CMS. Our biggest challenge now is managing expectations and explaining why it’s not here yet.

In hindsight, taking this time in preparing for a CMS is essential. This presentation will describe the process we went through to ready our organization.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Job description

There's 18 inches of powder in the mountains today, and I'm asking myself why am I sitting in my office. Because I need to finish my position description, yeah right...

In August, I was promoted to the position of KM Coordinator. I was then asked to create my position description. Months later, after numerous discussions, strategic, and even a consultant, I'm finally ready to write my job description. And what a piece of work it is...

In preparing the description, I realized that many of the important skills couldn't be captured. You definitely don't want to put managing your manager in your job description. Here are some items that are hard to include in a formal position description:

  • Need to be a communicator - Of course, verbally and written. What I have found to be most important are informal conversations.
  • Listening - Most of my ideas start from conversations with others. What's their challenge, what worked for them, etc... Also, since in many cases they're the ones that actually carrying out the task, it better to account for how they work.
  • Strong facilitation skills - KM activities require a lot of meetings, running an effective meeting is a huge challenge. Many activities are cross unit, so you need to develop consensus among a wide range of people. Conflict resolution skills are essential.
  • Virtual leadership - get folks on board without any real authority (selling the idea because it makes sense, but without being their boss)
  • Ability to vision and explain that vision to others - tie your vision into the organization vision. Plant the seeds for the vision every chance you get.
  • Patience, patience, patience .... - Ability to accept that only small parts of the vision may be adopted at any time, yet eventually ... Also, first generations of an idea may fall short of your vision. You need to give people time to catch up or change the idea to fit them.
  • Dogged determination - As our management consultant told me, "you get bloodied, yet still come back for more." Very rarely is an idea accepted the first time its proposed. Much of what I'm doing now was first proposed in the mid-90's. Our organization just wasn't ready at that time. The challenge is not to take the defeats personally (I'm still working on that one).
  • Multi-discipline understanding - Over the years I have taken short courses or studied the literature on innovation, training, learning, social interactions, communication, marketing, cultural change, business processes, technology. The list goes on ... All the things that I didn't learn in college studying engineering. A good example was a training course on the generation gap, how different age group embrace technology. Blogging is definitely a stretch for a baby boomer...

I could go on and on, but I better go back to work.


Thursday, December 09, 2004


At KM World, I took a class about blogs, so I decided that this is something I should try. I'd welcome any feedback on the information I post here.

I currently manage a KM program for the Awwa Research Foundation. The organization manages approximately $20M/yr research (outsourced) for the drinking water community. We have a staff of 45, but have approx. 350 ongoing projects, with a few thousand people involved with the projects. We report results to 1000 utilities and to multiple people at each utility. Therefore, our KM challenge is not only our staff, but project participants, as well as users of the information.

The main goal of the KM program is to increase customer service by improving the flow of research knowledge among our stakeholders. We've adopted a simple definition of knowledge to be "usable information." What this means could be the subject of numerous papers, however, the thought is that we want to provide research information in a form that facilitates use by water utilities. What this form is, is a subject of continual research.

The program officially started in January of 2003, however, this is just part of the evolution of our research organization. I started work in this area in 1994, with the launch of Research Applications Program. The program goal was to get research applied by utilities. Sounds a lot like to the goal of the KM program, doesn't it? Again think evolution...

In 2003, I took my first course in knowledge management. This year I presented a paper at KM World and am co-leading an international group of research organizations on KM. So I guess I'm now an expert (ha, ha). What I have noticed is that the majority of KM discussion focuses on theory or products, in other words you need to hire a consultant to figure it out. Finding practical knowledge in KM is becoming harder to find. I plan on capturing my experiences in this blog. If it's practical or usable, you need to let me know.