Monday, May 10, 2010

Capturing information from retiring subject matter experts

There are many methods for capturing subject matter expertise. We have some strong arguments as to the most effective methods and also on how to organize and share that expertise; however when you are talking specifically about capturing expertise from a retiring SME the methods and goals are different from those you might otherwise adopt.

A worker with potentially decades of experience has a rich history that may be worth sharing. The operative word is “may” because although there are years of experience in place, the pieces that are really worth sharing are those that can impact future performance of the enterprise.

You cannot discount years of know-how especially the type of knowledge that comes only through exposure over time, resulting not just in proficiency, but in the ability to deal with unexpected situations. Unfortunately, in our experience many retiring SMEs that have great “tribal” knowledge also have a difficult time communicating specific information that improves the way the business operates. That's because storytelling (the tribal piece), full of anecdotes, factoids and arcane internal political references is easy. Trying to tie those stories to actual performance is another matter.

Our approach is to take a retiring subject matter expert and harvest knowledge that can be specifically tied to the job processes, procedures and tasks he or she has been charged with performing. Using this approach, not only do you focus on what is relevant to performance, but you also create a menu for navigating of these so-called knowledge nuggets that you obtain from that individual.

Context is all important and without it, information cannot be applied effectively.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Is Your Knowledge Really Worth Capturing

Putting on my knowledge management helmet for a minute, I've been asked the following question at least a half-dozen times this week: "What knowledge should we capture in my organization?" I don't think the question stems from skepticism about "KM" (of which there is plenty and there SHOULD be), rather I think it's the size of the task that training, HR and operations folks are tasked with. If you can't figure out the answer to "what" then it's darn near impossible to figure out the right method or technology to support a project in the area. Some thoughts on information capture follow:

Determining Processes and Activities That Merit Capture

Since a business process is simply a collection of sequential, related activities that may or may impact one another, it’s often best to look at the output of a process, and the activities that comprise it to determine merit.

High Value Activities. The more value the organization places on a particular business activity, the greater the likelihood that there is value in capturing the details that surround it. Value, in the broadest sense, can be defined using several filters:

-Is the process connected to strategic activities of the business e.g. generating revenue, developing new products, manufacturing goods?
-Is the process considered a high risk activity i.e. is it costly to undertake, does the output of the activity have significant influence on other activities, if not performed will the business suffer? e.g. research and development such as drug discovery, or
-Do the inherent characteristics of the way the process or activity is executed provide the business with competitive advantage and is it proprietary in nature or viewed as a key component of the organizations intellectual property?

Scaleable Processes. The more that the organization can benefit from communicating the activity in a clear and concise way, the more important it is to share the information across the business.

-Are enough people performing the specific activity the better execution around that activity would result in a benefit to the business …because the ability to repeat and scale the way the business operates improves company performance? e.g. customer service processes. This is accentuated when those people performing the activity are geographically dispersed e.g. a retailer with 500 stores, might find great value in sharing best practices and knowledge around a relatively medium to low value processes/activities such as a store procedures manual.

Regulated or Controlled Activities. The more regulated the process or activity the greater the degree to execute with precision and oversight, the higher the likelihood of a negative impact due to poor performance.

-Is worker safety compromised? Will operations be suspended? Is there a risk of government intervention via fines, or audits? Will shareholders/financiers take punitive action?

High Churn Roles or Job Types. The greater the employee turnover or risk of knowledge loss from such turnover, the more important it is to quickly on-board, cross-train or re-train employees.

-Is process or area of your business exposed to unusually high risk of retirements or is there poor succession planning in place for the specific role type i.e. if the subject matter expert leaves, is there risk that vast amounts of institutional knowledge will leave with him? There are entire industries where this can be an issue.

-Is the process assigned to a role type where employees can be expected to churn out of the organization more quickly than other roles (therefore requiring frequent hiring, training) e.g. quota carrying sales positions generally have a turnover rate that is a multiple of the organization’s normal t/o rate. And when those employees leave, there is significant downside as current revenue pursuits go dormant, time is spent finding replacements, and there is significant productivity loss as new sales people learn the ins and outs of the organization.

Mergers and Acquisition Environments. The more acquisitive an organization, the greater the value in codifying the way in which they do business, which in turn can help integrate acquired companies and their employees more quickly.

-Does the organization plan to grow or add specific capabilities through acquisition? M&A activities frequently fail due to cultural and people issues once the red-tape and financial arrangements come to a close. The more easily the acquirer can communicate processes related to business strategy and tactics to the acquirer, the higher the likelihood that the acquired entity can contribute to the overall goals e.g. the higher value processes noted previously.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Contextware Selected as One of Top 100 in Knowledge Management

Contextware is proud to announce that for the fifth year running it has been selected to KMWorld's list of the Top 100 Companies That Matter in Knowledge Management.  There are few companies that have made the list as consistently as Contextware.

As the editor of KMWorld, Hugh McKellar states, "The firms on this list are true solution providers that are dedicated to understanding what their customers need and delivering elegant technology for the requirements of the knowledge economy."  We're proud to be a part of it.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Organizing Information for Customer and Client Services

As stated in the immediately prior post, our belief is that communicating information and organizing content is more effective when it is done in context.  The correct context from our perspective is the process people are trying to undertake.

One such example where this can apply is in the organization and delivery of customer service and support information.  In the January/February edition of Credit Union Business - a leading journal for CU management, David Austin of Contextware is featured in an article that addresses the opportunity for credit unions to customize content for their small business customers.  On the surface, providing customer specific content makes perfect sense as the needs of a small business customer are very different from the needs of an individual or family.  The challenge for credit unions is two-fold: identifying the content to provide, and organizing that content in a way that it is useful.

In this credit union example, if web content is developed to focus on what a small business is trying to accomplish (the how-tos of a small business vs. a menu of services offered by the how-tos of the credit union) then the credit union will provide greater value to their members and develop greater affinity and loyalty with them.

By asking what their customers can benefit from, the conversation now quickly moves beyond just basic financial services and to the broader question of what can the CU provide to help their memberships' businesses grow?

The CU now becomes a truster provider of information and partner of the small business rather than simply a provider of financial services.  As a trusted partner, the CU now has differentiated itself from the dozens of other banks and financial institutions that the customer could move their business to.

What type of how-to content do your customers need?

(click here to access a pdf version of the publication - the story is found on page 43 of the journal - page 45 as seen through the Acrobat viewer)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Business Processes: Communication vs. Automation

Business process technology capabilities (BPM, BPA) are overwhelmingly weighted toward automating the processes that they've attempted to capture. There's nothing wrong with this, and in fact, the 'language' of process provides modelers with a common platform for defining process flow, impacts and related systems -- regardless of the proprietary technology in use. You get the value of streamlining the exchange and delivery of data, errors are reduced, quality improves and transactions are speeded along their way. However, automation is just the tip of the iceberg.

The overwhelming majority of business processes performed in the workplace cannot be automated. Most processes being performed are a series of human interactions, with a high degree of subjectivity, and with technology and systems used to assist in the completion of a granular task, but not to perform the process in its entirety. Yet, if these 'human-centric' processes as Forrester likes to refer to them could become more repeatable, predictable and defined, the business would benefit. This is where BPM and its cousins fall on their collective faces. These technologies are utterly incapable of communicating "how-to" perform any of the things that they were designed to capture. They were designed to automate, not to communicate, and therefore they have no ability to easily translate a process for consumption by a large audience.

Most human centric processes are communicated through training/learning, experience and word-of-mouth. Technologies helping along the way (to communicate) include learning management systems, collaboration tools, content management and search. The challenge with these technologies (in general) are their fundamental lack of structure e.g. a content management system can be organized in a variety of hierarchical structures but once created, they are quite brittle to change; a learning management system is simply a delivery mechanism only as good as the curriculum and classes that are developed for delivery; search brings back too many results.

Contextware set out early on to solve the problem of communicating processes more effectively. And core to our belief is using process as a means to capturing and then also organizing the information that needs to be communicated i.e. the business process IS the context. The next few blog posts will highlight some interesting examples of how our core belief can be applied.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy New Year and Thank You

It's that time of year for a heart felt thank you to our clients, colleagues, friends and business partners for making 2009 a good year for Contextware. Truth be told, we're constantly thankful to the people we work with because they are the key ingredient to enjoying what we do and to our success.

A lot of folks talk about putting 2009 'behind them' but more powerful is the notion of understanding how we got here in the first place, making appropriate changes to our businesses and then growing. Maybe that's too simplistic but those are the marching orders for 2010.

Happy New Year!