Wednesday, September 28, 2005

KM outreach

I just returned home from a conference for our subscribers in St. Louis. I had the chance to talk about our KM program, some new activities, and how it should benefit them. I emphasized that our KM efforts are being driven by their comments and if they have additional feedback, to let me know.

In a related item, I signed an agreement today with Microsoft for a LiveMeeting event. The event will target our researchers and explain how we need their support in some upcoming KM activities. I've asked our new executive director to start the show off and describe the importance of KM to our customers and organization. I will follow-up, give some background on KM and show areas where we need their help. I plan to plant the seed about our use of a collaborative tool for managing research projects and an on-line proposal submission process.

The goal behind these discussions is bring our customers and other stakeholders onto the KM bandwagon. Much like we did with building the culture to support KM among staff we're now reaching out to build this culture among our major customers and stakeholders.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Web casts

It's been almost 4 years since we have done a web cast. We were an early adopter using a vendor called MShow and later WebEx. At the time the technology was slides over the internet and a phone line for the audio. Unfortunately the person who was our expert retired and we lost the in house champion.

I'm now looking at reviving the use of web casts and am trying to pull together a pilot for the end of October. I've looked at two vendors. It appears that the technology is mature enough to do both the presentation and audio over the internet. However, from one vendor I understand there is a delay between changing the slides and what actually appears on the screen. I also heard comments on vendors not providing a full-screen look at the slides. Costs also seem to vary quite substantially.

I'm still pulling questions to ask together. Any experiences with these technologies, please let me know.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Invisible KM

Hugh McKeller, editor of KM World just did an interesting article titled, "Invisible KM." The conclusion of the article was that "KM programs should be invisible." I totally agree and this follows on a conversation I had with a co-worker yesterday. She was reading a KM article and pointed out some of the things we should be doing. I politely pointed out that we had been doing those things, however, we purposely didn't call them KM activities.

Here's my logic - In the early 1990's our organization implemented total quality management (TQM) with a whole lost of fanfare. Staff were assigned to work on "TQM activities." After time, if you asked for a definition of TQM, you would have received a whole range of answers. What became obvious was that individual's definitions revolved around the aspect of TQM that had a personal connection to them. Eventually folks started pulling in different directions, the initiative faltered, and TQM became a dirty word.

In 1994, I began working on the Research Applications Program. I watched the same thing happen to the word "applications." The activities that were most successful were those under the radar of applications. For example, when we changed the research process, the concept was directed by research project managers. Application had a large role in the change, but only management recognized it's role. To staff it was a research driven process.

In our organization today, the word KM is hardly used, however, the concepts of KM are being incorporated by the organization. To accomplish this my role becomes developing the strategy and then getting individuals or teams to take ownership. Rarely do I just conceptualize, design, and launch an idea myself. Getting this "buy-in" gets tiring and is often frustrating, but in the end produces a working product for the organization. Also it's very important that the team gets the credit for the outcome.

A word of caution --Making the KM role invisible best serves the organization, but may not be the best career move. I need to spend a lot of effort making sure that management recognizes what I'm doing. However, most staff don't recognize my role in the initiatives. I haven't built an empire but work on the philosophy "when my message becomes someone else's message, I've succeeded." Another way to state this is "organization building rather than program building."

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Output vs. outcome

I was having a debate with Julie O’Brian on what she called the “theory of action.” After I got through my initial shut-down to the word theory (more on that later), I heard an interesting concept.

The concept is how do our outputs lead to the outcome we are seeking? Are they tied together or is there a disconnect? What is the outcome we're seeking?

In everyday life we seem to be output focused, i.e. need to publish this report, develop Web content, make a presentation, etc. How often do we step back and say does this output really address the outcome we are hoping for our customers?

In 1999, I did an analysis of the barriers to innovation in the water supply community (riveting reading if you want a copy). In the study I classified barriers as: cultural, market, and regulatory. In addition I identified the lack of rewards for innovation, the disconnect between organizations involved in technology development, and the information explosion.

The barriers assessment set the stage for the KM program, where we're focusing on user friendly communication. If we continue to work on the outcome being innovation in the water supply community, the bariers assessment can help us design some future outputs.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

What is knowledge?

My biggest challenge? Defining my job around the campfire. In explaining it to folks, I became clearer with some things. Here's some ideas:

The reason knowledge management has become so important is that there is too much information out there. We're still coming to grips with the internet, media, and how people use information. When I was growing up you went to the library, searched indices and the card catalog. You'd find a handful of books and skim through them. Now I can search from my desk and get information from around the world. You can get thousands of hits, and the skimming takes place in the paragraph provided by the Google search. Very rarely do I ever touch an actual printed book. Concise summaries are becoming as important as a book. As an organization we're finding that people want options, concise summaries but also the book for when they are really interested in a topic.

What is knowledge? Is it knowing everything about a subject area including the theory? Knowing where to find the information or who knows the answer? Knowing the one nugget of information necessary to make a good decision? The answer could be yes to any of these questions, depending on the situation.

Take for example the definition of the term knowledge. I've seen whole books about what is knowledge. Most definitions are 1-2 paragraphs long. Definitions often include descriptors like people, processes and technology. Some define how information is to be used like "in making a decision." In adding descriptors or modifiers, do we dilute the message being sent?

For my organization, we've defined knowledge as "usable information." Another definition of knowledge I like is "actionable information." If folks want more, I'm happy to pile on the detail, but to me the knowledge is the core message (i.e. remove the details).

It's a Monday (actually Tuesday after a holiday) so I may not be totally coherent at this moment. I will explore some more of these ideas over the next few days.