Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Top Ten Characteristics of a Really Good Business Transformation / ECM Project Manager

In many respects, an ECM project is a business transformation project. Depending on the specifics, it changes how information is captured and managed, it changes how end-users interact with information in terms of process and practice, and it changes the nature of information services offered to clients. Project managers are challenged with planning and managing work that impacts all three of these groups in different ways.  Not an easy task.

In this type of environment, I think project managers must be able to:

  1. manage cross-discipline project team culture and build common language and understanding
  2. manage the social systems within which the project team, clients, partners and key decision makers interact, share information and make decisions
  3. effectively use project management processes and tools in ways that provide for the necessary agility and experiential learning,and enables the resulting timely course corrections to happen
  4. ensure consistent information is provided in a timely fashion across multiple stakeholder groups/perspectives - right information, right time, right way, fit for purpose
  5. work effectively with the solution business owner to navigate the political climate across the organization / business area
  6. keep the team focused on business outcomes/ objectives, and prevent the focus /attention from being overtaken by technology discussions, challenges and outcomes
  7. facilitate clarity of roles, responsibilities, accountabilities, and a future focus, and steer the team away way from blame-setting and finger pointing when inevitable project challenges arise
  8. equip key decision makers with the information / knowledge they need to make timely decisions
  9. constantly strip away complexity / confusion in conversations and help everyone focus on the key vital ideas / information
  10. demonstrate and encourage authentic conversations based on transparency, honesty, and a focus on corporate good/business value
(Below is a short video from the authors of the book Authentic Conversations - definitely worth the read!)

Friday, September 10, 2010

ECM Critical Success Factors

Of late, I've been thinking of some of the challenges related to implementing large-scale ECM programs and projects, and would like to extend some of the thinking in this very useful presentation created by AIIM, and host of other contributions on the 'net.

I suggest that for ECM to be successful:

Senior decision makers must be able to think strategically.
In knowledge-based organizations, it is very difficult to quantify the benefits of ECM projects that are broad / enterprise wide in scope (v.s targeted to a specific work group/isolated, well scoped problem). Highly improvisational/collaborative knowledge work, unlike production work, is hard to monitor / measure objectively for changes in efficiency and effectiveness. Given the complexity of organizations and the environments they operate in, cause and effect relationships are almost impossible to draw concretely in advance. Senior managers need to think with the end in mind, make investment and corrective action decisions based on weak signals (information, often anecdotal, that emerges from local intelligence and extended social networks often disconnected from the organization's structure), less than complete quantitative information, and a mix of abstract thinking and common sense.

Strong, strategic subject matter expertise leadership must be available start to finish. 
There is no "cookbook" for ECM.  Every organization is different, and what worked in one situation will not automatically work in another.  Technologies vary, organizational culture varies, degree of existing internal experience and capabilities vary. What is essential is to have a strong, experienced subject matter expert leading the initiative who has the ability to help the project team access and adapt proven practices to the situation / context of the project, to translate abstract concepts into practical reality, and who can develop / promote common understanding about the overall solution design across client groups, business and technology team members.

Learning must be explicitly built into the project plan.
Given the complex nature of both broad based ECM implementation and the organizations within which implementation takes place, any confidence in the accuracy of detail long range plans that cover the entire project / program from start to finish is misplaced. It could be argued that rigorous detailed planning for later / final project phases is misplaced as well. ECM is best managed as a learning oriented project, with explicit learning / after action review meetings scheduled in the plan after key project phases / milestones, and a "re-planning" step identified immediately afterward.  This step can also be synchronized with funding requests to continue progressing with the project / program.  Add explicit activities to ensure that delivery partners (e.g. IM/IT/Communications)  and program/project governance groups (e.g steering committee / working groups) learn what is required to fulfill their responsibilities and make critical, timely decisions as the project progresses.  ECM projects/programs are social systems that constantly change as time progresses, and planning and management of the project must accommodate.

Promote realistic expectations about plan accuracy and project outcomes and benefits.
In keeping with the above point, it is essential to resist the urge to tell "good news stories," to set unrealistic expectations about the degree of certainty of plan and outcome scope, and to tell decision makers, and staff in general, what the project team thinks these two important audiences want to hear. It is always difficult for people who are well paid project management or subject matter "experts" to admit they are unsure.  With the stage well set for a learning project, the personal/reputational risk is minimized, but the old adage "it is what it is" really must apply.

Gear the project to organizational readiness / capacity for change for both the project and the outcome.
If a documented or implicit planning assumption is that "people will be available when required," challenge it strenuously. Challenge equally any plans that assume that some form of homogeneous common understanding (or even interest) about ECM/IM exists across project governance and target audience, because it's rarely the case. If the plan is based on an assumption of 100% availability for full-time staff, challenge that as well. One of the scarcest resources in any organization is attention. There are so many competitors for attention all the time, and no one can ever be sustainably 100% focused/available for a project.  ECM initiatives constantly compete with other strategic and operational priorities for attention. Employees still have an interest related to their operational roles and responsibilities, and are often drawn into related conversations or meetings.  Even external consultants have responsibilities associated with their home organizations, and are rarely truly 100% focused/dedicated. Lead ECM with organizational change management and communications, and embed these activities throughout the project plan. The very first step should be to ensure that a proper knowledge and awareness foundation is laid for key decision makers and stakeholders before proceeding.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Relationship Between Information and Knowledge Services

I've been involved in quite a few conversations recently about the relationship between information and knowledge, and the resulting relationship, if any, between information services and knowledge services. These are very difficult discussions to engage in without finding yourself in a 'definitional rat hole' in attempting to create common language or frames of reference, or relying on a set of philosophical underpinnings that invariably differ from those of the people on the other side of the table.

I'm beginning to think that the differentiation between information and knowledge is a practitioner perspective and not a common, business-oriented one. Business people simply want to get things done as quickly and effectively as possible and can always use some form of help. And most importantly, they want to access the help quickly and effectively as well.

In most basic form, from my perspective, we are processing machines, taking input (e.g past experiences, environmental context, what we read, what we hear from others) learning from and making sense of the input, and ultimately take action, no action, or shifting to a different state (e.g. more knowledgeable, more confused, more capable, more frustrated). The results of action are also for input into the next process cycle. (Think of the experiential learning cycle.)

We all have a job to do, we leverage and learn from everything and everyone we can, if we're smart, to do that job so that we can achieve the results we want. And if you think about the highly flexible, improvisational nature of knowledge work, the leveraging and learning takes place before, while and after taking action (as so eloquently explored in Learning to Fly. And most importantly, how we use information and how we engage with the people around us is highly integrated.

But we all try to be successful in a challenging work environment. We all hear and read about (and experience) the information explosion, organizations being complex adaptive systems, the almost fluid comings and goings of people in and out of organizations or moving between roles and responsibilities inside organizations.

It seems to me, given the above reality we all work in, having on internal service group that a business person could contact for a full range of help / services similar to the partial list below would be a significant benefit:
  • self-serve or assisted "single search" of pre-qualified /selected / quality information originating from inside and outside the organization, with integrated results
  • unsolicited or subscription based provision of focused internal and external information in context based on user-completed profile information and monitored activity
  • facilitated networking with others with similar interests to validate information, information sources, and bridge information silos
  • facilitated group conversations with others to make sense of / contextualize and learn from information and from each other
  • on-demand serendipitous discovery of all of the above
  • all of the above in both provided via in-person and on-line environments
(And, for those of you who don't believe that facilitation of networking and group conversations is a need, from what I hear, even basic meetings haven't evolved much since John Cleese first released Meetings Bloody Meetings in 1976! We all need HELP! Lots of it!)

Interesting related reading:

Learning + Knowledge = ? by Matt Moore, Training Australia Magazine Vol. 8 (4) 2009

Moore also has recently published Performance Enhancing - an e-book that builds on his Training Australia Magazine article and further examines the links between training & development, knowledge management, organizational learning and performance improvement from a practical perspective.

A brilliant graphic poster on Informal Learning developed by XPLANE.
(Special thanks to Peter Stoyko at for the above two references.)

Smashing Silos, a Businessweek article by Evan Rosen, author of The Culture of Collaboration

Stenmark, D. (2001) The Relationship between Information and Knowledge in Proceedings of IRIS 24, Ulvik, Norway, August 11-14.

Stenmark also explores a number of these ideas in more detail at

Friday, July 09, 2010

"Who Will Care When I'm Gone?"

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Ottawa Canada, War Memorial
I was reflecting on a series of conversations I had a while back with a work colleague (let's call him "Lloyd") who was soon to retire. He had agreed to be the focal point of a proof of concept "knowledge transfer" approach.

Lloyd was a long serving employee, and was involved in a number of the organization's key functions and major corporate initiatives. He was a very good communicator, very well respected, and was able to think objectively enough to contribute to the design of how he was going to share his knowledge.

First, he and I had a series of conversations reviewing his career, experiences, accomplishments and some interesting key learnings.  Within the context of the organization we identified 5 key "knowledge domains."  We then identified 2-3 thought leaders in each domain, and I sent these people a number of probing questions intended to uncover what they thought they would like to learn from Lloyd in their respective knowledge domains. Using the responses to these questions I began to design a series of "talk show" like events, one for each domain, which would feature a host, Lloyd, and guests, all of whom would have a conversation in the knowledge domain, seeded by the preliminary questions received from the thought leaders. Anyone in the organization could attend in the audience.  After the conversation was well started on the stage, anyone in the audience would have the opportunity to ask questions and get involved in the conversation. (Dare I say Johnny Carson meets Jerry Springer?)

I was also planning on recording these events, segmenting them, and making them available via our intranet at some point on the future (I was also working on promoting the creation of a section on our intranet for "legacy pages" - profiles, histories, interviews (videos / transcripts), projects, documents etc. for retirees.

Part way through the design of the talk show events, Lloyd came to me and said that he had changed his mind, and no longer wanted to participate. I was stunned, given how active he was in the conversations / process to that point. Of course, I asked him why.

He told me he was reflecting, in large part because of my probing, on his experiences in the organization and concluded that no one would care about what he had learned or had to say. Despite my best efforts, I could not convince him otherwise.

Clearly, there is a direct relationship between the degree to which people choose to volunteer what they know, and the recognition / appreciation they will received for their effort.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Management Innovation Opportunity

I was exchanging a few emails with Ed Bernacki this morning, and he mentioned that he was going to be attending the Corpus Operis Forum in Germany May 12-14. This event is billed as a "Global Forum on Innovation, Sustainability, and Workforce." The video for the forum certainly points to an innovative approach to bringing a diversity of ideas together to look beyond the constraints of today's work environment to what could be in the future. Wish I was going!

Corpus Operis Forum from Genesis Media on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Emergence of Social Business Design

I’ve long been a fan of the work of XPLANE for visually explaining complex concepts and ideas. I recently received a broadcast email from them announcing their acquisition by the Dachis Group. (Dachis has also acquired Hinchcliffe & Company, and Headshift.)

Social business design” is a fundamental element of the Dachis Groups’ offering and approach to serving its customers. They define it as “Social Business Design is the intentional creation of dynamic and socially calibrated systems, process, and culture. The goal: improving value exchange among constituents .“

Now, I'm sure you've all heard of “social engineering”, which often has negative connotations linked to individual, group our large scale manipulation. Social business design is, by contrast, more closely linked to what Ram Charan refers to as “Shaping the way people work together by leading the social system of your business” in his book KNOW-HOW :The 8 Skills That Separate People Who Perform from Those Who Don't.

(It also sounds remarkably like facilitation in the context of organizational development / management consulting in an emerging social networking / “Enterprise 2.0” context.)

I find this a very interesting, and exciting, development. I’m looking forward to seeing how this concept evolves.

Is this the new “knowledge management?”

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Stoyko on the "The Lump of Knowledge Falicy".

Peter Stoyko has composed a great essay titled "The Lump of Knowledge Falicy" wherein he very articulately distinguishes between the stock/flow view of knowledge and KM and the learning /social view, and points to some of the problems associated with an unbalenced focus on the former.  Well worth the read.

In conclusion Peter states: "It’s time to recognise the true nature of knowledge, which has a lot to do with human psychology, socio-political relations, and the anatomy of the brain. Data and information are important for organisations. But some knowledge can’t be shoe-horned into portable and pliable documentation. We have to avoid the lump of knowledge fallacy because it’s causing managers to ignore important sources of insight and creativity. And it’s causing managers to fund learning activities that promise a quick-fix instead of those which produce the long-term intellectual growth of employees."

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Knowledge Strategy Exchange Network - Why I'm a Member

I'm a (dare I say proud) member of the Conference Board's Knowledge Strategy Executive Network. You can follow the link to read more about it, but suffice it to say that this is a group of people that have common interest in the set of inter-related perspectives and domains generally described as "knowledge management."

I get asked on a regular basis why I'm a member, so by writing this post, perhaps I can either pre-empt the question, or make answering it a bit easier.

By participating in this Network (which can also be defined as a community of practice) I can make more sense of what we mean by "knowledge management" and how to leverage the approaches and methods to solve business problems. I can also learn from people who have real-world practical experience, and bring that learning back to what I'm involved in.

The diversity of perspectives and views ensures that my thinking, the lessons I learn and conclusions I draw are not myopic and limited by my own experiences and personal biases. The cognitive diversity in the group tends to reflect all perspectives / views about knowledge management - Human Resources / Learning and Development, Information Technology, Communications, Data Management, Records/Information/Content Management, Organizational Development, Emerging / Web Technologes, and even a splash of "Enterprise 2.0" - not everyone in the group is a "knowledge manager", by job title, but we all share a common interest in helping facilitate the creation and flow of knowledge across our organizations.

All members have the opportunity to contribute to and shape agendas and conversations, so ultimately everyone's known and emerging learning and information needs are effectively met. But, the quid pro quo is that everone is an active member, and not a passive receptor of

The quality of the minds and thinking in the group are a significant help in solving specific problems or avoiding real challenges with knowledge management related initiatives - both in the group setting, and between meetings as part of my contact network. This is truly a "peer assist" network.

I am leveraging a typical knowledge management approach, a community / network, giving me first hand experience that I can relate positively to others.

And finally, the support by the Conference Board, and the quality of the individuals supporting our network is truly "second to none."

For anyone in public or private sector in Canada challenged with ensuring that knowledge is created and shared effectively across their organizations, regardless of the approach/method/practice/technology, and in paricular in context of a rapidly changing workforce, increasing demands for increased collaboration in the face of increasingly complex challenges, and budget pressures to maximize the knowledge that exists in the organization, this is THE Canadian group to be a part of.

(I've blogged about a few of our conversations: Four Generations at Work, Group Discussion: A Business Case for Social Network Analysis, Organizational / Facilitation Nirvana)

And no, this is not a paid anouncement - that wouldn't be in keeping with some of the key principles of knowledge sharing! I've simply benefitted significantly from participating over the last few years.

(Plus, I also speak just as highly about APQC in the US.)

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Why KM Initiatives Fail

Yes, this topic has been "kicked around" many times before. But something occurred to me this morning that I thought I'd share.

First, if you subscribe to the idea that organizations are complex unordered systems, and cause-effect relationships are un-predictable, then perhaps the complete, detailed picture of why KM initiatives fail is to some degree unknowable and unique to every situation and organization - or at the very least too costly to determine.

Perhaps that is why most causal discussions seem to present factors that contribute to failure, or report against the critical success factors presented in the KM initiative business case or project charter.

So, here are some of the factors I think contribute to a KM initiative's success (v.s. failure) - and I'll try and avoid the more popular ones.
  • strategic / enterprise-wide orientation
  • willingness to have the status quo challenged in a productive / meaningful way
  • recognition of the link between knowledge and the human learning process, which will help ensure that the "solution" is not overengineered with a rigid implementation plan
  • proper positioning of the value and purpose of external and internally created information in the learning process
  • recognition that a significant amount of learning takes place every day in the workplace, and the importance of this learning on knowledge work/workers
  • understanding that knowledge management initiatives are learning initiatives in and of themselves, requiring frequent after action reviews to adjust plans, evaluate and revise overall direction, or perhaps even stop completely and move onto another focus area
Let me balence these success factors with some challenges rooted in many of the characteristics of adults as learners as they apply in the context of decision making.  The implementation success of KM initiatives are often hampered by: 
  • a lack of an imminent crisis (life changing) event to trigger consideration of a change action
  • need of decision-makers to forsee some form of immediate, tangible value in the initiative
  • lack of decision-maker comfort with an initiative that is radically/dramatically outside the current thinking/mental models or what is already known
  • being overly complex / multi-facited / multi-dimensional
  • being led by experts using a prescriptive engagement model, rather than providing opportunities for those affected by the proposed changes to be involved in determining priority actions
  • perceived personal risks to decisiion-maker reputation, self-esteem and personal ego in:
    • admitting that the current situatuation, that they may have played a role in creating or sustaining, can be improved on or is in some way insufficient
    • acknowledgeing that they don't know the answer / solution already
All this leads to what I think the real value in a "start small" / pilot approach that is often recommended in KM articles and literature - low risk, experential LEARNING. This notion goes well beyond the "proving value or ROI" benefit of a small pilot.  A real learning approach enables key stakeholders to participate in a low personal risk setting, make sense of underlying concepts and principles, gain comfort with approaches/methods and tools, and participate in designing and affecting organizational change. For this learning to happen, it is mandatory that the project plan include frequent opportunities and events (after action reviews/restrospectives) to alow time for reflection, sense making, and learning.

What is still required, though, are decision makers with the willingness to experiment and provide support and access to the necessary resources for the learning pilot, and a "client" with the strategic foresight and avilable attention to offer their problem or opportunity for the pilot.

With the prevalence of crises to manage every day, willingness, resources and attention are difficult to find for a learning pilot. And crisis management, which drives tasks and actions to deadlines, offers few opportunities for good pre-and post action learning..

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Framework for Collaboration

In a spontaneous conversation with Peter at Cognitive Potential talking about some key elements of collaboration, regardless of scope, I/we came up with this simple framework.  I thought I'd share.

Are we becoming "Always on-the-record?"

Government 2.0: Five Predictions for 2010-12 - A very interesting predictions post from O'Reilly Radar. For me, the most notable prediction - "Always on-the-record." Perhaps with the increasing visibility enabled by social media, and behind-the-scenes data collection, aggregation and repackaging, the "average joe" will also be always on-the-record.  I think this may have some long term cultural implications, gradually shape common "public" behaviours, and perhaps over the short term, even lead to risk averse, "share less not more."