When documentation is against the religion

Last week’s KM Australia congress in Sydney had a different vibe to last year. (Here’s the storify.) There were quite a few different faces from 2012, a few of the same ones, the weather was better. The room configuration was different, and maybe that’s all it was, but a small part of me thinks it was because one of the presenters was a chief technology officer. At last! A knowledge management case study from an IT executive.

James King started by explaining the nature of his organisation and the DevOps environment that his team works within. Of course, the Agile Manifesto says developers value “working software over comprehensive documentation”, and that’s where James got the first objection to his plan for better documentation to avoid rework. His response was that the Agile Manifesto is a piece of documentation in itself, so clearly, some documentation has value.

And so, the story continued with the introduction of Agile tools, like storyboarding, to the product support and knowledge management process. Instead of documentation being engineered along with releases, it was produced on demand through the normal support transactions. Without mentioning the words Knowledge Centred Support, James was in fact describing a simplified implementation of KCS, which I confirmed with him afterwards.

Just this morning, I saw a tweet that reminded me of James’ presentation.

You see, the great thing about KCS is that it accepts knowledge has an imperfect nature. It has built-in mechanisms for improving knowledge on the fly. Indeed, why spend hours over-engineering documentation for software that frequently changes and may never be read in full?

Change management and knowledge management holding each other’s hand

Jeanette Allom-Hill is the Change Leadership Director for the NSW State Treasury. She’ll be presenting Change Mangement—KM’s symbiotic partner or alter ego? at July’s KM Australia Congress. I spoke to her recently about her role in the NSW state government, and from our conversation, I’m sure she’ll have loads of fascinating stories about change management in the workplace.

1. As the change leadership director of the NSW Treasury, what are your day-to-day responsibilities and what sort of change projects do you oversee?
There is a change of leadership project which is about building a competency of our leaders and that’s an executive level project, which includes having done a change competency review on all of our leaders and looking at how we get them to be great change leaders, so we have road maps for each of them around, acting as visible leadership, communication, building a coalition, all the key components of being great leaders of change, but also great sponsors of change. So that’s like a one-on-one type of mentoring role.

The organisational design role is a role that talks about how do you manage change at an organisational level when you’re introducing a complete reorganisational design, so that’s everything from restructuring the organisation and then restructuring the processes but also supporting people through things like voluntary redundancies.

The last is managing the program of work, so the role in the whole of government financial management reform. I manage the program end-to-end that manages all of the components of stakeholder engagement, change communications and capability.

2. You’ve had experience in operational, service, and planning roles across the government and private sectors, (including Microsoft and Optus). Have you found that approaches or responses to change projects differ across those sectors?
Yes, generally speaking, private enterprises seem to really understand the concept of hiring people who have change as part of their DNA very early on, and then build change as a positive experience, because they think about how that benefits a person day-to-day. So, whenever they do change they think about building on the strategies of the person’s awareness of the change, their desire for the change, and how do we get them to realise that this is the best thing for them? Whereas, the public sector are just only starting to realise that that’s fundamental. So we’re starting to do a big piece of work around the fact that the people in the new Treasury need to adapt to change—and what does that look like? How do you measure that? How do you support that? How do you develop that?

I think its been a slower take up in government than it has in the private sector, because private has been thinking that way for a long time. The great thing is that governments are now starting to think that way but it’s more of, for Treasury, it’s after 185 years of an entrenched culture and way of being that we are having to change. I think having done operations roles, and customer service roles, and then a change role—everything in the operations world is fast-paced, compared in a change world to try to, first of all, build a belief that there needs to be someone who is managing change and that the people side of all change that we’re going through is just as important as the project side and the leadership side. It’s a harder piece of work to do than it is if you’re doing an operational role, or a role that is needed as part of the functional day-to-day operation of the business.

3. You’re also the Chair of the Community of Change Professionals for the NSW Public Sector. In what ways has the group improved the practice of change management in the NSW State Government?
We were established in December 2012, so we are half way through our first year. The core areas that we’re working on, and we had lots of really good small wins, but the big areas that we’re working on is obviously being able to build a network of Change people in the NSW Public Sector, so that junior people have access to senior people and resources and best practice information. They can also network with their colleagues, but they also have an ability for career development and opportunities, including a model that we’re put in, which is around mentoring specifically for change people.
Some of the runs we have on the board at the moment are obviously we’ve done some networking events to allow people to make connections at work together. We have a knowledge base where people can go and get information around change and pull resources from other people and colleagues across the NSW Public Sector, and that therefore drives that consistency in our approach. We try to strengthen best practice change leadership and change management capabilities, so what we’ve done is we’ve actually got all the senior people in Change, so directors and principal advisors, and we meet every month and talk about what we’re doing to try and strengthen our impact in the public sector—how we can work collaboratively, to work as a group, but also doing tactical things like developing the service offering section to the agencies, which is things like, if you want to hire a change professional, come to us and we will give you a selection of position descriptions, tell you what skills they need, we will help you interview them, we will put them in the mentoring program and we will also provide them with access to a knowledge base that gives them consistent information.

4. That sounds terrific! Is this sort of community a practice something that is rolling out in other parts of the government?
Yes, definitely. I go out and spruik it a lot. There’s currently a community of finance professionals that’s been going for 4 years and that’s chaired by as someone who actually works for me and we’ve actually, in the meantime, established a community practice for HR professionals, for IT professionals and we are just about to launch Legal. The model that we’ve used is now being used in different areas of the NSW Public Sector. I’ve gone to Victoria and Canberra to speak about this and the states are very, very interested in picking up the model and extending across their states as well, because the benefits are huge. It came from the Schott review. Kerry Schott did a big government review about a year ago now. A whole section of the Schott Review talks about communities of practice and the benefits that they can bring to the NSW Public Sector, and we really should work together to establish as many as possible to strive for those benefits.

5. Can a change manager make a great knowledge manager, and vice versa? Or do you think these are discrete skill-sets that complement each other?
It is my personal opinion—and I have had people who have done knowledge management for many years—I fundamentally believe that a change manager should have a really diverse mix of skills to really be effective in the business, and knowledge management is one of them. They have to be holding each other’s hand. It’s like saying you’re doing change without comms or you’re doing change without an HR understanding. You absolutely have to have an understanding of knowledge management and that the effect that it would have to not use a change management approach when you are doing knowledge management would be diabolical, as one could say. I think that they absolutely should be integrated. When you are talking about a skill set, you can’t say that one human being has a complete skill set, but I think what’s fundamental to Change people is they understand the role that they play in knowledge management and knowledge management people should understand the role that Change and change management has to play in knowledge management. One without the other is only 50% success.

6. Looking back on the work you’ve done internationally, have you found some cultures more adaptable to organisational change than others?
Absolutely! I spent pretty much six months living across Western Europe. I came with the perception that particular cultures were going to be more difficult than other cultures and that perception was 100% wrong. When I went into Germany, I found their level of structure, their level of discipline, their level of delivery that was so high, that it was one of the easiest implementations I’ve ever done. When I went to France, the culture, the lack of structure, it was the hardest migration I did. It wasn’t just language barrier, it was—and I don’t think people understand, and which I didn’t until I spent a lot of time overseas—is to absolutely understand that culture is so important to actually drive any type of change. You have to understand how that culture thinks and what they do and what their disciplines are and what they think works, and what their hot buttons are and desire points, and that’s even harder to do in a non-English speaking culture because you’ve got everything else on top of understanding the ways that people think. But there were definitely some cultures that far outweighed others when it came to delivery.

7. There’s no doubt that the introduction of a knowledge management program requires an amount of cultural and organisational change, if you could give one piece of advice what would it be?
I think when you look at what knowledge management is, the key words in the definition of knowledge management say “enable adoption of insights and experiences” and I just think of that word enable—that’s Change language. You absolutely have to understand that knowledge management is about people and if you are going to be successful in anything that you do, you need to take people along the journey. If you are going to get people to change what they do with the process, they way they think, what they do to get their information, what they are used to every day, and you’re asking them to do something differently, you absolutely have to embed and understand those people and build their desire to come along that journey with you. If you don’t apply fundamental change management principles to anything or knowledge management or anything else like that, people will not come on the journey and change will not be sustainable. For all of us, in every piece of work that we do, and knowledge management being one of them, we want that change to be sustainable and we want people to adapt their behaviour to use the system differently, to step up in things they are doing. In order to do that, we have to apply basic principles around people, which is what change is.

Thanks to Jeanette for taking the time to share some of her experiences in change and knowledge management. You can read more about the KM Congress on these two posts.

KM Australia Congress 2013 – An interview with Simon Cheng from Ernst & Young

Simon Cheng is the knowledge leader for Ernst & Young’s Transaction Advisory Services in the Asia-Pacific region. He’ll be giving his session, Why should your CEO care about knowledge management?, on the second day of the KM Australia congress. The programme brings together lots of interesting speakers and case studies from a range of industries and sectors. In this interview, Simon talks about knowledge management in a global accountancy firm.
1. You’ve been at Ernst &Young for many years and, in fact, started out as a Tax Manager there. How did you find yourself in a knowledge leadership role? Were you identified as having an affinity for KM or did you forge a path?
At the time, it certainly felt as if I was forging my own path as, arguably, I fell into a KM career by accident.  During my time in tax, I did not envisage myself leaving.

However, in 2005, our knowledge team in Hong Kong started to expand its operations and actively recruit within the organisation for people interested in a rotation to a knowledge role.  At that time, I had a very limited understanding of KM but was loathe to turn down an opportunity to learn something new.  During my initial talks with our CKO, he was able to paint a vivid picture of what the knowledge team was trying to do and the value that they were trying to bring to the business.

I was sold.

Our vision of bringing together our people’s shared knowledge and experience, of enabling them with the right content, tools and experience so that they could be responsive to our clients; of empowering them with the insights that make a difference in the market – all of these combined to open my eyes to a world that I had never previously imagined.  It was this vision which prompted my move away from tax and into knowledge.

With a bit of hindsight, I believe I was probably destined for a KM role eventually.  Even during my time in tax, I had been involved in non-client facing projects related to improving our workflows and transfer of knowledge.   I didn’t recognise them as KM projects then but they would lay the foundation for my eventual journey into KM.

2. What sort of issues does knowledge management inside a large accounting firm address?
On a broad level, some of the issues faced are:

Diverse service lines (audit, tax, transaction advisory services and advisory) – Our service lines are very different from each other. Then, within each service line, we have numerous different service offerings. The issue is that each of these service offerings has very differing knowledge needs. As you can imagine, trying to manage these diverse knowledge needs so that we can share across the organisation using a common language and common tools requires an approach with high flexibility.

Hundreds of communities (geographic areas, industries, sectors, service lines, account teams) – One of the biggest benefits of a community with a shared interest is the ability of members of that community to connect with each other with a shared culture and language. However, when communities overlap, we have to look out for any issues around sharing cross-community in terms of culture, language as well as convenience.

Constant change and growth in the market – It is widely acknowledged that the one constant in our current market is change. From a KM point of view, this means that our KM approach, tools and processes must also be constantly reviewed to ensure that they are still relevant and providing the right information and insight to our practitioners to enable their service delivery.

Staff who are highly mobile and remote and who collaborate across the above communities – It goes without saying that all of the systems and tools that we set up are worthless if our people don’t have access to them. The nature of our work means that our people need to be able to access our repositories, our communities and our working papers even while on the road. This is particularly problematic given the stringent security requirements resulting from our handling of sensitive information. Then factor in other concerns such as legal and privacy issues which vary from country to country and you very soon find yourself dealing with very pragmatic issues beyond the realm of “pure” KM.

A significant proportion of our population is recent graduates, who are accustomed to new technologies such as social networking techniques – The explosion in popularity and influence of social networking has been amazing to see. Naturally, we need to cater to the requirements of our users in terms of how they share knowledge. However, while social networking has opened up new avenues to drive knowledge sharing, the challenge is in finding the right balance between the push-pull strategy given the new tools available to us.

3. KM is often touted as a way of gaining a competitive edge. Is this part of the pitch to a CEO, and do you think the message needs to be different across the government, NFP and private sectors?
KM as a competitive edge is always included in the pitch although we may not always specifically label it as such. Instead, we try to focus on the strategic goals the business is trying to achieve and identify how KM can be used to help the organisation achieve those goals. In this sense, it is not KM itself which is the competitive advantage but KM matched with the right organisational strategy (although it is worth mentioning that KM can also be used to help define the right organisational strategy).

I believe it is this practical approach to demonstrating the value of KM which makes KM equally relevant regardless of whether you are working in government, NFP or the private sector.

4. Often there’s a groundswell for knowledge management at the lower, operational levels of the organisation, but that group hits a wall where they may need more budget, resources, or even just an emphasis on strategic importance from higher up. What’s been your experience and do you think KM initiatives can be grown from the bottom-up in this way?
Leadership support is a key requirement for any KM initiative to succeed.

This is based on my own experience in implementing KM initiatives as well as being echoed by our people who, in their feedback to us, indicate that visible leadership support of the KM initiative is important to their own adoption. From a practical point of view, the challenge becomes one of placing ideas generated by the lower, operational levels of the organisation in front of leadership.

Innovation is important to Ernst & Young and we have adopted various programs and tools to drive the generation of ideas from our people. For example, within Transactions Advisory Services, we use a global online innovation platform to capture ideas from all levels of the organisation with people having the power to vote for those ideas which resonate with them. These ideas are monitored by the Innovation Advisory Board, which has the authority to take the best ideas and turn them into real projects (with an invite to the original idea submitter to take part in developing that idea to fruition).

5. Do you think some industries, more than others, have a propensity for good knowledge management practices, and why do you think that might be?
I don’t think that any particular industry is better suited for good KM practices and in fact, am constantly amazed at where good KM practices spring from. Even if we were to only restrict ourselves to looking at award winners, you can see a wide range of different industries represented in the annual global and regional MAKE awards where, for example, previous winners have come from consultancy firms to consumer product companies and from both the private and public sector.

6. What do you think are the important qualities for a knowledge leader to have?
Team building – In many ways, this is a critical skill and applicable from the very start of the KM journey all the way through to the end. At the start of the KM journey, it is important for the knowledge leader to build a good rapport with the business leaders so that the business issues can be understood. Even after the KM project is approved, actual implementation invariably requires support from different functions within the organisation (for example, even something simple like building a central repository for stored knowledge would require IT support). Lastly, building rapport with end users is important to enable the adoption of the new tools or processes and, potentially, corresponding culture change.

Communications – While linked to team-building in some ways, this skill is important enough to warrant separate inclusion and covers many aspects. Firstly, active listening is important so that you are addressing the actual needs and issues faced by the business. In addition, the knowledge leader needs to be able to communicate the vision that KM is trying to achieve and drive the messaging around new tools and processes. As you would expect, good presentation skills are invaluable.

Project Management – Ultimately, it is the ability of the knowledge leader to deliver actual results which will determine whether KM is adding value to the organisation. And when it comes to implementation and delivery, project management skills are critical. While it’s naive to pretend that every project will end on time and within budget, good project management skills will give advance warning of potential pitfalls and surprises while giving leadership confidence that you are able to keep things on track.

7. Can you share your best tip for anyone who may be about to pitch a KM strategy to an unsuspecting manager?
Don’t sell KM – sell a solution to a problem the manager is dealing with.


Thanks so much for your time, Simon. Find out more about this year’s KM Australia congress.

KM Australia 2013

Coming next month is the KM Australia congress. Held at Luna Park’s Crystal Palace function rooms on July 23-25, the congress will be featuring some great international speakers and interesting workshops. In fact, if you’re interested in learning more about Knowledge Centred Support, Simone Moore and I will be conducting a workshops in the afternoon session on the 25th. If you’re a knowledge manager, KCS is a methodology you can apply to any support situation to speed up resolution, bolster self-service, trim costs, and keep knowledge flowing between customers and operational staff.

It promises to be another great few days of learning and networking with other passionate KMers. This year’s Chair is Cory Banks, and I asked him what he expects the hot topics for 2013 to be.

“There are two sides to this. There is what I believe people want to know and what people need to know. I think people will want to know more about how to use social technologies to enhance knowledge sharing in organisations. I think in the current economic climate, people need to know how to communicate the value proposition of KM in their organisations context, focus on how it relates to business performance (bottom line) and how to get closer to the business through good stakeholder engagement and knowledge brokering.”

The format of the KM Australia Congress is conversational. The speaker presents for 20-odd minutes, and delegates at each of the round tables have an opportunity to discuss the content and how it applies to themselves. The presentation closes with each table presenting their feedback and then some Q&A with the speaker.

“The KM Australia Congress is a great opportunity to practice what we preach regarding learning and transferring knowledge. You only get so much from a ‘talking head’ standing up the front of the room and telling a story.
Far too often, a person with responsibility for KM in an organisation ends up in a team of one, without any peers or colleagues to collaborate with, bounce ideas off or learn from. The Congress is the biggest annual gathering of KM practitioners in Australia from across industry and around the world. It is a fantastic opportunity to hear from the speakers, but also tap into the experiences of fellow practitioners through conversations. The format allows for this conversation to take place and hear a number of different perspectives, rather than just the view from the podium.”

I enjoyed the format last year, and I think I retained more because of the discussions. When you’re there to participate, you’re less inclined to zone out and play with your smartphone. And you’ll be able to do something new at this year’s Congress, while you’re hovering around drinking coffee and scoffing pastries. I asked Cory to tell us what will happen in the KM Conversations.

“This year we are looking to focus some of the background conversations that would normally take place during the morning tea break. This is being done by assigning an experienced facilitator to a table to take the conversation down the rabbit hole around a topic.”

Over  the coming weeks, I’ll be bringing you interviews with some of the Australian speakers who are involved with knowledge and change management in a variety of sectors.

Tacit, Explicit, Implicit, Whatever. Let’s call the whole thing off.

the Wise Leader from HBR May 2011

Image* inspired by The Wise Leader from HBR May 2011


One of the highlights of the KM Australia congress was the debate on day 2. The topic was Making tacit knowledge explicit with collaborative technologies. Arguing for “we should and we can” was Aaron Everingham and James Dellow, and for “we shouldn’t and we can’t” was Shawn Callahan and Dr Vincent Ribiere. I thought it was an odd question in the first place, though there’s a good discussion in the KM Australia LinkedIn group. Brad Hinton also offered a response to the question on his blog. I found the meaning of should or shouldn’t in this discussion to be unclear, and indeed through the course of the debate, both sides agreed with each other at different times.
I’ve always found the conversations that nitpick over the definitions of tacit and explicit to be irritating, but just for the record, here’s what they mean:

Tacit – this is the knowledge in our heads that is made up from experience and personal contexts. It’s not written down and is hard to articulate. A great example, (and I don’t remember where I read this. If you know, please comment and I’ll link to it.), is the worker at an oil rig who knew there was a drilling failure by the feeling of the vibrations at a certain spot on the platform. The only way he could transfer that knowledge was by taking the visitor, who was documenting knowledge and procedures, out to that spot and showing them the feel of that vibration as it was happening and explaining what that meant. Apprenticeships, mentoring, and sometimes video documenting are good ways to tap into another’s tacit knowledge. Here are some other ideas.

Explicit – this is the knowledge that is written down and is accessible in one way or another.

Implicit – this is knowledge that isn’t written down yet but is largely procedural and not dependent on an individual’s context.

Implicit doesn’t often come up in conversations knowledge wonks have about the types of knowledge. Usually, we just talk about tacit and explicit, and this may explain why people confuse tacit with implicit. The reason I find these conversations irritating is because the person who needs the knowledge at the time they’re doing the work, probably doesn’t know and certainly doesn’t care. No complete knowledge management program has one single approach to knowledge transfer, aiding one type of knowledge at the expense of the other, anyway. We should always take a multi-pronged approach, even though we may make one change at a time. So let’s just get the knowledge to the people, no matter what its original form.

And so, what do collaborative technologies have to do with this discussion? These social tools allow us to connect virtually, before we meet in real life. They allow a relationship to germinate so that the initial awkwardness and defensiveness that some of us might feel on first meeting, isn’t there. When those barriers aren’t there the stories and personal contexts, and the tacit knowledge, flow much more easily. So, while collaborative technology doesn’t make tacit knowledge explicit, it certainly enables that knowledge transfer.

* The image is from this fassforward Consulting Group sketchnote, inspired by this article.

Snippets from the KM Australia Congress 2012

KM Aus 2012 at Luna Park


KM Australia, held over 2 days last week, proved to be a great event for a first timer, like myself. The venue is terrific, even on a quiet, wet day. The people were friendly and welcoming, and though we are all in similar roles, the vibe was certainly one of building new networks and reaffirming old ones. As an event, it seemed to succeed in making knowledge management look as boring as it sounds. Knowledge management really needs some dynamics to capture attention and draw inspiration, otherwise it all just sounds like stuff we’ve heard before. And I guess we really have heard a lot of this stuff before, but thanks to a number of experienced knowledge workers and speakers, there were more than a few a-ha moments in the audience.

Here are a few of the gems that I picked up on.

Shell Oil have created role in an increasingly digital landscape for those experienced staff members who are close to retirement. They have been inserted as moderators on Shell’s internal forums to answer questions, connect the dots, and surface the good stuff. – From a delegate in Richard McDermott‘s keynote “Free yourself and your staff to think”.

In the military, the high stakes mean every point of view is important to lessons learned after a battle. In a debriefing, hierarchy goes out the window and everyone involved gives their full account. Those lessons are then analysed and formalised for structured dissemination. (I think the commercial environment could certainly learn from this approach, instead of getting caught up in the blame culture.) – Lt. Col. Malcolm Conway Staff Officer Grade 1 – Learning, Department of Defence, Australia.

When brainstorming as a group, encourage even the bad ideas, because from those will come feedback that uncover the good ideas. – Signe Lønholdt, Online Community Editor, LEGO.

Give naysayers the role of beta testing new social enterprise or intranet tools, and listen to their feedback. This will make them feel privileged and get them on board. – Susan Camarena, Chief Knowledge Officer, Federal Transit Administration (USA).

Erin Ilgen from Toyota’s Global Knowledge Center, talked about Genchi Genbutsu—the Japanese art of learning transfer. It means go to the source to find facts and make connections for the right answers. She also showed a custom Salesforce Chatter solution that is used within Toyota and between Toyota and its partners to enable knowledge transfer across the world.

Jason Sharpe closed day 2 of the event with his case studies from Telstra. Tapping into the big data at their disposal, Telstra plans to predict the kind of knowledge they’ll need to provide before it’s asked for.


For a thorough look over the content of the event, Nicky Hayward-Wright has put together a number of Storify collections.