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.