Thursday, December 13, 2007

Blogs to the left of me, blogs to the right of me…

that’s how I described one of the findings from our just completed consortium benchmarking research on enterprise 2.0 tools. With about 120 of some our closest friends gathered together at APQC for 1-1/2 days to share their experiences, blogs were definitely on the minds and lips of everyone. Whether used as a communication or as a collaboration tool, blogs seemed to be considered THE way to connect people among many in the audience. So, with that wisdom in mind, I ask, “Who’s using blogs for business purposes, and what results have you seen?” Or, in other words, “Show me the money!” Comments welcome; encouraged; hoped for.

P.S. From the knowledge transfer session I described above, we created a new blog—just for participants only. They’re going to keep the discussion going in there. Those of you who missed out, well, you missed out. BUT—if you comment here, I’ll make sure they get a chance to hear from you.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Et tu, web 2.0?

Well, another KMWorld has come and gone, and beyond catching up with old friends and meeting new folks, there was a lot to learn this time around. I’d have to say in fact, that this was the most productive of the many KMWorld conferences I’ve had the opportunity to attend. Stuff was cutting edge—and applied—not just theoretical “here’s what we’d like to do in KM if we could”.

If I had to pick out the two themes I was most fascinated by it would be the web 2.0 stuff of course, and the number of times I saw social network analysis (SNA) used. While I use as much of the web 2.0 stuff as I can—RSS, IM, blogs, wikis, mashups, VoIP, social networking sites, podcasts, etc.—some of that is due to the fact that I’m both a remote employee as well as someone who’s on the road nearly 100% of the time. Using the web 2.0 stuff is about the only way for me to even attempt to stay on top of current events. Still, hearing all these speakers made me stop and take inventory of just what it is I’m using and if they’re really making my life easier or not. So let’s see:

  • RSS feeds: I’m inundated with enough reading material already, so my feeds are mostly entertainment oriented. Things like the language podcasts, talk radio, and old movies and radio shows. On the trip out to San Jose, I listened to the 1939 radio broadcast of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” It might have only been November, but it was still comforting to hear the story that I’ve seen so many times in film in so many ways (the Mr. Magoo version is still by far and away my favorite). On the whole, RSS is true to its namesake, and since I only use it through iTunes, it’s a no-brainer. I give this one a thumbs up.

  • Podcasts: Literally half of my 80Gb iPod is loaded with this stuff. Again, they’re mostly diversionary things like travel advice columns. Rick Steves is my favorite since I watch his TV shows also, but his podcasts are somewhat long so I have to be in the mood to pay attention that long. That also goes for some of the others, like Frommers, and the BusinessWeek ones, so I’m less apt to actually listen to them. My main client has a daily news podcast that I try to catch up on at least weekly, but that’s just because I feel like I must. The learn a language stuff? Not a chance. Spanish? Chinese? Japanese? Nada. I’ve got all three, but can’t figure out how to learn and retain the stuff after listening to them. A far bit more fun are the video podcasts like old movies (I’ve watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” on that tiny 3” screen), and other public domain stuff. I’m too cheap to actually pay for content. So while I could learn something using podcasts, I don’t, so this is a neutral.

  • IM: This is one of my favorites because it’s so easy to use and unobtrusive. Using Trillian to cobble together my AOL, Yahoo, and MSN IMs at least leaves me with only one interface to deal with. Unlike some folks, I’m not bothered by a spontaneous, out of nowhere IM popping up on my screen. For work colleagues, I like to use it just for signaling purposes—to ask if they have time for a call. For friends, just to say “hi” or have them let me know that I’ve (unintentionally) ignored them for too long. It’s quick, easy, and most importantly doesn’t clog up my email. For those who have their IMs forwarded to their cell phones even better. I hate texting on my phone, but being able to type out text messages to the phones of others is a good thing. Definitely a life enhancer and a big thumbs up.

  • Blogs: Well, truth be told, not so much—interest that is. Maybe folks have a story to tell, but first I’ve got to get out there to read them. Maybe I should use RSS to at least bring them into one place and read the headlines, but then I’m back to reading just to figure out if I should read more. I wonder what this really means for the knowledge marketplace. After all, the supply siders are definitely out there, just offering up their knowledge wares for the taking; but I’m not buying. In most cases, I haven’t even found the market. I had a running dialog with a reader of this blog once. I thought my rationale—and math skills—were spot on for supporting my non-reading of blogs. So it’s fait accompli—I generally don’t get around to them unless I have a specific topic I’m looking for. So what do I expect for this blog? Hello out there…out there…out there…A thumbs down here (so far).

  • Wikis: To be fair, I’ve only been a user and not a contributor to this most democratic of publishing mediums. Power to the people has never rung more true than for wikis. In spite of that—you can call me old school, or even just old—I don’t allow my MBA students to use wikis (read: wikipedia) as citations in their papers. Although I’ve discovered the value of wikis, mostly for arcane subjects that the Enclycopaedia Britannica would consider blasphemy even to breath the words, I’m still not ready to think of wikis as authoritative as those sources sporting an ISBN. A solid neutral here, since I have had fun with wikis.

  • Mashups: A cool idea. To be against them would be like challenging motherhood and apple pie (Sorry, that last inference was clearly intended for an American reader. Let’s just say they’re both really good things.). I’ve used a few, with the most memorable being someone’s mashup of Google Earth with music and locations of famous WW II battle locations like Iwo Jima or Pearl Harbor. Each element by themselves isn’t so unusual, but the cleverness of mashing them all together made for an interesting experience. A solid thumbs up for mashups.

  • VoIP (Voice over IP): Probably the best known of this group of apps is Skype, a free application that is also free to use between two users if communicating from computer to computer. There are variations on the theme, such as computer to landline or mobile phone, or personal phone numbers, or voicemail, but those cost money (of course). Still, when I’m able to chat with my daughter half a world away while she’s in Japan sans cost, I’m all for it. Over a DSL or better connection, the sound quality is pretty good, with little lag (although a lag sometimes is annoying, it can also be pretty funny to hear yourself at the other end again—kind of like speaking a ‘round’ by yourself). If there’s a drawback to this app, it’s only that I can’t find enough users to keep the cost to zero. Oh by the way, when I get stationary (this is being done at 35,000 feet), I’m supposed to call a colleague via Skype. She’s in Norway. I’ll be in San Diego. Interestingly, our biggest hurdle won’t be technology related. It’ll be finding a time that we’re both agreeable to. A big thumbs up just because of the frugalness in me.

  • Social networking sites: My site of choice is LinkedIn. Not because it’s so good, but because MySpace seems a bit scary, and FaceBook is off limits to me (according to my twenty-something daughter, who would never get over the embarrassment of her father having a page there!). While I still don’t think LinkedIn is fun to use, a key reason why I rarely go into it, I have used it both to help connect others as well as to ask others to connect me with someone. So for that purpose, the social networking aspect seems to work. A downside to not accessing it much I’ve found, is that changes to my resume or interests, or desire to connect with others doesn’t happen very often. Now fortunately, my resume hasn’t changed in the last 4 years, but I’ve noticed that some of my connections have out-of-date profiles, rendering this tool a bit less reliable. Still, I wouldn’t give it up—thumbs up.

  • Virtual worlds: Now technically, I don’t use VWs, even though technically I could. I do have a Second Life account, but don’t have enough connections with others there to make it worth my while to investigate more fully at this time. And, while the idea of flying around just by flapping my arms appeals to me, I still haven’t even figured out how to do anything but launch my F-18 Super Hornet straight into the ocean off the flightdeck of the CVN-76 USS Ronald Reagan in Microsoft Flight Simulator X. It’s safe to say that I won’t be picked for Top Gun school anytime soon. If I could figure out a use—with others—then VWs would get my nod. Right now it’s just an idea to me—thumbs sideways for life enhancement.

So if you’ve been keeping score (but why in the world would you?), that makes about half—5 of 9 to be exact—of the web 2.0 tools I’ve discussed a positive experience for me. I’m not exactly a technology luddite, so I wonder if this is just because I’m old? And, if you’ve come this far with me, then you know what comes next. What’s your experience with web 2.0 applications? Any Gen Y’ers out there willing to share?

Friday, October 19, 2007

And the winner is…

IMHO it’s Organization A. And the reason I think so is due to the “knowing-doing gap.” That concept tells us that just because you know something—a strategy, a process, a course of action—doesn’t mean that you actually do it. Similarly, just because you do it without a full appreciation of the strategic implications doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. So in this case, in spite of the fact that Organization A seems to be at a clear disadvantage to Organization B based upon the comparison I created, I’d still go with A to have long term success over B.

While I won’t go so far as to use the analogy that “slow and steady wins the race,” it is a bit of that practically speaking. Organization A has very rudimentary processes in place for knowledge sharing, and their cultural disposition to sharing is about on par with that, but their adherence to good change management principles, process orientation, and even their very mechanical way of executing knowledge management at least keeps them moving forward.

Compare that to Organization B. They have some very complex processes identified. At a high level, they have a picture of the world. Unfortunately for them, at the user level, the identified processes don’t mean a thing. In fact, the big-picture view of the world that Organization B has created for its users is so involved, that to attempt to use it is actually detrimental to getting the nuts and bolts work done. So what does that mean? It means that all the energy put into the identification, development, publishing, and advocating of the processes falls on deaf ears when the users are under daily pressure to get things done. So why does this matter? Well, because everyone is so busy trying to get their own work done, any talk of knowledge sharing also lands on those same overburdened ears.

Consequently, even though Organization A plods along, trying dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s as they attempt to inculcate knowledge sharing into their members, at least the rudimentary requirements of knowledge sharing are acknowledged and practiced. They may not know, but they do. Organization B’s grand plan may never see the light of day (in a practical sense where members are using it effectively). I’ve seen the progress of knowledge sharing in A, and it’s slow and painful, but it’s there. I’ve seen the lack of progress of knowledge sharing in B, and at this snapshot in time, I don’t see how they’re going to get it at all. Any ideas about how both organizations can be helped?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

A tale of two organizations

I’ve decided that anyone who thinks that knowledge sharing (aka knowledge management) is easy, or worse, who “doesn’t get it” at all woefully underestimates the complexity of the situation. This came to me recently as I’ve been working completely heads down with two organizations (you’ve been wondering what happened to me, haven’t you?), both which desire to improve their operations. While I won’t name them (for obvious reasons), their characteristics read like a dichotomy of what organizations can be. Just off the top of my head, here are some:

Organization A

Organization B

Have robust business processes defined

Only starting to identify and document them

Methodology is fully developed although its application is variable

Have supporting technology for content and collaboration

Content is provided one-way; technology enabled collaboration doesn’t exist

More collaboration sites than you can shake a stick at

Have well defined knowledge sharing processes in place

Highly developed structure with roles, responsibilities, communication plans, and business rules in use

Ad hoc sharing is encouraged, but no known processes developed to enforce rigorous sharing

Have business and knowledge sharing measures in place

Still developing

Use of scorecards, RYG dashboards, etc. in wide use

Have sufficient content to share among users

No real content management strategy developed yet

More content than you can shake a stick at

Have a documented vision for what knowledge sharing can do for the organization

Their mantra includes the value of knowledge sharing

A consistent idea of what knowledge sharing means hasn’t even been socialized throughout the organization yet.

Have a culture of knowledge sharing in place

Processes in place ensure that the culture is reinforced

Only ad hoc among colleagues

Have mechanisms for identifying, vetting, publicizing, and reusing best practices

Mechanisms in place, but number of best practices is low

By definition, best practices are rolled into methodologies

So—if we can all agree that the purpose (at least one important one that is) for institutional knowledge sharing is to improve processes—then which organization do you think is better at it? Using the traditional measures of time, cost, quality, which organization performs better? Or, maybe they both excel? Or neither?

Of course, I could tell you now, but then I’d have to think of something for my next post, wouldn’t I? I’ll leave this question unanswered for a comment period and get back to you.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Social networkers unite!

Self organizing teams…a toolkit of social tools to help…an environment of collegiality never before seen in a “siloed” organization. Is this the brave, new world of work? Let’s hope so. Dale Arsenault has kindly provided a peek into the future, describing a scenario in which project managers can nimbly choose the appropriate tools to aid their projects’ chances of success. Collaboration happens, either in real time or asynchronously, but in any case it happens 24/7. Trying not to sound pessimistic however, how are we going to get there?

Now trying to be a “thought leader” means not constantly throwing roadblocks into what “could be,” but the question still nags me. Current and future needs as I hear them from others seem to indicate that web 2.0 tools aren’t the hurdle—the speedbumps are still basic change management. So maybe our current study on the intersection of KM and web 2.0 comes at a good time for me. It’ll allow me to get my head above the fray of “what is,” and spend more time on visualizing the future.

Actually, of all the web 2.0 apps, the one that holds the most interest to me personally (from a knowledge management perspective that is) is the personal page—the MySpace, Facebook type pages. I use neither of those popular apps, but I am on [note: I’m not endorsing any app, I just happen to be on that one.] Even that is a bit of a chore for me however, as I don’t find myself anxiously awaiting the opportunity to update my profile, or to add some new, pithy comments into it.

So what makes the other sites so popular and what’s missing from the app I use? I think its fun. Yes, fun! Somehow the transition from “personal” to “professional” page takes the fun out of it. Go to any typical personal social page, and you’ll not only find regular updates by the page holder, but they’ll have “friends” that make quick comments—comments that indicate that others are actually reading what’s there. The implications of course, are huge if we can incorporate the personal page look and feel into our professional pages.

A person can list what books they’ve read and recommend, or their research interests, or talk about what others are talking about, or expose some of the tacit knowledge that they’ve accumulated over the years—all good stuff for an organization. No repository could ever even hope to be so rich in content as that provided willingly by the page holder. Let’s assume for a moment that what I’ve said above is true. Let’s also assume that an organization’s leadership understands the value and encourages such pages (they can be internal only—that’s not a show stopper). How do we introduce the fun factor into it so that people will be willing and excited about sharing their knowledge this way? Any success stories are greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Not too wiki?

Re-reading Tim O’Reilly’s definition of what web 2.0 is (, allows me to consider another aspect of its relationship to enterprise knowledge management. Lately, we’ve heard much buzz about the wisdom of crowds and wikis for example. I happen to agree that the collective perspective, insights, and solution provided by a group are generally better than that generated by a lone individual (or I wouldn’t be in this business). I also think that wikis have a clear advantage to their users, as the potential participative opportunity should allow users to feel invested in the results produced in a way far greater than simply submitting to a corporate repository.

So what’s the issue? The issue is, “How should organizations develop enablers like wikis to make knowledge management more effective?” By definition, wikis ought be somewhat authoritative. Wikis are not a place for wildly divergent ideas although acknowledgement of differences certainly should acknowledged, as they would be in any well researched document. In any case, where is this authoritative content supposed to come from? My guess is subject matter experts. Which subject matter experts? Probably the same ones in the organizations today. So what are we going to do differently to tease out expertise from this group that we haven’t done in the past? It's easy find experts in any organization. You ask around and you hear the same names come up. It's not always so easy to see their expertise in writing because they're busy making use of that expertise, not writing it down.

We’ve been down this path before. Communities of practice are modeled after communities of interest. Communities of interest get their fuel from the passion each member has for the narrow topic of interest they’re involved in. While I don’t have any research at hand, I suspect that it’s possible that some community of interest members are so passionate about their interest, that they may be involved to an extraordinary degree. We try to get CoPs to mimic the same behavior—sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. What do we miss there? And, what might we miss if we simply tell subject matter experts that now they’ve got a much easier way to publish their knowledge for the benefit of everyone?

Perhaps this will have to be a convergence between the exploratory wiki-thinkers and the stodgy old, formal knowledge management types. Introducing wikis without considering change management, or denying how newer collaboration methods can increase interactivity will likely lead to less than satisfactory results. Neither approach alone will get us there. It’s not a matter of what, it’s a matter of how. So how?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Web 2.0 here I come!

As promised, I’ll now acknowledge that blogs have value. In what ways I’m not sure yet, but it’s a losing proposition to continue down my former path. So—let’s expand the conversation. Let’s talk about what are commonly referred to as “web 2.0” technologies. They usually include such things as blogs, wikis, RSS, mashups, social networking, etc. Taken as a whole, I can get behind web 2.0 much more than I can for any one application. That’s because they all share an underlying driver that transcends a specific use. They all rely on peer-to-peer access. The need for monolithic sources of knowledge is fast becoming irrelevant. I’ve argued this point for some time, so in this case web 2.0 helps my cause.

The only fly in the ointment however, seems to be that organizations just aren’t ready for it. At our KM conference earlier this month, the theme was innovation and the presenters certainly did their best to illustrate the buzz around web 2.0 and the like. But what I heard from folks there were issues around implementing “old” technology, such as collaborative spaces, and repository management. With only a few very notable exceptions (and you know who you are), attendees were concerned about some very practical and long-standing knowledge sharing problems such as getting people to create, share, and reuse regardless of what technologies are available to them.

That leads me to consider that there may be a divide looming—those organizations that are taking a traditional knowledge sharing approach v. those that are testing the web 2.0 technologies to see if more knowledge sharing occurs. And, because web 2.0 technologies rely on the previously mentioned peer-to-peer model, one could argue that expertise location is enhanced as well. After all, if you get something from someone’s blog, being aware that that person has useful content on similar topics naturally allows you to stay connected with a person v. a repository.

Nevertheless, my work in KM—while straddling the divide—has still been in the traditional; taxonomies, repositories, validated content, knowledge maintenance processes, and so on. It’s not a resistance to the new, it’s what’s being asked for. Regardless of the technology used, some basic change management and human nature considerations are still king. Recently, a client senior executive said to me, “There’s nothing to keep my people from sharing; all they have to do is get up out of their chairs and go down the hall.” True enough, as far as I could tell nobody was shackled to their desks. Yet no sharing was going on. And, this organization has enough technology to make most of us jealousy—satellite VTC, webcams on PCs, instant messaging, and on and on. Still no sharing.

In another case, a member of a “gang of four” (her description) told me that she and her colleagues do get together in person to share what they know—but they have to do it secretly out of doors. When I suggested that we could help them with a collaboration space to allow them to share 24/7 (and stay inside during the Winter), she flatly said “no,” that putting those same kinds of comments in electronic form would be too risky.

So those cases and others, IT management’s concerns about effective management of all technologies, and the fact that some organizations haven’t even learned to walk with KM means that web 2.0 technologies would be the equivalent of immediately going to running with KM scissors in hand. But, if you’re worried about me being left in the last century, never fear. APQC’s next consortium learning benchmarking study, KM and Enabling Technologies (principally web 2.0 stuff), launches in July, and I get to play in it. I suspect that they’re taking the approach that making the nay-sayer a part of the experience will open my eyes to a brave, new world. By the way, we may even innovate the way we do studies with this one. There’s been some talk of using a wiki to develop parts of it. Stay tuned.