Decision management, but not as you know it

If you’ve heard of decision management before, you’ll know it as a set of processes for improving and streamlining action items. Decision management systems treat decisions as reusable assets and using predictive analytics, business rules, continuous improvement, etc., can provide automation at decision-making points along the way. You can imagine this happening quite frequently in the production line environment. But what about those decisions that can’t be automated—decisions that happen by committee, in a human environment.

Group decisions can be difficult to arrive at, and not just because of timezone considerations where stakeholders are not in the same location. But decision-making groups are also subject to the human flaws that affect other groups. There’s a terrific explanation of the pitfalls of group discussion on Wikipedia. Once we’ve arrived at a collective decision and we implement it, we might have tremendous success or colossal failure. Depending on the outcome, we may want to be able to repeat that, or avoid it. If the people who were in the room back then can’t remember how they arrived at a decision, or if any of those people have left the company, the tacit knowledge of how that decision was reached is out the door, too. It’s a perennial issue.

There’s a new SaaS product on the market with the goal of plugging this gap. Hexigo enables collaborative decision-making, holds stakeholders to decision-making deadlines, and retains all discussion and agreements/disagreements around the topic for later analysis.

Hexigo software group

Hexigo works around the idea of groups, as you’d expect. Stakeholders are invited to join the group, which contains current and approved decisions. Group moderators are responsible for signing off proposed decisions. At the user profile level, users can see every discussion they’re involved with, including those with approaching deadlines. They’re also notified about decisions they’ve not yet participated in.

Groups can be public or private, but on the roadmap is the option to hide groups from the general listing. Also on the roadmap is the ability to assign action items and KPIs, and there are plans to integrate with enterprise social and project management tools. With some well-known customers already, Hexigo seems to scratch an itch—especially for those organisations who don’t even know whether the decisions they make are good or not—but as a tool that aims to solve one of enterprise’s biggest knowledge retention issues, it’s yearning to be part of a broader project management solution. Hopefully for Hexigo, that kind of integration will come sooner rather than later.

Hexigo software decision

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.