Thursday, December 17, 2009

Promoted into Unhappiness

This is from a university. Promotion in science is based on scientific expertise but promotion puts scientists in management roles. But management ability is NOT valued, therefore there is poor organizational performance and an unpleasant culture.

Not Appreciated Until the Need Arises

Working as contractor – project manager for a big government organisation – hired by that organisation to teach project management. Found that inside the organisation, project management was not valued. Spent 1 year doing nothing. Then new legislation was created and the resulting change forced a project approach, so this expertise was shown to be more valued. Now the organisation sees the value and focuses on project management.

Need Context to Locate the Right Expertise

This is about the effects of a lack of a phone book and directory. Some people would rather call to find an expert and start a phone tree instead of locating people online. We also have no ability to collect contextual information to help find people so the wrong people are getting calls.

When Self-Identification Didn't Work

This was a project to build a master expertise database for an organization. The experts’ self-descriptions were not precise or systematic or standardized. Some people criticized others’ expertise. We tried to use a standard taxonomy but that failed. Some did not want their expertise advertised.

Expertise Not Discovered Until Almost Too Late

This story comes from the military. We had an NCO who was considered mediocre in his technical job and transferred to a Training Unit, where he could be out of harms way until he retired. This guy turned out to be expert at databases and he ended up creating an online training system. It became the standard system for the whole organization, after it was recognized externally and won awards. His expertise was not visible or valued (even to himself) until he got the right job. His expertise in his original role was not valued. This happened in his 19th year of service so he then retired, and his expertise was lost almost as soon as it was found. He resented being given his original job. Moreover, it was an external party who recognized his accomplishment first, and not his commander.

If Important, it Gets Transferred

If it is important, it will get transferred. The most important knowledge gets transferred. In our institution we have a practice of creating a “collection of artifacts for the next teacher.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Emperors Have No Clothes

Sometimes the Emperor has no clothes. I have seen cases where experts draft complex solutions and show off their expertise, and an outsider notices an obvious flaw. Is the expert always an expert?

Retirement Was a Gift

In the late 1980s, I was a supervisor. There was a manual process to create an authority file (like a database) and the person who was the supposed expert in this retired. They used the opportunity of his leaving to reengineer and reinvent the process, which was then much improved. “The expert” turned out to be not so deep, and through a group of knowledgeable people a new and better system was developed, leveraging resident latent expertise.

It's All Replaceable

Where I am, there is no retention or respect for expertise. “They think it's all replaceable.”

Orphaned Technical Knowledge

We developed websites or working interactives for customers. The architects were our SMEs. The boss sold the solutions. Then he left. No techniques were captured on how he sold (personal skills lost, behavioral tacit knowledge lost). We couldn’t bring strategy to new proposals. We were left with the technical knowledge, but the business development and leadership skills were lost. This was an organisational failure to capture or replace knowledge.

Stories to Build Historical Context

I was involved in knowledge retention for a large consulting firm. I was able to interview a retiring partner. We learned a great deal about the background of how working for government used to be like. He told a story about how reporters used to go through the trash of lawmakers’ work in committees and so on, to get material to report. They discovered this during their first audit exercise they did for the lawmakers, and this is why they tightened up the way they dealt with papers.

Deliberate Forgetting, Memory Had to be Rebuilt

When two legacy government agencies were merged, historical documents were shredded or burned from the old organizations, we lost an entire policy system. They probably did this so as to enable the new agency to start afresh. But in the new organization it created great difficulties in rebuilding documentation and history. We recreated knowledge via former employees who had retained old documents or by revisiting stored documents in boxes to recompile or reconfigure our knowledge. Bottom line: we lost organizational history. We had new work forces and very limited efforts to retain knowledge.

Expert by Training or Experience?

Knowledge and expertise are highly contextual. When is expertise actually expertise? “I’ve never actually stormed a castle but I’ve taken a lot of siege management courses.”

Not Recognising the Need to Manage Knowledge Work

In my organization, right now, lean six sigma is a huge initiative. However most activities in our organization are knowledge work, and they haven’t yet come to grips with that.

Expertise Outsourced to Contractors

Here’s a story about government procurement and expertise. There was a huge contract up for renewal. Management was concerned because the incumbent contractor wouldn’t have competition so it wouldn’t be “free and open competition.” Therefore they split the procurement and this led to a great deal of churn and disruption of work, because the contractor’s familiarity with our organization was broken up too.

Not My Cup of Tea

I was the only person with technical engineering expertise in my firm. The firm would garner some projects with technical content. They were never particularly close to my expertise, but as I was closest to the content, I would be assigned. I was unhappy and always having to learn and work on these things. I was actually not all that knowledgeable about it and certainly not interested in this work. Meanwhile, I could not work on what interested me and what I was hired to do. So I left.

The Wrong Expertise

Here’s a story of how a non-expert screwed it up. The assignment was to create a KM system. It was assigned to a non-expert because they had some taxonomy background. The result: we got a “good” taxonomy outcome, but an unusable KM outcome and $1m down the drain.

On Not Building Expertise

At my organization, you “build without thinking.” They never look at lessons learned. You can almost guarantee failure by not looking at lessons learned.

More Than a Job Title

Expertise is more than a name. Job titles in organisations don’t describe or indicate expertise, though people assume they do. We need to think more broadly than title.

Age of the Dinosaur

Sometimes, you need to go back to the source. Legacy knowledge and people are sometimes needed. Don’t discount the old guys’ value or the grey beards.

Management Decisions Didn't Consider Knowledge Needs of Project

This is a story about an IT project. Management decided on a large platform change. A lot of relevant personnel were getting ready to retire. Leadership felt they didn’t need as much mid-level and contract personnel, and this had a big negative impact on the project. We ended up having to re-start, and that project is still going on.

Courage Saves Time

This is about saving time. A new kid gets assignment. He looks up the experts in the “who knows what” database. He finds a “Vice president” as the designated expert in this area and although he is very junior he decides to approach him anyway. He gets advice from the VP and “a 3 day task took me half a day.”

Recognising the value of consultants

I work in a large government organisation as a consultant. I report to a senior manager within one of the departments. My expertise that has been gained from 20 years industry experience is highly valued and my opinion/insights are received very positively. This is within an industry where I have minimal experience in the core service, however I can make significant contribution in the management and governance around the organisation and delivery of those services. Areas where my expertise has been sought include internal team structure, vendor relationships, project evaluation, research data, project and program management and inter-departmental governance

Monday, December 14, 2009

Stagnant Best Practice

I was working in a consulting organization and we had to move content from fileshare to SharePoint as a move to support collaborative workspaces for groups. They wanted to rate the SME content for “best practice”. The manager did not understand the limitations inherent in a stagnant best practice approach and insisted we did it.

From Expertise to FAQs

We knew someone was retiring. We brought someone in to interview him, and he asked questions and we captured all the answers to those questions. And now in SharePoint we have those Q & A and it is accessible to all.

He's an Expert but Not Credible

Experts’ opinion tends to be dismissed due to personality quirks. This person can identify core gaps and develop tools for dealing with them but he is not taken credibly because of history and his personality.

You Can't Ignore Internal Expertise

This was in a bank. We brought in experts / consultants but found that we have people with greater expertise in house. The in house experts are finding flaws in the consultants’ work and driving the need to redo work.

Internal Expertise Ignored, Leads to Failure

Our website was taking too long to respond. It was unstable. It was built by a consultant but our in house expertise was ignored.

Easier to Access External Expertise

I was running into technical issues with System X. I knew that it would take 2 days to get the issue into the Company (owner of System X) system and 2 weeks to get it resolved. I blogged about the issue. Within 20 minutes, I had the solution. We documented the solution and exposed the solution for others to see.

Scientific Secrecy and Accessing Expertise

In my company there are rules about not talking in public. Scientists can’t access others’ expertise – it’s in logbooks or in their heads. Also credit is given to the first inventor, so people are reluctant to talk until they have published.

The Expertise Audit That Wasn't

We wanted to get to know other organizations in the company. We put our top 3 areas of expertise in a table but it turned out that everyone put what they wanted to be instead of what they are.

Lessons Learned Good For Newbies

We did a lesson learned on a refinery revamp where we had exceeded cost and time targets. At the lesson learned meeting we invited new employees to attend (who did not participate in the project). Older folks (38 of them) were reluctant to include new – finally agreed to 2. The conclusion was that the lesson learned meeting was a waste of time until the 2 new guys piped up that they had learned valuable information.

On Not Being Able to Validate Expertise

We have lots of examples of work on projects. We don’t know which are good or bad examples. The author is perceived as an expert but it is really unknown if he’s good or bad.

Sudden Attrition

This was a Fortune 500 company, with 50 years of history. 75% of senior level management retired within the past year after analysis that the company was top heavy. These people all had 25-40 years experience with the company. Who knows what the impact will be.

External Expertise Saves the Day

We held a peer assist – brought in expertise. He was a consultant in marine design, who said our design would not work. The engineers had to rethink the design, and we saved both time and money.

Expertise is a Crutch

Our research and development function was moved to another state. The result was a loss of expertise. We retained one individual as a consultant – it worked well. Then there was a management decision to stop the use of consultants. Then we had to try to capture her knowledge. Management felt we were using her as crutch and her specialist knowledge was not being internalized.

We Had to Do it Ourselves

We need to use software to manage our safety data sheets. IT put up a software package that was a dismal failure because they did not scope all the requirements well enough. We created a very simple material safety data sheet (MSDS) system from scratch based on our experience.

Boss Knew Best

I was handed a dicey project. There were conflicting interests involved, but a demand for a single common solution. The boss came in and dictated the solution elements, negating the conflicting ideas, based on his experience. This was very tricky because there were ramifications with our biggest client. We went with the boss’ solution after offering an alternative based on a different budget.

Expertise Sidelined into Management

In the growth of my current organization (20 to 100 employees, over 6 months) we end up being pushed from being experts into management roles. We did not pay attention to expertise movement taking expertise out of circulation.

Outsourcing Makes Life Complicated

This was an IT organization which restructured and we lost our internal employees who worked in application support. Support was outsourced to a third party. The current situation is that support for our application is so bad that internal people have to be trained. An activity that used to take 15 minutes now takes 2 weeks to go through the system.

Losing Access to Expertise in a Merger

At the time of our merger, our phone system was shut down – when we had a problem, it took 2 weeks to find the person who knew the answer - once we found the person, it took just 2 hours to fix the problem.

Blogging Helps Track Fast Moving Expertise

We have lots of movement, with staff in 2-3 years tenures. We have enabled blogging to allow commanders to share expertise and stories in this very fluid environment. Anyone in the armed forces can access, it’s not open to the Internet.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Discounting of Expertise

This is from Michiko Kakutani's review of Sarah Palin's book Going Rogue, published in the NYT November 14 2009:

'Yet Mr. McCain’s astonishing decision to pick someone with so little experience (less than two years as the governor of Alaska, and before that, two terms as mayor of Wasilla, an Alaskan town with fewer than 7,000 residents) as his running mate underscores just how alarmingly expertise is discounted — or equated with elitism — in our increasingly democratized era, and just how thoroughly colorful personal narratives overshadow policy arguments and actual knowledge. Ms. Palin herself had a surprisingly nonchalant reaction to Mr. McCain’s initial phone call about the vice president’s slot, writing that she was not astonished, that it felt “like a natural progression.”'

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Memory is linked to context

From a blog post by Shawn Callahan 10/11/08

Remembering experiences is heavily dependent on surroundings. I’m currently helping an energy company learn the lessons from retiring employees. I’m videoing their experiences with the view to facilitating sessions using the footage; it’s not really about capturing knowledge, just sparking new conversation based on what’s captured. My last subject was the company’s network controller. He’d been in the role for 10 years and I interviewed him in his office, which was right next to the control room. The control room looks like a mini version of the one from the movie The China Syndrome. His office has a window looking into the control room and it is festooned with charts and whiteboard diagrams. Everywhere you look are computer screens. He has a large table in the middle of his office, which has been the site of many disaster response war rooms. He was brimming with stories.

The network controller was retiring two weeks after my interview and I asked whether I could interview him again at his home. He was happy to help. A month later we met in his lounge room and the response was noticeably different. The stories weren’t as rich. It was harder for him to recall the events. The surroundings didn’t contain the memories and prompters to help him remember what he knew. Surroundings make a big difference to what people can recall.

Invisible expertise on proposal teams

A proposal team is going through a debrief after the proposal is submitted. The proposal team manager admits that he really doesn't like to write and wishes the organization had more proposal writers available to support the proposal teams that are essentially made up of scientists and engineers. While the scientists have typically developed writing skills, the engineers haven't.

A member of the team present at the debrief timidly raises her hand to declare that while she's typically uncomfortable contributing in group settings, she's very comfortable with writing and she would have loved to play a greater part in writing the proposal. Her official role on the team only required her to write a half page. She could have contributed much more but she was never asked and she never realized her writing skills would have been appreciated.

On the same team, a scientist who knew nothing about the budget side of the proposal was successfully pulled in to help write the narrative related to the budget. Sometimes you've got to look beyond a team members' assigned role and look for hidden expertise.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Inexperience Can Be Deadly

From BBC news 30 July 2009

A fatal accident inquiry will be held into the death of a cancer patient who was given a massive overdose of radiation, BBC Scotland has learned. Lisa Norris was 16 when she died in 2006, months after staff at Glasgow's Beatson Oncology Centre miscalculated her treatment for a brain tumour.

A post-mortem examination found the brain tumour caused her death. But it is understood the Procurator Fiscal has agreed to hold an inquiry, which will look again at the case. Lisa was initially diagnosed with a brain tumour in October 2005. Three months later she was given radiation treatment 58% higher than prescribed, which left her with burns on her head and neck.

'Critical error'
She died in October 2006 at her home in Girvan, Ayrshire. The teenager's parents, Keith and Liz Norris, have said NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde failed in their duty of care. A report commissioned by Scottish ministers identified a "critical error" in Lisa's treatment plan by inexperienced staff. It said the overdose happened after an under-qualified and under-trained member of staff entered a wrong number on a form. Another report, commissioned by the teenager's solicitor following a BBC Scotland investigation, suggested the chances of survival were in Lisa's favour until the mistake.

Friday, July 17, 2009

What's My Line?

In the 1950's there was a popular TV show in the US called "What's My Line?". The panel, composed of minor celebrities, would hear a brief description of the interest job or accomplishments of an otherwise little known person. then 3 individuals would appear, each claiming to be the person whose bio had just been read. The panelists would ask them questions for 10 minutes to try to determine which of the 3 was the real person and which 2 were imposters. The panelists would succeed about 2/3 of the time. The lesson for the real world is that we are not so good at detecting fraud as we might like to think. We are easily misled by appearances and our prejudices and preconceptions.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Poor Judge of Expertise

I graduated in 2000 and went for an interview for teaching at the Ministry of Education (MOE). That same day, they read an article about me in the newspaper. I thought that that was a positive thing, but we kept talking about my art background. After 15 minutes, he said that I was not accepted. “Will you be teaching Art or English?”, he quizzed. A teacher in Jumeirah who used to teach me then called me about a vacancy. I joined them as a volunteer. Results were good, so the MOE invited me back. The same guy interviewed me. And on the same day, another article about me appeared. But luckily by then I had already been hired by MOE.

Too Young to Know

I regret a decision I made 6 years ago. I used to swim. I had a very good and kind trainer. He wasn’t a professional trainer, but he’d joke and way easy going in the pool. After a while, he was replaced by a pro trainer. First day, he asked us to show him what we could do, and he said, “ You call this swimming?” He took away our interest. At 16, I didn’t know what a good trainer was.

Be Careful Who You Let Go

This story is about a mechanical man working for a train company. He was not educated. When he left the company, they realised that he was the only one who could read the technical papers which was in Russian. They hired him back to train young people. The company also sent the young people to Russia to learn Russian. But young people’s skills not the same as his.

Those Who Can’t Teach

This story is about a military aeroplane mechanic. He was not educated. He spent 25 years maintaining those planes. The technical information was in Russian. After he left, every time they re-assembled a plane, they had 25 extra parts. They had to call him back to train. But he is not trained to train, so the knowledge is in fact lost.

Count the Cost

A friend was working as a chief editor of an IT magazine. It’s a US magazine but was in local language version. He did most jobs from A to Z. After working for a long time, he wasn’t valued. So he resigned. They hired someone who was less skilled and experienced. Finally, the magazine closed. People were not interested in reading the magazine anymore.

Virtuous Cycle

When I started here, I took over marketing. I did not know much about the company then. The person before me was very organized in what she left behind. I managed to do my work better. Now, I understand importance of leaving organized work behind now.

Whatever It Takes

This story is about an IT expert, a brilliant guy. Many schools were under severe closure in this village, but we had results of 12 grades to issue. He sneaked out from the village where he lived and kept working for 4 days and nights to rush results out.

Scaling Expertise

One colleague here was a principal at a school. The school was doing well, and her supervisor was very happy. She was transferred here, and is doing strategy development for her previous school plus other schools as well.

Finding a Gem

This story is about a chemistry teacher who is socially not significant. I discovered by chance that his hobby was repairing old TVs. I got him to lead a class, on recycling old parts to make teaching aids for scientific study. Now he teaches lab technicians to recycle old apparatus. He has a lot of know-how in geography and geology too.

Restrictive Supervision

I worked in the Ministry of Education but left after 6 years. My supervisor / trainer who hired me knew me and what I could do. I had activities after school, and she allowed me to schedule my classes accordingly. But I was promoted to a secondary school. The new principal didn’t allow extra activities. I was going to hold an art exhibition, and the guest of honour was the Minister of Education. The principal didn’t allow me to go but I went anyway. The next day, I was told that I didn’t have a job anymore. The following month, I joined KHDA and I’m happy here.

Bad Apple

Once I was director of Education. This person was in charge of HR. His task was to move people between schools. I discovered that he was bribed by people. We had to take him out and reorganize everything. There were closures of towns in this country – large constraints. Took a lot of process mapping, survey of HR Team. Took 3 months before everything was re-organised again.

One Man’s Trash…

We were shifting to a new police HQ, and were destroying the old building. A policeman walked by and found old boxes with photographs and files in the garbage. He took them to the police chief. It was a fortune of old pictures relating to the history of the police force. Nobody knew about it. We didn’t even know who the people in the photographs are. Eg, there were 400 photographs of a 1981 Hurricane taken by the police. Nobody else had documented in this way.

Different Ways of Transferring Expertise

Knowledge transfer depends on the type of knowledge and personality of learners. Sometimes they can pass peer to peer. Sometimes, they have to write it down. Sometimes, we create simulation games, decision games – ask the officers to read situations and make decisions. Computer gives a report of mistakes and reasons – tells them how to use which procedures and when.

Uncanny Ability

We have a guy at the airport who somehow knows how to identify people smuggling. Nobody knows how he does it. He doesn’t know how he does it either. He is not highly educated but 9 times out of 10 he will be right. He has been doing this for 20 years. There was one time he was convinced one guy was smuggling but we could find nothing. We held the guy for 48 hours, searched everything, found nothing. But our guy was convinced. Finally we noticed that he had some cargo, machine parts. We took it apart and found nothing. But finally we noticed a discrepancy between the declared weight and the actual weight. We had to tear the machinery apart and we found the drugs. Now we have 2 highly educated officers accompanying him to try and learn how he sports these things.

Healthy Competition

The city government has CoPs to share expertise eg, environmental expertise, agriculture, etc. We have over 600 different minds of expertise in different fields. This year, we will start a centre of expertise to reduce research costs, eg, use experts to help organisations to solve their problems, identify research areas. We will have open competition to solve identified problems - for a prize.

Youthful Persistance

This was from a smelting company. There was a 17-years-old assistant who had to get knowledge from one guy who is anti-social, short, smelly. There was no documentation. He put in the codes to run the smelter. The assistant was very persistent in asking how to enter the codes. Eventually, he was able to get the information in 3 days. The smelly guy left. The assistant left too after a while. The manager was in a lot of difficulty because nobody knew how to run the smelter. He called up the young assistant on the off chance that he might have the information, and he did. The manager was so happy he held a party.

Internal Expertise Helped Saved Money

This is a success story about benchmarking. My colleague told me that in his department an employee complained of a back injury (slipped disc) and brought a medical report saying he needed 180,000 for operation. They were shocked, and didn’t think they had to cover it. The guy’s embassy said that it was a work-related injury and that they had to cover it. The organization said they wouldn’t cover it, as it was not a work injury. How can we prove that it is due to work? The embassy suggested a 3rd party medical report, from an environmental health expert. It would cost 20,000 for this report because it required special certification internally. They found someone who had the certification, and who was not working in a related field. She was able to prove that it was not the company’s responsibility.

The Assistant Knows It All

I worked in an investment bank. It had cutthroat bankers and long work hours. They would sabotage each others’ projects. Assistants do everything for their boss. Whenever the bosses move, they will take their assistant with them as they know stuff about their wife, kids, dentist, etc. Had to learn all about his bosses’ family as new assistant.

The Real Source of Information

There is one guy who knows everything about development and history of our who’s who. The police force can get the real story from him and not the published story. He usually says, “I don’t have time” so we go drink coffee with him, ask him a questions and record it immediately after on my mobile phone. Then I go back and write it down that night.

The Unusual Suspects

My office boy and my secretary are my knowledge guys; they know everything about everything. It is not just the formal experts in the organization who know.

To Catch a Thief…

In police work, we use serious offenders or people who think like criminals. They are best in catching crooks or working out faults or security risks but they often get caught doing bad things.

Toyota’s Canteen

A story from Toyota about a big canteen where a lot of knowledge sharing takes place. You feel safe, loyal, secure in that culture.

Tough Nut to Crack

The most difficult task is to capture tacit knowledge especially with older guys. 3 years ago, we had a brigadier who had been in Dubai Police for 50 years. He had worked in many different departments, but hard to capture his knowledge. He was shy and refused to attend workshops, speeches, and refused to cooperate with experienced interviewer. We started by searching his profile and then asked him questions about incidents and cases in his past. Got something from him but not a lot.

Sniffing Things Out

At the homeless shelter, you need to be able to discern quickly if people are “dry” before you let them in. You have to differentiate between ex-alcoholics and those who are drunk or on drugs. You need to work out quickly at the doorstep. You don’t want to admit people who are on drugs or drunk as they will affect others.

Database of Crime

We have a Crime Investigation Diploma course taught by officers who have worked in the field and not just in classroom context. The material is from their own experience. We have a monthly magazine where we publish cases as interesting stories. We have a database of cases all the way from the 1980s.

Price of a Manager’s Insecurities

There was this very competent worker who wrote books about the job. People went to him for advice and he always assisted. But his line manager felt very threatened and facilitated transfer of this competent man to another department. This guy eventually left. But people still went to him for advice many years after.

Disposable Expertise

Large consulting company has lots of data in their databases on previous project. Consultants are dispensable assets as they just get proposals, use templates, work hard, then they last a year or two and we throw away and get more consultants.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Expertise is in the eyes of the receiver

In 1986 I took my first tentative steps as a new "knowledge engineer" looking to extract the expert knowledge from Maurie, a veteran Iron Ore Sintering Plant Foreman, who was due to retire in 12 months. He had been doing the job for 35 years and was considered by his "juniors" an out and out "Expert" despite their own 20+ years in their jobs. Armed with the latest Expert Systems tools and techniques I set about capturing the essence of how he went about managing this complex thermodynamic process. I developed a large rule base which I simulated in back shifts with less expert operators. What I found was that my rule base didn't really contain any startling insights or "gems" of wisdom. Virtually all of the more "junior" operators were doing similar things. None the less Maurie was the "acknowledged" expert. Back shifts on a Sinter plant provide ample time for reflection and discussion with backshift operators. The job was not all that hectic. Your expertise was put to the test when things went wrong. What I began to understand was that much of Maurie's expertise was related to the respect he had built up with his peers. He lived close to the plant and knew it like the back of his hand ... even to the extent of where the shovels and brooms were kept. He developed relationships easily and was on a first name basis with the then CEO of the company, who he had "trained" as a young graduate doing the rounds, right down to the most junior staff member. This experience has stayed with me throughout my lengthy KM experience. Perhaps Maurie in the end did not have superior technical knowledge to any of his peers. However his ability to share what he had through the trusted relationships he had built over time, meant that in the eyes of his peers he was a "true expert"

Monday, June 15, 2009

Context creates expertise

My expertise has always been determined by my context. No matter what it is that I want to develop in terms of expertise, I have always found myself developing expertise nbased on the context I find myself in. An example would be where I was required to create business acumen training for Bank Managers but it required them to have training that was contextual to their role. In other words, no simulations that did not provide for direct application. From this project and the ensuing evaluation I developed a reputation for business acumen expertise and was constantly called on when considering decisions that influenced the models and processes that were introduced as a result of the success of the program. My context at the time provided the opportunity for me to develop that expertise.

group collaborative design skill

For years I worked as a project and program manager in a very creative organization. When we were coming together to deal with a complex situation, we always came up with many, many ideas. Our problem had been agreeing how to converge on an action. I left the organization and spent 10 years in the field of collaborative design. Today design has risen to a high art. My experience has been in the foundational science of group decision support.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


He works for the housing department. He's been there 20 years. He writes everything down in case the situation has to go the tribunal. None of the juniors write things down.

Helpful Secretary

I was a new recruit at a patent attorney firm. Nothing had been written down there on how to do things. It was all assumed knowledge. I had to take a file and sit in front of a partner (a chemist) and work. I didn't want to admit that I didn't know anything! Fortunately his secretary was a very helpful person. I remember her well. She had a twin-set and pearls and an IBM typewriter.

Wrong Number

When I worked in the airforce, the golden rule was not to make assumptions in aircraft maintenance. We had a situation where the part number in the manual was different to the part number in the catalogue. We were told to order it anyway - they were the same. So we called up the supplier and found out that they weren't the same at all! If we got that wrong we could have grounded the aircraft!

Numbers & Letters

We have a member of our library staff who helps with the shelving. He has been there for 7 years. One day he asked "Do the numbers on come before the letters?" He obviously hadn't taken anything in!

Experience Database

We have an experience database in our law firm. However experience is not the same as expertise. Expertise needs to be validated. Expertise is attached to a person. This is an issue for IT - they don't seem to understand what the database relates to.

Interpersonal skills

I have had managers with the same level of experience & status. Those with interpersonal skills and a better engagement style get better outcomes.


My hobby is quilting. Quilters come from different backgrounds. Some are "artistic". They bring a lot of flair to their work and have a different way of looking at pattern & colour. Other people judge your work on how perfect the corners are. People use different criteria to judge.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Ten Seconds

Some people say that they are great at interviewing. They say that after 10 seconds they know whether a candidate is any good or not. This often isn't true. Some people think they have skills but they really don't have a clue. There is a long, hard slog to master a skill.

Gluing the spine

I work at a university library and I know a fair bit about book binding. I was asked about my skills & interests and I mentioned this. My manager asked me to run a class for 5 other staff members about book binding & mending. After the class, all the attendees keep on making the same mistake. They glue the spine to the outside cover. We've tried ore training and explaining but nothing seems to work. They don't get it.

Everything stops when he goes on holiday

I started out as an accounts person but I was good at relating to the MD. He knew all 6000 customers by name but he never wrote any of it down. My unofficial role was to make up procedures so he'd have to write something down. He doesn't trust anyone else. Everything stops when he goes on holiday.

In The Bar

I work in a bar. There's a young boy who works the same shifts as me, We keep on having the same conversation over and over again. He makes the same mistakes over and over again. He doesn't seem to be learning.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Battling on with KM during The Return of Scarcity

I needed to get internal auditors trained in the new versions of ISO 9001 -2008. However the GFC made this difficult to do via the usual route of sending them to an external course. So i used Quality Management groups in LinkedIn to have discussions on the new standard; also used ASQ forums (American Society of Quality - I'm a member) and Elsmar Cove comprehensive online Quality community resources. I pulled together a self-training pack and loaded it into our Sharepoint site. Problem solved. A new training qualification for the program created in our SAP HR ERP system. An economic downturn doesn't mean you have to give up training and development altogether - you just have to be resourceful & innovative.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Status vs Experience

High flyers go through a quicker path. Their way of doing things is different. They have a shorter time so they are harder on us. They have the “I think I’m right” attitude and don’t listen to other more experienced people. So they end up having to fight fire but you just have to go along with what they want.

Experts Are Boring!

We had briefing sessions by our experienced staff but I find they were not helpful. The presenter was not articulate and the flow was not very good. So you have people leaving the room. When you get them to share, you don’t get the results you want. This experienced person knows certain areas are lacking and puts them in his slides, but he is not engaging. Formal sessions are not so suitable. Informal sessions are better with coffee or tea.

Experience Slows Us Down

Experienced staff have better recall, but they tend to fall back on past practices. This impedes exploration. During brainstorming, ideas don’t generate. No one dares to set a precedent. They say “If you go by past files, you can’t go wrong.”

You Don't Need What We Know

We always have a problem getting Ops to attend a meeting. Once, we asked this person from Ops to attend a meeting to ask them how to handle a negligence case. This person asked for an email request. We sent, but later he called to say that his boss didn’t think it was necessary for him to attend as it couldn’t help.


At Corporate Communications, we handle visits from overseas. One person in our department is very experienced. We always go to her for protocol issues. She’s very helpful. If she leaves, we’ll have issues. She‘s been doing this for 5 years.

Who To Ask?

We do investigations before we put up recommendations. We need to know whether policies allow for this and that. We are not clear who we can ask. You wonder whom you should send queries to. Sometimes people have left and you’re not aware. We asked departments whom we should write to. Recently, I found out that the answer was given to us 2 years ago. For different policies, you have to write to different people and you have to remember who to write to.

Empowered to Fail

I have seen instances where employees without specific skills relevant to the situation incorrectly try to diagnose problems based on what their own field of expertise. Eg a case where self directed shift crews (the crowd) were empowered to run a plant according to how they believed it should be run, but without technical understanding of the appropriate risks when unexpected circumstances occurred - unfortunately the techo's (the elite) were shifted off to the side as only support to the self directed crews (the crowd) - the glitch, the self directed shift crews (the crowd) then caused in their well meaning ignorance, when their "cygnets" unexpectedly became "black swans" instead of "white swans" ran to tens of millions of dollars to fix - some of us were then called in to clean up afterwards & were quite incredulous - to us it was entirely expected that "black swans" would result and not "white swans" ... But then the self-directed work crews (the crowd) didn't know about the existence or possibility of the "black swans" until far, far too late ... So sometimes a crowd helps, and sometimes it doesn't necessarily help and can hinder - it's about getting "all" the right people connected up via the informal networks when it is needed.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Should we try this

Customers jump the gun taking risks to implement products that are not proven but stated to satisfy their needs. While implementation of such technology solutions my team faced a security issue that was accepted as a bug and was to be fixed in the next release by the vendor. What it meant was in addition to dealing with an unstable product we are also forced to develop workarounds on the same technology to meet customer needs. We are compromising on cost paid for the product and developing work arounds that can be avoided in the first place with a certain degree of lack of expertise. We had no experience during evaluation stage to state that this will happen during implementation.

My Expertise

There was this software engineer who was forced to write and enhance reports that was much below his capacity, as his managers were constantly changed and did not have a clue on his real expertise. There came an opportunity when a large mainframe job needed to be rewritten as a database stored procedure. He picked this opportunity and did a great job and the customer was very happy. His new manager knew the aspirations and made him the sole owner for all database opportunities for the client.

What the user wants?

Business Analysts travel to customer locations to figure what are the requirements for a specific customer project. They usually do the exercise for a couple of months by user interviews, workshops to figure the user needs. Often there are large parts that the business analysts do not uncover as it will involve understanding a technical implementation.End of it they submit their reports usually in document and presentation format to the designers to start building the solution. The vocabulary and language is so different from what a designer can understand that neither the reports can be used for further development nor do they have a full picture of the user needs.

Adding expertise later

During a project kick off there was this senior business leader who came in and just declared that the project was doomed to fail. His reasons were, the experience and skill level of team staffed in the project was inadequate for the complexity of the project.

6 months into the project in light red, I come to know that the estimates on cost and time provided to the end customer was way way below their estimate and they took the deal with both hands.

12 months into the project we have triple the number of "Principal Consultants" in the project since the time we started the project and we are already booking losses.

He knows it all

We have this large collaboration system supporting all projects in the company which is internally built. Long long ago most people who worked on the code base have either left or have stopped touching it as they are no more sure where a change will impact. We now have only one person who can navigate through the code base and develop anything meaningful on this platform.

Reaching out

We have these groups for our PMs/Technical Leads that communicates through a distribution list. The enquiries repeat approximately every 6 months on specific expertise need. Enquiry always from different people and answers are mostly from the same people but with rare additions.

Ask me

Me and "the last guy who left the team" had worked on so many proof of concepts that none of the current team members even know we did it. They would continue to experiment and fail or may take a sub optimal solution for the very same scenarios we have ready solutions. When all they needed to do was ask.

Redeploying Valuable Expertise

This was a telecoms organisation facing a lot of changes in their technology and also their business environment. The tech people were moved to a regional organisation to cover the APAC region.

The business in Australia suffered because they were losing a lot of tech people to this regional organisation, and they had the most recent knowledge in their technology.

So what they did was to keep experts redeployed to other projects wherever they were needed, not just in this new APAC organisation - they became more mobile than they expected.

Learn Once Transfer Many

Our organisation went into a completely new area of work where we had no prior expertise.

So we hired a consultant from the USA. This project was in Thailand, but we knew we had customers for this kind of work in Indonesia as well. So we hired somebody local to shadow the consultant and learn from his experience, so he could reapply this knowledge to other projects.

We told him to do exactly what the consultant advised, and then when he got more confident to start customising.

Caught in the Middle

In my past job KM was seen as sandwich work between customer support staff and the experts who knew the technology. Sometimes they didn't want to talk to each other.

In fact, the service staff, after interacting with customers for a long time, became experts. If they had to talk to the experts, sometimes they would ask us to help, but we didn't want to be the messenger caught in the middle.

Sometimes the experts would accuse the customer service staff of not knowing the real technology behind the product.

Project Turnover and Knowledge Gaps

When a project drags on for too long ie many years, team members get tired of being in the same project for a long time - especially the newer staff who aspire to get more exposure and variety.

The seniors are often pulled out of projects because their knowledge is needed elsewhere. This leaves gaps, because they might have been with the project since the start.

This turnover creates a knowledge vacuum, so we are trying to figure out how we can speed up the knowledge transfer process.

From Search to Sharing Sessions

We are trying to build a subject matter expert directory. It's slow to come along. We assumed we needed a projects search engine, so people could search by the type of project experience they had. We forgot the human part, how things are updated, how willing they are to share, do they have time to share, the role of informal relationships.

Now we are trying to do more departmental sharing sessions (it's part of their KPIs now) eg sharing on their latest projects, what they are working on, any new initiatives, the rationales for policies they are developing etc.

This should help make the expertise more visible in a social way.

Experts mean the rest can relax

This example is about expertise being embedded in processes. We have process owners in our organisation. They write the policies and dictate the process and procedures. They are very valuable people, they know the whole business in detail and they give guidance and direction. When we need to understand a process, the systems, even the connections between systems, we know which process owner we should approach - they are identified according to business function.

Now we're trying to centralise this system and make it easier to identify who to go to for what.

There are good and bad aspects to this practice - once we identify them as process owner, then nobody else will spend the time to know the process as well as they do. Then there is a risk if/when they leave. We just hope our documentation will help in this case.

The process owners have usually got to that position through deep experience in the process previously. We don't have a system for bringing up new people with that level of experience and knowledge.

All Gone

Expertise can be relative. They may be "experts" for a while but their knowledge can be quite narrow in scope, and after a while their expertise can be forgotten or become irrelevant. For example, I was involved in he original team that developed an IT system which ran for several years. When it cam to the system revamp, they asked me to give them a hand, but I had forgotten everything I knew about it!


We have people with expertise that aren't being recognised or leveraged, eg staff with many years of experience in non-management positions. Then with an organisation restructuring, we hired in new managers from outside, and asked those non-management staff to bring the new managers up to speed in their areas of expertise. Why would they?

Expertise Feeding Frenzy

We recently won a huge international tender, and found that there were very few people locally who had the expertise we needed. We had to source from other organisations as well as other countries. These people usually come in at management positions, so there is a lot of instability and "settling in" to be done. But we're hoping this will be a model for other projects.


We do job rotation a lot in our organisation. It helps to move knowledge around, improves networking, and ensures people know different aspects of the business. But with all the restructuring we have been doing recently, it's difficult to keep track of who knows what, so we can scatter and lose our knowledge this way as well.

Missing an opportunity to build competence

Most of the times people 'hire' me as a consultant to make their problems go-away, and is not interested in how to transfer and embed expertise into the organisation which would be a more sustainable option to build the requisite skills and resilience. The result is an over-dependency on outsiders, and quick dissipation of the skills and competence of the consultant once they leave. Even if you try to instill, transfer and embed skills, there are several barriers that hinders this - such as the client always referring to you as the expert which creates the impression that the internal resources cannot be an expert, not allowing for time for sharing and transfer (time = money), and only interested in solutions (make the problem go away) and not focusing on building competence as well (perpetual crisis management)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Passed Over

I have concluded that my company does not deserve an employee like me. I have worked hard all these years, doing the best I can for each project, taking pride in everything I do. But I got passed over for promotion because "I did not show leadership qualities". They are blinded by people who bulls**t their way into getting their promotion. I'm done.

Know-Who Knowledge Being Lost

In my organisation the strength is in the people who have been there for years and know what everyone else is doing. This group of people is getting steadily smaller and smaller, so nobody knows what the other parts of the organisation are doing. We need to find a way to transfer this knowledge to younger staff.

Circulating but Not Captured

Our organisation is project based, and any one time we have thousands of projects on the go. It's common for someone who has done a project to move on to another project with new project teams. So the experience is kept in circulation. The question for us is how we capture this.

Better Off Retrenched

We had a number of people who were retrenched, who had a lot of knowledge in a certain area. Then they were re-hired again on a contract basis. There was no red tape for them, they actually had a lot more flexibility in doing their job.

Going Vertical

In our company we used to be all housed on the same level, so everybody knew everybody, you would see when new staff joined, we would see each other very often, and through conversations had a good awareness of what was going on. Then we moved into our own building which was stacked up vertically over several floors. Now you don't see people, eg new staff, and it's harder to keep track of what's going on. New staff may not find it easy to know where the knowledge and expertise is.

Monday, February 23, 2009

350 Drawings

There were 350 rolls of drawings for this major national building. They are now very hard to read. The day that they decided the building was finished, they put the drawings into a skip to be trashed. It was decided not to throw them away. Drawings are stored by the skip they were retrieved from.

Director's Social Club

Our organisation has a high retention rate. Several of the directors who were there since the beginning were due to retire. They were made "on call" advisers. They occasionally do some consulting and they have maintained formal and informal relationships. They want to keep up to date. The whole thing has aspects of a social club and there's a lot of engagement on both sides.

The Helpdesk

The Lotus Notes team helped us putting news summaries on the intranet. Then management disbanded the team and outsourced Notes support to IBM. The new guys couldn't fix the problems. Eventually we found one person who could help us so we would always ask for him on the helpdesk. Anyone else who need a lot explaining to them before they could do anything. We always went to that one IBM guy when we could.


Our department opened in the early 80s and the staff who put in the VAX, network, electrics stayed around. Well they stayed until voluntary redundancies were offered 25 years later. So everybody who put in the systems went. "Corporate knowledge retention" was handballed to the KM team. We focused on a couple of staff with critical information. We interviewed them and took some notes. The exercise never took off because it was never properly resourced.

The Zip File

I was working in Learning & Development. One of the most senior employees of the organisation was running the major part of out induction. He decided to retire. He sent me a zip file with all his material in it. I found it very hard to make sense of it. We did a "handover" in one telephone conversation but I still never really understood it.

Retiring Soon

The organisation had gone through a lot of change and staff turnover. One staffer had been there for 20+ years but had not role. The organisation wanted to be "fresh and young". I asked my boss whether we should do something with the experience of this long-term employee but I was told, "He'll retire soon." Being an experienced employee was no longer valued.

The Attache

I was posted to (Asian state) as an attache for 3 years. In that period, I had 8 different contacts in the department back home. The handovers between them were often very poor. I became the de facto policy maker as I was the only one with continuous experience

What Do I Do Next?

Yesterday I was talking to a colleague and they said, "I don't really know what my role is. Part of it is knowledge management. I have fixed the intranet but what do I do next?"

Alumni Network

I worked at this consulting firm and the information management was terrible. However the knowledge sharing was great. They created this alumni program to connect people quarterly.

The Filing Cabinet

I opened a filing cabinet and there were just piles of stuff in there. I had no idea what this all meant and whether I could do anything with it.

Tooth to Tail

In the 90s, there was a big push in the armed forces for increasing the ratio of front-line troops to those in support & logistics - "tooth to tail". I oversaw the dismantling and outsourcing of a whole bunch of functions. Then an international peace-keeping situation came along. Fighter pilots weren't needed but toilet truck drivers were because you cannot use contractors in situations where they will be under fire.

The Intern Programme

The local university has an internship program with our organisation. Our organisation was supportive of this. Then the new director came and said, "We like the publicity this program gives us but I don't want you to waste any time teaching these interns anything"

The Boilermaker

I was a boiler maker. I worked for T, an old guy, making concrete mixers. T would always be telling stories, standing over you and shouting if you did something wrong. T would tell his stories to the two of us who were boiler makers. He wouldn't tell anything to the welders. It was like they weren't worthy. One day, T left and everything fell in a heap.

The Thesaurus

We had a KM team that then got disbanded. One person in that team had put together a thesaurus. Later on, someone else wanted to create a taxonomy. So we went back to the thesaurus but we couldn't properly understand it.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I am turning into the boss-from-hell

I work in a high-end firm in our sector. We would cost on average 25% more than our competitors. We can charge more because we have quite high standards when it comes to the work we let leave our building. Recently we have had a relatively high employee churn. Some of the experience has left the building across all levels of seniority.

I manage a small team of relatively inexperienced consultants. I spend a lot of time with them showing them the basics. I send them projects from the archives that may relate to what they are working on (or things that may be useful in the future). When they are working on new things, I point them in the direction of old projects that tried to tackle the same issue, or dealt in the same category. I will also encourage them to go and talk to others in the organisation that may be able to help. I am also trying to instill in them a strong sense of basic project management; basic things like organisation and naming of files on the shared drive, how to communicate with clients, keeping on top of suppliers etc.

Maybe I am too impatient (I know I am becoming increasingly this way), but if I show them how to do something I have an expectation that they will pick it up straight away. I don’t mind maybe one more explanation or walk-through. But I am so frustrated right now at how little they appear to be picking the basics up, or willing to take responsibility for aspects of their projects. These are smart people, with degrees, on relatively high salaries. They are not graduates – most have been in the industry for three or four years. Two of them have told me they are not “details” people – which makes me want to scream. The time I spend with them explaining things takes away from my ability to drive business (I am responsible for our group meeting a financial target) and do the other consulting work I am expected to do. I have to fit a lot of my own work in after hours. Sometimes they feel like a team of hungry little birds, demanding and swarking but not giving anything back in return. I find myself now just doing something myself instead of asking them and showing them how, because work appears to keep coming back that is sloppy, or contains errors, or is just plain lazy. This was OK for 12 months – I had an expectation that they needed time to settle in and learn the things that they needed to do for the types of projects we work on, an the types of clients we work with. But now I have no patience – it just feels lazy and sloppy now. Before I would spend time explaining what needed to be fixed and why, now I just send it back with a message “fix it”. I feel like I am turning into the boss-from-hell, but to be honest it feels better to be this way than keep cleaning up after them and working 12 or more hour days five times a week.

Experience of how to respond during difficult times

It was reported in a leading newspaper that one of the concerns of a CEO of a major bank been replaced now, is that the old CEO has experience of leading the enterprise through down cycles and the new CEO does not have any direct industry experience, and especially not of down cycles.

Just In Time

A few years ago our organisation did an exercise to find out what people knew. They found one person who was responsible for contributing one critical figure in the annual report. He would collect data from all over the organisation, and run it through a special algorithm that only he understood, and come out with this critical figure. He was the only person who knew how to do it, and only three people in the whole organisation knew about his role. Realising this meant we could put a risk mitigation strategy in place.

Remember Who...

It really makes a difference if the expert is sociable. People who move on to another role can still be reached, because their ex-colleagues remember them and maintain contact. So they can call on them when they need help. The non-sociable ones just “disappear” as soon as they move on. People are not aware of their knowledge. Maintaining networks is so important.

Communication as Well as Knowledge

There is a huge difference in the graduates in IT from the old days. In the old days, IT guys never spoke to you, they were just these people who looked at their screens all day and knew how to write code. They didn’t know how to communicate. Now, the schools are teaching them how to communicate, so that they can act as “translators” between the business and IT. So the communication gap has been addressed, they are much easier to deal with now.

Know-Who Mattered More than Know-How

Here’s a success story but not in the way you would expect. My boss realized that a retired employee had really critical knowledge of how to set up call centres, so he asked me to go visit her and “do” some knowledge transfer. I said we needed to do something more structured in a team context but he didn’t want to be bothered with the details, he said “just go and do it”. So we invited her to come into the office for a day, and I got the other members of the team in. She said she’d be very happy to tell us all about it, but that she wasn’t the only person who knew this. She was able to identify several people who also had this knowledge, and the parts of the business they had moved to. So my boss was very happy, and he pulled those people back to help him. In the end it wasn’t her knowledge of the call centres that was helpful, it was her knowledge of other people who also knew.

Not Interested in Transfer

This happened in a bank, in the middle of a ten year replatforming project to steadily replace all the old legacy systems, some of them 30 or 40 years old. These legacy systems had 2800 people supporting them. So there they were, building the next generation platform, but forgetting they had all these critical systems, custom built, with all the inhouse knowledge needed to run and maintain them. For example, there was one person in our business, who had been with the bank for 42 years. It turned out he was a key risk, because he was the only person who knew all the ins and outs of how to do reconciliations between the banks. It was all documented, but only he knew what to do if something went wrong – he knew exactly what to do to fix it. He knew exactly who he needed to call for what information to figure out where the problem was. So we tried all sorts of knowledge transfer approaches – the problem was, this was a very boring job, so every time we sent people into the team to learn the job, they would leave after about 6 weeks, it was so boring. He was also a grumpy old man who was not interested in cooperating with a knowledge transfer programme, and he wasn’t motivated by money. The knowledge transfer was impossible to do.

No Face to Face Handover

My former company lost five key employees within three months in the same work area. When they finally decided to do an audit of this area of the business, they found that out of a team of six people, only the most senior person was still there. They said “Oh bugger, we knew this was going to happen”. Each person who had left had drawn up job handover and knowledge transfer plans, but their replacements hadn’t been there for direct training. So we had to get three of them back on short term contracts to train their successors.

Expertise Directory

When I joined the Asia Pacific region of a consulting firm, the consulting practices were then very new, expertise in the different lines of business or industry sectors wasn’t very well developed. But there was a lot of pressure to build up those practices – we needed to capitalize on expertise in order to build our market and revenue. The KM group identified particular kinds of expertise by business lines and industry sector, we documented it and put it online. If there was a market opportunity, you could refer to a list and draw on them for help in developing a proposal – they were often in Australia, so we would fly them out to meet the client in the bids. We got a lot of work this way. Some people nominated themselves for the expertise directory, or we found them through examples of client work, publications or recognition by peers. The biggest challenge was getting their time – taking people away from their normal job to contribute to somebody else’s practice, so we put in place a recognition scheme.

Oops... we retrenched him

Here’s a story on the financial impact of lost expertise. I was working for a newspaper company in the 1990s. At that time there were lots of strikes, the newspaper industry had been going through lots of transformations. The journalists and printers would usually strike together for maximum impact, and they usually chose a Friday, being the day that all the classified ads came out so it had a big financial impact. The managers were strike exempt, and most of them had come up from being journalists and printers themselves, so they would get together and cobble together an edition – it was not as good as the normal edition, and there would still be a financial hit, but they always managed to get an edition out. Then one Friday night, when there was a strike, they were all set for this lead manager to run the presses for them as he normally did. Then they suddenly realized he had been retrenched some weeks before, and nobody else knew how to run the presses. For the first time ever the paper didn’t come out, and there was a huge financial hit, millions of dollars. The management realized what had happened, but there was so much turmoil at the time they never learned from it. They never came up with a risk mitigation strategy.

From People to System

In the 1980s I was working for a bank when we were bringing in a new online system. I was traveling around training the staff on how to use the computers and even the keyboards were an issue. With this system, the powerbase for branch managers disappeared – they had previously controlled all the process knowledge that was now embedded in a common system. The managers were not interested in the system. The cheques were not coming back correctly, the ATMs were not being balanced. Finally it got to a stage where the senior management took notice, so I was able to explain the problem with the training and the response, and they started to take it seriously.

Young People Today...

I was working on a project where the programmers were very experimental and not very systematic – a “try it and see” approach. Fortunately they had a very experienced project manager and business analyst leading it. Her very strong, analytical approach is not being taught in universities, so the younger programmers don’t have her skills.

Being Prepared

My team is called a “capability” team, and our role is to make sure we capture knowledge before critical people leave or retire.

To the Rescue

I was working in a plant, and they had quality problems. Even the very experienced person who worked there couldn’t resolve it. The younger people in the plant didn’t know that I had worked there before. I went in with a team and fixed it. So expertise was brought in eventually, but not where people had originally expected to find it.


We put in a new system, and the team leaders were supposed to coach their teams on how to use it, but they didn’t understand how it worked themselves. It was just assumed they could do it. I had to clarify the roles of the team leaders, and organize separate training for staff.


We don’t value experts in our organisation, we retrench them.


A former colleague taught me so much I still have his photo on my desk, even though he passed away a few years ago. People often get promoted on their technical expertise, not on their people handling and communication skills.

People Matter

When I first started my job I had a manager who would go into his office and close the door and discuss and decide things privately. Then he would come and tell me “you can take on this area of work because of your expertise” but I never knew his rationale or his expectations. Then I got a new manager. She was very open, she is always having conversations, with all her staff. She is very embedded in the organisation, she seems to know everything and everyone. I assumed she had been there for years. I found out she had only been there for 18 months. It turned out she had been very ill at 22, and survived. She decided then that the most important thing was people, so deliberately spends time to get to know people and build relationships with them.

Old Knowledge, New Clothes

I had just joined a new organisation which was in a completely different area from my old job, where I had spent five years (I moved because I had got bored). There was a lot of discussion on a particular situation they couldn’t resolve, they just kept going round in circles. I said, this looks very much like a situation I had written a paper on some years before in a completely unrelated field – it was just the characteristics of the situation were similar. I wrote a paper on the process to resolve it. This paper ended up being presented at the World ________ Conference!

Expertise is a Team Effort

Being effective in leveraging expertise is not just about having the subject matter expertise. When we put our specialist knowledge team together, we realized it was not just about the knowledge domain itself. Our team included 3 librarians, an admin person, a science communicator, an ecologist and a subject matter expert. You need a blend of expertise, including the practice, application and process side as well as the domain knowledge itself.

Expertise is Relative

We had a lot of work coming in related to nanotechnology. This manager came and asked me what nanotechnology was, and I tried to explain it to him as simply as possible, just from my general knowledge. Suddenly people saw me as the expert, the CEO even asked me to do a presentation on it to the entire company!

Into the Deep End

Sometimes you are afraid to mention you know something or have had training in a particular area, because you might be thrust into something that goes beyond your knowledge, with no experience. I did one knowledge management unit at university and now I’m suddenly doing intranets, document management systems, collaboration, etc. This can inspire fear about letting people know what you know.

Not Just Expertise, Style

My former manager was very knowledgeable about the business, but he also had a great management style. When he left, his style left as well as his knowledge, and the staff got very demoralized.


A new senior manager came into my division. She met all the staff one by one over the period of a few weeks, and had scribes take notes, to find out what they did, and what they thought could be improved. Then she took action to implement changes, which included an information management reform project. I was attached to this as an internal consultant because of my expertise. This was very impressive and made the project much more effective.

The Baby With the Bathwater

I was working in a small software company and the owners were bought out by a much bigger US software company. The senior manager was an employee and the new owners sacked him. But he had been developing a project management methodology that really helped the way we worked with our customers, they loved it. It was all documented, but he was the only one driving it, with his personal enthusiasm, and now it’s fallen by the wayside.

No Trust

Leveraging people’s experience and expertise is not just about people management skills, it’s also about valuing people and trusting them. One of my previous managers was so worried about managing her team properly she would count how many sheets of photocopier paper they were using, and would set an egg timer on the table for the reporting slots in meetings, so they all had exactly three minutes and no more. She was fixated on the small stuff. I used to play games with her, I would time myself to start a sentence on something really critical and important just as the egg timer reached the third minute. Then I would refuse to complete the sentence until next week’s meeting because my time was up.


I have a colleague who knows the organisation really well. Anyone can go and ask her about anything. Whenever she’s around, everyone around her works better, because she sets the atmosphere.

Passion and Context

In my previous organisation we were rolling out a new office software and had to do it very quickly. We used the official training materials from the software vendor. It was all done in such a rush that we had no time to evaluate how it was working, then after about a month we started getting complains from project managers who said the training wasn’t working, and it was affecting productivity. We thought that was strange because we were using the official materials. There was one woman in the team who was really good at using the new application, and she was very passionate and committed about what she did. So we took a risk, and took her out of her normal job to do full-time training. She was able to relate the application to her colleagues’ work context, and it worked really well.


We had a very good knowledge officer who was responsible for publishing content and communication of knowledge. He made some outspoken comments about one of the Executive Directors, which I felt was justified. However he lost his job, his contract wasn’t renewed. His expertise wasn’t respected or taken into account, he was just got rid of.

Watered Down

In a big restructuring last year, I was moved to a new department because of my information management and knowledge management background. They said they needed my skills. Twelve months later there has been no progress, the organisation keeps coming up with excuses why they can’t do what’s needed. I put up a paper last December, after conducting a whole series of interviews with key stakeholders, it proposed a plan for moving forward eg to avoid reinventing the wheel, break down the silos etc. My boss said “we’re not ready for this” and asked me to water it down to something he was comfortable with, which I did. When I rewrote it, I had to take out a lot of stuff. When the new plan was tabled to the Information Management Committee, they were asking a lot of questions, which my original paper would have answered, but I had to keep quiet because my boss was there. I was very angry. But at least I got agreement to set up a Business Information Group. I set it up as a community of practice, not as a sub-committee, so they could be free to use their own energy and innovate.


We passed on a complaint that it was taking too long for our customers to get an answer to a problem with one of our policy implementations. The reply from the manager concerned was “the private sector is taking my staff”. The private sector nabs people for their knowledge.

Give it a Go

I got involved in our head office decision to implement an information management system because of my librarianship background. They wanted to do it because the shared drive system was not working well. If someone puts up their hand and says they have some knowledge, and are willing to give it a go, it’s a way of leveraging what people know. Of course you might not know what you are getting yourself into when you put up your hand!


I’ve been working in my current organisation for 2 ½ years. When I went in the level of awareness about knowledge management and information management was very low. Now the managers are calling me into their meetings and asking me “what knowledge decisions do we need to make about this topic?” It is really great to have the value of knowledge recognized.

Taking Expertise Out of Circulation

We needed to set up call centres to deal with enquiries about certain policy changes. But the way they set it up was completely unsuitable. The policy experts were physically separated from the call centre staff, and it could take weeks for a submitted question to be answered. The call centre staff were backpackers and casual workers, but they were really bright – they got very good at picking up the right kind of knowledge and how to answer the enquiries. But they had very high turnover. We lost so much knowledge. And it was essential that enquirers got an accurate answer, there was a lot at stake.

Small Contribution Big Impact

One of our managers wanted to set up a knowledge community to address a cross disciplinary area of research. He knew he wanted a community, but he had no idea how to set it up or get it started. I was able to help them understand how to set up a community of practice, set up a Ning site and get them started. It was very simple stuff really, but it made a huge difference to getting them off the ground.

Last Woman Standing

Sometimes you have to be an expert even when you’re not really one. An organisation I was working for as a contract worker was subsumed into a larger organisation. Lots of people were got rid of, and I was the only one left who knew how the library worked even though I was only a contract worker. But I was asked to train people in library work. I asked if I could be recognized for the training work, but the boss said “No, it’s not really training”. I said I wouldn’t do it, but because of the contract I had to.

Instant Expert!

I was a graduate on rotation in an organisation for a fixed period of time. Somehow they knew that I had been to a particular place for a few days on holiday, so I suddenly got nominated as the “expert” on that area!

Not Appreciated

The team in my previous job had 40 people, and a really strong culture of project management. We promoted project management methodology and provided training to develop people’s skills in this area. A new branch manager came in and said we were wasting money, we already had a project management section to look after that, and we didn’t need to do what we were doing. I left, and afterwards the team was very demoralized, many of them also ended up leaving. The lack of recognition of the expertise and discipline of these people drives them to leave, it resulted in a poisonous culture, The senior managers’ rhetoric says we value this, but at the next level down, they don’t behave that way.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Need knowledge after 22 years

An electricity provider now need to build and commission 20 new power plants. The last new plant was commissioned 22 years ago. Most of the people involved with that have left the organisation already.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Expertise Unused

An expert in a highly specialised scientific aspect of the production process. He regularly attends and contributes to scientific academic seminars worldwide and is very much appreciated by his peer scientists. He fails to share this expertise within the company, because 'they do not understand it anyhow'

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Lone Ranger

We have a grad program. We had also had a project involving a new, untested technology. The project person acted like a "lone ranger" expert. They refused the offer of a grad to help them. At the end of the project, the new technology was not taken up. All the learning from the project was then lost. It was a missed opportunity.

Effort in the Wrong Places

When we started on this project we discovered that exactly the same project was being run by someone else! People don't share things. We analysed some project data inside our organisation and discovered that lots of the projects had no impact! All the effort was being put into the wrong places.

Nobody left

Recently a bunch of senior people left. Not only did they leave but those people that they mentored have also left! The thing is that those people do not come from a high-status group within our organisation so the attitude seems to be that this doesn't matter. There's no awareness of the risk.

Go-To Person Gone

I became known as the "goto" person for the Enterprise Content Management (ECM) system. When I tried to train people they wouldn't be interested. After I left, they couldn't find a replacement so they are now looking for a new ECM system!

A Day in the Life

Our new General Manager came from a different industry. In fact he was trained as an architect. He decided to do "a day in the life" of each staff member to understand what our jobs were. For example, he worked with the mailroom bloke. That boosted their self-esteem! But people still have a general resistance to showing what they do. They fear criticism.

Outsourcing Everything?

There has been a tendency to outsource and centralise IT functions across many organisations. Sometimes this makes sense but we have a few very specialised systems where this approach doesn't make sense. It is actually a source of risk as we now do not have control over them and yet the systems aren't documented well enough for us or the outsourcers to understand the complexity.

Outsiders Good and Bad

Expertise from outside the business is valued more than that from inside. A positive example of this is our new content management expert - who we brought in and has just been great. A negative example is their predecessor. They had the IT skills but lacked a basic understanding of the context and processes.

The Timber Bridge

We run an alumni network of past employees. During some floods, a timber bridge split. We don't build timber bridges any more so we don't have the skills (we don't even have the timber). But this time we needed a quick fix. So we put the word out and some retired engineers volunteered to help. We used 2 crews in repairing the bridge (and cutting down a couple of local trees to do it). One crew was the retired guys. And one was some of our current people. Not only did we fix the bridge but got some skills transfer too.

Older Experience Not Valued

We work on process analysis and design. Much of our analysis isn't effective. Why? Because analysts do everything without input from senior leaders. So I interviewed some of some of our recent senior leaders (they tend to turn over every 3 years). But my manager rejected the input because these were the "old" senior leadership. It was all about the concerns of the new leaders so I was told that what I had done was worthless.

Not There Long Enough

If you haven't worked in our organisation for 30 years then you aren't taken seriously. For example, in our organisation, sick leave days can be accrued so people get rostered sick leave days. When I asked why this was done, there was no clear answer. It was the done thing and as a relatively recent joiner, I couldn't question it.

Mentor Opportunity

In our organisation, senior staff are moved every 18-36 mths. I work in an area that requires a breadth of knowledge across several disciplines. I got a chance to go to our "University" and meet a senior guy that had seen the whole process in action and he was able to mentor me around a specific issue. It was a fantastic opportunity!

The Bumpy Road

Our organisation manages programmes of public works. Management policy was to contract out expertise around construction. Over time, we lost the ability to manage our contracting organisations. Due to an accumulation of errors, a section of road ended up useless - it was all bumpy! The contract manager was inexperienced and did not spot the accumulation of errors that the contractor was making. The road had to be ripped out in the end.

Not Using Who You Have Already

We had an issue with our manufacturing processes. We had internal experts in another unit that could have helped with this issue. However it was decided not to use them and instead external expertise was sought. This led to a serious delay in dealing with the problem, a reduction in the morale of those not consulted and it also drove a wedge between the units involved.

Allow team to select their own team members

This is the story of a self-organising team with accountability for their performance. One of the major issues for them was that they have to deal with team members appointed by management, and who was then just assigned to them. Some of these did not have the necessary technical expertise, and did not fit with the team culture. One of the characteristics of a self-organising team is that they self-select team member and membership. After several team members resigned, mainly because they did not fit in with the team culture, and the competent team members were no longer willing to pick up the additional load due to lack of experience, the team was allowed to take ownership of the recruitment of new team members. As a team they decided what was the importance expertise and experience they need, and then as a team they setup the interview process. They define some puzzles of actual problems and bugs they have encountered. The candidates then have to solve these for real as part of the interview process. The short list of candidates for passed this test, were then invited to socialise with the team - working with them for a day. And the final short list were then following the normal company interview process for compliance, but the team still made the final selection. The success of this approach was evident in the short time the new team members took to become productive and the coherence within the team. What it did not manage to address was the lack of motivation and a bit of laziness and 'no care' of one new team member. But, now the team has to manage this and could not just point back to management for assigning them with this team member.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Accessing knowledge that was already there

This is a story about helping a beginning Feldenkrais practitioner access a huge amount of knowledge she had, but didn't know she had.

The training to become a Feldenkrais practitioner involves several months of concentrated work per year for four years. In the training students do a large variety of movement 'lessons’ (Awareness Through Movement) that look a little bit like yoga. Many of the lessons are modelled on the sequences that infants go through in the process of learning to crawl and walk. They help the brain develop more efficient patterns of coordination.

The training also includes body analysis to work out the patterns of poor coordination whereby clients end up with pain, and training in subtle physical manipulations that enable clients to make sensory discoveries that support improved coordination.

A recent graduate of one of the Feldenkrais trainings joined a practice group that I was supervising. The procedure was straightforward: to look at the body organisation one of the fellow students (none of us is perfect!), see something that could be improved, and devise an individual lesson to make the improvement.

This student felt stymied. She said, in anger, "I did learn anything from the training."

Ah. So my job was not to 'teach’ her, but to help her access the enormous amount of understanding about the body and movement that I knew she must have acquired.

So I asked her if she could recall an Awareness Through Movement lesson that related to the body patent she was seeing in her 'client'. She needed some prompting, so I suggested one such lesson, and asked her to come up with two more. She came up with three, and was thrilled because she now saw that she could bridge between Awareness Through Movement lessons she knew and the specific needs of clients.

This is similar to a way of accessing obscure knowledge that is used in Synectics, one of the world's great problem solving techniques. We use 'rich associations' to jump from our problem to analogues in other domains that may give us fresh lines of solution. So here she learned to jump from seeing her client’s specific need - say clarifying the organisation of the hip joint - to one of several lessons that include mobilising the hip is part of a larger movement pattern.

Often great ideas come from such play of the mind.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Written expertise

I'm getting really concerned about our team's zest to collect past proposals and project documents, sanitise and use them as expertise captured in documents. They say that new projects of similar nature may reuse those documents to help them in their writing. There are 3 main problems i see in this: 1. how can we trust a write-up based on a previous version of technology. 2. is it the best way to deliver expertise since it's almost a surety that the thought process has not been captured? 3. how much of the remains helps us understand the true problem after all the sanitisation? How did this arise? People easily limit knowledge as information and tries to codifies it, making unspoken assumptions that this is the means to share expertise. The collecting KM department gets a sense of achievement by counting the number of samples they have collected. Now i try to mitigate this by chanelling their collection (if they must) to documents that the people on the ground wants (or thinks they want) and move on a rampage to connect people to people to discuss and solve on-hand and cutting-edge issues.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Anticipating the future

Here is a personal example of a failure of anticipatory thinking. It demonstrates a lack of expertise. I once took a flight from Dayton, Ohio to New York City and left my car in the airport parking lot. I tuckedmy car keys in my briefcase because I wouldn’t need them while in New York. For complex reasons I was unable to fly home but instead took a train from New York to Toledo, Ohio where I was picked up by my mother-in-law (who was driving from her home in Detroit to my home in Ohio) and driven south to Dayton. I was dropped off at the Dayton airport so I could reclaim my car. As I left my mother-in-law's car I wondered if I should take my suitcase and briefcase with me but didn’t see any reason to do so – my mother-in-law and I were both going to drive to my home and I could get the suitcase and briefcase at that time. As I approached my car I realized my mistake. If I had been questioned a minute earlier I would have been able to correctly answer all these questions: Where is your car? (In the airport parking lot.) Where are your car keys? (In my briefcase.) Where is your briefcase? (In my mother-in-law’s car.) Where is her car? (Currently driving away from the airport.) The problem is that all four facts stayed separate until too late. This example shows a failure of anticipatory thinking. It was a failure to anticipate that I would need the briefcase and car keys as I got out of the car.

Don't Rock the Boat

At a previous firm, I was hired mostly based on my expertise and reputation in the field of knowledge management, with the idea that I would help change the existing KM organization based on my experience. What I found when I got there was a lack of other KM expertise in the organization, a strong resistance to change, and a reluctance to implement new approaches based on my suggestions. It was a large organziation with political infighting, an over-inflated self-assessment, and a very conservative and risk-averse approach. When I suggested an improvement to how communities collaborated, I was told that this was inconsistent with the culture, and that a less-efficient method should be used instead. I learned that new expertise is not always appreciated or valued, especially if it threatens the status quo or power structure of the incumbents who lack that expertise.

The Value of Outside Perspective

Expertise is often valued more highly outside of a an organization than within it. When I was at a previous firm, I regularly received complaints that our KM tools were bad, and that we were greatly inferior in our KM capabilities to all of our competitors. I invited a colleague from Company X to present to our internal KM community about Company X's use of best practice replication, which was much admired in the KM field. I was asked to reciprocate by presenting our KM program to Company X's KM community. When I did so, I was surprised at their enthusiastic response to my presentation. They said they would love to have the functionality which we had. This led me to submit a presentation to APQC for their national conference, which was accepted. At that event, I hosted a lunch with KM leaders from other systems integration and consulting firms, which led to the creation of the SIKM Leaders Community. And given the good reception of my presentation, I went on to present at other conferences, publish articles in KM journals, and write a book on KM. This same effect was also evident across organizations with the company. Our business unit did not appreciate our KM program nearly as much as other business units, who would have loved to have the people, processes, and technologies we had in place.

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

A very simple form of expertise sharing was very successful at Company X. We used a process called the knowledge-sharing request, which was an email sent to me with a simple request along the lines of "has anyone ever done this before?" or "has anyone solved this problem before?" or "does anyone know how to do this?" I would forward the message to all consulting managers in the worldwide organization. In almost all cases, several useful replies would be received within a few hours. It was a good example of Dave Snowden's principle that people will almost always help each other at the time of a specific need. Indeed, we had much more success with these ad hoc requests than we did with trying to get people to submit formal project experience documentation.

Appreciation of Expertise Depends on Where You Sit

At several of my previous jobs, expertise was appreciated very differently depending on the level within the organization. The first-line consultants and managers greatly valued expertise in knowledge management, including knowing where information could be found, whom to contact for specific expertise and help, and how to make the best use of technology. They subscribed in large numbers to knowledge-rich newsletters, asked for help regularly, and greatly relied on a list of key contacts in the organization. But higher level managers did not actively engage in collaboration, using the tools, or observing how expertise was shared. As a result, when profits dropped and budgets were squeezed, these managers scrambled to preserve their jobs and were willing to eliminate the jobs of knowledge managers and even expert consultants. Their mission was short-term survival, and it came at the expense of long-term failure.

The Camelot of Collaboration

Expertise sharing regressed at Company X from the time I joined in 1983 until it was acquired by Company Y in 1998. In the 1980s, Product A Conferences were very successful Communities of Interest/Practice, with widespread and boundary-spanning participation. When Company X migrated from System B to Microsoft for office automation, it failed to similarly migrate Product A to a new platform. As a result, Product A lost its luster and usage plummeted. What had been a competitive advantage for Company X - knowledge sharing across engineering, manufacturing, sales, service, and support - was lost. Lotus came to market and was successful, whereas Product A had been there first but failed to be offered as a product. Communities of practice did not make a resurgence until much later - after Company Z aquired Company Y - and even then, not as much across organizational boundaries. Company X might have succeeded if it had continued to embrace knowledge sharing as it once had.

Monday, January 12, 2009

It'll be worth more later

We were engaged in a KM project and we were encouraging departments to be more open about sharing their knowledge, especially the more experienced staff. This fellow told me "Look, I'm nearing the age for early retirement. If I share what I know now, they won't hire me back as a consultant. It's good money."

Thursday, January 8, 2009


I receive feedback from people that they don’t mind sharing, but there’s a lack of acknowledgement of contributions. After a while, they become reluctant to share.

It's not in the files

It was quite shocking when I first started work here. I expected to be orientated, but instead I was told to read files. One can read files, but they don’t tell you the story behind them. When you really need to know something, then you search high and low for someone who knows

Up close and personal

There’s this guy, you have to call him by his nickname or he won’t help you. It’s funny because I don’t really know him. My colleague told me about the nickname when I just joined.

Knowledge sharing is two way

I just changed job scope, and the colleague who handled that before me shared her experience with me. Knowledge sharing is a 2-way thing. Experienced colleagues can’t recall everything so you have to ask them questions to jolt their memory.

You do your own work

People don’t want to share hard-earned knowledge. Why should they let you benefit from it?

No spoonfeeding here

In my dept, our supervisors ask you to read the manuals, and then they ask you questions. There’s no spoon-feeding.

Lost knowledge

Staff turnover is high in my dept. Recently, there was a query from Internal Audit about payments not done since 2002. However, all the staff who were involved in the matter had left, and my boss and I had to trace everything from scratch.

Dropped in the deep end

When a staff resigns, the new staff taking over is not briefed on job and yet expected to start work immediately. So the new person has to seek help all over the place.

People go, knowledge goes

There’re people you always ask for information, like Mrs Y______ from HR who’s been around for 25-30 years. When these people leave, there’ll be no continuity. People will eventually figure things out, but that’s quite inefficient. But who has the time to go through 30 volumes of stuff?

Starting from zero each time

We handle different projects. Sometimes we rotate projects but the end users remain the same. When projects are passed on to new people, we don’t usually have chance to pass on knowledge, so they have to learn from scratch.

Don't ask me again

As a newbie, I approached this person for info. She expressed frustration because my predecessor had asked her before. Knowledge resides in people. When they leave their knowledge leaves too.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Hire you for advice and then don't listen to it

I had a situation where we were hired by an organisation to help them develop a KM strategy. It became clear during the engagement that this was a very turf-sensitive, political organisation, and in fact they had two different kinds of KM initiative going on, each reporting to a different senior manager. There were all sorts of coordination and knowledge non-transfer issues, and much wider confusion and scepticism about KM in the wider organisation. They needed role and mission clarity. Despite the opposition of both senior managers, one of whom was the one who hired us we recommended that the KM teams be united under one senior manager, so they could implement a common strategy and present a common face to the rest of the organisation for what needed to be done. I argued this forcefully at the senior management team level but they disagreed. Not long after, the more experienced people in both KM teams left out of frustration, and they had to build their teams again from scratch. The result is a slightly stronger team on one side which is more active, but there's still confusion. Why do organisations seek to hire people ostensibly for their expertise and experience and then fail to act on their advice?

Asking the right questions

It’d be good if the information requester can be more specific. Otherwise, we can’t help. Recently, we received an email from one division. They were planning a tender. But which area does the tender pertain to? What stage are you at? Some can then be specific. Others just don’t know what we’re talking about when we reply.

Familiarity and habits

Although the organisation has been restructured, people still look to you regarding your old job. They say it’s because they know me, but there’re other staff in my department.

Want or don't want?

I used to send a lot of research info to people, but then they tell me they don’t want to read them. Then they complain if you don’t send to them. I do research, but they want customized knowledge - I can’t remember who needs what.

Maturity and generosity

Older staff more willing to share than younger staff. I asked a younger staff about computer-related stuff but he’s unwilling to share. I don’t know why they’re like that.