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.