Monday, January 19, 2015

Keeping knowledge from walking out the door --- SOPs

Over the last two years, I have been working on the formation of the SOP Cooperative, a cooperative effort among water utilities to share standard operating procedures. This Cooperative was born at a water and wastewater utility knowledge management workshop. The question on the table was, “How to keep knowledge from walking out the door.” The clear answer to this question was, we capture knowledge in our standard operating procedures (SOPs). Then when asked, “Do you have good/current SOPs for all your key processes,” the answer was commonly no or we’re working on it.
Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are a good place to document knowledge. When properly developed they can be used to:
  • document the current state of practice,
  • ensure that important aspects of a task are not overlooked,
  • remember how to do infrequent tasks (i.e. annual or season procedures)
  • ensure consistency between different individuals or crews
  • training
  • capture and preserve operating knowledge
There is also significant value in the process of developing SOPs. We often find as systems begin to discuss operating procedures and begin the documentation process, they learn a lot, especially when the same task is done by a number of different individuals. We find that different individuals develop their own tricks and more efficient ways of doing things. Occasionally we find misconceptions about the process and/or “wrong” ways of performing the task. SOP development provides the opportunity to discuss, share, and capture knowledge.

The SOP Cooperative was formed to facilitate the sharing and discussing procedures between utilities.  There will be more about this in future posts.

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Monday, January 21, 2013

The new knowledge

David Weinberger gave a fascinating presentation, (last presentation under tab “KMWorld 2012 Keynotes). Well worth the 45 minutes…
He talked about how knowledge is changing. One example he uses is a book vs. a web article. When a book is published it’s a completed product. It’s done and won’t change. It was what we considered knowledge in the past. However, when an article is published on the web, the webpage can be updated, people can link to it, conversation can add or detract from it. He talks about power of the knowledge network that is created around that article.

His insights on taxonomies are also worth considering.  I won't steal his thunder here...
Speaking of a knowledge network, I’d be interested in your thoughts on his presentation

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KM and mobile devices

I watched a presentation by Clayton Grigg, CKO for the FBI on their knowledge management program. You can see this and a large number of the KM World presentations at:
One point that came up during the question and answers was: How do you handle employees using off the shelf technology (i.e. moblile devices such as  I-Pads, smart phones …)? He made a couple of comments that include:

·         People will use this technology. You can’t stop it…

·         These systems are advancing rapidly and can be easier to use and powerful than network systems

·         Users are much more IT savvy and can bring new ideas from using these systems.

·         A big challenge is maintaining security.

·         The KM challenge is how to integrate off the shelf devices with your organization’s IT
The old adage “if you can’t beat them, join them” rings true. I’ve heard from a number of utilities that they’ve started providing field crews with smart phones and/or I-Pads. By providing this technology and providing updates and training they can gain some level of control while providing technology to improve efficiency on the job.  

This point was reinforced as I was updating my website and got a message from GoDaddy (my web host) that my webpage was automatically updated to work on a mobile phone.

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Saturday, August 06, 2011

Knowledge Management and Workforce Issues for Water Utilities

Over the last few years, KM has been gaining traction for addressing workforce issues in the water industry. The American Water Works Association and the Rocky Mountain Section of AWWA have both formed knowledge management committees. The August 2011 edition of the Journal of AWWA featured the KM committee report.
A recent survey of water treatment operators in Colorado showed:
  • 90% ranked KM as important or very important.
  • Less than 10% of the respondents had a formal KM
  • 65% have a program under development or are just
    getting started.
  • The top issues were ensuring that operators had the information they need to do their job, followed by the loss of knowledge from retiring employees.
  • The top challenge was resources
In talking with utilities, there is substantial concern over impending retirements. I heard from a system the other day that 80% of their operators are eligible for retirement. In others, this number is over the next five years. No matter what figure you use, concerns over potential knowledge loss
are well justified.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Social media and knowledge management

Over the years, I’ve started to use more and more social media tools. My evolution started with this blog in 2004, then on to my songwriting blog, joining MySpace to share music, Google/Yahoo Groups, and now LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Wanting to use it more efficiently, I just finished my certification as a Social Media Specialist from the Social Media Magic University.

In thinking about social media and knowledge management I saw Venkatesh Rao's thought provoking article about Social Media vs. Knowledge Management: A Generational War. Reading the comments alone show how effective social media can be in sharing knowledge. The article talks about a conflict between knowledge management and social media, which he attributes to generational differences.

What's important about the article is thinking about where social media fits into a KM strategy and the barriers to its acceptance. Social media is still relatively new, and I think conflict is typical of any change or innovation. Early adopters embrace the new technology, late adopters wait until all the bugs are out and they are forced into it. For example, KM is just getting started in some industries. When I started blogging in 2004 it was unheard of in my industry. So the potential barrier is the stage of innovation for the person or industry.

My opinion is that social media is a knowledge management tool. It is very effective when working with external groups and with open communities. The yellow pages/expert locator function is excellent for people outside my traditional network. The discussion and informal nature, along with the sound bite mentality encourages flow of more tacit knowledge. It’s also great for knowledge sharing outside my circle.

On the other hand, social media is not great for capturing, storing, and protecting knowledge. This is especially true for key business knowledge. Managers still (justifiably so) are concerned with content or opinions expressed without their knowledge. Copyright issues and other terms of service still need to be carefully considered. Evaluating the quality of knowledge and who’s an expert is another big issue.

So like any tool in the toolbox, it all comes down to what is your strategy? What are you trying to achieve? What are the pros and cons of each tool?

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Knowledge retention - bridging knowledge

I was recently contracted to provide continuity of management for a soon to retire manager. My roles will be to complete one short-term project and provide interim management of another long term project. In essence, I’m providing a bridge of knowledge from the retiring employee to the new employee.

From a knowledge retention perspective my tasks are:

1) Learn all I can from the retiring employee,
2) Capture/ document key and salient items, and
3) Share/ transfer to the eventual long-term employee (hopefully hired soon).

At the first meeting, my first challenge became clear – identify “who” -- who are the contractors, stakeholders and end users. This includes contact information as well as insights on roles and expectations. Another task will be to identify documents and other resources and where they can be found.

While this position is important just to keep things running, this knowledge bridging will enable the new employee to get up to speed more rapidly

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Knowldege retention - Proactive vs. recovery?

With high turnover and difficulty in replacing key employees, knowledge retention is becoming more and more important.

I classify knowledge retention efforts into three categories:

1) Proactive – as an everyday task, capturing knowledge on an continual basis
2) Salvage – When you know someone is going to leave, capture essential knowledge in the time allotted.
3) Recovery – Finding or reconstructing the needed knowledge afterward

In an ideal world being proactive would be the best. However, capturing knowledge takes time, effort, and resources. There’s a fine balance between the value of knowledge captured and resources required. Prioritization and most importantly an understanding of “mission critical” or “position critical” knowledge is a good place to start.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Knowledge management technology lesson in buying a TV

My wife and I went out to buy a new TV. This was a great example of the promise of technology vs. what’s truly needed. Our business requirements were pretty simple, we needed a new TV (even though our current 25 years old set is just fine) and I had watched the Bronco game on a friend’s high definition set, so high definition was a must. Other than that...

So we went off to our local appliance store. Here’s some impressions:

  • The promise of technology - The first thing we saw was a wall of TVs of all shapes sizes. The size we were thinking of was too small for the wall and off in some corner. Should we get something bigger than our need?
  • Technology outpacing current requirements – The first thing we heard of was 760 vs. 1080p (the higher the number, the greater the resolution). Reviews that we saw say you can’t see the difference in the size TV we may buy. Of course 1080p is the future and costs at least $100 more. Buy for now or the future?
  • Newer technology – LCD vs. plasma – LCD is the newer technology and most manufacturers are moving toward it. It supposedly works better in variable light conditions. We were told that Plasma has better clarity for sports. LCD costs at least $100 more. Buy what’s hot or for one use?
  • Features – We heard a ton about the different features as a way to differentiate the models. Some could do some very amazing things. Of course, I’m the person who uses my cell phone only to make phone calls.... Buy with features that aren’t in our requirements list but might be cool?
  • User experience – After two days of technology investigations I began reading customer reviews. All rated the picture quality high. The reviews talked about operations issues such as poor sound quality, poor quality remote, and difficult to understand menu (i.e. can you actually use the TV?). The technical focus of picture quality wasn’t an issue to the majority. The satisfaction was related to the experience during use.

What TV did we buy? Well that’s a different question. I brought my research to management for the final decision.

The lesson here for knowledge management is that the latest and greatest technology may not be the best solution to satisfy your business needs. Whatever solution you chose is a balancing act between the technology (current and future), your needs and organizational culture. And of course, don’t forget to balance your checking account...

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

KM lesson - returing man to the moon

Picture this scenario: You’re in a rush to beat a competitor to achieve a very complicated goal. Tons of pressure is being applied to accomplish the goal first. You assemble the best of the best, and use a variety of large and small contractors to help you. After tons of trial and error, you complete it, have a huge success, win accolades, and then move on to another project. 35 years later, you’re asked to do the same thing without reinventing the wheel. Could you do it?

This is the case with NASA’s Ares project, taking man back to the moon 35 years after the fact. Weird Science did a great show titled space junkyard. It’s worth seeing from a knowledge management perspective.

A few points that were clear:
· In the rush and the pressure to accomplish, KM was not a priority.
· There was no central repository of all the files and data. Drawing still exist, but not the why (tacit knowledge) things were done that way was not captured.
· Much of the spacecraft was used in accomplishing the mission and remained in space. That’s why the junkyard is so important. NASA can reverse engineer some parts. The problem is they are working on final products, with no knowledge about the mistakes made along the way.
· Many of the contractors have gone out of business, their knowledge is gone.
· NASA engineers moved on to different projects or private companies soon after the mission. After 35 years, I’m sure most have long since retired.
· The problems and challenges remain the same and while there have been major advances in technology, the engineering is basically the same. In other words the same knowledge needed in 1969, is the knowledge needed today.

A Washington Post article describes the “Saga of the Lost Space Tapes.” The story gives another example about the missing lunar video tapes. They weren’t used much following the mission and for a variety of reasons (cumbersome, highly specialized format) were archived, moved, and eventually misplaced.

Can you blame NASA? Of course in hindsight people do, but at the time, in the rush of the space race, I’m sure 99.9% of us would be in the same place. What’s impressive to me is that NASA learned from this and has developed an excellent knowledge management program.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Water Advice Network - Knowledge Retention

As a way to ensure the continued availability of knowledge from recently retired and part-time water professionals, I recently launched the Water Advice Network. I started out by signing up folks that I had worked closely with. In a short period of time, word spread and the network is quickly adding more and more top names from the water industry, worldwide. This includes the retired executive directors of the Awwa Research Foundation and his counterpart in Australia; directors from EPA, Ontario Ministry of the Environment, and the state of Wisconsin; former chair of the National Drinking Water Advisory Council; highly respected consultants; and two retired VPs of major water utilities. I've also begun to add top researchers from major universities.

The individuals I've added to the network have an average of over 35 years experience and represent a huge wealth of knowledge that would be lost to the industry without this network. While they all want to stay involved, they are not interested in a full time or even a formal job, Their main interest is in sharing their knowledge. So in forming the network, my main goal is in making everything easy for them and also for utilities to tap their expertise. I handle the marketing, billing and other administrative matters. We accept credit cards and make the advisers available on a hourly basis. If you want only an hour of their time, that's fine. If you want something more, that's great too. We're not interested in long-term, large projects. That will be left to the big consulting firms. The services we will offer include:

· Advice – They’ve been there and can help you address difficult decisions. They can provide a second opinion or assist you in complying with regulations.
· Mentoring – Have an experienced professional as your personal mentor and only a phone call away.
· Document review – Obtain an independent, expert review of your plans, strategies and reports.
· Peer review – Bring in a team of independent, highly qualified experts to review your project or program.

Our first client is a very small utility and I was able to provide an international expert (recently retired) to assist them and their consultant. Both the utility and their consultant are benefiting from his wealth of knowledge and he's excited by sharing his knowledge.

To read more about the Water Advice Network, go to

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

KM and Business Continuity Planning

Last week I attended a two-day training program titled "Business Continuity Planning for Water and Wastewater Utilities: How to keep your utility in business and operating in times of crisis." I went to the workshop to determine if and how I can incorporate business continuity planning (BCP) into the KM work that I'm doing. My general conclusion was that a good BCP plan has components of KM and and good KM plan considers what to do in a time of crisis.

Business continuity planning considers what happens if... How do you keep your business running, continue to complete your mission and keep your people safe. What happens if you can't get back in to your facility for 24 hours, 30 days, or they are destroyed completely? Examples could be a fire, flood, hurricane, tornado or just a water pipe break? We even talked about pandemic flu which could reduce the available workforce by over 50%. How do you stay in business?

From a KM perspective, the issue becomes what critical knowledge do out need and how can you access it during a crisis. Is key knowledge accessible at an alternative location? Do multiple people have access to it? What people and skills (tacit knowledge) do you need and how do you get a hold of them. What happens if you don't have a computer, blackberry or cell phone? What happen if all your paper records are gone?

A good KM strategy needs to consider not only the knowledge you need to manage and use during normal business operations, but also during a crisis. By considering it upfront and as a component of your KM planning, you can save time, effort, and be ready in the event of an emergency.

Is this likely to be needed, let's hope not. However, toward the end of our session a tornado warning was issued and two of our classroom participants rushed out because a tornado touched down by their offices.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Knowledge Retention

Over the last few months I've heard more and more questions about knowledge retention and tying knowledge management to succession planning.

Myron Olstein in the report "Succession Planning for A Vital Workforce In The Information Age" (Awwa Research Foundation, 2005) stated that for drinking water utilities:

•Half of your workers will not be with you in 10 years
•Most of the useful operating knowledge will go with them
EPRI report estimates that more than 80% of useful operating knowledge is tacit

These sentiments are being echoed throughout the water supply community, particularly by HR departments that are struggling to fill positions with qualified candidates.

This recognition has also spurred a lot of interest in purchasing systems to capture knowledge. The first question I'm often asked is what knowledge system should I purchase? While some knowledge systems are great, they should be last in your planning for knowledge capture. My recommendations are to:
  • Identify what information do you need to capture?
  • What can you do with existing processes and systems?
  • What simple things can you do first to capture knowledge (people and process)
  • What knowledge systems can support these activities? (technology)

Knowledge management planning should also not be done in a vacuum and should be integrated with business strategies and succession planning.

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