Originally published September 23, 2015
My friend Stuart French wrote Agile KM is definitely here. Are you rethinking how you engage with your business? and asked me:
Agile KM seems to be gaining ground. I noticed you don’t seem to explicitly talk about it that way, but many of the principles of fast solutions, close customer involvement, and iterative approaches pop up all over your work. Is there a reason you don’t use the term “Agile KM?”
I am in favor of acting in an agile way, but not of using “agile” as a label for knowledge management. It seems like arbitrarily appropriating a term used in software development, which reminds me of JIT, lean, and 2.0. “Enterprise 2.0” is no longer widely used, and I feel the same will happen to many other buzzwords. But since Stuart asked, I am willing to pick up his theme here.
To be agile in knowledge management, I believe in the following principles.
- Identify three key business objectives (rather than use maturity models, benchmarking, and me-too best practices)
- Focus more on helping people use processes effectively (rather than on rolling out technology)
- Improve decisions, actions, and learning (rather than vague concepts like “increase engagement,” “add value,” or “drive transformational change”)
- Connect people to each other so they can help each other at the time of need (rather than focus on collecting documents or updating skills profiles)
- Implement, improve, and iterate (rather than plan endlessly)
I highly recommend the book Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and I have borrowed his term “fragile” for those practices I consider to be undesirable. To avoid being fragile, steer clear of these traps, which don’t actually deliver useful results:
- Maturity models and benchmarking — Each environment is unique. I recommend using frameworks, models, and benchmarking as sources of ideas, not as precise prescriptions to be slavishly followed. Seth Godin wrote, “Benchmarking against the universe actually encourages us to be mediocre, to be average, to just do what everyone else is doing.”
- Best practices — The problem with the term “best practice” is that it connotes that an ideal has been achieved. It’s better to learn about and adapt proven practices which fit your environment, whether or not they are the “best.”
- Metrics for the sake of metrics — Avoid collecting every random thing, sliced and diced every possible way, which someone might want to know once. They probably have no intent to do anything with this data, other than to say, “Oh, that’s interesting.”
- Certification — Taking a one-week class in knowledge management and then being anointed CKM is not meaningful, and is generally not respected. Focus on learning, not on certification.
- Tool rollout and adoption — Don’t fixate on rolling out tools, and then trying to drive adoption, which is a losing proposition. Start with the needs of the organization, not with finding a use for a tool which you have already bought.
- Personality tests — It’s not likely that answering a series of questions will provide meaningful insights into the complex nature of individuals. Their behaviors vary based on different circumstances, environments, and people with whom they interact. Each person is unique, not an oversimplified archetype.
- Corporate speak — Don’t use buzzwords, insider jargon, or corporate lingo. Use words and expressions that are widely understood.
- Do as I say — Not as I do. Not practicing what you preach sets a bad example. People will closely observe the actions of leaders, and mimic them. So lead by example and model the desired behaviors.
- Secrecy — Don’t give lip service to transparency while continuing to operate in a closed manner. Communicate frequently, truthfully, and openly.
- Mediocracy — Many organizations have leaders with little (if any) talent and skill, who nonetheless are dominant and highly influential. Leaders should serve their people, treat them with respect, and demonstrate and require excellence.
To help move your organization from fragile to agile, you can use knowledge management approaches to address these three common challenges:
1. Fragile: People can’t find information, resources, or experts they need to do their job. Search doesn’t work, and even when it does, the content is incomplete, obsolete, or irrelevant.
2. Fragile: People are reluctant to ask for help in public, contact people in other organizations, or say the wrong thing. They would rather suffer in silence than expose their ignorance to the world, or to be criticized, blamed, or ridiculed.
What are the three biggest knowledge-related challenges you see in your organization?
Also read/listen to:
- My KMWorld presentation on this topic
- Steve Denning’s presentation on Agile and the state of KM
- The Age of Agile: How Smart Companies Are Transforming the Way Work Gets Doneby Steve Denning
- Going from fragile to agile by McKinsey & Company
- Agile KM post and presentation by Bill Kaplan
- The Curse of Great Expectations by Seth Godin
- Dave Snowden: Agile — sound practice, poor theory by Shane Hastie
- Posts about Agile by Dave Snowden
- Content about Agile by Enterprise Knowledge (EK)