itSMF Knowledge Café

Melbourne laneway café

Last week, the NSW branch of the itSMF held a knowledge café for the first special interest group session of 2013. Paul Bodie and I facilitated the session together with a group of 18-or-so service management professionals. We explored both the Gurteen approach to knowledge cafés and the original version that was developed in the 1990s.

For our Gurteen session we formed three tables—if we’d had a couple more people we would have split into four tables of five—and we began by discussing a single topic: The most successful service improvement programs include…

We had two table changes, each after 10-15 minutes of conversation, where 2-3 people would shift and continue the topic discussion with others. The topic discussion concluded with a group conversation where participants shared insights that surfaced during their smaller group discussions. Executive sponsorship of improvement programs was a key theme but we also identified that our topic may have been too broad. Taking notes was discouraged but a few of us couldn’t help ourselves. 😉

Our second session was in the style of a World Café. Again, we had our three tables, but this time, each on had a different question to explore.

1. What worked well and what could have been improved in the previous knowledge café process?

2. How could you use the knowledge café in your workplace?

3. How could a knowledge café session leverage social media?

We ended up having a knowledge café about knowledge cafés. How meta. 😉 Lots of interesting threads emerged, like is it actually a knowledge café if you involve remote people through social channels? And the answer is no, really, because a knowledge café is all about the comfortable, cosy setting drawing out the tacit knowledge related to the question being asked. I could call this frictionless knowledge transfer in one respect, because a layer of technology can add awkward delay issues and it strips emotion and tone.

A café-like setting (or a pub atmosphere) isn’t available in most workplaces, so the ability to take this sort of exercise off-site was a popular preference.

We had participants suggest that a timer be displayed so we would know when the end was nearing so we could be sure and say what we might not have got around to saying yet. We also thought providing people with the topics beforehand would be helpful, as well as giving them the opportunity to post their own preferred topics anonymously.

It was a great afternoon and I think everyone took something away from it to hopefully adapt for their own teams and environments.


7 Ways Self-service is like a ShamWow

Like late-night TV, the mind can go from the sublime to the ridiculous when it’s dark and quiet. And so here I am with 7 reasons why self-service forums are like a ShamWow.

1. ShamWow’s in your face around the clock

Just like those ads, self-service forums can run around the clock. And if you have a thriving user community, those customers posting questions to the forums can get anecdotal advice and crowd-sourced help while you’re asleep or watching TV.

2. ShamWow is portable

That’s right the ShamWow can go anywhere. Keep one in the house, the car, the boat, the RV. Take a look at Mary Meeker’s 2012 Year End Update. Here’s just one slide that proves escalating mobile use. There’s plenty more in the full report.

Smartphone adoption

Mobile-friendly self-service portals give customers access to support wherever they might be at the time. Your entire knowledge base could be in their pocket.

3. ShamWow just does the work; why work twice as hard?

Why waste effort on solving issues that have been solved before? You’ve got knowledgeable users, so capitalise on that. You’ve got knowledgeable staff, so capitalise on that. Self-service puts those answers in front of the people who need them, at the time they need them, without you having to hunt those answers down again and again.

4. Once I got a ShamWow, I couldn’t live without it.

Self-explanatory. But if you need convincing, listen to this webcast of Peter McGarahan talking to William G. Purcell, from Paychex, Inc. He’s a big believer in KCS and self-service.

5. You’re gonna spend $20 on paper towels anyway; you’re throwing your money away.

How many of you have a self-service portal as part of your support toolset? How many of you have left it sitting empty and unused or outdated and unused? You’re paying for it, anyway; put it to work.

6. ShamWow is great for everyday use.

Self-service fills a range of support needs—FAQs, a place to collect and prioritise feature requests, customer engagement, standard troubleshooting and how-tos.

7. ShamWow sells itself. It lasts ten years; a sponge lasts a week.

Self-service forums enable you to retain and reuse knowledge gained from your support interactions over and over.

Want more? Here’s the ShamWow guy himself. Watch the video and see if you can come up with more. In the meantime, I’m off to buy a ShamWow.

Thanks to @sitare21 @PeterJLijnse @rfsis1 and @StuartRance for the late night twitter banter that inspired this post.


This revolution will be televised

TFT12 banner

Just when I thought this year’s speaking topic had been retired, I am back like John Farnham. (Australians will understand that reference.)

The conference industry is about to be disrupted; as if social media wasn’t enough. IT conferences have traditionally been the purview of managers, CxOs and others with corporate memberships. They’re expensive, and often involve travel and accommodation to boot. All that is about to change.

Starting on the 5th December at 10am Auckland, NZ time, the world’s first online IT conference will begin, following the sun with 8 speakers in Australasia, 8 speakers in EMEA, and 8 speakers in the US. Here’s the full breakdown.

It’s free, streamed live to YouTube via Google hangout and doesn’t even require registration. (Unless you’d like to be informed of event news via email. Do that here.)

You’ll be able to interact and contribute to sessions just like a regular, in-person event.

I’m honoured and excited to be taking part in such a ground-breaking event along with some fantastic speakers including Amber Case, Karen Ferris, Rob England, Matthew Hooper, and more. For a reminder of what I’ll be speaking about check my events page. This is an opportunity for those practitioners in the hot seats to get their hands on the kind of thought-provoking and useful information that has only ever been available to those with a couple of thousand dollars to spare.

After all, just about all of us are working in some form of IT these days; we should ALL be able to access the content that helps us do better at it.


Swarmconf 2012 wrap

I’d happily find any old reason to visit Melbourne, but this year’s Swarm conference promised to be a good one. I’ve been helping founders, Venessa Paech and Alison Michalk, put the concept of an Online Community Managers conference in front of more eyeballs, and I’d already known Alison through her professional forum moderation roles in the past. The opportunity to meet in person was something I’d already been looking forward to, but Swarmconf gave us all the opportunity to hear from established Community identities including Laurel Papworth, Yammer’s Global Head of Community, Maria Ogneva, and HuffPo’s Community Manager, Justin Isaf, amongst others.

It was certainly the most comfortable conference I’ve ever been to, complete with hammock, beanbags and in-room coffee cart with baristas; and being at Hub Melbourne’s co-working office, there’s plenty of power for laptop and phone charging. But despite the hipster environs and the hipster-gourmet catering of Kinfolk Café, the functions community managers perform aren’t just the purview of, well, hipsters and their start-ups. There were delegates from “stodgy” financial institutions, “conservative” motoring organisations, other large corporates, plus a healthy representation of not-for-profits and consultants.

Kicking off the event, Maria Ogneva took us through the cast of characters that make up a community and busted some myths common to enterprise social tools.

Maria Ogneva busts community myths

Photo credit @hughstephens

She also highlighted the potential $1.3 trillion in value from untapped internal communications.  We were then onto Huffington Post’s Justin Isaf, who explained how, aided by technology, a team of 28 moderators working 6 hour shifts from home (or anywhere), 6 days a week, pre-moderates 9 million comments a month. Think about the maths on that. Phenomenal. Justin believes in moderation for the safe environment it provides for community participants

The future of the internet

The future of the internet, according to Justin Isaf. Photo Credit @SocialMediainOz

After morning tea academic, Matthew Allen, presented his paper Is There Room For Community in All These Social Networks? As the “person becomes the portal”, we no longer go to Facebook; it goes wherever we go. And so it was good timing that the next speaker, David Hood, concentrated on the always-on nature of our modern lives. Those with community management roles are nourishing their communities often at the expense of their own time to reenergise.

As we moved through the afternoon, Laurel Papworth warned us of the coming “shitstorm”, where community management as an emerging profession will need to navigate legal decisions and changing paradigms. One of the problems is our inability to define the role of community management. As Craig Thomler revealed from a recent industry survey, people identifying themselves as community managers are doing a mix of marketing, PR, moderating and social media management.

These are the comments that have resonated the most since Swarmconf—the emerging nature of community management and its ill-defined parameters. There’s no doubt an industry body will need to form as legal rulings around social networks begin to impact companies and communities in new ways.

In knowledge management, communities of practice are part of the toolkit, but as a greater percentage of employees work remotely, our CoPs will be formed online via company forums or other enterprise social tools. And, as ITSM advances to promote more self-service, the vehicle on offer may well be a self-help forum. Therefore, understanding the functions and concerns of community management comes under the umbrella of KM and, for that reason, I highly recommend future Swarmconf events.

More details

Storify threads by Matthew Cox and Hugh Stephens.

Official Swarmconf blog.

Laurel Papworth’s 9 Step Social media Strategy


The Future is Practical

The LEADit 2012 conference rounds out a pretty stellar year for the Knowledge Bird. Knowledge management topics were high on the agenda and I can’t help but think the interest my paper sparked last year had something to do with that. Under the surface, though, there was something even better bubbling away.

Karen Ferris presented her Balanced Diversity session as the opening keynote. We’ve been following each other around a bit this year, so I’ve seen it a few times, but Karen’s talk on making organisational change stick is always a hot topic. Read the paper, if you haven’t already, but the secret sauce is the portfolio approach to change. She explains how a balanced, but diverse, set of practices in combination with a continual improvement program is what we must do to embed any kind of change in an organisation. Karen says the reason 70% of organisation changes fail is because we’re too heavily focused on the upper right quadrant of formal practices. (The paper provides a great example.)

Rob England presented his Standard + Case approach. I’ve been watching him develop the idea for a while, and while it’s not unlike the way tech support has traditionally been handled, there is one fundamental difference to the way we’ve always done it. Instead of escalating those non-standard faults into the ether and moving on to the next tech support call, Rob’s approach calls on those more experienced analysts to become case managers, in effect. It empowers those analysts to continue working with the customer in whatever way that their unique situation needs. They’d require some relationship management skills and depending on the level of technical expertise, they may also need to team up with an engineer to work through the solution. Just like case workers from other industries, these guys would also be keeping extensive notes that are added to the knowledge base.

When I started in tech support in 1997, several of my team mates and I would hang out in an IRC channel together while we were working through the tech support queue. It wasn’t directly purposeful, but it did make a tough job more bearable because we had some like-minded people to blow off steam and tell jokes to. Years later, in 2006, I’d recently started a new operational role at a bank. When I fired up web MSN (all other messenger services were locked down), my team leader insisted that was a bad move. I went around him to the operations manager and successfully put my case: I was working part-time. By allowing us to run MSN, it would mean the guys could ping me on the days I was at home to pick up any loose threads. It was an excuse, but a completely valid one. In one of the closing keynotes of the LEADit conference, Ross Dawson, spoke of a developing collaborative workforce with each of us having deep knowledge of a single subject area. Those networking tools that I’ve been using on the job all along, enable all of us to connect as a global brain to get stuff done. I gotta tell you, I’m entirely happy being one small part of a global brain—it’s way less pressure.

The reason I bring these particular sessions up is because they’re all indicative of a shift in the paradigm of the way we work. Finally, gone is notion that we must know everything, control everyone, and define every expectation in such an unrealistic way. Yes, we can work to our strengths and connect to our network of collaborators to fill in the gaps. We can be empowered to do things better than we did the last time. It’s just more practical this way.


Is Forrester the Marriage Counsellor for KM and IT?

Maybe it’s the professional circles I’ve been moving in this year, but I’ve been feeling the last nine months or so has seen a rise in the profile of knowledge management, generally. It could also be an effect of bias.

However, I am really seeing the signs of a new relationship starting to blossom. At KM Australia, Felicity McNish, gave a presentation on KM and mobility. But there was one statement she made that has been replaying in my memory since: “we need to make friends with IT, so that we’re ALL empowered to do better.” Interesting, non?

So, why aren’t knowledge management and IT friends? A number of reasons, I presume. It could be that KM is viewed as a function of the business to automate IT and be done with those pesky basement dwellers. It could be that KM is impatient to enable the transfer of knowledge through devices that haven’t been signed off by IT as secure yet. It could be that IT are called on to assist with the Sharepoint techno-wizardry. I’m just guessing.

Forrester have been gabbing a bit about KM lately. There was this article from the start of August. Not that this particular Forrester decree was helpful as it focused on you should have a tool that lets you do this, rather than framing KM and collaboration as a way of working—behavioural, cultural. I was happy enough to see it mentioned, though. Yesterday, Forrester analyst Stephen Mann blogged about automation taking our jobs, (Yes, people. It’s not immigration you need to be worrying about.) and included parts from a Glenn O’Donnell research paper that outlines the hot tips for the IT employment lineup. Hello, Knowledge Engineer.

Maybe rebranding knowledge management as knowledge engineering will help IT get on board.

Whatever works.


The itSMF Australia Conference Warm-up

In the weeks leading up to this year’s Australian national itSMF conference on the Gold Coast (Aug 20-22), the itSMFA is holding a series of twitter chats with speakers who will be presenting at the conference. Last week was with Rob England, the IT Skeptic, chatting about governance. I was on last night to talk knowledge management. I know it’s hard to get a full picture in 140 characters, but there were several gold nuggets in there and even if just one person takes one of those and builds on it, then it’s been a useful exercise. Check out the curated Storify and you might just take something away, yourself.


Gartner’s Magic Quadrant Explained

Gartner’s IT Service and Support Magic Quadrant is due for release soon, and in the words of Gartner’s Jarod Greene, “the players haven’t changed, but the game has”. I’ve talked about tool selection before, but that was before I’d even heard of the Magic Quadrant, let alone understood its purpose. Jarod demystifies it in an interview with me over at The ITSM Review.

You can hear more of Jarod Greene’s thoughts on the MQ on this ITSM Weekly podcast from March.


I did ITSM my way—the itSMF New Zealand conference

Wellington played host to the national conference for itSMF New Zealand last week. I was last in the windy city about ten years ago and couldn’t remember much about it, except for having caught the ferry from there to the South Island. But I quite enjoyed it. It’s quiet, it was easy to walk to everywhere I needed to be, there are water views, it’s very safe at night, and the indoors are nice and warm. The wind and the expensive internet are Wellington’s only downfalls.

I was interested to see how people would interpret the theme of the event. Having done ITSM in a backwards kind of way—all the practical first, and the theory only once I’d left my tech support career behind—I thought I’d get to hear a few personal stories from people who’d come to it in unusual ways.


Change Management in 7 Easy Steps

Just about every business has to make IT changes at some point that are going to impact customers. There’s a good way to do it and a bad way to do it. The bad way is to do it whenever you want and put out the fires if/when they happen. If I had a dollar every time something screwy happened in my career because of that, I’d have about forty bucks. So, I’m not a millionaire, but it’s still Not Good.

Here’s my tips for good change management that will get you well on your way.


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