Category Archives: Planning

On experiencing context

I want to talk about experiencing context.  I want to investigate what it means to experience something that is really going on rather than what is supposed to be going on.  I want to see what happens in practice as distinct to what the theory might suppose.

I am reading the classic book on urban planning by Jane Jacobs, called The death and life of great American cities.  As a lapsed economic geographer, I am always drawn to the intersection between economics and space and how in practice these two dimensions work.   The first observation, certainly if you are from Sydney as I am originally, is that there is a dark nexus between property developers and urban development.  Much has been made about the power of developer influence on government planning, for instance.

In fact, I recall one big developer wanting to concrete over the beautiful Kuring-gai Chase National Park in the north of Sydney to build more multi-dwelling housing!  The worst part, of course, is that besides giving the developer more profit and more power, the architecture of said multidwelling housing leaves a lot to be desired with their prefab look and feel.

In the introduction to Jane Jacob’s book, she cites an example of a so-called slum in Boston (in the 1950s) called the North End.  To much of Boston, and certainly the city planners, North End was a major slum.  Yet when Jane Jacobs visited the place before a future-planned “redevelopment”, she was amazed by the life and vitality of the place.  She rang a planning friend who confirmed he thought it was a slum, albeit a slum with pretty good health and socioeconomic statistics behind it.  Moreover, her planner friend actually visited North End and found it to have a “wonderful, cheerful street life”, even better in summer.

Jacobs says: “Here  was a curious thing. My friend’s instincts told him North End was a good place, and his social statistics confirmed it. But everything he had learned as a physical planner about what is good for people and good for the city neighbourhoods, everything that made him an expert, told him that the North End had to be a bad place” (page 15).

The story certainly tells me how important it is to experience the context.  I doubt whether it will always be good enough to just look at the theory, or the statistics, or the expert opinion, without experiencing the context for oneself.  More importantly, however, is the finding out about the experience from the people active within it.

It therefore comes as no surprise that in many areas of our professional lives where we have to make decisions, we often rely solely on past experience, our previous training, and the thinking that pervades ourselves and like-minded colleagues.  This is quite insufficient.  We need to explore other ideas and other people’s views, especially the views of the people involved – the real stakeholders.  And if we can break these patterns, either through our own determination or allowing some disruptive thinking to break through from elsewhere, then we can at least look at the world in a different way.

If we can experience context, and include the contextual experiences of those involved, we can make more informed choices and decisions that reflect the real context as distinct from our personal-world-view context.

On conference presentations and workshops

I promised to report on the act-km conference (day 2) that I attended on the 15th October. The papers from the conference are up on the web site.

I won’t go through my notes on this one because I want to focus my thoughts on a broader discussion around conference formats. In particular, I want to discuss conference presentations and workshops.

Most conferences have traditional stand-up-the-front presentations, usually accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation of varying degrees of quality. Such presentations usually take 20-60 minutes, depending on whether the presentation is a keynote or not. The presenter is often rushed because of insufficient time – a problem that many speakers don’t address before getting started. But still there is the challenge of makng presentations more interesting. [On a personal note, I’d love to be able to give a conference and Powerpoint presentation like Al Gore in the documentary, An inconvenient truth!]

One response from conference organisers is to make the conference sessions more interactive. This at least keeps the audience on their toes! And one method of audience interaction used at conferences is what might be described as a mini-workshop.

A mini-workshop approach was used by a couple of presenters on the day I attended the act-km conference in Canberra. One workshop in particular was of great interest. The workshop by Laurie Lok Lee from Optimice on value networks was really very interesting – people at tables had to play the part of two archetypes and discuss how they would view the value of their particular knowledge management initiative and the value of the initiative from the other archetype. Value was to be determined using a scorecard that covered a value for both tangible and intangible activities. The archetypes would need to work together (partner) to get the knowledge management activity happening.

The workshop would have been improved with more time and this is often a problem. The benefits are not fully realised because the workshop is allocated the same time as for a stock-standard presentation format. A workshop and a presentation have different time management needs.

I am wondering if the workshop approach needs to be an actual conference highlight, akin to a keynote, where extra time can be allocated. The impact of the workshop could be enhanced by linking the issues with later standard presentations. A final workshop wrap-up (with sufficient allocated time) would tie everything up and maintain a good level of participation and thinking. Too often the final conference presentation is a panel where not much happens, or where a couple of selected presenters give their impressions of the conference for the rest of us.

I must say in this penultimate paragraph that I really enjoyed the act-km day, appreciate the efforts of all involved, and thank them for stimulating my thinking about a range of issues, including workshops and conference design.

I’d be interested in hearing any opinions on whether workshops really do add value to conferences and/or how conferences can be improved through different presentation delivery methods.

Knowledge management and the world financial crisis

Since my last blog post, the world financial market has really taken a battering as large finanical institutions in the US, Britain and in Europe collapse under the weight of poor lending practices and even poorer management and control structures. The financial impact alone is enormous.

What has this to do with knowledge management, I hear you ask?

Well, knowledge management is about enabling informed decision-making and taking action. Knowledge management facilitates the information and knowledge assets of a business to drive operational efficiencies, create opportunities for growth and innovation, and establish sound information management practices and systems for preparedness and risk mitigation.

Knowledge management is therefore about establishing the internal operational conditions for making effective and knowledgeable choices and decisions across the business domains of a firm – and those business domains are where profits and losses are created.

An organisation’s codified knowledge and information (explicit knowledge), capacity for research and analysis, and capabilitiy to locate and disseminate this information will inform a workplace and the people within it; for decision-makers and for taking action.

At the same time, knowledge management involves people – the information and knowledge exchanged, re-articulated and reformulated by humans within particular contexts. The knowledge and experiences of people are unique, co-evolving, and able to be shared to develop or create new knowledge. This is what is commonly referred to in the knowledge management literature as tacit knowledge.

Knowledge management facilitates this interplay between explicit and tacit knowledge out of which organisations make decsions and take action. Knowledge management is therefore ongoing, cumulative and regenerating.

Knowledge management also works to reduce costs through improving workflow, facilitating efficient and effective information capture, access, and dissemination, facilitates conversation and human networks, and enhances collaboration and connectivity between individuals for common purpose.

Knowledge management is therefore about providing the infrastructure and capability for organisations to make informed decisions. As knowledge managers, we like to think that the outcome of knowledge management is Innovation and competitive advantage – and sometimes it is. But just as importantly is the strategic importance of using knowledge and information assets wisely to improve operational effectiveness, decision-making and governance issues – profit making and risk mitigation.

On the cost side, knowledge management drives down the cost of doing business through more efficient and productive operations (saving time is one of the obvious manifestations). Being able to find the right information at the right time is critical, as is preparedness through awareness. Being aware and having quick access to information and the right people allows for organisational agility and responsiveness that impacts on how opportunities are found and change is managed.

A strategic knowledge management approach to organisational perfomance is an excellent way for companies to make improved decisions for profit generation and risk mitigation while also saving costs and speeding up interaction within people networks for collective thinking and collaborative advantage.

Knowledge management offers a foundation, many paths and a network. Yet it’s true that senior management and executives choose which way to jump – and the frying pan at 700 or 870 degrees is one route. Wall Street, if it’s not to late, take heed!

On customer experience for information and knowledge projects

A few days ago I received the Good Experience newsletter with a feature story on customer experience. The article makes great reading about the importance of really understanding your customer and really listening to what they have to say. The article focuses on the retail customer experience but the same applies to a range of information, knowledge and content management projects, as well as general business activities.

Similarly, Roger Corbett, former CEO of Australian retail grocery giant Woolworths, was often out visiting stores and talking with staff and customers. He was even renowned for bringing back Woolworths shopping trolleys from the supermarket carpark on any of his regular store visits.

Being visible, interacting and listening to your customers (both external customers and internal customers like staff) should be the hallmark of any type of knowledge and information-based project. Unlike factory-process work popular among conveyor belt managers, knowledge workers have thoughts, opinions and motivations when they are at work.

Knowledge workers make decisions and they interact and communicate with other people. These workers will be more willing to approach new or adapted systems and processes when they are part of the process itself. And part of that “process” is in listening and understanding what they have to say, preferably based on a personal and trusting relationship. Maximising “what’s in it for me” is not just the maxim of the project manager, but your people as well.

And listening does transcend into action. The conversations do impact on the actual project and change management. The conversations do feed into the systematic project fundamentals of project design and implementation. PRINCE2 is no real prince if the kingdom is full of unwilling followers!

I was talking yesterday afternoon with a professional colleague lamenting the difficulties of information management implementations. He was asking (rhetorically) why it was so difficult to get implementations to work when the project plan and methodology had been so carefully worked out. And how come there was still confusion about workflow and work policies and procedures when the vendor-client relationship had been so professionally managed by the systems and implementation team (of one). He sighed deeply, shook his head, and said: “and now we have the system and we’re well into the implementation, but after that we need to start the change management process!”


I asked him if he’d thought about the change management issue even before he started the project. I asked him if he or anyone else had gone out to the staff to understand their workplace behaviour and motivations before the project had begun, or even during the Gantt chart timetable.

I asked if he was seen as someone trusted enough to have an honest and open conversation on the issues and opinions of staff before the proposed project took on its own momentum. He interrupted to remind me that stakeholder consultation was part of the project plan. I pointed out that consultation is really conversation – and not a one way dialogue or information dump devoid of personalisation and meaning.

He looked at me as if I was crazy!

“I don’t have time for all of that. I have a project to run, mileposts to get through, work to document, and a change management program to develop and roll-out!”.

I am sure everything he was thinking and everything he was doing made sense to him. I am sure he was truly earnest about implementing a system with the best of processes and the best of project fundamentals. My final question was whether it made sense to the customer (the staff) – his internal stakeholders who would actually be the ones using the new system and working with it in their jobs every day.

According to the Good Experience story (and translating the message to your internal customers and clients): “Even so, few companies actually do [listen]. Listening to customers is DIFFICULT. I think it’s just too plain and simple for many companies to really commit to. You can just imagine executives thinking: something so mundane as talking to another person who happens to be my customer – surely that couldn’t be the key to success, when there are so many newer, flashier solutions available?”


On RMAA Convention 2008 – report (3)

Who would have thought that I could make three  blog posts out of the first day of a conference? Well this is the third instalment. I will focus on three papers that dealt with electronic document and records management systems strategy and implementations.

The three presentations were delivered by Jo Stephenson (Victorian Department of Transport), Matt O’Mara (Wellington City Libraries), and Jo Golding (Eraring Energy).

Jo Stephenson detailed her experience in project managing the implementation of an EDRMS across a state government department. The focus was on the people in the strategy and this implementation. Key messages included understanding the diverse work practices and variety of information systems in use; use stories from the front line about the current unstructured information environment (and this is something I am currently collating myself in my current role to support the rest of the EDRMS strategy); listen, capture and reflect on what people are saying; understand the organisational drivers and business activities; involve people along the journey; agree on a start and an end point; communicate often and widely; and, simplify the message – save it, find it, secure it, and save it.

Jo also had some common sense advice about communicating the “what’s in it for me message?”. This is always good practice in my opinion, but too often these basic behavioural and attitudinal factors are left until the end of the implementation. If staff are only exposed to the EDRMS for the first time in training and then in a live operating environment, then people not only feel left out of the actual process but are also reluctant to embrace change based on a lack of understanding about “what’s in it for me?”. Usually, we offer compliance and governance as key drivers for user adoption. Jo recommends advocating other attributes of more direct relevance to people doing the work – for example, improve access and retrieval of documents, assist in decision-making, and saving time.

I recommend understanding the workplace behaviours and workplace needs of individuals within your particular organisation in order to give you a better understanding of where these “touchpoints” are most relevant and where there is likely to be the greatest impact.

I did ask Jo about critical success factors, especially one she mentioned on increased data storage requirements. Increasing data storage might not always indicate success in my opionion. Volume does not always equate to data quality.

Matt O’Mara spoke about implementing an information strategy. Matt only had four months in which to develop a strategy and he chose to concentrate on identifying business needs and business problems, and then looking at what solutions might be relevant and how the solutions would be enabled. I certainly agree that matching problems to solutions helps in getting senior executive interest rather than trying to win support based on records management principles alone. Matt also recommended doing a benefits analysis. In addition, Matt talked about information management maturity models (I have alluded to them in a previous post) and the use of an issues register.

I had to agree with Matt that building sound information management foundations was a critical dimension for organisational success, something that still rings true in the Web 2.0 world.

Jo Golding outlined how she approached the task of establishing an EDRMS within a major NSW energy utility. The corporate information strategy was based on three key objectives:

  • protect our information
  • decrease risk
  • effective use of business information

There was wide consultation with the different Eraring Energy sites. Jo emphasised the importantce of utilising the knowledge of the people within the organisation to discover culture (at different power generation sites), staff-organisation relations, leaders and champions, and effective rewards. Rollout and training occurred together and Jo admitted being fortunate that Eraring had compulsory training days (T-days) that she could leverage for the necessary EDRMS training and skill updates (among other channels).

The common theme that struck me was the recognition that any strategy and implementation needs to find acceptance and support within the organisation. One of the ways I have approached this kind of thing in the past has been to use informal channels to build internal relationships from which more structured and formal communication initiatives can take place. In large organisations (like giant government departments) this approach may well be impractical.

Establishing an authentic personal profile and building relationships within and between organisations helps improve the effectiveness of raising awareness and garnering participation through more formal communication channels. Moreover, marketing a service or a new workplace activity is improved by harnessing real and personal connections.

My notes reveal one final thought for further consideration: we need to see beyond information management and knowledge management within our organisations. Sure, we have discrete activities and responsibilites that fall within particular designations (as do health professionals), but we need to improve our understanding of the relationship between those knowledge and information activities, increase the depth of our networks, and leverage our skills and capabilities more effectively. I believe we are all heading in the same direction so let’s work together to make the journey more valuable.

Finally, I must thank the presenters and the attendees of the RMAA Convention 2008 whom I managed to talk with on Monday (and Professor Julie McLeod this morning at the IIM breakfast) for some stimulating thinking and discussion – all good stuff!

On the Sydney records management convention – Day 1

I attended the first day of the Records Management Association of Australia (RMAA) Convention at Darling Harbour in Sydney. It’s the only day I could have attended out of a three day program. I also took advantage of the extensive trade exhibition to talk with a number of vendors and records managment service providers.

I took a stack of notes in my usual hurried writing scrawl. And I am hopeful of getting access to all the presentations from today via the RMAA web site to ensure my notes are complete. I will provide more detail about the presentations I saw today, plus comments, in my next blog post. But some brief notes from today…

The keynote speaker was Dr Julie McLeod from Northumbria University in the United Kingdom. Dr McLeod spoke about three projects she and her research team were working on looking at records management standards and methodologies. The talk was particularly relevant to the convention theme – adopting and adapting – a theme that has been, and remains, of critical importance to me in my working experiences.

The next speaker I heard was the seminar presentation from Jo Stephenson from the Victorian State Department of Transport. Jo told us about the EDRMS implementation at the Department. Jo said the implementation was “all about the people” and how the people-focused approach took shape throughout the project. For me, that pretty much goes without saying – the people are certainly high on my list of considerations when implementing any information and knowledge management systems or processes.

After Jo, back in the auditorium, was the presentation by New Zealander Matt O’Mara. I have seen and heard Matt present before (at IIM in Canberra last year) so I was pleased to hear again about his EDRMS experiences at Wellington City Council. Matt spoke on implementing an information management strategy and this was naturally of real relevance to me in my current workplace context.

After lunch I went to the presentation from Jo Golding from Eraring Energy. I worked with Jo in the mid-1990’s at Parliament House in Canberra so it was great to catch up with her later. Jo spoke about implementing an information and change management strategy, based on her experiences at Eraring Energy. Once again, I had some more relevant content.

The last presentation I attended for the day was from Trevor and Adele from Sutherland Shire Council. They spoke about their EDRMS experiences within a local government context.

During the remainder of the afternoon I chatted to vendors and records management service providers. Whether it’s records management, knowledge management or content management, I really love keeping up to date with what’s on offer in the broad information industry and this afternoon at the trade exhibition was no different. I also caught up with the people from InfoXpert, a company I have had some positive dealings with in the past.

I still have plenty of brochureware and web sites to chase up, not to mention people whom I met with today. My notes are a scrawl, as usual, but I won’t have any trouble rewriting them and adding my notations. My next blog post will have more detail, so if that sounds of interest, check back in to my blog tomorrow.

I do have an endnote from today’s convention: to the EDRMS vendor who thinks promoting it’s exhibitor stand with hard rock virtual guitar-playing animated computer simulation. It’s probably not a good idea to have the thrashing guitar music up so loud when you’re trying to give a product demonstration less than a metre away. Not the greatest customer experience I had today…perhaps some headphones for the Angus Young wannabes might help solve the problem!

On complexity and strategic planning

A couple of weeks ago I organised a half-day workshop for my team and our key internal stakeholders as part of the planning process for next year. I wanted to hear from my stakeholders what they thought about my team and the work we do, as well as to tease out themes and priorities for my team to look at doing in the future. But I wanted to find out this information within the different workplace contexts in which we do things. I also wanted to use the Cynefin framework from Cognitive Edge that I had learned about when I did the accreditation course in July.

I asked Viv and Chris from Emerging Options to conduct the workshop. Both Viv and Chris are exponents of the Cognitive Edge way and are the authorised Australian trainers for the Cognitive Edge accreditation course.

The workshop went better than I had expected. I had excellent participation from the highest levels. The feedback I received afterwards was very positive, especially how the workshop was conducted.

We were also commended for our willingness to encourage such open dialogue with the rest of the organistion. It was certainly my intention to flag very clearly our intention to be seen as an integrated part of the business, and not an isolated organisational silo. Part of that process is openness and facilitating organisational dialogue and collaboration.

For me and my team, the themes that emerged give us some scope to review what we do, re-establish priorities, and give us new opportunities moving forward.

We looked at our work in terms of the simple, complicated and complex domains used within the Cynefin framework.

In simple domains, performing a particular activity or process will bring about a defined result. Basically, if you do A, you will get B. Process-driven activities often fall into this domain.

In complicated domains you analyse the problem called A, and by bringing in expertise or resources, you can identify the solution and solve the problem. There is no new thinking here, just the application of expert knowledge to deal with the problem.

In complex domains, there is uncertainty as to what outcome will occur (if any) by performing a particular action or process. This is what is often called, “the intractable problem”. Generally, it is risky and expensive to try a range of actions in order to test which action might yield the better result. Usually a decision is made to take one action, spend resources on it, and if it fails to meet expectations, the project is dumped all together. Many a pilot project ends up like this!

Complex domains are particularly sensitive to context. What one action in one context brings need not be the same outcome in another context. Basing a decision on what someone has done in a different context (replication) is dangerous if context is not given due consideration.

Similarly, complex problems should not rely on past events to determine future outcomes. Cognitive Edge describes this phenomenon as “the problem of retrospective coherence” which means that all becomes obvious after the event has occurred (but before the event, these signals were not obvious). One of the strategic outcomes from working in the complex space is to try and identify (bring to the surface) “weak signals” and amplify them so that they can be considered in the decision-making process.

In the complex space, one needs to use probes to test to see what works in your own context.

So what did we learn from the whole experience?

It was clear that we had an identity problem – a change of name was offered as a potential solution. We will mull over this problem because identity is something that brings meaning to what we do in the eyes of the organisation.

In a similar vein, there was some ambiguity as to what work we did, what we should be responsible for, and how we communicate that to the wider organisation. Our response to this (our probe) is to launch an internal e-zine and see what reaction we will get from that. We will also use a cartoon, something I alluded to in a previous post, and develop the cartoon story as we progress. While we have a reasonable claim to extenuating circumstances on this one (both historical, and as a consequence of a very new team), we are already working on ways to overcome this problem.

There was also an expectation to do some things that we are either not equipped to do (for example, a lack of resources), or that we don’t yet have the formal authority to proceed.

And, some themes emerged around things we should not be doing.

Now what was really successful about the workshop was the way in which we were able to aggregate and prioritise responses based on activities within the three domains. Identifying the issues in each domain will help us develop improvements and interventions most appropriate to those particular contexts. Knowing that improves our chances of success, particularly in using probes for some of the problems and issues identified in the complex space.

In addition, the participatory and collaborative nature of the exercise within our workplace context means that we have information we can really work with. And we have introduced to the organisation a new way of  looking at problems and finding solutions by using the Cynefin framework.

Our strategic planning is continuing. The workshop using the Cognitive Edge approach has been a rewarding and helpful experience. Not only will the material help in our planning, but it will also help in our execution – and that’s the real nub of the matter!