Tag Archives: communities of practice

Managing change, communities of practice, coaching for project management and more. Elisabeth Goodman’s 2014 blogging year

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.  The most popular topics were ones carried over from previous years: managing change, communities of practice and coaching for project management.

Many thanks to my readers and to my guest bloggers too!

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Knowledge Management: past, present and future – notes on a NetIKX seminar (#NetIKX60)

By Elisabeth Goodman

Knowledge Management past and present

It’s NetIKX’s 21st year since it’s original formation in 1992 as the IRM (Information Resource Management) group under Aslib.  This seminar (in March 2013) was an opportunity for Stuart Ward (Forward Consulting) to reflect on the past and present of Knowledge Management, and for Alison (Lissi) Corfield (Independent KM Specialist) to help us reflect on its future.

As we know, there are many different definitions of Knowledge Management, Stuart suggested that it’s essentially about helping people to share the knowledge that they have in their heads: their ‘tacit’ knowledge to enable the creation of new ideas.   His view is that once that tacit knowledge is made ‘explicit’, or written down, then it is essentially information.

Stuart suggested that an organisation needs the following for an effective Knowledge Management strategy:

  • Clarity of understanding and purpose: what the organization means by Knowledge Management
  • Engagement of everyone in the organization (he cited Lewis Platt, past CEO of Hewlard Packard, as a role mode in creating a knowledge sharing culture)
  • To be delivering value to the organisation from the Knowledge Management strategy (e.g. establishing and facilitating what an organisation needs to know to succeed)

NetIKX in its present and previous forms has had the benefit of many well-known speakers, amongst them Elizabeth Orna, David Snowden, Nick Willard, David Skyrme, Chris Collison and Nick Milton.

As we know, stories can be a powerful way of sharing knowledge, and past speakers have encouraged delegates to bring objects to a seminar as a starting point for such stories.  Stuart diverted us with a story based on locking his car keys in his boot to illustrate the value of organisations (in this case the AA) having effective Knowledge Management strategies for sharing solutions and accessing them!

Common themes that Stuart pulled out from these and other speakers included:

  • Knowledge Management is about people more than technology
  • Top management engagement is essential
  • You should identify what you know, what you need to know, and then bridge the gap
  • It’s important to link your Knowledge Management strategy to your organisational goals and objectives
  • Put processes in place to enable the translation of tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge
  • Measure when you can

Knowledge Management future

Lissi Corfield brought goodie bags and questionnaires for us to complete in real time to involve us in constructing what the future of Knowledge Management might be.

She asked us to consider several things such as:

  1. To what extent the organisations we were involved in had Knowledge Management strategies backed by a CEO at one extreme, or were just a collection of related activities
  2. What kind of activities were taking place in our organisations e.g. Communities of Practice, Learning Interventions, cultural initiatives, storytelling, technical projects, ‘yellow pages’, knowledge audits
  3. Which related organisations we were drawing on e.g. NetIKX, LIKE, CILIP, Aslib, ISKO, Gurteen knowledge cafés; or commercial ones such as TFPL Connect, the Sue Hill breakfast club etc.
  4. Which specialists we were aware of (e.g. as per Stuart’s list) and did we know how to get in touch with them

Lissi also asked us to consider what might happen next with Knowledge Management.  Would it for example:

  • Become very specialized (for example by being adopted / applied in different disciplines)?
  • Disappear into another discipline (such as ‘Big Data’ or Social Media)?
  • Merge into the mainstream (become just what people do)?
  • Get a better name (such as ‘common knowledge’ or even ‘common sense’!)?

Lissi believes and hopes that Knowledge Management will both become very specialized, and merge into the mainstream.

What the delegates thought: knowledge management is here to stay

As is traditional with NetIKX meetings, we split into syndicate or discussion groups to explore some of the seminar’s themes, and all opted to discuss the future of Knowledge Management.

The consensus was that it would continue to be around, although it might not necessarily be called Knowledge Management.  In fact it seems like organisations are reinventing it all the time!

We also thought that although knowledge is continuously being encoded or ‘outsourced’ (for instance through Microsoft style sheets, SatNavs, online customer reviews of products, surgical techniques, flight simulators etc..), new knowledge will keep developing.

One delegate suggested that it’s the sheer complexity surrounding the various roots and sources of knowledge that is the reason why Knowledge Management will continue to be a separate discipline…


Delegates were asked to complete a short survey before the seminar, which included identifying the four most important knowledge assets in our organisations.  We’re waiting to see the results of this survey, but for RiverRhee Consulting I suggest that these are:

  1. Our people – their expertise and experience
  2. The capabilities that we teach our clients
  3. Our approach to training
  4. What we learn from working with our clients

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. Elisabeth has 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry where she has held line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and in Lean Sigma and is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals), and APM (Association for Project Management).


Making Knowledge Work – Beyond Lessons Learned – Notes from APM #KSIGDDAY

APM prospective Knowledge SIG Conference – 5th July 2012

Based on the @ecgoodman twitter stream tagged with #KSIGDDAY @APMProjectMgmt #KM

Meeting kicking off – looking forward to it!

The meeting started with some speed networking in which I met lots of great people from all sectors of work, the UK, sizes of organisation, and levels of experience of Knowledge Management.

We shared our expectations of the day, common themes being: to gain practical insights, how to use lessons learned or project reviews because people still make the same mistakes all the time, and how to measure and share knowledge.

Steve Kaye, Head of Innovation, Anglian Water  – Managing Knowledge in Anglian Water

Innovation is about getting value from new ideas.  Steve shared a graphic with others, which suggested an evolution of the business model from working entirely in-house to working in partnership, group collaboration and now open innovation.  He suggested that the benefits and knowledge gained have gone up through this process, but that the degree of control has gone down so that we now have very difficult to manage complex projects.

Anglian Water has created a Water Innovation Network with underlying process to assess and adopt new ideas.  New ideas are assessed through a “Dragon’s Den” type forum and then the WIN steering group, so that they have a formal and robust process to drive new ideas into the organisation.

They use an electronic “Learning Hub” to capture learnings & prompt comments and actions at the various stages of capital projects.  They are trying to get people to rank and comment on learnings and so drive actions for improvement.

Anglian Water’s Standard product approach captures information on a large range of features with commentary online – so that this can act as a dynamic reference source for those developing products.

Steve believes that Nonaka’s tacit/explicit knowledge cycle is still relevant, for example in capturing knowledge from people who retire.  They are trying 1-day master classes with video recording as way to capture knowledge from retirees although he also suggested that the solution is to re-employ them as consultants!

Steve concluded with a yin/yang illustration suggesting that knowledge management is a balance of hard and soft: data, documents etc. and behaviour, communication, leadership.

There are challenges of consistency, duplication, operating in real time.  And there are opportunities to create a knowledge sharing culture and to drive innovation.

On lessons learned, Steve said that although there is a challenge to get project managers to meetings because they are very stretched.  Once they do get to meetings valuable learnings are obtained.  They have about 50 learning facilitators to organise the meetings and they are trained to ask the right questions.  But on the whole the benefits realisation process is much more developed in Anglian Water than lessons learned.

Break out session

We broke into several groups to discuss 3 questions posed by Steve Kaye:

1. How to create a culture of knowledge sharing?

The main points made were:

  • Need to balance what people are sharing (the supply) with what people want to learn or find out about (the demand)
  • There is no substitute for speaking to people as opposed to capturing stuff in systems – though information on who knows what is useful to record
  • There may be pockets of different culture within an organisation
  • There is a key role for the leadership in speaking about and modelling knowledge sharing
  • There is no formulaic way to enforce or empower knowledge sharing as it depends on the organisation
  • People need to be given a safe space and time to share knowledge, with active encouragement to report back what they have learned to peers, and the use of storytelling to support sharing
  • There were some good examples in the room of effective lessons learned processes and active communities of practice

2. What makes a good knowledge sharing system?

Victor Newman facilitated this session using his “Smart failing” technique that we all practiced later in the session.  He maintained that we need to start focusing on knowledge building, rather than knowledge sharing – something that he also described in his 2002 publication “The Knowledge Activitist’s Handbook”.

The group focused first on ‘what is not working’ with systems they have experienced.  They then looked for solutions to address the failings.  The list included:

  • Designing the system for the people who are going to use it
  • Intuitive navigation
  • Making sure the content is relevant, current and succinct
  • Ensuring that the content is designed for the user and the context in which they are going to use it
  • Clear ownership and accountability
  • Robustness for searching in many different ways
  • A pull strategy (from the user) – we generally need to get better at this, and gather more information on how to do this
  • A knowledge map to be able to find the expert and actual practitioners
  • A process to integrate the information into the relevant business activities
  • Appropriate governance and support
  • Clarity on the anticipated benefits

3. How can we convert tacit to explicit knowledge?

Points raised included:

  • Using visual representations of the explicit knowledge (diagrams, photographs etc.) with links to the appropriate people for reference
  • Shadowing can be a good way to capture tacit knowledge
  • Is there a corrolation between project management maturity and knowledge management?

Judy Payne (@judypayne), Director, Hemdean Consulting – Understanding how knowledge is shared

Judy reiterated that what works in one organisation for knowledge sharing will not work in another.  She pointed out that army personnel are strongly motivated to learn from each other, and that just in time training with knowledge shared between people therefore works well in that environment.

Judy pulled up the wikipedia definition of knowledge sharing, and referred to others, which use terms such as knowledge transfer, flow, exchange etc.

Telling people something is not enough for knowledge sharing – it needs understanding, interpretation and application to really be effective.  Judy thought it would be helpful to relate knowledge sharing to an organisational learning model.  It needs a willingness to unlearn what we know, and is a multi-level process within an organisation.

The organisational model involves four learning processes:

  1. Individual intuition – where an individual realises there is something new that is important to tell others about.
  2. Work group interpreting – the individual discusses what s/he has learned within their work group.  It’s relatively easy to do as the group has a common language.  They may as a result decide that they need to take some kind of action, which may involve talking to a manager higher up the hierarchy.
  3. Organisational integration – this may be a more difficult discussion.  It may require showing the more senior manager some tangible results and a more detailed description of how things work.  It may require involvement of a senior manager’s peer who may have had more direct experience of what the group is trying to describe.  It may result in the more senior manager thinking this is such a good idea that they adopt it as their own with / without acknowledgement of the original individual’s insights!
  4. Institutionalisation – this involves actual embedding of a new way of working with all the challenges involved in doing so.  However, if successful, it can then trigger a whole new wave of unlearning required the next time a group or individual identifies a new insight.

Judy thought that a model such as this might help us to understand why lessons learned approaches often don’t work!

(You can contact Judy at judy@hemdean.co.uk or access her full set of slides on the APM K-SIG website http://www.apm.org.uk/group/apm-knowledge-specific-interest-group)

Break out session – How good are we at knowledge sharing?

Points raised included:

  • Using project gateways as milestones for reviewing learnings
  • Having experts / champions in certain fields
  • The “deep dive” approach
  • Identifying knowledge specialists within a matrix (or functional) team whose role is to research their area and train the others within the team on specific topics
  • The issue that often it is only a few people who are actively sharing within an organisation
  • The frequency of mandatory processes, forms or systems for capturing lessons learned that are not being used
  • There is nothing like getting teams together: old with new, or concurrent; maybe bribing people with pizza!
  • The effectiveness of getting people together one on one with no-one else listening!
  • The importance of exploring what went well as well as what went wrong
  • Getting similar project teams all in one room
  • Fujitsu’s us of “KELs” (Knowledge Element Libraries) for IT: a Q&A system with the answers to problems that have just happened on individual’s systems.  It’s a quick look-up source, is very focused and can be referred to at the point of need.  Individuals are encouraged to write a KEL after every incident.
  • Xerox’s quality improvement programme about 20 years ago where everyone was encouraged to think of better ways of doing what they did.  If their manager agreed they could form and lead a team to address it, and then prepare and present the outcome directly to directors.  Every team was given 15 minutes of glory to put up a stand, which the managers visited.  Awards and certificates were presented.
  • The importance of having the right KPIs to drive the right behaviour
  • References to using a maturity model for knowledge and using a market process (wants and offers)
  • The need for a facilitator to ensure the quality of the knowledge captured in a system

Steve Simister, Director, Oxford Management and Research – The prospective Knowledge SIG

Steve described the value of running this special interest group via APM; that it can also include non-project management people and the diverse inputs that this would bring to the group.

He and the other members of the committee are looking for input on the needs of a KSIG community and it would be looking to deliver potential quick wins and stimulate understanding and knowledge in this area.

The next event will be on 18th July in the evening through the Leeds & York branch.  A 2nd all day event is also planned for September.

We collected feedback in our individual tables on the future remit of KSIG which was collated as follows:

  • Case studies to share
  • Signpost and analyse research in the area
  • Build a community that is wider than project management by reaching out to other groups who are doing this
  • Look for ways to introduce cultural change, especially in engaging leaders
  • Develop networks, mentors, buddies
  • Look for tools, methods, templates and how the various communication media can be used

Victor Newman, Visiting Professor in Knowledge and Innovation Management, University of Greenwich –  Fast organisational learning

Victor suggested that innovation is what knowledge management should be about.  He referred us to his latest book “Power House: Strategic Knowledge Management – Insights, Practical Tools and Techniques” http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/2962123

We need to adapt faster and facilitate people’s thinking in real time.  We can’t permit drift in our work.

Victor adopts the KUBE model:

  • Knowing
  • Understanding
  • Believing and Behaving
  • Engaging and Expediting

He took us through some of his Emergent Knowledge Management techniques (EKM); these are covered in detail in his book.

We began with “behavioural literacy”.  We should recognised that our behaviour is a gift: what we do and how we do it, even down to what we wear and our body language carries the biggest message to the people we are interacting with.  What we say is only a minor part of the total message.

Behavioural Literacy is about creating personal awareness of the messages we are sending, and taking corrective or preventative measures, or actively using this behaviour.

Victor took us through his incident interpretation (or behavioural analysis) steps:

  • Identify the incident & the impact that it had (what, where, how, when)
  • The feelings experienced (how did it make me feel?)
  • The personal messages sent (so it’s OK to…)
  • The personal lessons gained / rules for the future (In future I will..)

We tried this out individually on personal incidents relating to gifts we made that did not work, tackling an impossible task, undergoing a significant change etc. and shared the results. It was apparent that many of us had gained some very positive learnings in just this short time.

Victor’s experience that getting people to ask themselves and articulate to others that something “made me feel” develops a ‘muscle’ of interpretation and makes others more willing to listen to what is being communicated to them.

He reiterated that there are no lessons learned until you’ve changed behaviours. All else is documentation.  When designing new behaviours it’s useful to identify: the current behaviour, the target behaviour, and how we will behave to get there. Giving the new behaviour a name makes the whole process even more effective.  This new behaviour design can be applied to customers, self etc .

Finally we looked at the use of contradiction & controversy to foster learning: how NOT to do things to work out HOW to do things.  This is Victor’s “Baton passing” technique for lessons learned – we went through this very quickly using the Smart Failing process centred on exploring how to ensure innovation fails!

The technique is based on 3 steps:

  • Capturing beliefs about what might fail (encouraging the sentiment “am I the only idiot in the room” and celebrating cynicism)
  • Prioritising the root causes of failure
  • Identifying the solutions and steps to address them (reverse engineering and finding the antidote)

The meEting wrapped up with feedback on K-SIG wishes – listed above

A link to a space on the APM website will follow.

All in all it was a very good meeting! Thank you to the KSIG team, and to Fujitsu for hosting the event.

Communities of Practice – Behaviours and Benefits

By Matthew Loxton1

Why do people participate in Communities of Practice2 (CoP)?

An Applied Psychologist or a Knowledge Management person might tell you it is for the pure enjoyment and commitment to their identity as an expert in the field.  People want to contribute something to their field, to leave a mark, to better the practice, and to be seen in a positive light amongst their peers in that domain. They often self-identify in occupational terms, and part of their persona hinges on that occupational identity – The answer to “who am I?” is often coloured in occupational terms.

People offer discretionary participation and exchange of ideas motivated by intrinsic forces of their own personalities, and the behaviour of the company should be to support them, enable them, and in some cases to defer to them when it comes to their expertise.

Individual Benefits of Communities of Practice

Here are the most salient benefits as I see them:

  1. Occupational Security
    Gone are the days when an employer could offer guarantees of employment for life, but while the employer can’t offer job security anymore, being in active contact with a broad network of practitioners in their field, the individual is far more likely to find their next position through a contact than on their own. (Hudson 2010)
  2. Passion
    Let’s face it, some people will get out of bed at 4am, trek across bug-infested marshland, and endure mosquitoes, nasty sandwiches, and soggy clothing – just to catch a glimpse of a rare bird. They don’t do that because anyone paid them, but because they get a thrill out of it.
  3. Community
    Besides spotting that elusive Red-Belied Woodpecker, the next best (or even better) thing is to tell people who would understand why that got you to crouch for hours in discomfort bordering on agony. They get it – they know what it’s like and you don’t have to explain why, just where, when, and how. Not only do they understand, but their questions are passion-supportive, and their suggestions are net contributions.
  4. It’s Bigger than ME
    Besides what we know about a good life and a great career (passion, expertise, reward) (Collins 2001), and about fulfillment (mastery, autonomy, purpose) (Pink), what makes this transcendental is that it feels bigger than the individual – they get to feel a sense of being an integral part of something bigger than mere success, a sense of meaning.

Benefits of Communities of Practice as perceived by Senior Management

Let’s turn to the hard-nosed CFO/COO and explain why they should care and how this may hit EBITDA and make the investor smile?

Let’s count the ways:

  1. Succession Planning
    A CoP is a ready-made breeding ground for succession-planning and risk mitigation because it identifies and trains natural replacements should an expert leave or become unavailable. Not only will you know who the stand-ins are, but they will already have an idea of what the need is and have methods and ideas similar to the person they replace.
  2. Recruitment
    CoPs naturally extend out into the regions beyond the organization and not only would the CoP know who is out there, but also have a track record on them and be able to point the recruiters at a specific place to fish and specific people to approach. It reduces the time and cost of recruitment to mere pennies on the dollar and with far higher success rates.
  3. Retention
    People who are passionate about some aspect of their job tend to stay there and are likely to view fondly an employer that makes exercising their passion a reality, and see it as a good place to work – even when somebody flashes more money to entice them away. Once the cash side is “sufficient”, passion beats money almost every time.
  4. Engagement
    Engaged workers are productive workers, and nothing spells engagement quite like being passionate about one’s occupation. By creating social groups built around mutual passion for an occupation, CoPs drive engagement for as long as the firm’s mission and the occupation domain are aligned.
  5. Intellectual Capital
    CoPs generate intangible assets that can be replicated and reused, and which increase performance in the form of methods, processes, techniques, and case studies and results. On their own, these increase performance, but when turned into explicit knowledge can be licensed out or sold for hard cash (Like Kodak is interested in doing to raise cash). When hinted at publicly, they drive up market value and can push share-price up. They also siphon up knowledge created by other firms and create a net gain in intangible assets.
  6. Reduction of Waste
    CoPs produce standards, templates, and documentation that cut down on mistakes, reduce re-inventing the wheel, and force a reduction in variation.
  7. Quality
    Standardization and process improvement lead directly to improvements in product and service quality, and the relentless refinement native to a CoP drives out error and variance, and steadily increases quality.
  8. SPEED!
    Ever hear that the grapevine is faster than light? Well this is where the social network acts directly to the benefit of the organization.  “Hey look what I found” is faster by orders of magnitude than drafting a corporate memo, and gets to the right ears in the right jargon faster than a speeding bullet.
  9. Adaptive Capacity
    CoPs have a finger on the pulse of changes in their domain of excellence and are quick to notice developments in technology or practice, and this gives the firm a head-start on noticing changes in the business environment, and also the flexibility to make appropriate changes in good time.


Firms that do provide the infrastructure, scaffolding, and deference to grow CoPs will find themselves with more engaged and more productive staff, higher levels of Intangible Assets, and over and above lowered costs and increased revenues, could see a climb in the share price as the market puts value to the non-physical assets they have built.

Notes and references

  1. Matthew Loxton is an occasional guest blogger on topics related to Elisabeth Goodman’s blog site themes of process improvement, knowledge management and change management – key topics to support Elisabeth Goodman’s work at RiverRhee Consulting on enhancing team effectiveness. Matthew holds a master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra, and donates KM expertise to medical institutions
  2. A Community of Practice (CoP) is a dispersed group of people with a common interest in a subject who have decided to work together to share what they know, learn from each other and work collaboratively to achieve common goals.  Their involvement with each other is voluntary, although it may be driven by cascaded objectives, and they do not have the same management reporting line. A CoP requires active facilitation and support with a careful balance of formality / informality” definition taken from John Riddell‘s definition included in Elisabeth Goodman’s presentation: “Sustaining Effective Continuous Improvement In An Organisation: A Holistic View”, at IQPC Business Process Excellence in Pharmaceuticals, Biotech and Medical Devices, London, 7th April 2011 http://slidesha.re/h2vVhN
  3. Collins, J. (2001). Good to Great : Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t. New York, Harper Collins.
  4. Hudson (2010). Networking: Tapping into the Hidden Job Market.
  5. Pink, D. H. (2009) Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Riverhead Hardcover

2nd Business Process Excellence for Pharmaceuticals, Biotech and Medical Devices (1 of 2)

Business Process Excellence for Pharmaceuticals, Biotech and Medical Devices, The Brewery, London, April 2011 (1 of 2)

John Riddell and Elisabeth Goodman, RiverRhee Consulting1

This was the second of IQPC’s specialist conferences on this theme, and as last time2, many of those questioned by the authors were finding it of real value for learning about the specific application of Lean and Six Sigma in their environment.

The conference extended over 2 days, with pre-conference workshops covering a range of topics3. With the conference themes including strategy, change management, relevance to non-manufacturing environments, and innovation, it was obvious from the start that deploying Business Process Excellence was going to be about more than Lean and Six Sigma tools.

Business Process Excellence is not just about the (Lean and Six Sigma) tools

Martin Conroy, Director, Global Lean Sigma at Medtronic, kicked off the conference by reflecting about the pains encountered when moving to a continuous improvement culture and what can be done about them. He argued that Lean is an apparently simple concept, but one that can be difficult to ‘nail’: it’s not enough to have the tools, but they need to be used intelligently (with know-how), together and, especially, with the right mindset.  He also emphasized that continuous improvement is neither a ‘bolt-on’ nor something to be done once (quickly) before moving onto the next initiative: it is something that requires careful planning and integration within the business.

Linking continuous improvement to organisational strategy

Many of the speakers referred to the importance of taking a holistic approach to implementing Lean and Six Sigma and of linking this to organisational goals.  See for example Elisabeth Goodman’s4 presentation that included case studies on this.  Tom Cochrane, Head of Security Operations and Process Development, Napp, described how their charter supports a continuous improvement culture although Lean and Six Sigma are never explicitly mentioned.  Instead, they take a systems approach to the whole production process, and use statistical process control as an intrinsic continuous improvement tool across all disciplines, with cross-functional teams operating from the QA department.

Damian Morgan, Senior Executive, Accenture described how industry pressures and the Pharmaceutical Industry’s own responses were resulting in slowing growth and margin pressures.  He suggested a consequential increased reliance on Operational Excellence (in the sense of Process Excellence) for winning.  Pharmaceutical companies need to be agile, to be operationally excellent, and have differentiated capability.  Indeed a cross sector study has shown that those who ‘win’ make investments in people and processes and, although they may look worse than their competitors who make draconian cuts in the short term, they recover more quickly and their recovery lasts longer (for more than 5 years).

Sauman Chakraborty, President and Global Head of Quality, HR & IT, described “Dr Reddy’s Way” which is a 4 strand strategic framework combining versions of EFQM’s Business Excellence Model, the Balanced Scorecard, Policy Deployment, and a Strategy and Tactics Logical Tree and underpinning everything that they do.

Top-down, middle-out or bottom-up implementation

Elisabeth Goodman also explored the pros and cons of taking a top-down, middle-out, or bottom-up approach.

This was a theme that came up in the first panel discussion.  Responses centred on “Yes, leadership can be sceptical” or “just don’t get it”, but can be brought round if they understand, or more importantly, tangibly see the benefits.  The bottom-up approach can be used to generate examples that demonstrate value and approaches.  Middle-out must not be forgotten, and here champions and change agents provide a key influence.

The theme also came up in the second panel discussion, when Karsten Benzing, Boehringer Ingelheim said that their most successful project were those driven top-down by leaders.  A further thought was that a bottom-up approach only has a finite life as “you can only do something for so long without your boss’s approval”.

Engaging leadership: senior management need to be involved

It was suggested in the second panel discussion of Day 1 that there are two levels of leadership support – passive – “I’ll let you do this”, and active – getting involved and showing commitment.

Celia Banks’ (R&D and Medical BT CI Lead, Pfizer) initial work in Pfizer was as a contractor engaged to prove the benefit of a Continuous Improvement programme to a sceptical leadership (they were unsure how a “manufacturing programme” could be applied in R&D).  Some pilot projects were carried out, ensuring that they tied in to a strategic imperative, and the necessity of top-down support identified.  Celia also recommended the use of Nemawashi with senior management i.e. introduce ideas step-by-step (and involving them in developing), and not going to them with a packaged solution.

Engaging staff: it’s about improving people’s lives at work

The first panel discussion on day 1 included the theme of engagement of staff.  Delegates and panellists discussed the importance of using simple language, giving recognition, and ensuring that people’s lives improve.  The word “humility” was used in the context of recognising that managers “are non-value-adding” and that their role should be to ask questions and facilitate and look for their people to provide answers.

Chris Christodoulou, Head, Laboratory Compliance, MedImmune came back to this theme in his presentation when he described how Operational Excellence is introduced to new employees during induction, and yellow belt training is available to everyone, with a target of >80% take-up.  There is an emphasis on communicating successes to show measurable result, and showcase projects including small yellow belt projects.  All projects are expected to deliver tangible benefits.

The underlying message of his various case studies (management of consumables in the lab, analytical process simplification, 5S of the fridge, templates for writing up, and eliminating duplicate HPLC testing ) was to “do simple projects to make peoples’ lives easier and happier, and make things work better.”

The value of training everyone: organise training so that it is utilised immediately

The second panel were asked about the value of training everyone.  Chris Christodoulou said that this would result in everyone talking the same language and plant seeds [i.e. it’s part of the culture change].  David Hampton, Rath & Strong, “controversially” pointed out that training itself is non-value adding and that green and black belt training needs to be integrated with a project and support.

Celia Banks described how specific training was devised for Continuous Improvement leads – on-demand, on-line, rather than as a block in a classroom.

Charles Aubrey, Vice President Performance Excellence, Anderson Pharmaceutical Packaging, echoed the approach of integrating training into application. Their programme was initiated through 4 days of training with the Leadership Team (to create understanding) then a pilot project was carried out in order to get buy-in.  From there a comprehensive programme developed with the aim of everyone in the organisation having a role e.g. Yellow belts objective was to improve the way they work (they defined the 8th of Ohno’s wastes as that of the human mind).

The role of black belts

Martin Conroy was the first to raise the role of black belts in organisations.  He referred to them as experts parachuted in “behind enemy lines” and described the challenges that they face the biggest one being the need for people to recognise that continuous improvement is not about these experts “doing things to or for you”.

A panel discussion later in the day came back to the role of black belts.  It was generally thought that they should be full-time so they are more practised in the basics and have a wider set of tools, but there were mixed views on where their expertise should be applied.  One panellist’s view was that black belts can be a “nuisance” e.g. in causing processes to be reworked unnecessarily e.g. Kanbans, to achieve standardisation across an organisation.

Using consultants: bring in someone to help kick-start programmes

There was agreement in the first panel discussion, that building internal capability is essential, but external involvement by consultants can bring in lessons learnt and play a role in mentoring senior management.

Panellists in the second discussion suggested that consultants were useful for transformational projects, although a further guarantee of the success of such projects was that they would necessarily involve senior leadership commitment.

Notes and further reading:

  1. RiverRhee Consulting enhances team effectiveness using process improvement, knowledge management and change management.  Follow the links to find out more about RiverRhee Consulting and about Elisabeth Goodman and John Riddell
  2. Business Process Excellence for Pharmaceuticals, Biotech & Medical Devices – April 2010 – Key Themes http://wp.me/pAUbH-2u
  3. John Riddell and Elisabeth Goodman ran a workshop entitled: “Communities of practice and other knowledge management techniques to implement and sustain continuous improvement”.  Please contact us if you would be interested in arranging a version of this workshop for you. http://slidesha.re/eoqKH5
  4. Elisabeth Goodman.  “Sustaining Effective Continuous Improvement In An Organisation: A Holistic View”. Presented at Business Process Excellence for Pharmaceuticals, Biotech and Medical Devices, The Brewery, London, April 2011 http://slidesha.re/h2vVhN

Crowd-sourcing and tagging: an application of knowledge management to continuous process improvement and innovation

Guest blog by Matthew Loxton1

This discussion is about Process Improvement from a Knowledge Management perspective, but rather than covering the topic from the stratosphere, I have chosen to dig into a very specific and somewhat narrow slice – the use of internal crowdsourcing and tagging as a conduit to producing (and encouraging) process and other improvements.

There are two pathways involved in how knowledge and process-improvement work together:

–      Ongoing or incremental process improvement in the Kaizen spirit, where small incremental changes are made by the practitioner in response to observations. This is essentially a “heads-down” effort that can result in building changes in the business process-flow (with[i] or without process tools).

–      Big-bang innovations that could lead to paradigmatic changes in anything from processes/procedures, to methods, to products, to strategic direction. Usually these come about not through maturing ideas in a domain or Community of Practice (CoP)[ii], but through importing an idea from an external domain where it was matured – most likely in an entirely different application.

In this blog I will address both of these with a common infrastructure and approach, but before we get started, there is a video that I need you to watch – because I am going to base the discussion on what Clay Shirky presented at TED Talks entitled “How Social Media Can Make History[iii]

Identifying controlled vocabulary to make it easier for people to share their knowledge

What I want you to imagine is combining a Controlled Vocabulary, Tagging, and the kind of internet behavior that Shirky described in the video.  By using your entire staff (and possibly partners, customers, and visitors) as a crowdsourced monitoring system for process improvement, you can have process improvement built into the framework itself and make use of the goodwill and cognitive excess that the people possess.

Imagine for instance that you settle on the tag #Fail as a term to describe something that is wrong – this could be anything from a problem in a parking bay, to something misstated on the corporate intranet, to a broken manhole cover on the factory floor.

With a smidgen of software tools to display a crowdmap, reports tagged as #fail can come from any number of sources – internal twitter-type text messages, images or video captured with cellphones, PC screenshots, emails, and so on.

Instead of having to first find the right form, fill it out, and send it to the correct department, the individual has a single place to go and a simple mechanism to tag something using whatever capture medium they have at hand or find convenient. Using a controlled vocabulary shortens the amount of description needed, and using tagging based on a controlled vocabulary enables easy capture without requiring a significant investment of effort by the individual – both making participation more likely.

Using tagging to address errors, failures and to innovate

The same mechanism used to tag errors and failures can be used to celebrate something[iv], to draw attention to something innovative, or to ask for help by simply using the internal vocabulary with which everyone should already be familiar.

Since tagging isn’t limited to canonical structure, several tagwords can be used in conjunction either by the originator or by any subsequent handlers of the message or contributors. It also easily enables “me-too” behavior in which a situation that gets reported by one person can trigger recognition by others, who can then in turn add information as a refinement or as further information.

For example, let’s say that a screenshot of an error message is captured with tagwords of #fail and #IT.

The IT department would be able to pluck the incident from the tag cloud, know who sent it and where they are, and then further code it with tagwords to refine the responsible IT group like #serverteam, and right down to the responsible individual, #bjones.

If more people recognize the situation as something they have encountered, they can simply add to that, and both geographical and rate information would be immediately apparent.

Using tagging in this fashion also enables big-bang innovations by creating a messaging portal through which paradigmatic innovations can penetrate the organization.  A person can notice a method or concept or product matured elsewhere, capture it in any way that is convenient and immediate, and tag it so that it can be noticed and reacted to within the organization.


Building on foundational Knowledge Management principles like knowledge-sharing behavior and tagging, and using them in this way across the intranet to foster and enable improvement can not only save costs, but can lead to dramatic innovations with far-reaching effects for the organization.


  1. Matthew Loxton was previously Global Director, Knowledge Management & Change Management at Mincom.  He is currently seeking a Management Position in Knowledge Management or Organizational Development at an innovative organization.  You can find out more about Matthew at http://www.linkedin.com/in/mloxton
  2. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge and change management. Follow the links to find out about how Elisabeth Goodman and RiverRhee Consulting can help your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.  Read Elisabeth Goodman’s blog for more discussions on topics covered by this blog


[i] Using a tool allows the next enactment of the process to be created without any special training or even announcement having to take place

[ii] The friction between CoPs generates both new ideas, and exposure to ideas that have matured in other disciplines or geographies by stepwise changes. The region where CoPs overlap usually has practitioners who can translate from one domain to another.

[iii] [http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/clay_shirky_how_cellphones_twitter_facebook_can_make_history.html]

[iv] As per Dean Kamen’s statement that “you get what you celebrate”

Social media: putting you and your business at the heart of your community

Communities of practice and social networks

Practitioners of knowledge management, sociologists, and many other business and academic professionals recognize the importance of ‘communities of practice’ or ‘communities of interest’ and social networks both within and across organisations for general human interaction, problem resolution, creativity and innovation, and personal or professional development.

Techniques such as ‘social network analysis’ have been designed to identify the existence of social networks and the people who act as the focal ‘hubs’ or ‘nodes’ within these: the people who, irrespective of hierarchy, others are drawn to as centres of expertise, intelligence, information or support.

Organisations, recognizing the importance of ‘communities of practice’ (those who are carrying out related work), and ‘communities of interest’ (those who have a common interest in a particular field), will seek to encourage and support such groups across the formal organisational structure.

Social media undeniably provide individuals and organisations with a further means of supporting such communities and networks both within and across organisations.  This blog describes how social media in general, and the use of LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and blogs can be used strategically to put you and your business at the heart of your community.

The importance of defining your goals and strategy for social media

Although people may have unspoken objectives for using social media, as with any endeavour, some up-front planning is likely to result in a more effective result, and a more efficient use of your time.  (Social media, like e-mail and general use of the internet, can be an enormous consumer of time!)

Objectives for using social media may include one or more of the following:

  1. A need to document and build up connections with those with whom one wishes to keep in touch e.g. when leaving a job, starting up a new business
  2. To create an on-line presence and monitor reputation e.g. to aid with job hunting, establish or maintain the credibility of a business
  3. To look for opportunities e.g. jobs or prospective clients
  4. As a resource for developing an area of expertise

Social media need to be used as part of a wider strategy

Whatever your or your organisation’s goals, the adoption of wider tactics than using social media alone will enhance your use of these tools.

1. Documenting and building connections

A good place to start is to define your target audience: the types of people that you want to connect with (whether they be colleagues, associates, clients, prospective clients) and the organisations, geographical and professional networks or locations, and areas of expertise in which they might feature.

As relationships are built on trust, and trust depends on interaction, just having people on the equivalent of an address book is not enough.  Both the act of making connections, and the building of relationships will be enhanced by face-to-face interactions, so that it’s important to find events (conferences, seminars, trade fairs, networking meetings) and initiate conversations with existing and prospective contacts.

With these foundations and supports in place, then the tools available on social media can be used in the following ways to build your electronic contact list:

  • Uploading your existing contacts from e-mail
  • Looking for possible new contacts or followers amongst your connections’ contacts, followers or lists (on Twitter)
  • Searching for new contacts or followers using terms or key words of interest in the social media tools themselves, or in directories such as Twellow and BlogCatalog
  • Joining groups (on LinkedIn) or communities (on Facebook)

2. Building an online presence

Again, it’s important to start by developing your personal or business profile on paper, or at least as a separately distinct document: your c.v. / resume, or your business plan.

Establishing company web sites, writing blogs, white papers, publications, giving presentations and identifying key words (or tags) that represent you and your company’s areas of expertise will all provide concrete and substantial material, which you can then draw on in using social media as follows:

  • Creating your profiles (LinkedIn will upload your c.v. / resume as a good starting point for this)
  • Establishing internet links back and forth (which will help with search engine optimisation ‘SEO’)
  • Participating in group discussions and ‘Answers’ (LinkedIn)
  • Sharing helpful information through your ‘status updates’ (LinkedIn), ‘newsfeeds’ and discussions (Facebook), or tweets (Twitter)
  • Participating in ‘tweet ups’ (Twitter): virtual conversations initiated at particular dates / times, or to coincide with live conferences or seminars.
  • Establishing searches on Twitter and GoogleAlerts to monitor tweets or blogs that might be mentioning you or your company in a way that might affect your reputation

3. Looking for opportunities

Recruitment agencies, job fairs, professional events, publications, market research, on-line job sites are all important resources to consider in addition to social media.  It is still a fact that face-to-face discussions, personal connections and referrals have a higher success rate in creating opportunities than on-line resources.  That being said, social media can be useful in the following ways:

  • Job listings within groups, and job search tools (LinkedIn)
  • Searching companies of potential interest to find existing or new connections within them (LinkedIn)
  • Generally searching or following companies to find out more about them (all tools)
  • Participating in relevant group discussions in a generally helpful manner

4. Learning and developing yourself and your business

Becoming a member of, and participating in professional organisations, attending relevant events, reading hard-copy publications, and online resources are all obviously good opportunities for learning and development.  They also support all the previous goals as well!

Increasingly, these organisations also have social media presences, which enable a sustained dialogue within their communities of interest in between face-to-face events, and periodic publication schedules.

Following the organisations on Twitter, Facebook  and in LinkedIn groups also provides greater awareness of upcoming events, as well as advance notice of who else might be attending to support greater networking.

Finally, LinkedIn’s ‘reading list’ gadget is a useful resource for finding books that members of your network are reading that might be of interest to you, or be a good point of conversation in building your relationships!

Conclusion: how to enhance your social media skills

Trial and error, learning from your friends, reading online resources and books on the subject attending seminars and 1:1 coaching are the many options available to help you enhance your skills in social media.  Some specific resources are listed below.

In addition, the following will give you and your organisation a greater guarantee of success in placing you at the heart of your community:

  1. Having clear goals and strategies for your use of social media
  2. Thinking holistically about all the approaches you might use, of which social media would be a part
  3. Putting an emphasis on being helpful to your fellow community members
  4. Making your use of social media part of your daily, weekly or monthly routine


  1. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge and change management. She provides 1:1 tutorials and seminars on how to use LinkedIn and other social media for personal and business development.
  2. Example of a related seminar: Using social media to support, market and develop your business, 5th July 2010, St Ives;
  3. Presentation to NetIKX, January 2010: Using LinkedIn, Blogs and Twitter for networking and communities of interest
  4. Social networking tools, empowerment and knowledge management
  5. Follow the links to find out about the other ways in which Elisabeth Goodman and RiverRhee Consulting can help your and your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.

Why conventional knowledge management, process improvement and project management won’t work with ‘clever’ teams. Or will they?

‘Simply putting clever people together does not make a team’, and, ‘There are many examples of extremely bright and talented groups that signally underperform’.  So say Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones in ‘Clever. Leading your smartest, most creative people.’ (1) This book, which Elisabeth Goodman, principal consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, picked up as a result of attending a Cambridge Network business lecture delivered by Professor Gareth Jones, should definitely be read cover-to-cover by any leader wishing to fully understand the challenges and opportunities of working with their most talented people.

Although the focus of the book is on how to lead clever people, there are passing references to the implications for applying knowledge management, process improvement and project management to create effective teams. In this blog, Elisabeth Goodman discusses some potentially provocative statements, and expands further on her insights and reflections as to how these disciplines might apply to ‘clever’ teams.

Goffee and Jones define ‘clever’ in the English Oxford Dictionary context of being skilled or talented.  More fully, they define clever people as “highly talented individuals with the potential to create disproportionate amounts of value from the resources that the organization makes available to them”. Their book includes a wealth of examples and insights from a wide range of disciplines and organisations such as Pharmaceutical R&D, Banking, Consultants, Universities, IT / software, Formula One Racing and many more. A few of the examples are quoted here.

Knowledge Management:

Knowledge is power and not to be defined. Personal (or ‘tacit’) knowledge and how to apply it is the currency of clever people.  So, whereas sharing knowledge is at the heart of effective knowledge management, ‘clevers’ might have a sense that sharing their knowledge will devalue them. However ‘clevers’ do:

  • Recognize that in order to be successful, they need to work with others who will help them to translate their ideas into tangible deliverables.  There is therefore a recognized need to share knowledge within a team.
  • Build networks with others like them both within and outside their organisations, and so again there is an implicit sharing of knowledge within these communities.

Effective leaders recognize that risk taking and failure are pre-requisites for innovation by ‘clevers’.  These experiences provide ideal opportunities for learning by all members of the team or networks.

‘Clevers’ are resistant to anything that looks like bureaucracy or unnecessary distractions from their core interest of pursuing their ideas.  Effective leaders aim to minimise such distractions.  Knowledge management processes and systems that require ’clevers’ to spend time in meetings, or filling out information that detracts from their core work could be categorized as such.

The challenge, and opportunity for leaders and for those with a remit for knowledge management is to find ways to harness the conversations that take place in teams and in networks, the learnings from experiences, and the general ‘tacit’ knowledge of ‘clevers’ in as un-bureaucratic a way as possible. This could be an argument for ensuring that organisations continue to have individuals with a dedicated remit, and with the credentials, to facilitate and record conversations within teams, networks (or Communities of Interest / Practice), around learnings, and from interviews with ‘clevers’ on an ongoing basis.

Werner Bauer, chief technology officer of Nestlé, and one of the interviewees in the book, sees knowledge networks, and managing know-how through people (rather than systems), as a key element of his job.  It would be interesting to discover how this is handled at Nestlé.

Process improvement

Many will argue that the role of ‘clevers’ should focus on innovation, rather than processes, process improvement, or efficiency. Kaplan and Norton’s Balanced Score Card approach(2) clearly shows how there is scope for both perspectives in an organisation’s strategy.

  • Elisabeth Goodman’s experience of running Lean and Six Sigma workshops for research scientists in Pharmaceutical R&D reinforces the fact that effective teams have an iterative dynamic between the two.  They develop new models and assays, add them into their screens for new drug candidates, continuously review and improve these processes, and innovate some more.
  • Cisco, a highly innovative organisation, has replicable models, and believes this is the right thing to do because it helps to predict the future.  But at the same time, these too must continuously improve.
  • The McClaren team is obviously strongly focused on ‘process improvement’.  Goffee and Jones give a wonderful account of the recent Formula One World Championship, when Lewis Hamilton swept to victory assisted by the perfect timing of the team as to when to change the tires on a slippery circuit.

As management writers such as Steven Covey  and Peter Drucker point out, we should recognize that the nature of organisations has changed, and that the focus should not necessarily be on efficiency.  Organisations are becoming increasingly complex, and built on networks and know-how, rather than pure production or services centered within one organisation.  Examples of these ‘Clever Collectives’ include Google and Microsoft.  This is also increasingly the model being developed by Pharmaceutical organisations.

Project Management

There needs to be a disciplined rigour to ‘kill’ poor projects.  Something that may be hard to do where ‘clevers’ are keen to pursue a particular idea.  Again, this is something that Pharmaceutical R&D organisations strive to do through effective portfolio management.

Good management will involve transitioning projects from ‘clevers’ who may be more concerned with the ideas, to ‘implementers’ who may be more skilled in operational procedures.

A continuous focus on the vision, goals, and ongoing communication will be absolutely key to keep clever teams on track with what needs to be delivered. Goffee and Jones provide good illustrations of how Will Wright, the man behind SimCity and Spore at Electronic Arts, achieves just that with his team.

In conclusion, ‘Clever’ provides a rich source of information and insight for how to lead clever people and teams, not only from a general leadership perspective, but also for those looking to apply such disciplines as knowledge management, process improvement, and project management in today’s increasingly complex organisations.


(1) “Clever. Leading your smartest, most creative people.” By Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, Harvard Business Press (2009)

(2) “The Execution Premium” by Robert S Kaplan & David P Norton, Harvard Business Press (2008)

(3) This article focuses on three of RiverRhee Consulting’s 4 main areas of expertise for enhancing team effectiveness for improved productivity and team morale:

  1. Focusing on your customers
  2. Simplifying and streamlining what you do
  3. Optimising information and knowledge assets
  4. Ensuring successful business change

Follow the links for more information about RiverRhee Consulting, and about principal consultant, Elisabeth Goodman.

Knowledge assets have been walking out of the door – is anyone taking note?

When I was leading our knowledge management strategy development at SmithKline Beecham in 2000, and then, briefly, part of the team driving GlaxoSmithKline’s KM strategy in 2001, there was a lot of talk about conducting exit interviews to capture people’s knowledge before they walked out of the door.

Reading Melissie Clemmons Rumizen’s very good and comprehensive “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Knowledge Management” brought this back to me and yet, whatever’s happened to this concept?  She describes how the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) adopted a very structured approach to identifying in advance who was going to retire, and then prioritising interventions for immediate action based on the business impact of the knowledge that would be lost.  Presumably, exit interviews are equally worth considering in the case of maternity / paternity leave, and of course in the current climate in the case of redundancy.  Yet I’ve heard very little about any organisation addressing the need to capture knowledge before it ‘walks out of the door’.

I wonder how far organisations have really come in recognising that people are knowledge assets, rather than expenses? Karl-Erik Sveiby first raised this in 1979 when he left Unilever and started a business weekly: he recognised that the most important assets in an organisation had no value.  The knowledge that is held within people is a very intangible asset, as opposed to physical buildings or computer equipment, and yet this asset is so important to an organisation’s success.

As Melissie says, the difference between the book value of an organisation, and its market value can be very revealing about this intangible asset: IBM bought Lotus for $3.5 billion, whereas its book value was a fraction of that at $500 million.

Tony Buzan, in “The ultimate book of mind maps”, maintains that it would cost well over a couple of billion dollars to make a machine that could do everything that a human could do.

Of course the best solution is to capture, share and re-use knowledge within the organisation on a continuous basis.  My slide set on learning reviews in http://www.linkedin.com/in/elisabethgoodman give quite an in-depth overview of how to do this.  Other excellent approaches are through the use of Communities of Practice, and best practice repositories.

However, it would be reassuring to know that organisations are not only taking note, but acting on the need to conduct structured exit interviews to make the most of the tremendous knowledge resource available to them before people retire, go on maternity/paternity leave, are ‘let go’ or otherwise leave the organisation.  Again, there are some excellent tools and methodologies available to help people to do this.  I’d be more than happy to discuss..