Friday, September 17, 2004

Communities of Practice and Measurement

Measurement is all the buzz these days! I guess we are all trying to do more with less so organizations are evaluating every dollar it spends since the number of dollars are limited. Communities like any other approach comes under the same scrutiny. The whole "organic" piece works for only so long, before the boss asks "what am I getting out of this?" When we start communities in organizations the cost is relatively low (unless you start with some expensive technology). But as more people get involved you may start needing technology or people may spend more time in the community or you may need funding for events, and before you know it you are asking for a community budget.
The moment you do that, return on investment (ROI) comes into the picture. Like the boss said, "what am I getting out of this?"
Typically in the initial phases you are not necessarily measuring the impact of the community, you are assesing the health of your community. Communities go through some very distinct phases of starting, forming, growing, maturing and sometimes dying. Of course I am not quoting anyone's stages per se I am just saying that they go through these phases.
When you start, an early measure is membership. How many people are in your community? Then you move on to activity. How many times do you meet or get together? What do you do when you get together? and how much do members drive what happens in the community versus what the leader is driving?
As the community matures the group should attempt to put together some outcome measures. Take on a special project to fix something that will impact the bottom line, or gather ideas to create a new product, recommend changes in a process, something that makes a bottom line impact to the organization.
Now don't get me wrong, I am not saying that all communities have to have bottom line results, some of you may be lucky in that your management recognizes the inherent value of a community and knows that sometimes intangible stuff cannot be measured but does pay off somewhere. But that's not the good fortune of most of us that have to account for every hour with a project code.
So here is a basic article on Measurement and KM that Kimberly wrote a while back that is a great overview on KM and Measurement and gives you a framework to think about measures.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Challenges with information technology in the context of communities

This one is my favorite. Partly because I have a small community space on my own site and boy do I have my share of challenges.
In my opinion the biggest challenge is "unavailability" of information technology (IT) resources. I don't know about you but when I go to my IT folks and say please....pretty please can you add some functionality to my site, they look at me and smile and say "Sure, right after we take care of these other 50 million critical things that are right ahead of you." I mean, they are really nice so I can't say anything bad about them and they work really hard every day except that it is frustrating that we have limited resources so they cannot focus on my needs immediately.
Any of you readers identify with my experience?
Lets kind of back track. When do we need IT in a community? We need it when our community really starts to collaborate and share and all of a sudden people are sharing this really cool content with one another and feel the pinch of not having a place to put it. It may also start earlier if the community is more technically oriented and likes to communicate electronically as opposed to the phone. Then you would need to have some collaboration software on at the very least a distribution list that you can send messages to.
There is a ton of "collaboration" type software out there. It is typically the best fit for a community but can be really pricy. I think e-mail works great except it can get cumbersome if everyone is copying everyone on their e-mails and then of course you have to go looking for old e-mails for conversations of things you thought you had, etc.
Software companies such as Groove, Tacit, Askme, and Vignette (bought Inxight or Insight I can't remember now, they are all the same) all play in this space. They have different ways of getting to the collaboration piece. Groove gives you chat rooms, chat groups, e-mail, and a rudimentary data store. Tacit works on filtering e-mails for valuable content and puts it in a repository and tries to identify like users. AskMe is an expertise locator system that profiles individuals and their expertise. It also has collaboration spaces and e-mail, etc. And so does Vignette. This is by no means an official description of what any of these vendors offer its just meant to give you a flavor of what is out there. The reason I even brought these vendors up is because one of the primary challenges in community implementation related to technology is that of vendor selection. My rule of thumb is the amount of analysis I do on a vendor is directly proportional to the cost of the software. If something costs under $1000.00 I try it out almost immediately and don't fret if it doesn't work. What it does is teach me all the things that I want from my other vendors, what questions to ask, etc. Then I go looking for the big guys and am ready to make a more informed decision.
Again, spend as much time on it as it deserves based on the functionality you are looking for.
I know its ideal to have a system that integrates with the main/primary system of the company but in really big organizations that can be quite a challenge. If your needs are simple keep your technology simple.
Another challenge that some organizations face is that they get all the technology in place at first and then as the community forms they find no one uses it. My take on this is that it was too early to implement the community. Without really knowing the members and their needs it is always risky to implement a technology. Don't get me wrong, it could totally work out and if it does then its not a challenge. But if it doesn't it most likely means that your members are not used to communicating in the way that the technology dictates.
So if you all have more technology challenges, please write me.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Challenges with Roles

I had written about roles earlier but had focused primarily on the leader and the members. Once a community is established there are several other roles that come into play such as content manager, librarians, subject matter experts, technical, customer service, etc. It so happens that most of the challenges associated with roles lies in finding these resources.
In an ideal situation members in your community would be able to fulfill these roles but some of them such as a librarian or an information technology architect require special skills and you may have to request help from other departments.
There in lies the challenge. The same issue that you have with getting your management to give up resources is the same battle you will have in trying to borrow resources.
Again, all this would be smooth if there was a plan up front, all roles identified, all managers bought in and senior management endorsed. But let's face it, I think that is very much a "best-case" scenario.
The challenge facing the critical role, that of community leader has to do with skills. A leader has to have a mixed bag of skills. Networking, leadership, facilitation, technical knowledge, knowledge of the organization, and access to external experts. Its tough to find someone with all these who also has a passion for the topic. If you have to chose, the most important one is knowledge of the organization and respected individual. This is because a leader has to be very influential to get participation and liked by many since he/she is trying to get participation.
Well, just lost power completely, there's a storm brewing....

Monday, September 13, 2004

Challenges in implementing communities of practice

Sorry y'all! I know I have been gone a long time. Circumstances beyond my control and a great example of some of the challenges we face in implementing communities today. Sometimes we just don't have the time. Between traveling and school and managing a team of content writers, and managing a community.... You get the picture. Every night as I lay down I think darn!!!! I did not put anything on my blog today. And I know I am not unique in this. Most of you share exactly the same or worst predicament in trying to manage work, home and professional growth.
So back to challenges. Lets look at challenges broken down by: Building and managing communities, roles, support and funding, information technology, sustaining, and measuring the impact of communities.
Senior leadership involvement is probably the most common challenge of building and managing communities. Although communities are supposed to be organic and grow and die naturally, if an organization wants its communities to be responsive and innovative it is going to have to support it formally to some extent. That's where management comes in. Ideally senior management would be supportive of communities, however we have found that communities is one of the rare approaches that does not necessarily need upper management approval. In a "real" community, where people get to together because they want to not because they have to, the members don't view community membership as "work." They participate in the community because they get something out of it. Ok! so that was "fantasy-land," reality is that although most of us participate in things we get value from it would be nice if it were recognized as part of our job and we did not have to get burned out and give up on communities completely. That's where the boss comes in. Even if senior management is not involved, general, departmental,line, etc. managers have the authority to give their employees some time to participate in the community and allow their employees to grow professionally.

Time,is the other obstacle in managing communities. You may find the time to participate but where does one find the time to manage. The best solution for this is to break up responsibilities. See if you can get administrative help from your department for things like sending out invites, finding the conference room, arranging for the food ( if there is any), etc. That will leave the community leader to focus on the value add work of finding out what the community members want to talk about, researching the topic a bit, maybe finding a speaker, etc.

The other big issue in building communities is getting people motivated to participate. Again, just remember if you are fighting it, that is people don't want to participate maybe they are not getting anything out of it and its not a good community. Look for pockets of individuals that are already banding together in some form. They will appreciate the attention more than those that are fighting against you.

Another challenge in the build phase, especially if its a new community has to do with scope and focus. It's during this phase that the team has to decide if the community is going to be very specific or general, its its under the radar or a big-bang, and if its grass roots or top down created. So again the logical answer would be to identify stakeholders, to make sure this is a team effort, to make sure that the people who will be leading the community are involved in these decisions.

A lot of what I am writing is run of the mill, how we work. I am listing these in context of creating and maintaining communities with the hope that if you are in the process of creating communities in your organization you will think about and account for these challenges beforehand and be ready with answers when it's your turn to present a business case to your senior management.
As always... please send me some thoughts. I know a few of you are reading this blog now so there is no excuse for not participating. Please send in your challenges so we can have a discussion or at least get some answers or suggestions for you.