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.