COP Principles

Shawn Callahan has written a blog entry on remembering Communitie of practice principles. He says “One doesn’t implement communities of practice nor create them by management edict. Rather they require the right conditions to grow. Management’s role is to make it clear to potential community members that they support this new way of working. ” Though seemingly straightforward this leads to two key questions:

1. Communties of Practice are increasingly becoming the cornerstone many KM initiatives. Many consulting firms speak about “creating communities”. Most firms in turn (specifically huge distributed firms) do not spend time identifying existing informal networks but go on to define “strategically” important communities and “try” to derive value out of it. And not surprisingly many of these may fail. So does this mean that SNA is a necessary step before organizations embark on a community based knowledge initiative?

2. The second key issue is how do organizations educate managers to respect the organic nature of communties and not trample its free form?


Yogic Breathing & KM

Prof L.S.Ganesan, Head of the Department Of Management Studies at IIT-Madras was speaking about the parallels between Pranayama(Yogic breathing) and the need for a process centric KM. Breathing is so simple and obvious that we take it for granted. Also normal breathing does not significant impact beyond keeping us alive. However systematic and controlled breathing has system wide effects. One of the sites on yoga explains pranayama/yogic breathing as follows:

“Pranayama is loosely translated as prana or breath control. The ancient yogis developed many breathing techniques to maximize the benefits of prana. Pranayama is used in yoga as a separate practice to help clear and cleanse the body and mind. It is also used in preparation for meditation, and in asana,the practice of postures, to help maximize the benefits of the practice, and focus the mind.”

Optimal Breathing speaks about Superior Health, Peak Performance, Life Extension in relation to effective breathing.

On the same lines a well defined and systematic way to create,integrate and share knowledge would have system wide effects that are greater than sum of the parts.

A haphazard approach or no-approach to KM is like normal breathing(with little beyond local impact) and a formal KM approach is like Pranayama(has positive and sustainable long term system wide impact).

APQC KM Conference Presentations Online

All the presentations made at this years APQC conference “The ExpandingPresence of KM” have been published on the APQC site.

Follow this link:

There are a few that focus on Communities Of Practice as well.Excellent stuff!!! The Nick Bontis presentation was exceptional and Ifeel there is a lot of scope to explore the impact of communities ofpractice on the various “bubbles” he has on his causal models.

Culture & Poor Technology Implementation

I stumbled upon in CollaborationCafe. The site has some very interesting reports though they are some what old. I liked the report on the role of IT in enabling Collaboration and some of the key challenges yet to be addressed. One of the interesting aspects that stands out is the fact that Knowledge creation benefitted least from IT support while collaboration benefitted the most. Self service and Analysis & Desicion making are inbetween. While there is a lot of talk about “cultural issues” and that technology is not THE solution, this report suggests that we need to remember that technology IS a part of the solution.More so for distributed large organizations. From what I understand from the report most of the problems( like low user base,empty portals etc.,) are a result of user frustration with the virtual collaboration tools rather than any serious cultural issue per se (or) perhaps that poor implementation has atleast as much a role to play as a knowledge hoarding culture.

Knowledge Challenges-Aging Workforce

The discussions I had with some of the folks at the APQC conference shed some light on unique knowledge challenges that organizations are facing. Many organizations have to ensure that they have clear knowledge retention strategies given the fact that they are dealing with an aging workforce. Incidentally a recent Accenture survey report that has been published this month says

“one-quarter (26 percent) of respondents said that their organizations will let them retire without any transfer of knowledge. Just 20 percent said they anticipate an intensive, months-long process of knowledge transfer prior to their leaving, 28 percent said they believe the knowledge-transfer process will last one or two weeks, and 16 percent think they will simply have an informal discussion with others in the organization prior to retirement”

And most of these companies end up doing lengthy structured interviews of employees and videotaping them. This is a very reactive approach to knowldge transfer and may not work in all scenarios. Organizations that understand the complexity inherent in knowledge and the social nature of learning are investing heavily in succession plans and internship(mentoring). Videotapes of experts may augment this effort. The chain of thoughts that the expert uses to draw conclusions,the assumptions he makes are all too tacit. And trying to capture 20 years of experience in 2 hour tapes seems meaningless. Also there has to be a systematic effort to maintain high levels of employee satisfaction and motivation to retain employees.

The bottomline is :

1. Rely on time tested apprenticeship/mentoring techniques to transfer key competencies to retain/transfer organizational knowledge

2. Ensure that you retain those that have the knowledge after the transfer has happend. And ensure that knowledge sharing happens. To get a better idea of how employee satisfaction and motivation affects knowledge sharing see the causal models designed by Nick Bontis.

InstaColl-Free Instant Collaboration

Sabeer Bhatia of Hotmail fame has invested in . He believes that instant collaboration is the next big thing. Anyways, that got me curious enough. I downloaded an instance and I have to agree that its pretty good. It fits into the Microsoft Office suite of products in the toolbar which means you dont have to leave the productivity applications you are working on to start collborating. It allows one click co-editing of documents,application/screen sharing,IM ,whiteboarding etc., and all this for free !!! They have a heavyweight version for corporates as well and that costs a bit. While there are a lot of web conferencing products out there…This is unlike many other products is P2P.

APQC Conference on KM-Key Learnings

The conference in St.Louis was enlightening. Most of the organizations seem to be realising the social nature of work and learning.

Some of the interesting conversations in the conference centered around the following thoughts:

1. While everyone acknowledges today that communities of practice are the cornerstone of any major KM initiative, it is becoming a big challenge to educate managers about the organic nature of communities. Care has to be taken that managers(read business sponsors of communities) do not trample the free form of communities while they look for results.Managers need to understand that learning and work are inherently social in nature. “Nurture dont manage” is the bottomline.

2. Story telling is not an option. Storytelling is a crucial and almost inevitable way to bring change in any huge organization. What we call “change management” today does not take this into consideration. Companies have to devise new ways to manage myths about previous attempts at KM. Workshops and seminars are not enough to promote awareness. There has to be a sustained campaign to convey the fact that this is not “just another initiative”. As of now this seems to be the biggest barrier for companies. The executive team understands the importance of KM and have draft a vision. However, to translate vision into reality we need buy in at various levels. We need KM evangelists who would be trained storytellers and they need to be a part of the change management team. This is crucial to bring everyone on the same page.
This is not theory. We need to understand that there is a huge behavioural component to KM and that we cannot ignore its existence.

3. Dont blame culture forever. The best way forward is to get started and alter the course as we go along. Our experience with communites validates this. There are communities that are pretty active. The challenge is to identify “cultural sweetspots” for a pilot and then expand.

4. Dont expect everyone to contribute equally. Even the most active communites has 20% of active users at anytime. The best thing to do would be to constantly look for means to find how 80% of those on the fringes use the community. Collect anecdotes to relate cause and effect.

5. We need to ensure that the KM strategy is aligned with the Organizational learning strategy . Sooner or later we would need to do this. Because at the end of the day its about becoming a true learning organization. Apart from the technology issues we need to integrate current learning processes into the KM framework.

7. Technology has to be extremely simple and search has to be a key component of the architecture. While this sounds straightforward many companies have experienced difficulties in getting this right.

8. The change management program has to tackle existing obstacles in the organizational structure and rewards/recognition mechanism that may hinder knowledge sharing. For instance in the US Navy there are designated subject matter experts whose only job is to serve as experts. And they think their jobs are at risk if they share what they know.

9. Driving Knowledge sharing bottom up is good. But top-down is crucial as well. In GE and Cap Gemini there are process checks to ensure that knowledge assests that get created as a part of the work process get submitted to the knowledge base.

10. Communities with partners, suppliers and educational institutions should be on the radar.

So at the end of the day I see many organizations are still grappling with integrating the informal nature of communities with more formal KM systems and processes.