Nov 4, 2008

Of KM Metrics, Whales, Hermit Crabs and other things

Metrics matter. But do they tell the whole story ? Is it just about a site's "hits" rating ? Or should we consider the value that Knowledge initiatives bring in avoiding "huge amounts of egg on face" in preventing a bad decision ? Or enabling exploiting a great opportunity generated through collaborated ideas of a commuity spread around the globe ? So how do we measure that value ... so often intangible ? Unfortunately it was nearly a case of having to learn the hard way when it was decided that our Communities Of Practice were no longer delivering value ... according to those who had never been participants.

And, we the "cranky" technologist/engineering "Hermit Crabs", with apologies to Arthur Shelley's "The Organizational Zoo", belatedly realised, just in time, that we had to do the "elevator messages" to key stakeholders ... ... of how the Knowledge initiatives benefit our organization ... to politik, spin & drag the IT "Whales" back out to sea ... just in time saving these "Whales" from in fact "beaching" us all.

Back around the year 2000 Laurie Lock Lee, then at CSC, established Communities of Practice (COP's) in my organization ... it was really early days and so it was hardly today's 2008 Web 2.0 stuff ... nevertheless, several years later, there were 80++ COP's running in our organization - linking people across our global organization in key engineering / technology /organizational management / OHS COP's. Given a nudge by Laurie in mid 2000, I participated in a number of engineering/technology COP's - even setting up & administering several in the quality & forensic engineering fields.

And of course over time, as with all communities and networks, some dropped off and new communities formed. Our Knowledge Consultant Barbara Netterfield did a cleanup of the dormant COP's and reminded us of how they should run.. ie Kerrie ... it's not like Moses coming down with the 10 commandments... just remember ... ask a question Kerrie .. ask open-ended questions....

What I personally still continue to experience .... is the amazing generosity of colleagues ... some whom I was not to meet face to face for several years ... some maybe never .... of how they willingly shared their knowledge and experience to those who needed it eg they offered tips to "newbie" engineers asking advice on such esoteric subjects as the flammability of carbon monoxide, quality management policies & how to do security on pdf documents . And when one engineer wanted to use a really big old concrete storage tank we tracked down who "really" knew all the key engineering details ... and saved much embarrassment in avoiding probs with OHS, EPA etc ... leaks etc... not to mention in many cases ... countless hours, days, even weeks saved in unnecessary "reinventing the wheel" .... some very high value transactions from the COP's indeed ... but not necessarily measured to become part of the official IT KPI's & metrics. But when Barbara and Laurie did a social network analysis of our area, they found it relatively tightly networked, but at risk of fragmenting if we didn't do something proactively, ahead of a few key babyboomer retirements. We listened and acted ... and even et up another COP ... the Technologist's Helpline.

Global examples I recall the young chemical engineer from Indonesia who asked some questions and who was supported by the full intellectual horsepower of our Australian based chemical engineers, even transcending when our countries' relationships became a tad strained ... it was amazing stuff to be honest. Then as climate change-global warming-greenhouse issues exploded onto the agenda & our COP's kept us informed ... eg who was capturing and using rainwater off major industrial buildings on our site. And when Santos had probs with their Moomba site - put it out of action for a while - where the national business media even "rabbited" on about such obscure technical issues as "Liquid Metal Embrittlement of Aluminium by Mercury at cryogenic temperatures", then I, who was a materials engineer and not a chemical engineer at all, was asked to help out the chemical engineering community understand what it meant for them. Such an amazing amount of knowledge so freely shared and willingly accepted ..... by members of the ostensibly technologist / engineering "Hermit Crabs" COP's ... we just wanted to get on with creating solutions ... the "PR" spin and politicking could be left to others ....

But then Microsoft Sharepoint arrived ... actually I am a big user of Sharepoint Wikis along with our COP's ... but it was as though anything that preceded Sharepoint was no longer. It was rather telling for me when one IT bod, who helps me out heaps, looked at me in wonderment when I mentioned the COP's - he had forgotten all about them and seemed perplexed that the engineering and like technologists were still using them. But, in fact many COP's still continued ... it was such a nice easy way to share news in your community and ask a question when you needed help. And if you wanted to post a document, then you could make a few comments and ask your community what they thought. And it was so easy to set up a COP ... whereas setting up a Sharepoint site just seemed so tortuous ... official approval and not nearly as friendly and welcoming as our much loved COP's. But no IT geeks were looking after them ... nor was anyone paying for them .... but they continued to deliver value. Unfortunately we Hermit Crabs forgot to tell anyone "the elevator messages" & how much benefit they brought ... so many lessons not having to be relearned ... so much time and $'s saved! We just forgot to share that good news...

Then one day a key IT geek decided to announce that the COP's would be defunct .. he gave lots of notice... but he announced it on the top level COP page that virtually no one ever uses ... and there was no official announcement to the administrators of the 80++ COP's. And of course most people have short cuts for their individual COP and haven't looked at the main page in years .. literally! And then he asked a question on a top level COP page ... again no one ever used that one either ... if they had a question of course everyone went straight to the most appropriate of the 80++ COP's. The IT geek had perceived that the recorded hit rate for each COP might have been higher than the real one.... but actually it was probably the reverse .... especially with the flow-on as team members shared the emails they received from the COP with others.

So after a couple of weeks with no response to his announcement, nor to his test question, both posted to the 2 areas that were rarely ever used, the IT geek convinced himself that the COP's were dead. There seemed to be no passionate owners of sites. So perhaps no one would even notice if they were archived onto tape and just disappeared .... But, had he drilled down to individual COP's, he would have found several dozen that were still active and flourishing ... with very passionate owners .... in fact many organizations pursuing Knowledge programmes would have been ecstatic with such shared activity.

During this all of this phase my laptop motherboard died, so I was off the air in total ignorance. When the laptop was reincarnated, I went to post a message onto a COP ... as my organization, like so many around the globe, was at that point taking in the global financial situation ... and I had been posting to fellow COP members around the globe ... seeking their input to create a composite assessment of a changed regulatory situation in one of our markets.

And thus I found myself greeted with "Analysis of Comunities of Practice usage logs indicates that the COP is not being used. This application will be decomissioned and the information it contains archived on 10th Nov 2009. If you wish to maintain any COP functionality you will need to migrate the particular COP into a Sharepoint teams site." .... It was all a bit like "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy".... remember that from way back when ..... the main character is told that his home is to be demolished for something like an intergalactical superhighway.

A few excitable phone calls followed ... the IT geek acknowledged that finally someone with passion had responded to his message .... a bit like sending out messages to aliens in the galaxies and hoping they speak English ??? ... remember Stephen Spielberg's ET :"Phone home"??

Some postings to key users of various COP's followed. The result was like one of David Gurteen's "reverse brainstorms" as it dawned on fairly conservative engineers that "the plug might be pulled". In fact I got a few calls demanding that I not axe their COP's ... ironic in that I was trying to achieve an orderly "change management and transition to Sharepoint" process. It then emerged that no migration project plan had been put in place

... a day or so later the "Hitchhiker... " like message had been pulled from the main COP website.. We COP users were told not to panic ... that it was now all going to be fixed in the proper IT-like project management way .... just like an IT Programme Office should do it, according to my "other half" who runs such an IT Programme Office.

In the meantime the global community continued and my COP maintained contact across Asia, Europe, Asia and the Pacific ... not withstanding our "Hitchhiker" style fright.

And so we the "cranky" technologist/engineering "Hermit Crabs", with apologies to Arthur Shelley's "The Organizational Zoo", had to realise that we needed to do the "elevator messages" to key stakeholders ... ... of how the Knowledge initiatives benefit our organization ... to politik, spin & drag the IT "Whales" back out to sea ... just in time saving these "Whales" from in fact "beaching" us all.

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