Originally published on March 5, 2018
This is the eighth article in the Profiles in Knowledge series featuring thought leaders in knowledge management who are gone but not forgotten. Melissie Rumizen was born on October 25, 1955 and died on December 5, 2006. She worked at the U.S. Army, the U.S. National Security Agency, Buckman Laboratories, and SAIC.
- Regents College, BS in General Studies
- Boston College, MEd in Educational Research, Measurement and Evaluation
- Catholic University of America, PhD in Educational Psychology
Dr. Rumizen began her career as a linguist in the United States Army. After completing ten years of active duty, she spent several years as an education and training specialist at the United States Army Intelligence School at Fort Devens, MA. In 1988 she joined the National Security Agency as part of the language test development section.
As an adjunct to her regular duties, she provided technical expertise in testing, research methodology and data analysis to numerous total quality efforts. This led to an interest in benchmarking and she became NSA’s first benchmarking manager. Her interest in learning and sharing knowledge across an organization broadened her scope to include knowledge management.
Dr. Melissie Clemmons Rumizen, a Baton Rouge native and a Central area resident until the age of 15, died Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2006, at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, Va. She was 51. An accomplished and well-respected leader in the field of knowledge management, Dr. Rumizen’s career began as a Russian and German linguist in the U.S. Army. From there, she moved to the National Security Agency, and later, joined the private sector as a knowledge strategist and much-sought-after speaker and consultant. Her work in the speaking and consulting arena took her all over the world, including England, Germany, Japan, China, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Iceland and Spain. She earned her master’s degree from Boston College and her Ph.D. from Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
The Unofficial Guide to Melissieville
- Height: Not much
- Weight: Too much
- Age: Increasing
- Hair: What my hairdresser likes
- Eyes: Myopic brown
- Profession: Rabble-rouser
- Voluntary interests: Cooking, reading cookbooks, trying new cuisines, wine, traveling, wild animals (preferably from Africa, New Zealand and Australia), new countries and cultures, and learning enough of new languages to travel and get myself into trouble.
- Involuntary interests: Home repair and dieting
- Professional interests: Storytelling, communities of practice, knowledge transfer, adult learning, and driving my boss crazy
- New countries I want to visit next: New Zealand, Greece, and Morocco
- Countries I would like to visit again: Canada, France, the UK, South Africa, Australia, Iceland, and Norway
- If I were an animal in a zoo I would want to be a: Mongoose (go, Rikki Tikki Tavi!)
- Favorite animal of the Big Five: Leopard
Dr. Melissie Rumizen, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Knowledge Management, began her career as a German and Russian linguist in the United States Army. During her 10 years in the Army she had a variety of assignments, to include working at an intelligence site, acting as a platoon sergeant in an infantry division, and instructing at an Army training school.
Upon leaving the Army she became an education specialist at an Army training school, where her duties included competency testing and design of correspondence courses.
She then moved to the National Security Agency (NSA). Initially, she was assigned to the language-testing branch. Her major project was the production of a prototype for computerized adaptive testing of language competence. She managed the $2 million project, collaborated with other government agencies to develop the prototype, and provided the testing expertise needed for the technical side of the project.
After this project ended she transferred to the corporate total quality management office. She introduced benchmarking to NSA.
In late 1995 she attended a conference on knowledge management. She and a colleague became convinced that knowledge management was an imperative for NSA to continue to succeed. As a team, they spearheaded an effort for KM to be adopted as a strategic goal, working extensively with the NSA Board of Directors and Director. In early 1997 it became a strategic goal and the team turned its attention to helping determine the first steps for implementation.
In 1998 she joined Buckman Laboratories (BL). Her duties as Knowledge Strategist include evaluating the knowledge system, making recommendations for strategies and tactics, exploring new learning opportunities, and representing BL publicly in a number of fora. She also provides knowledge management consulting services to customers of Buckman Laboratories and others. One such project is with the Johns Hopkins Institute of Nursing.
Her accomplishments at BL include developing and maintaining its award winning Buckman Laboratories Website on knowledge management. During the creation of a teaming process and facilitation training she was a key player and now leads a community of practice on facilitation. Her adaptation of an after action review for Buckman Laboratories has become a widely used tool internally.
Opening Thoughts: Overview of the New Basics
Our field has mavens, gurus, stars, practitioners, rabble-rousers, novices and even frauds galore. There are Chiefs of Knowledge Networking, Chief Knowledge Officers, Chief Learning Officers, Ba Conductors, Knowledge Strategists, Knowledge Architects, to name a few. (My favorite title so far is Knowledge Sorceress, which sadly is not my title.)
In this discussion I’d like to play the role of Knowledge Curmudgeon, as long as I get to define curmudgeon as someone who is stubbornly and determinedly grounded in the practical. I am delighted to discuss theory ad nauseum as long as we get to the down and dirty of how we apply theory to work that makes a difference.
That said, over the years I have found some of our basic beliefs in this field have changed, as we learned through failures (of which I have my share). I’d like to share some of my lessons learned on KM basics.
- Overall Lessons Learned
If you don’t have a passion for KM, get out of the field. There are easier ways to make a living and/or drive yourself crazy.
Keep learning. Regardless of whether someone is a novice or an old hand, there is always plenty to learn. I particularly like to scoop up ideas and processes to stick on a back shelf, hoping for a day when I can use them. In the meantime, I concentrate on continuing to learn.
We are not as interesting as we think we are. People respond to action. It’s concrete; it’s real. Folks who sleep through your dazzling explanation of theory will come to life once you talk about how you plan to do something and the potential ROI. Much fascinates us as knowledge geeks but it often bores others to tears. Likewise, ditch the jargon. We don’t talk about KM at Buckman Laboratories. We do things that make sense for our business.
Knowledge management is not a fad. To quote Verna Allee, “It is a business fundamental.” Smile sweetly at those who tell you that KM is outdated. Until something replaces knowledge as the means of production, KM in some fashion is going to matter.
Communities of practice are simply another way of doing collaborative work. Success factors for a team, and a work group are the same as those for a community of practice. The catch is they way you do them is different.
Simple is good. One of the most effective KM strategies implemented at Buckman Laboratories has been the after action review. Those short and sweet five questions have helped a non-reflective culture to become continuous learners. Granted, the underlying thought is sophisticated. But there’s no point in bringing that up (see point above).
- Strategic Lessons Learned
Copy the strategic planning experts. They do SWOT analyses (Situation, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). They think through the context of their organization their environment, competitors, etc. They think about the future. We have the same requirement for developing KM strategies as well as looking at the overall strategic plan for our organization.
There is no perfect KM strategy for your organization. All too often we hold out for the Holy Grail of the perfect strategy. In any organization there are undoubtedly a number of potential strategies. You will not have the resources for all of them, so pick the ones that make the most sense, the ones you most likely can implement, the ones that will have a good ROI, etc.
Once we get down to a specific KM strategy, however, we have two primary choices. As Ross Dawson says in Living Networks, “People’s knowledge can be embedded into documents, models, and software so that others can use it. People can be connected to others with relevant experience so that they can apply their knowledge to a specific issue. These two strategies, sometimes called connection and collection, are relevant to every business.”
Self-interest is good. I’ve heard too many complaints about WIIFM, what’s in it for me. I adore WIIFM. If I can’t show why it is to someone’s benefit to do something, I encourage him or her to show me the door. Knowledge workers need to see a benefit for making a change. More power to them.
- Implementation Lessons Learned
Plan on making mistakes. Implementing a new strategy, approach, tool, or process is an innovation. We need to allow ourselves room for a little judicious failure. Otherwise, we are not taking enough risks. We also need to analyze and learn from our mistakes.
Culture can be a showstopper; get over it. I challenge anyone: for every barrier you find in a culture, you also can find an enabler. Look for the positive and build on it. You will never change the monolith of culture. The best you can do is target specific behaviors and help change them. Not only will you be more successful, you won’t antagonize people by talking about how bad your organization is.
If you’re wondering who has warped my brain and thinking over the years, I can tell you who — some of the theorists and practitioners are who have shaped my beliefs and work. Theorists for me who meet that criterion of usefulness include Verna Allee, Ravi Arora, Karl-Erik Sveiby, Ed Schein, Roger Schwarz, David Snowden, Juanita Brown, Etienne Wenger, Bill Snyder, Rob Cross, Chris Argyris, to name a few.
Practitioners who live in that segue way from theory to action who impress me include (in alphabetical order): Bill Baker, Mike Burtha, Charl Cuyler, Chris Collison, Ross Dawson, Pete Engstrom, the pirate crew at Fuji Xerox, Kent Greenes, Sue Hanley, Jim Henneberry, Marina Hiscock, Anne Jubert, Jun Yeon Kwak, Nick Milton, Geoff Parcell, Josh Plakoff, Deborah Plummer, Hubert Saint Onge, Egil Sandvik, the team at South African Breweries, John Smith, Jeff Stemke, Judi Sandrock, Karen Spencer, Erick Thompson, Deb Wallace, Nancy White and Tom Young, to name a few. I owe all of them a great debt.
This is a summary of the “Conversations with Melissee Rumizen” held in October, 2003. The monthly STAR Series Dialogues are moderated by world KM luminaries who volunteer to discuss topics in email digests with AOK members over a two-week period.
Summary by Carol Butler
I’d like to thank Melissie and everybody for a most stimulating and interesting conversation. I’ve summarized the discussion with more emphasis on grouping together responses on the same subject, rather than maintaining the order of the posts. For me, the biggest problem with discussion groups like this is the somewhat disjointed nature of the conversation (i.e., questions 2 and 3 are posed before question 1 is answered, references to earlier questions/comments not always included in responding post and may not be clear, etc.) However, this discussion was so rich it justified, in my own mind, the effort to organize it and share it with you now.
Jerry introduced Melissie as “a complex mix of theory and practice who could help us translate all that we know into words that can be understood by those who need to know” — something I, too, have often found difficult. He then suggested some KM basics (“Passion. Learning. Action. Longevity. Communities. Simplicity. SWOT. Flexibility. Connectivity. Self-interest. Risk-taking. Culture. Champions. Heroes.”), then asked if there were others to add.
Patti Anklam shared her success using the language of business strategy to bridge the cultural problem we often encounter when using the “k” word. She also found similarities between the principles and methods of solution architecture already being used in her organization, and the design of KM programs. She “always had the most success `explaining KM’ to people who are struggling with the distinction by suggesting that it is a lens through which you can look at any number of business issues, processes, problems, systems, and so on. Just think about the knowledge (human, structural) aspects of it. That seems to help.”
Alice MacGillivray asked if we are dealing with major systemic issues and associated biases when we face resistance to KM terminology and other bias against KM. Melissie said she agrees business schools are still training people in the Frederic Taylor view of organizations, which is more appropriate for a labor economy as opposed to a knowledge economy.
It was interesting to hear that even at a famously “KM” firm like Buckman Labs, its “discussions and work have been couched solely in business terms” and that the term “knowledge management” is not generally used.
Melissie’s thoughts on what she’s learned about KM: Try to be “mostly right” rather than “perfect.” It’s important to have a KM team rather than just be a solo performer. Look for opportunities to improve business performance through KM methods. Generally, propose a limited number of KM methodologies. (When you consider context, the list of appropriate solutions drops dramatically.) Principles of adult learning help us to understand how to train and set up work for the KM worker (any KM effort should involve continuous learning and creation of the critical knowledge).
Jack Ring reminded us of several methods for encouraging Knowledge generation including contrarian thinking, lessons learned, after action reviews or purposeful reflection. Judith Meskill shared her team’s LILA method (Listen, Inquire, Learn, Act). Melissie added the Shewhart cycle (plan, do, check and act), communities of practice, double-loop learning and reflective thinking to the list of available KM methods. Maish Nichani mentioned decision games (a pre-action technique).
Denham Grey asked how to overcome “identity and cultural issues that prevent deep learning, e.g. shame, loss of face (and budget!), loss of trust, increased risk perceptions, loss of confidence, unsurfaced blame . . . . “ For Melissie, “the simple answer is that we talk about it openly, no blame and no excuses,” using a skilled facilitator to make sure blame is not assigned.
Melissie returned several times to the tricky issue of project/strategy selection, reminding us we need to choose our battles carefully. Her own guidelines:
- The links to our strategy, values and goals must be crystal clear.
- The payoff must be sufficient to warrant the effort.
- The strategy should be portable across the corporation.
- The corporation capacity for additional change should be positive.
A discussion of Knowledge Strategy yielded these questions for a knowledge strategist to ask.
- What is the organizational context?
- What are the business benefits?
- How can KM methods be added so that they are a seemingly seamless extension of ongoing work?
- How do we make it easier for people to do their work, or to quote Drucker, to improve the productivity of the knowledge worker?
Jack Ring’s list:
- What knowledge is important to the organization?
- How is it communicated, stored, created?
- What processes support the knowledge of the organization?
Sam Marshall wondered if there should be such a thing as KM strategy, or if it isn’t simply a knowledge specialist looking at business strategy from that perspective. Jack Ring agreed, noting that “know how” and “learnativity” are two different kinds of knowledge, and bringing up the Know- Be- Do capabilities we humans possess.
Melissie’s list of first steps:
- Overall assessment of current knowledge state.
- SWOT analysis for company.
- SWOT analysis for yourself.
- Brace yourself for resistance, prepare and pitch.
David Jones’ seven steps:
- Know who you are.
- Know where you are.
- Know where “you are” wants to be.
- Understand your place in that cosmos.
- Know when to act and when not to act.
- Know well what means and how one does “strategic intervention” and “strategic avoidance.”
- Know when to go.
Greg Timbrell asked, since knowledge “current state” is mostly invisible, how do you assess the relevance of the current state analysis? Mellisie responded that even flawed and initial assessments can turn up previously undiscovered gaps, weaknesses and opportunities — so they’re generally worth doing. But in the real world there can be pressures to skip assessments. She cautioned: “This is one clear case in which it would be madness not to do an assessment of the ‘As Is’ when coming into a new organization.”
Valdis Krebs believes initial assessments are sooooo important, declaring “My most successful clients dive into the assessment and emerge as the key assessors with the new knowledge/feedback I provide them.” Jack Ring said, “The more foolproof way to determine ‘current state’ is to make ‘know how’ a specific factor in the risk assessments that are done with respect to enterprise objectives and goals. True, the state of the knowledge asset is hard to verify. But the value is not in the asset; the value is in the organization’s ability to apply the asset in pursuit of valuable results.”
Bill Hall asked about key performance indicators for KM initiatives. Melissie reminded us that the acid test for any measure is what you can do with it. Jack Vinson offered additional questions to ask about measures.
- What do you want from the process?
- How would you like it to behave?
- Does the measure help you see this behavior?
- Are you asking the process to do something it cannot do (asking too much of it, or asking for too little variability)?
Jack further opines that in business, the best way to get funding is to show how a given project removes/reduces corporate pain, and the better job we can do at making these connections, the more likely we will get the attention of the people who hold the purse strings.
When asked about the difficulties of predicting the effects of some less tangible KM projects, he said “Stop Predicting. Instead, estimate how much these things would have to change in order for the KM project to be retrospectively justifiable. Then engage the troops in assessing the risk of making that amount of change come true. And if they say, ‘Nope,’ then move on to the next KM idea.”
Melissie recommended the Karl-Erik Sveiby model to describe intangibles, and the Verna Allee method for mapping the flow of intangibles. She also reminded us that good predictive measures (often harder to define) can be immensely valuable for learning and adjusting with less pain. Jack raised the issue of taxonomies. Mellissie would like a taxonomy (or someone to organize it) but has not been able to sell the idea to her organization.
Jack responded with his arguments for advocating taxonomies:
Mutual formal ontology building:
- helps people interchange knowhow either F2F or computer-facilitated,
- results in a much better mental model of the business and of the feasibility of implementing any candidate decision, and
- creates the foundation for the next level of behavior above collaboration.
Also, Jack said a formal ontology builds more purposeful (as opposed to haphazard) context and directed us to a free concept mapping tool.
Melissie added these benefits to the list: consistent navigation, indexing, classification and markup. Bob Buckman, until recently CEO at Buckman Labs, joined in by arguing that the search process needed to be more organic than taxonomies allowed, and that applying taxonomies was too slow a process for their needs. He addressed the problem with better full text searching, and wondered whether semantic search engines might be a better solution. Jack Vinson appeared to see promise in that technology as well. Jack Ring still sees problems with search engines, and is not confident the semantic search engines will resolve the problem of getting everybody using the same mental model. Judith Meskill is using a weblog plugin from a company that “abhors” taxonomies. Jack Vinson also uses the tool (WayPath) and likes the new capabilities it provides him.
When Melissie listed a lack of appreciation of the different skills needed for CoP versus team as an early mistake, Jack Ring asked her to detail the difference between communities and teams. Several people responded, and Jerry provided a nice summary of previous AOK discussions of CoPs.
There was general discussion of tacit vs explicit knowledge and the data-information-knowledge hierarchy and its variants (a staple for many KM discussions, I find). Jack Ring reminded us that knowledge is stored in brains, not disks, so we shouldn’t confuse bits and bytes with the concepts they signify (knowledge). Jerry said knowledge in captivity (storage) is “history” and he prefers to think of knowledge capture as a byproduct of sharing, not the purpose of sharing. The power, he said, is in the flow of knowledge, not the knowledge itself.
So there you have my take on what was transpired in the Conversations with Melissie Rumizen. It’s not the actual discussion. It’s not really a history of the discussion (not detailed enough for that). It’s an attempt to marry the flow of the discussion to my own need to organize the salient details that were part of the flow. It’s certainly a condensed version of the discussion, providing a means for those who missed it to access the knowledge generated in less time than it would take to read all 125 plus messages.
All in all, a most stimulating discussion. Thanks again.
1. Dave Snowden
- 1 — Friend to many, passionate advocate of the human dimension of knowledge management.
- 2 — One of the larger than life figures in Knowledge Management. Early practitioner and all round one of the best networked people in the movement.
- 3 — This morning at KMWorld 2007 in San Jose we started off with a memorial to Melissie Rumizen. Steve Barth, Verna Allee and I read our own and other tributes to the background of photographs collected from her friends. Many people in that audience knew her directly or through her work so it was a sympathetic audience and a moving experience.
2. Steve Barth — Community was everything to Melissie. It was the thing I loved most about her; not just what a good friend she could be, but how fiercely loyal she was about her friendships. She didn’t just expect her friends to be loyal to her in return. She expected them to be loyal to each other. If she deemed someone worthy to be her friend, she held them to a very high standard forever. If someone in her circle needed a job, a plug or a hug, Melissie made it happen.
3. Alice MacGillivray — Melissie Rumizen was a friend, a colleague, and an international consultant in knowledge management. This was a small celebration of the life of an amazing woman. Thank you for your support for cancer research. Yes, I completed the 60km walk in Vancouver! Lots of people stopped to read the official and unofficial biographies of Melissie, which she had shared when she was a special online guest in one of our MA in Knowledge Management courses at Royal Roads University.
4. Eric Mack — This year saw the passing of a well-respected and well-loved KM professional, Melissie Rumizen. This morning, before the keynote, Verna Allee, Steve Barth, David Snowden gathered to honor Melissie Rumizen, a KM Pioneer, Author, and respected KM Practitioner. I have Melissie’s book and even my KM professors refer to quotes in it. I’m sorry I did not have the opportunity to meet Melissie.
5. Bill Kaplan — I worked closely with Melissie Rumizen while she was with the KM consulting team led by Kent Greenes at the original SAIC. One key learning for me from Melissie was her perspective that there is no “perfect KM Strategy” for an organization. The idea that the strategy should and will develop through practical application and “performing and learning” in the job and on the job is a fundamental that anchors much of my current approach to KM consulting. I still refer to my copy of the book with her inscription to me on a regular basis. I visited with her in her home in Fairfax, VA shortly before she passed away…she gave me some advice and it is in this inscription. Melissie told me KM was not an easy discipline with which to work…and if I was to stay with it, I needed to be always a “source of learning” for my colleagues and my clients. Melissie was and remains, through her thinking and writing, a real practitioner in the field.
6. Sue Hanley organized the first annual SIKM Leaders Community dinner at KMWorld2009, held Tuesday, November 17, 2009 at Il Fornaio, 302 South Market Street in San Jose, California. — I’ve volunteered to organize a dinner for the members of the SIKM Leaders Community who will be attending KMWorld in San Jose next week. I’m doing this to honor the memory of Melissie Rumizen, who would have done the same. I’m looking forward to getting an opportunity to meet in person!
4. Knowledge Management in the Real World: How to help your customers meet their goals- First in a series — with Bill Baker
5. Knowledge Management Based on your Organization’s Approach to Life: Operational Excellence — OE networks, metrics, and more — Second in a series — with Jeff Stemke and Bill Baker
6. Knowledge Management Based on Your Organization’s Approach to Life: Customer Intimacy — Focusing on your customers is the most value-added approach you can use! — Third in a series — with Bill Baker
- Melissie Rumizen, Buckman Laboratories’ knowledge strategist, talks about tying KM to the company’s goals and vision
A key player in the continuing success of deploying knowledge management for business gain at Buckman Labs is Melissie Rumizen, who joined the company in 1998 as personal assistant to the CEO for knowledge management. Her responsibilities were broad. Examining a KM program that had been running for a long time, she identified critical gaps and strategies for filling them, as well as other gaps they could live with. Along the way she developed and now maintains the company’s KM Web site.
After beginning her career as a linguist in the U.S. Army, in 1988 Rumizen joined the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). Working on education and training issues for the NSA, Rumizen recalls, she became interested in “what people knew about what we did, because there weren’t any training manuals or classes.” Developing ways to capture, document and share this knowledge, she became the agency’s first benchmarking manager.
In April of this year, Bob Buckman retired and his cousin Steven became CEO. While Rumizen’s mission has not changed, her title and slot on the company org chart have. Today her title is knowledge strategist, and she reports to Sheldon Ellis, vice president of the Bulab Learning Center. Rumizen spoke with KMM’s Michael Robin about the evolution of knowledge management at Buckman Labs.
How did you become involved with KM and Buckman Labs?
I was in the corporate quality office of the National Security Agency in 1992. We were doing an assessment cycle and wanted to do benchmarking as part of that cycle. APQC [American Productivity & Quality Center] was brought in to give us the training, and the light dawned on me. Then in 1995 APQC and Arthur Andersen did a knowledge imperative symposium and another light dawned. I saw that this was an extension of what I’d been trying to do. Knowledge management is a way to be systematic and to look at the broad ranges of activities involved in creating, sharing and leveraging knowledge across an organization.
How I got here is pretty simple. In October of 1997, I visited Buckman along with 19 close friends from the NSA. Buckman held a “sharing day,” where people visit to learn about what Buckman has done and is doing in KM. At the end of the day I said to Bob Buckman, “I don’t want to go home.” He said, “You don’t have to.” I started the next January.
What does a knowledge strategist do?
Buckman is unique in that it has a mature program. The program we currently have in place was started in 1992, although the roots of knowledge management here go back to the founding of the company in 1945. When I came here, Bob Buckman, who was the driver for knowledge management, was slowly disengaging from the company. A little over a year ago, he completely disengaged. At that time, I was shifted to the Learning Center, but basically I still look for gaps that can be addressed with knowledge management strategies and tactics.
For example, last year we identified the need to improve our ability to team for the long term. While the company has been engaged in global collaboration for many years, lots of times that collaboration was for short-term things. We were not as strong at building virtual teams that operated over several months or perhaps several years. I was key in helping to develop that teaming process, thanks to my background in total quality management.
We use a planning tool, Think T, originally developed for our salespeople. When they are going to go out on a call, we want them to sit down and plan the objectives and the things they plan to cover. It has since come to be used as a planning tool for everybody in the company. In fact, you cannot visit the CEO unless you have used that tool to plan the meeting.
But it’s not enough to plan; we have to stop and reflect upon what has happened. There is a crying need here for an after-action review process — or, as I pitched it inside the company, the “flip side.” Think about what worked well and what didn’t, and then continue the planning process. What did we learn here? Is there anybody else we need to tell about this? The first tool gives us the plan and the objectives. The after-action review helps us to critique the results and learn to do better.
Does a knowledge strategist have to be an advocate?
What you do in KM a great deal of the time is you sell. You’re selling an idea, a process, a concept or a belief. You have to communicate with the person you’re selling to, put yourself in their shoes. What’s important to them?
For example, we’re going to do a formal product launch of our adaptation of the after-action review. We are a sales-oriented organization: 50 percent of the people are engaged in sales. The launch will include a CD-ROM in at least three languages: English, Spanish and Portuguese. We’re going to give out laminated cards that include the forms we’ve developed. We’re going to have a marketing brochure. We even have a name for it: theBuckman After-Action Review, the BAAR. The symbol is someone pole-vaulting over a bar. We say that the purpose of the BAAR is that we always need to raise the bar. We always need to improve our performance. We always need to get more customers, make more sales and do a better job for our customers.
Our learning center does quite a bit of this because we consider marketing part of our job. I was the one who came up with the name for the BAAR. I’d never done anything like that, but that’s part of life at Buckman. If you’re going to do something, you have to be able to sell it. I’ve learned the importance of communication and marketing in a way I never understood before.
What makes Buckman a knowledge company?
This is a specialty chemical company as opposed to a commodity company. From the Dows and DuPonts you buy what we call “single component chemistry” — you take it and do something else with it. Those products have low R&D costs, and the companies don’t provide any service with it. In contrast, the chemicals we develop are more complex, are driven by customer needs and are used for a specific application. We have higher R&D costs and shorter product life, so we have to share what we know.
Has the role of KM changed as a result of the CEO transition?
Bob was very intuitive; if it seemed like a good idea, he’d try it. One of the things the new CEO is strong on is alignment. When you talk to Steve about something, you have to explain why you want to do this, what sort of impact you expect on the bottom line and what the linkage is back to the vision and business strategies and customer needs. Also, when you do something, Steve wants it done across the entire organization. So the end result is that we may not try as many ideas, but what we do try gets pushed deeper and wider throughout Buckman. We know going in what it will do for us.
The initial threshold for getting a project approved is higher, but once you reach that threshold the possibility for success is higher. Once you convince our CEO, you’ve got the story you’re going to use with the rest of the company: This is why we’re doing it. This is the benefit we’ll get from it. This is the linkage to our vision and strategy.
Steve makes crystal clear the ties between knowledge management and the company’s vision, strategy and goals. We no longer do KM because it seems like a good thing. We do it because it is clearly linked to our vision, strategy and goals. We also understand what sort of return we will get on our investment. Steve has an open mind for new opportunities, but we need to have a clearly defined benefit in mind.
What is an example of such a project?
One of those is storytelling. There’s a clear purpose for why to use storytelling: to give our leaders a powerful tool for communicating. We’re aligning this tool to communicate our vision and our business strategy. It will also be part of our ongoing program for what we think our leaders need to know. This is going to be a key tool for our leadership, and the ROI is going to be improved communication.
Our salespeople are also interested in this. I’m working with our marketing department to see how we can use storytelling as part of the bonding and selling process in sales training. How can we adapt it to help our sales associates connect and communicate better with people?
What do you teach people about storytelling?
A key component is how you actually tell a story. We’re going to teach three types of stories. One of them is the vision story that Steve Denning developed in his book The Springboard [KMCI Press, 2000; see “Required Reading,” May 2001 KMM]. He talks about the importance of communicating a vision, and he lays out various criteria. [For an interview with Stephen Denning, see “The Knowledge Bank,” June 2001 KMM.]
Basically, in a vision story you paint a picture of the future. The hook is that you tell a story set in a common situation in your organization. It’s something everyone can relate to, but what happens isn’t what they expect. You set up a classic conflict, and then your resolution is novel and unexpected. The moral of the story is that knowledge management is going to get us to that future. We’re not going to use it as a vision of knowledge management, but to teach our leaders how to communicate a vision.
The other two are from a book called The Story Factor by Annette Simmons [Perseus Publishing, 2000]. These stories help people to establish a connection and to build trust. The first one is called the “who am I” story. You tell a story about yourself or something that’s important to you that gives people a sense of who you are.
The next story we’re going to use is called “why am I here.” This gets to what a salesperson does. It’s pretty obvious what a salesperson does, but the key thing about that story is the benefit to the person you’re telling it to.
Does Buckman Labs try to measure the impact of KM?
No. Part of that is because the program was put together in 1992. It isn’t anything new but a way we do our business.
But this company does measure. We have a key performance measurement (KPM) system. Ideally, the types of things we do in KM are going to contribute to those measurements. A problem for measuring KM results is the same problem you have for measuring the impact of IT: It’s an incredibly important enabler, but it’s nothing to do for its own sake. That makes it hard to measure the impact and the results. My preference normally is that if you have a good measurement system within your organization, link to that. Of course, that’s another question: Do you have a good measurement system in your organization?
We do key performance measurements by business group, but we also look to see how the groups are aligned with each other. Key performance measures for one of our operating companies need to be aligned with the key performance measures for Buckman worldwide. Are we doing what we’re supposed to do? For example, a fundamental at Buckman is our concern for the environment. We set standards that exceed legal requirements across the world. Each operating company must meet those corporate standards. However, given the differences in operating companies, we measure each company separately, backing up those measures with audits. We report individual scores, which align with our overall KPM for the environment. But we do not report a single, global score for the entire organization.
What are the key lessons the company has learned in its experience of managing knowledge?
There have been a number of them. One of the key lessons learned is that you continue to learn key lessons. You never have all of the answers. Sometimes these are things you wish you had done differently. Sometimes, though, you step back and say to yourself, “I hadn’t realized how good an idea that was and how well we did it.” It can take a while to prove your ideas.
Another key is serendipity. You must leap on the advantages for unexpected good consequences. At that point, act like you meant to do it all along!
One of our lessons was learned in 1998, when we drastically changed our IT system. When we first brought the system on — and this is a lesson we continue to pay attention to — we did not pay attention to middle management. We do not do that anymore. Middle management has to be included up front and courted assiduously. Like anyone else that’s involved in the change, you have to explain to them, “This is what’s going to be new. This is what’s expected of you. Here are the consequences if you do right. Here are the consequences if you do wrong.”
It’s a continual learning process. You have to view knowledge management as being implemented in phases. Each phase has its own issues, its own challenges and its own ample supply of lessons learned.
8. The Evolution of KM at Buckman Laboratories — with M. Sheldon Ellis
- Buckman Laboratories is a leading manufacturer of specialty chemicals for aqueous industrial systems. The company was founded on its unique ability to create and manufacture innovative solutions to control the growth of microorganisms. Its headquarters are in Memphis, Tennessee.
- M. Sheldon Ellis is a VP of the Buckman Learning Center and the CLO. Sheldon came to Buckman in 1989 as a field sales associate and has held positions in sales and product development management before becoming in involved in KM and learning.
- Melissie Rumizen is Knowledge Strategist at Buckman Laboratories and a member of KM Review’s editorial board. She has 20 years’ experience as a linguist and a benchmarking and KM specialist with the United States Army and National Security Agency.
- Buckman Laboratories and its parent Bulab Holdings pioneered much of what became known as “best practice” in knowledge management. Though its early successes have been widely studied, less has been written about its activities since the retirement of Robert Buckman. Here, Sheldon Ellis and Melissie Rumizen explain what they’ve been up to and show us how they’ve continued to innovate and how they’ve used KM to put their business goals into practice.
How its KM program has developed with the new leadership
The story of KM at Buckman Laboratories is well known. You may remember the beginning of the story: how, under the leadership of Robert (Bob) Buckman, Buckman Laboratories pioneered a knowledge management initiative in 1992. Then visitors came from all over the world to learn about it and the story was documented in countless articles, books and presentations by our associates. Awards were also showered on us. See sidebox for a timeline of major events.
However, we ruefully admit that one of the disadvantages of being a trailblazer is that few others come before to pave the way. Buckman Laboratories has made many mistakes along that difficult path and has the lessons learned to show for it. Success, however, has balanced some of the more difficult lessons.
Overall, since the inception of our knowledge sharing system, K’Netix, we’ve experienced a 50 percent rise in sales from new products, which indicates a dramatic rise in profitability from innovation. Sales per associate have increased 51 percent, while operating profit per associate has gone up 93 percent. The payoff is clear.
Transitioning at the top
But that’s not the whole story. Our family-owned company has experienced some changes in leadership at the very top. After Bob Buckman retired in 1996, Steve Buckman became CEO, taking over the day-to-day operation of the company. And in 2000, Kathy Buckman Davis became Chairman of the Board. They have given us a new leadership vision, emphasizing the establishment and standardization of business processes that are simple, easy to learn and easy to do. We also look for processes we can apply systematically across the globe, while demonstrating a clear ROI and linkage to our overall business strategy. We do nothing unless we clearly understand how it aligns with our strategy. This creates a deservedly high threshold for any approach to cross.
In the early 1990s, we began to re-examine our business model that heavily relied on products. By the mid-90s, we were rapidly moving to a customer intimacy model1. This model focuses on delivering a customized version of a company’s product mix that provides the best total value to the customer. This way of doing business places a premium on individual and corporate knowledge and the capacity to act on it. We were able to leverage our K’Netix knowledge-sharing system to rapidly scale up our ability to deliver customized solutions to our customers around the world.
Continually pushing innovation
But let’s take a step back. Despite our success with K’Netix, within months of its launch we began to see the need to move past our new baseline to achieve continued innovation and growth. Our next step was to explore the ability to use technology to complement our traditional training and development processes.
By 1994, we had produced our first multilingual, technology-enabled courses that both replaced and supported several remedial training programs. As our capability and capacity to deliver e-learning grew, we continued to innovate and experiment with new ideas and technologies. In 1997, we established the Bulab Learning Center to challenge our existing training and development paradigms.
The Learning Center re p resents a convergence of knowledge and learning initiatives that focuses on the acquisition of organizational capability through accelerated learning at the organizational and individual level. The Learning Center also represents a continued demonstration of our belief from our first days in 1945 that our competitive advantage resides in the collective knowledge and capabilities of our associates. And that in order to sustain that advantage, Buckman Laboratories must create sustainable personal and professional development initiatives for all associates that focus on creating customer value and associate commitment. By opening associates up to learning new concepts, the company creates a culture that’s predisposed to accept and take on the accelerating rate of change in today’s knowledge-based economy.
Distributing learning tools
Our initial goal with the Learning Center was to create universal access for all associates to training, education and knowledge, no matter where they were located. The Learning Center initially focused on delivering only technology-enabled materials. But within a year, we realized that a blended approach was more effective and began to design learning experiences that incorporated the best that technology and people could deliver.
Because we were wired, global, and multicultural, many groups worked with us to create and enhance distributed-learning products and services. Buckman and the Bulab Learning Center served as incubators for new ideas, products and processes.
As with all corporate culture-change initiatives, management support has been critical to the success of the Learning Center. Initially the Learning Center was housed and funded by the then Chairman of the Board, Robert Buckman. Today the Learning Center reports into the CEO, Steve Buckman, and serves as one of the pivotal mechanisms for implementing key strategic initiatives and corporate culture. As the Learning Center became established at Buckman, the relationship with senior management has moved from total dependence on their support to a more mature relationship based on interdependence.
Keeping the customer in mind
By 1998, we knew that our corporate mission statement no longer reflected our customer intimacy strategy, so we initiated an open discussion on our knowledge-sharing system. Both our leadership and rank and file associates debated — at times fiercely — what our mission should be in light of our customer intimacy strategy. The result? A new mission that spells out what we want to provide customers:
We, the associates of Buckman Laboratories, will excel in providing measurable, cost-effective improvements in output and quality for our customers by delivering customer-specific services and products, and the creative application of knowledge.
The creative application of knowledge requires skilled, knowledgeable people. We continually train all of our associates in the new chemical technologies and business processes that enhance our programs in customer facilities. This requires lifetime learning for long-time associates and extensive training for new hires, no matter where they are on the globe. Through our global distance-learning initiatives in the Learning Center, we’re able to supplement our traditional blended training with just-in-time and on-the-job learning, job aids and knowledge. This assures our people are fully capable at every customer location in the world.
Creating smarter processes
The creative application of knowledge also led us to pursue knowledgeable business processes. These processes go beyond the actual “physical product” and are designed to help a customer in the application of our products. Each process we design is repeatable — not a one-time-use process. This way, once our people and customers understand the process, they can take the knowledge forward and share that knowledge with others. See sidebox for an example of one such “smart” process.
In 1998, we began developing a comprehensive suite of processes, which continues today. Our primary developer was a key associate with over 30 years of sales experience in our industries. He distilled this expertise, identified critical processes for sales and customer service and created the simple processes re q u i red. About half of our workforce is in sales, and no sales associate has the time to waste on cumbersome processes. The simpler the process is, the more likely it is to be adopted. This is as true for our customers as it is for our associates. One serendipitous outcome was that we realized the enormous returns from even the simplest processes. Nothing has to be complex to generate a payback; however, it must meet a business need.
Another key success factor for processes is the ability to visualize them. Our sales associates tend to be visual thinkers. If we can’t display a process visually, the chances of adoption drop drastically. It’s also harder for a sales associate to demonstrate the process to a customer. We also applied these principles to a process from the United States Army: the After-Action Review. This simple process enables reflective learning. We benchmarked with British Petroleum and Sprint. We also tapped the extensive work done by Nancy Dixon and documented in her book Common Knowledge, as well as the book Learning To Fly by Chris Collison and Geoff Parcell. We also tapped many others.
The After-Action Review met most of our standards for business processes. Additionally, it was a natural companion to another business process for planning. However, it failed to meet our requirement for a visual representation. So we created our own, one that in the words of our Manager of Instructional Design, Catherine Walker, “can be drawn in the dust on the hood of a sales associate’s pick-up truck.”
This ties into another key success factor we have learned along the way: internal marketing. We treat our processes as new products, launching them with much fanfare and promotion. For example, with our adaptation of the AAR, we “Buckmanized” it by naming it the Buckman After Action Review (BAAR). We also developed a logo of a jumper vaulting over a high bar. The bar symbolizes our need to always raise the bar on our performance. We produced a CD and a glossy tri-fold brochure that included coaching materials and presentation; the form was available electronically and also as a pad. Additionally, we reduced the BAAR and the directions to a small card, printed in color, which we then laminated. And, as we always do, we translated the entire launch package into Spanish and Portuguese, and later into French.
We began our launch by sending copies of the CD, a coaching guide and a flyer to all managers, including our critical middle management. Two weeks later associates received a flyer telling them about the new product and what materials were available to them, but before we sent anything else, we gave out the laminated card. At first, we put small piles of the cards on a few desks, like the desk of the VP of Marketing. We hoped people would see and take them. One surprise taker was our CEO, Steve Buckman, who held up the BAAR card at a meeting and told everyone, “This is a perfect example of the type of process we want.” We also gave out dozens to associates who were visiting operating companies across the world, who then distributed them at the operating companies. The card became the hottest ticket in town.
Our most striking unexpected benefit of the BAAR was its versatility. We use it for many activities: benchmarking, meetings, training, orientation processes, end-of-project reviews, our yearly review of our financial report preparation and even our yearly summary reports to our senior management and Board of Directors. We constantly learn of new uses.
Meeting customer needs
Another serendipitous outcome of our overall program involves our customers, who have heard of our success too. Some considering or implementing KM or learning efforts have contacted us and asked for help. This has given us a new way to implement our overall strategy of customer intimacy by deepening relationships. Discussing an organization’s needs invariably leads to discussing business strategy and drivers. We become part of that conversation. The deeper relationships also give us avenues to increasing our business with existing customers. Better yet, this advantage isn’t limited to current customers. Our KM and learning processes and reputation have created opportunities to develop relationships with potential customers. Our experience and expertise is a competitive advantage for us, opening doors that might otherwise remain closed.
Steve Buckman decided to maximize the value we could receive and gave a charge to develop a capacity for sharing externally with three goals:
- work with customers;
- bring learning into Buckman Laboratories;
- generate revenue.
Of these three, working with our customers — current and potential — is our priority. At the same time, however, while we work with others, we see how what we’re learning can be applied internally. Last, we are a business for profit. We will work with those who are not our customers, if our other priorities allow.
Continuing the journey
An overriding lesson of the past 10 years is our need to continually improve our KM and learning efforts. No matter what our successes in these areas have been, we must continue to learn, improve and create. There’s no end to this path. We also know that our KM program may someday become inadequate due to the demands of new strategies, changes in our markets, adoption of new technology and changes in the world situation.
This may sound discouraging, but it’s easier to build on a foundation of success over the years, while honoring the lessons of the past. At least we know we can shorten our learning curve. We’re not sure what turns the path may take next, but so far the trip has been well worth it.
- Buckman’s KM program has led to a 50 percent rise in sales from new products since the inception of its knowledge-sharing system in 1992.
- Buckman transformed its business model from a product-focused to a customer-intimate one by the mid-90s.
- The principles of KM have been effectively applied to Buckman’s Learning Center, which focuses on continuous learning to create customer value.
- The After-Action Review has been incorporated into most business processes at the company, leading to consistent experiences for customers.
- With 10 years of experience in KM, Buckman knows it still has much to learn. The company recognizes the need to continue redefining its model to meet the demands of the marketplace.
Buckman’s KM Program Development Milestones
- 1960s Distribution of Idea Trap, a notebook for jotting down creative ideas
- 1984 First attempt at e-mail
- 1985 First remote access to our mainframe
- 1986 Introduction of laptops
- 1987 Successful implementation of global e-mail
- 1989 Creation of Knowledge Transfer Taskforce
- 1991 Start of effort to use CompuServe for commercial use
- 1992 Implementation of KÕNetix, our knowledge-sharing system
- 1996 New CEO, Steve Buckman, takes over leadership
- 1997 Establishment of the Learning Center
- 1998 Adoption of new mission and development of key business processes
- 1999 Installation of new information technology infrastructure
- 2000 Development of teaming/facilitation processes; Adaptation of After-Action Review
- 2001 Implementation of Buckman After-Action Review (BAAR); Customer engagements around knowledge and learning
Example of a repeatable, customer-focused process
In 1998, Buckman initiated a Transition Workshop to help customers who were switching suppliers from another company to Buckman. Often, a great deal of disruption and cost results from a switch. So Buckman designed a process to keep disruption to a minimum and manage the natural fear of change. Additionally, it helps the company transform change from a disruptive to a constructive process. Buckman wants to use the potential power of change to try new ideas, set new goals and develop new approaches.
By participating in a clearly defined process, customers feel a sense of ownership and stability that makes trying new things safe. This customer-intimate approach to doing business allows Buckman to more rapidly realize profits from new business, while ensuring that the customer benefits from a smooth, focused transition. Buckman’s capability to meet customer requirements in this way exemplifies how it creates competitive advantage.
Buckman’s Lessons Learned
This company’s journey since 1992 has revealed many insights that you can apply to your own business. Here’s a few:
- Management at all levels must be wooed, won, and involved. Initially Buckman ignored its middle management; it now realizes that no one else has more impact on the day-to-day work environment for its associates.
- Look for unexpected serendipity Ð unanticipated benefits and value. Once Buckman spotted unforeseen areas of value and benefit, the company leveraged the newfound sources of value.
- Create simple processes for your company that are easy to learn, repeatable and match business goals. Buckman’s commitment to this has made knowledge sharing easier.
- Don’t get comfortable — continuously innovate. Buckman committed early on to continually examine and improve its KM and learning efforts.
9. The knowledge: Melissie Rumizen — Inside Knowledge (Ark Group, volume 8, issue 3, October 2004)
Renowned for her work as knowledge strategist at Buckman Laboratories, Melissie Rumizen has been instrumental in transforming theory into pioneering practice and is happy to share the lessons she has learnt along the way. She speaks to Rebecca Cavalôt about facilitating cultural change and nurturing the individual, and offers her personal take on the future of KM.
10. Knowledge management and the plant: The why and how of it by Noria Corporation
Melissie Rumizen, Ph.D., uses Sveiby’s framework to outline the benefits of KM initiatives to management and decision makers by asking this question. “How can we maximize leverage of all our intangible assets for our customers?” She adjusts the conversation from “intellectual capital” to “resources and investments,” which is speaking their language. Ultimately, the company must understand what its most important asset (its people) is and then invest to support and grow that asset.
Peter Senge came from a slightly different angle when he introduced the concept of the Learning Organization in his book, “The Fifth Discipline”. Senge defined a learning organization as a place “where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together.” Rumizen summarized this definition as, “a learning organization creates, acquires, transfers and retains knowledge. This book of principles — or as Senge calls them, disciplines — is presented as a theoretical outline for a company that, as Rumizen summarizes: “creates, acquires, transfers, and retains knowledge, is particularly good at changing its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights … rarely makes the same mistake twice.”
Probably the most common approach for accomplishing this connection in successful KM programs has been Communities of Practice. Rumizen defines communities of practice as “a group of practitioners who share a common interest in a specific area of competence and are willing to work together.”
11. Expertise Location: Low tech, high touch by Jerry Ash
Garry Cullen was taking a break from his job as matchmaker for knowledge seekers and sharers in the Australia office of Lend Lease Corporation when he checked into the Association of Knowledgework’s K-Net discussion group. There he spotted another knowledge seeker, KM maven Melissie Rumizen, saying: “I’ve benchmarked expertise locators such as BP Connect and others. I’ve heard presentations from software vendors such as Tacit. What I’ve never heard is anyone who can tell me what value they have delivered. Is there anybody out there with experience with either an in-house expertise locator or one generated by software?”
Naturally Cullen responded, because that’s the way collaboration begins via ikonnect, the knowledge-sharing system available to nearly 10,000 Lend Lease employees and the employees of countless clients located across six continents. It is probably the most unique and effective system of its kind in the world, and it is not database driven.
Its fundamental principles are based on Lend Lease experience and objectives:
- Databases fail to get knowledge moving
- There is substantially more knowledge inside heads than databases
- Customer service is best achieved through the best available knowledge
- Conversations are the best way to transfer knowledge
- Knowledge transfer begins with a question
Cullen didn’t need to contact a third party to match Rumizen to the expert. He was the expert and — in Rumizen’s own words — he “bowled her over”.
Rumizen, who recently moved from Buckman Labs to SAIC, is an expertise-locator skeptic. She voices the following complaints.
- Databases look internally. “Expertise locators, as with other databases, are too often based on the assumption that all knowledge or experience needed can be found internally,” she says. “That claim is impossible to prove or disprove, but we do know that most people rely on their own personal experiences in searching for people with answers, experience that often reaches beyond the bounds of the organisation.”
- Databases are limited in scope. “Databases generally provide structured information such as names, photos, titles, brief job descriptions, previous work experience and contact information,” says Rumizen. “Unstructured information can include a person’s likes and dislikes or anything else a person feels relevant. However, the data is · limited due to the time it takes an employee to enter the information; and, at best an employee profile cannot cover the sum total of someone’s experience and expertise, or match it to the unknown problems that may drive a future question. Compounding the problem, keeping such an inadequate database up to date is near impossible.”
- Databases are supply driven. “While stories that illustrate miraculous connections abound,” Rumizen says, “I’d prefer to focus on the types of knowledge needed and how best to provide it. For example, in a consulting firm, knowledge, documentation and contacts for previous projects are critical. What knowledge is needed on a routine basis? What knowledge would provide a high payoff? What knowledge is most critical to the organization’s key capabilities and strategy? Perhaps the best way to provide that knowledge is through multiple strategies to include communities of practice, project databases and other ways to link expertise.”
- People prefer networks. While an expertise locator may point to a given person’s experience or knowledge dreaded salesman’s cold call to someone they do not know”. People prefer to contact people they know or who are known to be approachable.
- Getting Started in Knowledge Management — Melissie’s BP Story
- Introducing: The Community Coordinator
- KMWorld 2004: Organization Readiness for Knowledge-Sharing Technology
- KMWorld 2002: Connecting People and Knowledge: Challenges and Strategies
- InfoToday 2002 — Ten Myths of Knowledge Management — Using lots of concrete examples, Rumizen focuses on things that everyone believes to be true in KM, but are not:
- for every organization there is ONE, perfect KM strategy which must be found
- those who want an ROI are unrealistic because you can’t measure the effects of KM
- putting everything in English solves language and cultural barriers
- no one wants to share
- your CIO is an unfriendly alien
- Knowledge Management (KM) Definitions by John Girard — KM is the systematic process by which knowledge needed for an organization to succeed is created, captured, shared and leveraged.
- Knowledge Management Incentives by Nick Milton — At Buckman Labs, we incentivize knowledge sharing. If you do it, the incentive is that we let you keep your job!
- Knowledge Networks and Communities of Practice by Verna Allee — I had to learn that these learning communities are more like volunteer organizations. They simply cannot be managed like a project or team.
- Communities of Practice (CoPs) — If other KM tools are the goats, sheep, cows and chickens of the barnyard, the community of practice is the duck-billed platypus.
- Knowledge Management Tools and Techniques: Practitioners and Experts Evaluate KM Solutions by Madanmohan Rao — Chapter 1: Overview: The Social Life of KM Tools — page 21 — Without the quality of connectivity and the simplicity and commonality offered by the software interface to application that is provided by an intranet, an organization’s ability to create, share, capture and leverage knowledge is stuck in the Stone Age, just above the level of typewriters, faxes and snail mail.
- KM as Hierarchical? by Alice MacGillivray — Loved it when Melissie Rumizen called communities of practice the “Killer Apps” of KM.
- The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Knowledge Management, Chapter 8 — I dare you to find a serious general conference on knowledge management that doesn’t include at least one session on communities of practice. Slowly over the past few years, communities of practice have come to be acknowledged as the killer application for knowledge management. And rightfully so.
- Tribute to Melissie Rumizen by Steve Barth — As I look back on those days spent with you in the community, they have been some of the best gifts.
- Goodreads — Intellectual capital includes everything an organization knows. That can be ideas, different kinds of knowledge, and innovations. The bottom line, though, is that it’s knowledge that an organization can turn into profit.
- Goodreads — The tension between the vision and reality creates energy. This energy drives personal growth.
- Next Generation Knowledge Management, Volume 3 by Jerry Ash — Chaper 5: Low tech, high touch knowledge management — with Gary Cullen
- Marketing of High-technology Products and Innovations by Jakki J. Mohr, Sanjit Sengupta, and Stanley Slater — Chapter 4: Market Orientation at Buckman Labs
- The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Knowledge Management
Buy this book and read it from start to finish. So many of the books that we’ve reviewed over the last decade have been interesting, pertinent, and illuminating, but few have so clearly provided a comprehensive plan of attack that can be implemented at the grass roots level or from the top down.
We recommend this book for every organization, not just those that are currently examining Knowledge Management practices. The tenets apply regardless of size from small companies of 10 or fewer employees to global conglomerates with tens of thousands.
The step-by-step approach that the C.I.G. series is known for provides an ideal structure for something as complex as Knowledge Management, but even better are Rumizen’s case studies and examples collected over the last couple of decades.
The added value in this book is a chapter that provides an easy-to-digest explanation of web jargon (http, IP, URL, TCP) for those of you too embarrassed to ask an IT expert to clarify these terms.
To those who think KM is just some Rube Goldberg interpretation of self-important business blather, I suggest you buy them a copy of Melissie Clemmons Rumizen’s new book: “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Knowledge Management,” published by CWL Publishing. (The mere fact that an Idiot’s Guide has be published about KM should, in and of itself, prove KM is here to stay.)
In his foreword, Laurence Prusak writes: “This is not an unwieldy academic tome; Rumizen follows the dictum of Oscar Wilde to treat unimportant things seriously and important things lightly. It is good to remember that humor and humility serve any change effort well, including becoming more knowledge-focused.”
She gets it right, she covers every component and the book is filled with practical examples. Except for incredibly annoying cartoon “light bulbs” (ideas, get it?), the book is an excellent, if not essential, read for KM skeptics. I’ll wager that anyone who reads the book will become far more receptive to building a knowledge culture within his or her organization.
3. Knowledge Management: An Innovative Strategy for the Future by Maria Shirey
The ability to create, capture, share, and leverage knowledge is key to organizational success and competitive advantage. This book review explores the field of knowledge management as conceptualized by a leading expert in the knowledge management field. An analysis and evaluation of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Knowledge Management by Melissie Rumizen suggests ideas for using knowledge management as an innovative strategy in a nursing health system context.
Rumizen’s book bills itself on the premise that knowledge management (KM) is an important field fundamental for success in the new economy. In a digital world with rapidly expanding knowledge requirements, what people know and how they use what they know are key to patient care quality, safety, and competitive advantage. Rumizen’s catchy book title should not imply any dilution of the book’s substance; rather the title suggests the author’s talent at cutting through the complex lingo that litters the KM field. In fact, if one types “knowledge management” into a Web-based search engine such as Google, the term KM would yield 316,000,000 hits. A comparable search in Amazon.com would yield 1,373 books. In the crowded field of KM resources, Rumizen’s book stands out for its simplicity and the author’s ability to relate KM concepts to practice in different industries. Using her years of experience as an expert KM practitioner combined with her scholarly credentials, Rumizen has produced a KM user-friendly text that can serve as a primer for nurse leaders new to the KM field.
Rumizen’s book is written in 6 parts and is sequenced in a logical order. Each part is titled using a catchy name that draws the reader into each content section. Within each part are various chapters, each beginning with an overview of the content to be presented and ending with a clearly delineated section labeled “the least you need to know” about the topic just presented. Keeping with the theme of using creative and unusual titles, the author includes the equivalent of computer screen “pop-ups” using light bulb images throughout each chapter. These light bulbs are positioned strategically to reinforce content and appear labeled in 4 ways: know these, know nos, know how, and didn’t know. The know these light bulbs represent a reiteration of a definition the reader should know. Know nos instruct readers on things not to do. Know how light bulbs expand upon the author’s lessons learned regarding the topic. Didn’t know represent trivia points meant to inform the reader of interesting literature, history, or facts related to the topic in the chapter. The didn’t know light bulbs also work to captivate readers and keep them reading.
Part 1, “Exploring the Oxymoron,” provides a definition of KM as the systematic processes by which knowledge needed for an organization to succeed is created, captured, shared, and leveraged. Knowledge, the most important asset in organizations today, is emphasized. Early on, the concept of communities of practice (COP) is presented as an essential component of KM. The importance of knowledge workers as “minds, not hands” is emphasized with KM presented within the context of learning organizations and as the vehicle to engage employees for long-term career development and sustained organizational success. Part 1 also includes an in-depth discussion of the chief knowledge officer (CKO), a role determined to be a critical factor to the success of a KM initiative. Part 1 ends with examples of KM success stories in business and industry.
Part 2, “Getting Started,” offers a step-by-step guide for implementing a KM strategy. The author cautions that for KM to be successful, it must be rooted in organizational strategy. In promoting a KM strategy, senior executive sponsorship connected at the highest levels and canny in the ways of the organization is deemed important. Keys to successful implementation of KM are presented, including the need to start small (pilots are preferable), operate from a steering committee framework, and pursue “gee whiz” projects with high impact and visibility.
In deciding where within the organization to place KM, the author indicates that there is no right answer for where KM belongs. A stand-alone department reporting to the chief executive officer and positioned organizationally with other senior executives in information technology (IT), human resources, finance, and operations, however, seems to be advocated. Clearly, the role of CKO is not a stand-alone role, but rather a collaborative one requiring the ability to connect people. Although the CKO is “in charge” of implementing the KM strategy, other key roles of knowledge stewards, knowledge researchers, knowledge brokers, and knowledge sharers are equally important.
The book includes an expanded discussion of COP, referred to as “the killer application” for KM. A COP is thought to help drive strategy, transfer knowledge and best practices, build core capabilities, and increase innovation. A clear distinction, however, is made between what a COP is and is not. For example, a COP is neither a team nor a workgroup appointed by management. Instead, a COP represents a voluntary entity distinguished by passion for a common cause and lasting as long as the members want the COP to last. A COP cycles in 5 stages (planning, start-up, growth, sustainment, and closure), with social activities representing a value-creating thread throughout the COP life cycle.
The community coordinator represents the most important critical success factor in a COP. Fulfilling the duties of the community coordinator requires coordinators to commit 15% to 25% of their total time to each community. In addition to the community coordinator position, at a minimum, additional allocation of resources is needed to include the services of a librarian, secretarial support, and release time for employees to participate in the COP. Because resources are valuable in all organizations, the author advocates the need to allocate resources based on the principle of the vital few. This implies that 20% of the most important causes (those that bring approximately 80% of the problems) are most vital to the organization and are thus the causes that should receive more critical emphasis. The principle of the vital few is a key one to follow to align the interests of the COP with organizational strategy and allocation of resources.
Part 3, “Can’t Live With IT: Can’t Live Without IT,” reinforces the notion that the CKO should be well connected with the organization’s chief information officer. Both the CKO and chief information officer, to have influence within the organization, must consistently show value for the organization. Understanding this dynamic is important because both the KM and IT functions in organizations are regarded as cost centers, not profit centers. Part 3 also provides an extensive discussion about the various nets (Internet, intranet, and extranet) and an explanation of the various applications used to find electronic information (e-mail, databases, and search engines).
Part 4, “Culture Is You, Me and Everybody Else,” supplements the KM information presented in parts 1 and 2 and emphasizes the importance of understanding organizational culture throughout all phases of a KM strategy. Because implementing a KM strategy effectively represents change, the power of culture must never be underestimated. Importantly, leaders should recognize that culture can blindside KM efforts. Rumizen provides good advice and perspective regarding organizational culture by indicating that
No matter how insanely idiotic you think some aspect of culture is, keep that opinion to yourself. Whether you’re an insider or an outsider, your job is to understand the culture with its strengths and weaknesses and to work within it. Open contempt will alienate the people you need to learn from.
The author cautions that organizational culture may serve as either a “wild card” or “trump card” for a change. Certain organizational cultures may be seen as healthy (learning organizations), whereas others that are too “in grown” may be deemed as unhealthy. Clearly, the health of the organizational culture is a key factor in the success of a KM strategy. Important to the organizational culture is the presence (or absence) of strong social networks that contribute a sense of the social capital in an organization’s culture. The author defines social capital as the sum of connections between people and the associated norms of trust and behavior that create social cohesion.
Part 5, “Keeping Score,” goes into the measurement aspects of KM. This section is key because it provides a framework for evaluating the success of KM and in documenting its value. A key piece of advice that this section offers is the need to combine numbers (quantitative) with the stories (qualitative) behind the numbers. This reinforces the premise that both tacit and explicit knowledge have value within the context of people pursuing a KM strategy. The author advocates for producing actionable measures, not measuring everything, using existing measurement systems when possible, and for crafting communication strategies that keep the designated measures and strategies in the forefront. Important to the integrity of the measurement system is the use of valid and reliable measures that should be displayed in a variety of ways with enough context to explain them.
Measurement approaches for KM are presented, with emphasis given to the more frequently used balanced scorecard. The balanced scorecard links an organization’s mission and strategy to the measures that represent financial performance as well as 3 additional perspectives: customers, internal business processes, and learning and growth. Although used to a lesser extent, the author introduces measures of intellectual capital using a typology of 4 types of measures: direct intellectual capital method, market capitalization method, return on assets method, and scorecard method.
The direct intellectual capital method estimates the value of intangible assets by first identifying their various components and then quantifying them either alone or together. The market capitalization method, a somewhat volatile measure, focuses on the perceived value of an organization in the marketplace by looking at the difference between the company’s market capitalization and its stockholder’s equity. The return on assets method focuses on an average earning from intangible assets. Calculating the return on assets involves dividing the company’s pre-tax earnings by the average tangible assets and then comparing with the industry average.
The scorecard method for intellectual capital is similar to the balanced scorecard previously described. When focusing exclusively on measuring intellectual capital, however, various components of intangible assets are assessed. An example of an intangible asset scorecard represents the work by Karl-Erik Sveiby, a pioneer in KM. Sveiby2 focuses on human competence (values, experience, social skills, and educational background), external structure (trademarks, brand name, and image), and internal structure (databases, processes, models, and documentation).
Part 6, “Settling in for the Long Haul,” represents a kaleidoscope of issues that may be useful to those implementing a KM strategy. For example, the author suggests the importance of not equating KM to IT, provides caution regarding the need to establish realistic deadlines (5 years seems to be the norm for full KM implementation), and emphasizes the importance of accommodating differences yet not fully sacrificing standardization. Furthermore, the author pulls from her military background to reiterate the value of debriefing (particularly after the pilot phase) using timely after-action reports and implementing precision-driven changes resulting from the lessons learned.
The 315-page book ends with 3 appendices inclusive of a brief glossary, a list of useful Web sites, and a reference list of pertinent books and articles. The book is thoroughly indexed to assist the reader in finding topics of interest. Missing, however, is a detachable table that would summarize the “least you need to know” sections of the book into a useable poster suitable for mounting.
Overall, the book does an outstanding job of itemizing fundamental KM information. Parts 1, 2, and 5 provide answers to 3 key questions about KM:
- What is KM and what can it do for an organization?
- How is a KM strategy started?
- How is the success of KM evaluated?
The book’s primary distinctive feature is its ability to convey KM information with the author not becoming lost in the complex lingo of KM. The book reinforces more in-depth KM content typically presented in an academic course or in a scholarly text.
Using what could be described as a rather simplistic description of organizational culture (an element that helped in parts 1, 2, and 5), part 4 presents a discussion on culture that works within this context and serves to complement the “pure” KM information in parts 1, 2, and 5. If nothing else, part 4 underscores the importance of organizational culture as a factor that can either facilitate or derail a KM strategy. Recognizing the significance of culture and learning from the culture could prove to be an incomparable strategy to enhance the likelihood of success when implementing KM.
The part 3 discussion regarding IT may be said to be so elementary that even a technology “non-geek” would find it useless. The author may have aimed the technology discussion to the novice IT user, incorrectly assuming that lack of KM knowledge equates to lack of IT knowledge. This observation is particularly interesting given that the book makes a clear distinction that KM is not IT. In reality, either omitting part 3 or replacing it with a section on KM exemplars in the healthcare industry (one industry not referenced) would have added more value. In any event, a recommendation for future readers of this book would be to skip over part 3 in what otherwise is a most informative book.
Part 6, much like part 3, did not seem to “fit” as a distinct section. Unlike part 3, which is deemed useless, part 6 provided a hodgepodge of helpful tidbits that could have been more efficiently incorporated into the most valuable sections of the book (parts 1, 2, and 5).
Rumizen’s book lives up to its billing as a basic KM text that provides step-by-step instructions on how to implement the concept. The book is replete with tips and tricks of the trade needed for KM success and sustainability. The book is presented in an easy-to-read format that informs and keeps the reader engaged. Overall, this user-friendly book represents a must-have primer for those entering the KM field. The interesting points raised and the valuable appendices provided offer suggested readings for those seeking KM mastery. Overwhelmingly, the book dispels any myths that KM is a fad and presents a strong argument why KM should be a valuable organizational strategy for the future.
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