Tag Archives: learning reviews

The five principles of “error proof” collaboration with people outside your own organisation

By Luis Fernandez, with an introduction by Elisabeth Goodman 21st November, 2014

Mistakes are proof that you are trying


I asked Luis to write this blog as he has a very people centric approach to project management, and I thought he might have a valuable perspective on how to bring that to bear when collaborating with people outside the project team. He has brought an additionally unique perspective to the blog by relating it to his experience with Lean and Six Sigma, and PMP and associated concepts of ‘error proofing’.

The five principles that Luis shares certainly strike a chord with me, and I especially liked that he included one around Knowledge Management in the form of reflecting on lessons learned. I might have changed the order of Luis’s principles and put ensuring common understanding of expectations first.

But read the blog and see what you think.

Do you agree with Luis’s five principles?

Would you cite them in a different order?

What do we mean by error proofing – why is it important for collaboration outside of your organisation?

I frequently remember something that caught my attention during the Lean and Six Sigma green belt training course: The intention of this methodology (amongst other things) is to create “error proof” processes.

However, during the preparation course to obtain my PMP certification, a different concept caught my attention: Following the PMP methodology does not guarantee “successful” projects, it just “increases the probability” of making them successful.

In my opinion, the explanation of PMP is more humble and realistic. Nothing is “error proof” and what we do is to try to “increase the probability” of success in all the things we do in our day-to-day life. This is why I wrote “error proof” in quotes as the subject of my post.

Taking this into account, I can’t promise you that the five principles below will make you an “error proof” professional when collaborating with people outside your organization, but based on my experience, I promise you that if you remember the steps and start to apply them:

  • You will avoid most of the relevant errors in your professional life (and in your personal life) and as a consequence you will save the time necessary to correct them
  • The people you work with will notice it and remember you later for your professionalism. Most project managers need years to learn this.
  • The people you work with will remember you later for your kindness. Project Management sounds very technical but it is mainly a matter of human relations

The five principles for effective collaboration

The five principles are:

  • Avoid micromanagement (almost at any cost!)
  • Ensure a detailed review of the budget and contract
  • Clarify the expectations that have not been expressed in writing
  • Ensure the lessons learned are compiled and shared
  • Treat people as people, not as resources

Take note:

In my PMP certification training programs I always say that from my personal point of view the three most important matters that a project manager should never forget in their day-to-day work are: Communication, Team and Risks. You will see that the five principles are strongly related to these three areas.

Moreover, they are inter-related. If you miss one of them out, this will have an impact on the other two.

They are applicable to both these situations: when you are subcontracted as a project manager or when you are subcontracting team members, because they are just the two sides of a coin.

Let’s start!


I have a friend in charge of a Project Management department at Hewlett Packard that once told me something that I will never forget: You only need one (subjective) metric to know if a project is profitable or not. This metric is the “level of satisfaction of the client” about the project.

When I asked why? I found the explanation very smart. If the level of satisfaction is high, the client is probably relying on you and as a consequence, they are not bombarding you with continuous requests, giving you the freedom to manage your project in the most appropriate way, and saving thousands of hours of unnecessary tasks.

What can we learn from this?

  • If you are subcontracted, be proactive and ensure your contractors receive more than they expected to keep them happy as quickly as possible, and to make them appreciate that you are really taking care of their project.
  • If you are contracting, test the team member working for you, until you are happy with their commitment and they understand what you expect from them. Then let them work by themselves, clarifying what and when you want to be informed about the project progress (see principle # 3)


The budget is usually extensively reviewed by Project Managers, but unfortunately this doesn’t happen equally for the contract, as in many cases it is reviewed by a legal department.

What should we do?

a) Regarding the budget:

  • Never forget to clarify specifically what is included inside items with names that carry the word “management” as they could include a spectrum of tasks, maybe duplicated or unexpected
  • Negotiate from the very beginning (when your procedures allow it) the possibility of implementing new tasks without signing a new budget (to avoid time consuming agreements of change orders) by using the items in the budget that will never be implemented, or the items of the budget not burned yet.

b) Regarding the contract, never forget to check the clauses:

  • Which have an impact on the invoicing approval for the most important (related to cost) items.
  • That list what work is included and more importantly “what is NOT included”. If you forget the second one, it is very probable that the client will finally expect the unexpected.
  • Inform your client as soon as possible about the probable or relevant risks that you detect. It is possible that by changing a single word, you could save hundred of thousands of pounds


The budget and contract will probably not include all the future project issues.

So, it is a clear example of expertise to start the project by:

  • Asking your client (and your team members): What do you expect from me to help you feel as comfortable as possible during the project? Then take into account their responses and implement them or explain why they can’t be done. This will make people rely on you and make future communications more fluent.
  • Clarifying the expectations especially for the content of Status Reports, Main Deliverables and Approach to Meetings.


Everybody speaks about this but it is underperformed in most projects.

If you want to be remembered for your proactivity and ability to learn, just do the following:

Keep updated (and share proactively) an easy to review list with the:

  1. a) Mistakes: Tasks badly executed, and what should have been done instead
  2. b) Matters to improve: Tasks that could have been performed better avoiding unnecessary difficulties (and how to do them)
  3. c) Successful results: Things done well and how to extend them to other areas


Your client and your team are people, not roles or resources.

In every single interaction you make (calls, meetings, e-mails, face-to-face…) remember these three pieces of advice:

  • Always use the magical words: Please, thanks, sorry…
  • Avoid instructions. Try to increase awareness by asking questions (this is one of the principles of Coaching)
  • Be aware of the tone of your voice and your written communication. Avoid expressing frustration. You can express your frustration or disappointment in a neutral way.

It took me many years to learn all of these principles and the best advice I think I could give to a Manager is to “develop your assertiveness”, and a good way to do this is by remembering this quote:

People may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel”   Carl W. Buehner

If you have read until here, I’m sure you will apply some of these principles in your next projects.

Now, I have a more challenging question for you:



About the author and editor

Luis Fernandez obtained a degree in Pharmacy and Chemistry (he liked biochemistry so much that he has delivered health sciences training courses since 1989) and has worked in clinical research since 1996, managing global projects for Pharma since 2005. Luis realised that he needed to improve his technical project management knowledge so he obtained the PMP certification and started to run PMP-certification training courses from 2012. He honestly found the technical part easy, but the soft skills were more difficult, so he decided to study Coaching and NLP with the godfathers and their disciples. Luis is now sharing what he learned about the three disciplines (Coaching, NLP and Project Management) in his blog (http://coachingforprojectmanagers.com/blog/) where he provides practical tips that optimise their synergies.

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams and their managers to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. (We using coaching, training, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting just over 5 years ago, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in 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 Lean Sigma, in MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she now leads the Capabilities & Methods pillar for the Enabling Change SIG.

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.

Lessons Learned – notes from an APM web briefing

By Elisabeth Goodman and John Riddell, RiverRhee Consulting

(Preview of a blog to appear on the APM website)

A recent discussion thread on the APM (Association for Project Management) website focussed on the potential value of Lessons Learned and the failure modes that generally occur.  We have edited the points made in the discussion thread into an APM Web Briefing.

This blog summarises the discussion from the briefing, and is supplemented by some of the authors’ own reflections.

Lessons Learned can contribute to the success of projects

When used well Lessons Learned can contribute to the overall success of projects by re-using and building on approaches that have worked well and avoiding the repetition of previous mistakes.  Lessons Learned can also represent valuable intellectual property, deepen the relationship between suppliers and customers, and generally provide a competitive advantage.  A disciplined approach to Lessons Learned can make an important difference to cost, quality and time.

Why do Lessons learned not always work?

Some of the failure modes encountered are:

  • Lessons Learned are often not captured well.  There are several different ways in which this could be done more effectively, for instance by capturing Lessons Learned through the life of the project.
  • Lessons Learned need effective methods of communication.  Stakeholders need to be made aware of what’s available and how to access it.  Conversation is the most effective way to share lessons learned. Communities of Practice (e.g. between Project Managers) may help as might encouraging new teams to share with previous ones, and the use of published guides.
  • Adoption of ideas/outcomes from others may be hindered by cultural and behavioural factors. This may be linked to overall organisational culture, and to whether people are encouraged to learn from ‘mistakes’ or ‘failures’ and ‘successes’.  Whilst all individuals should have a responsibility in this area it may help to hold Project Managers accountable for taking a pro-active approach to Lessons Learned.

Overall a mix of process and culture can hinder the benefits that could otherwise be gained from a structured approach to Lessons Learned.

LESSONS LEARNED are a key component of knowledge management

RiverRhee Associates’ experience of Lessons Learned goes a bit further, as they are a key component of Knowledge Management approaches that we teach and facilitate for sharing learning, insights and experience within and between project and operational teams.

As the discussion thread and Web Briefing mention, Lessons Learned can be captured throughout the life of a project (or other kind of team), or at the end.  The Knowledge Management literature1 refers to learning before, during and after.

learning during: after action reviews

Frequent, short, and relatively informal learning reviews during the life of a project or operational team are sometimes known as ‘After Action Reviews’.  First introduced by the US Army, the intent is to capture and review Lessons Learned after any significant event, so that any corrective or supporting action can be implemented immediately.  In a project team, these After Action Reviews could be carried out after a critical activity or at each stage gate.  In an operational team they could occur as part of regular or periodic team meetings. Important ground-rules for these reviews include: everyone being involved, no blame, and ensuring that Lessons Learned are shared with everyone relevant whether inside or outside the team.  A typical structure for After Action Reviews will include: a recap of objectives, what actually happened and how this differed from the intent, what can be learnt from this difference, and who to share the Lessons Learned with.  What can be learnt covers both what contributed to things going well, and the causes for anything not going well.

Learning after: Learning retrospects

A more reflective Learning Retrospect or History takes place at the end of a project or programme.  It will explore the same questions as an After Action Review, but the recap of objectives and what happened will be a broader based exercise.  We’ve facilitated this kind of learning review for a project in a workshop setting, with the originally planned and actual project milestones mapped out and annotated with post-it notes from the team members to indicate what went well and what could have been improved against these milestones. Again this kind of exercise will be most effective where there is involvement of the whole team, including the project sponsor(s), and agreement on what Lessons Learned will be shared with whom, how and when.

Learning before: peer assists

The third type of learning intervention takes place ‘before’ or at the start of a project or operational team.  Also known as ‘Peer Assists’, this involves bringing together the members of the new team, and some or all members of previous teams who have Lessons Learned to share.  In this situation, the new team lays out its draft plans, concerns, ideas and any specific questions for the visiting team.  The visiting team considers and then shares what insights it can bring to the new team.  The new team then uses these insights to revise its plans and also as input for its risk analysis.

How to be more successful with LESSONS LEARNED

As noted in the Web Briefing, the successful adoption of some or all of these 3 approaches for learning before, during and after will depend on the rigour with which teams and organisations implement the processes, and the nature of the supporting culture and behaviours.  Incorporation of the learning processes into project methodology, facilitation through PMOs or other central groups, and role modelling by sponsors and management teams are examples of how such successful adoption can be enabled.


1. Chris Collison & Geoff Parcell.  Learning to Fly: Practical Knowledge Management from Leading and Learning Organisations.  Capstone, 2nd Edition, 2004.

Team development, pre-requisites for success and temperature checks: tools for effective change management

By Elisabeth Goodman and Lucy Loh

This is the fourth in our series of blogs on “Enhancing Team Effectiveness in a time of change” based on our recent publication in Business Information Review(1), and other publications and seminars in progress.

In our first blog (Enhancing team effectiveness in a time of change – an introduction), we described the challenges being faced by organisations, teams and individuals and the impact that these changes have on them.

Our second blog (Recognising reactions to change, and responding to them) explored how people (either as individuals or teams) respond to change and how to help them through their journeys in a positive way.

Our third blog (Tools for supporting teams during their journeys through change) introduced five more specific tools for supporting teams during their journeys through change.

This fourth blog explores three of the tools: team development, pre-requisites for success and team temperature checks in more detail. Our next and final blog in this series will explore the other two tools: Lean and Six Sigma in Change Management and Dilts’ Logical Levels of Change.  We will also prompt you to reflect on the series of blogs on this topic, and initiate some activity to review and enhance the effectiveness of the teams you belong to.

Using a team development model to progress towards and sustain a ‘high performance’ team

We have used a version of the Tuckman(2) and Hersey-Blanchard(3)  team development models with teams that are just starting up, as well as with already established teams.  It helps leaders and team members to understand where the team is in its evolution, and what they could do to help it develop towards a stage of ‘high performance’.

The renewing (also sometimes referred to as ‘mourning’) and forming stages are the ones that will happen most frequently at a time of change for the team.  These are the ones that require the most ‘hands-on’ and directive attention from the leader.  For a team going through change and renewal, it is important for the team leader and members to celebrate the successes of the past (as previously mentioned), and to take note of what made them successful.

Team leaders and members may fear and try to avoid the storming stage but this is an important time for people to air their views openly and share their ideas constructively in order to make the team stronger.

In fact the team leader needs to play a different role at different stages: one-on-one interactions with team members are especially valuable in the storming stage and a focus outwards to stakeholders in the high performing stage.  Through awareness of these different stages, team members can also support the team leader and other team members, as well as ensure that they are fully developing their role within the team.

Structured learning techniques such as discussing other teams’ experiences in ‘Peer Assists’ at the start of a team’s life, conducting ‘After Action Reviews’ (timely debriefs on lessons learnt) at key milestones, and holding in-depth ‘Learning Retrospects’ at the end of a team’s life can be particularly useful to capture and share lessons learnt between existing and new team members and others outside of the team(4).

Identifying and agreeing on best practices as pre-requisites for success

We have coached team leaders in using variations of a list of prerequisites as a checklist for effectiveness.  Team members can help to identify, prioritise and explore best practices for check-lists such as the following:

  • Clear purpose & goals
  • Trust & support each other
  • Open communication
  • Clear roles
  • Diversity
  • Task / Relationship Balance
  • Decision Making
  • Meeting management
  • Information Management

Using team temperature checks to monitor and enhance team effectiveness

We use team temperature checks as a diagnostic with the previous prerequisites, at a time of change, to determine the status of the team, and to actively engage team members on the priorities to be addressed going forward.

The relative importance of each prerequisite will change during the life of the team, as will the team’s perception of how well they are performing.  Rather than dwell retrospectively on everything that is not working, the team should focus on the biggest gaps between importance and performance of a prerequisite, and explore the suggestions for improvement in order to move forward in a constructive way.

At the request of team leaders, we have polled members individually to obtain ratings of the perceived importance and performance against each prerequisite, and to encourage them to make suggestions for improvement to bring back to a team workshop.  Using an external objective facilitator can help with this, although in the long-term teams could manage this themselves e.g. by doing periodic ‘After Action Reviews’ in team meetings, or at key milestones.

In a time of change it may also be appropriate to involve customers, suppliers and other stakeholders in this process.  This will deliver two benefits: getting some external input, and also building relationships with people of importance to the team either during or after the change.


  1. Goodman, E and Loh, L. (2011) Organisational change: a critical challenge for team effectiveness.  Business Information Review, 28(4) 242-250
  2. Tuckman, B. and Jensen, M. (1977) Stages of small group development revisited, Group and Organizational Studies, 419-27
  3. Hersey, P and Blanchard, K Situational Leadership.  See for example : www.12manage.com
  4. Collison, Chris and Parnell, Geoff (2004) Learning to Fly: Practical Knowledge Management from Leading and Learning Organizations. Capstone; 2nd Edition

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).

Lucy Loh is the Owner and Principal Consultant at Lucy Loh Consulting, a consultancy that helps businesses and organisations develop their business plans, and manage change in their organisations and teams to be able to deliver those plans.  She is also a RiverRhee Consulting Associate.  Lucy has 25 years’ experience in BioPharma, where she has held management roles in strategy development and all aspects of performance management, as well as extensive internal consulting.  Lucy has expertise and experience in organisation development, benefits management and in designing and leading business change. She is a certified Master Practitioner of NeuroLinguistic Programming (NLP), which enhances her work in change management and individual coaching.  She is also an accredited trainer with the Institute of Leadership and Management for Strategic Leadership.

Knowledge Strategy – one of two #NetIKX51 break-out discussions

By Elisabeth Goodman

Knowledge Strategy was the theme of one of the two break-out groups at NetIKX’s 22nd September 2011 seminar led by Chris Collison.

(For a more detailed account of the seminar itself, you may like to read Nicola Franklin’s NetIKX blog, or for a more cursory insight, Elisabeth’s NetIKX51 tweets.)

A knowledge management strategy is something you should be able to hold in your head

Our discussion kicked off with what proved to be a slightly provocative but very helpful statement from Steve Dale: “A knowledge management strategy is something you should be able to hold in your head, not in your hand”.

People felt that you needed to start with something more explicit such as:

  • An internal audit to discover what’s going on in your organisation and to identify what is needed
  • A white paper to stimulate discussion amongst stakeholders

The ideal is to get to the point where the strategy has become the way people act, their way of working.  Then, yes, it can be something ‘in the head’ (or tacit).

A knowledge management strategy depends on organisational culture

Stuart Ward in particular reminded us of the need to set the definition of the knowledge management strategy, and how it should be introduced, within the context of the organisational culture and values.

We agreed that we need to clarify organisational values first e.g. how open it wants to be, as these will influence attitudes towards knowledge sharing for example.

Organisational change will put knowledge management strategies back to zero!

Members of the group had direct experience of having had a relatively clear knowledge management strategy in their organisation, only to find that they had to start all over again as a result of mergers or acquisitions.

In addition, not only did redundancies result in loss of key knowledge with the departing staff, but in some cases they also resulted in the loss of those who were key drivers of the organisation’s knowledge strategy.

A key consideration is how to implement knowledge management strategies

We came back many times to the factors that were needed to enable successful implementation of knowledge management strategies.  Participants mentioned the importance of leadership from the top, champions, opportunities for presentations combined with Q&A sessions, training, case studies / stories demonstrating the value of knowledge management etc.

For those wishing to explore this subject further, I recommended reading “Influencer – The Power to Change Anything”, by Kerry Patterson et al, McGraw Hill, 2008.  This provides an excellent framework for shaping implementation strategies.  A brief overview of “Influencer” is available in one of my earlier blogs on change management.

Technology is not the answer for knowledge management strategy, but it helps

Our discussion ended with a recurring theme for knowledge management practitioners: the role of technology.

One of the participants described the situation in their organisation where people carry out After Action Reviews or Learning Retrospects because this is something that is expected.  However, they don’t necessarily understand why they are doing these, or what the outputs can be used for, so that the results effectively end-up in an IT ‘bin’ (or black hole).

Conversely, I mentioned the recent inspirational talk by Jimmy Walls, organised by the Cambridge Network, where he showed powerful video clips of individuals of all ages and backgrounds enthusing about sharing their knowledge with others through Wikipedia articles.

One of our participants suggested that knowledge sharing needs a social context: we share with our friends more than with our co-workers.  The old ‘water-cooler’ scenario, lunch-time seminars (with lunch provided), creating open spaces for networking, were all approaches that we discussed for creating this kind of social opportunity.


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 is also Programme Events Manager for NetIKX.


Intuition revisited: how it could be important to a business environment (Part 1 of 3 blogs)

Intuition does have an important role in business

In a previous blog “The problem with relying on intuition for process improvement and decision making” I emphasized the problems with, rather than the opportunities for intuition.

One of my blog readers, Deborah Peluso, kindly pointed me to Gary Klein’s 30+ years of work on intuition with the US marines, firefighters, pilots, software trouble-shooters and business leaders.  I have now read his book, ‘The Power of Intuition”1 which is an impressively substantial reference work, and very enlightening.

As Deb said in her comment to my blog: “I realized that intuition is not magical or mystical. What we call intuition is a label for our observed phenomena that is really just a function of expertise, and expertise is something that we can study, elicit, and use in our knowledge management and change work. And decision analysis has its place in helping to check our gut instincts, provided we have the time and resources to use the tools appropriately.”

This blog, together with my next two, will highlight what I have learnt from Gary Klein’s book about the role of intuition in business in general, and in process improvement and knowledge management specifically.

What is intuition and when can it be useful?

Intuition is the result of our experience (Klein refers to ‘meaningful experience’).  It enables us to spot cues, recognize patterns and build mental models of potential outcomes.

Intuition supports us in spotting problems, being creative and innovative, adapting and improvising plans, and making decisions.

Taking each of these in turn:

  • Our ability to spot problems depends on the nature of the problem (how quickly it develops, the level of associated risk), our level of alertness to potential problems, what might be going on around us to affect our alertness, and our level of expertise (or intuition).  As with all applications of intuition, it also depends on how much attention we pay to our ‘gut feelings’: our subconscious alerting us to something being wrong before we consciously recognize it.
  • As Klein points out: intuition is tied to past experience, whereas creativity is not.  He suggests that an intuitive approach to creativity ‘transcends’ past experience!  He suggests that teams look for opportunities in difficult situations and how to build on those as a route to creativity.  So: if the goals or needs to be addressed are clear, potential opportunities (or leverage points) identified, and then connections made between the goals and the opportunities that will work with them – then this will be lead to effective innovation.  Klein calls this ‘directed creativity’, and this does sound like the solution identification exercises that we conduct in Kaizen workshops.
  • Whist Klein accepts the conventional use of plans (for example in project management) to coordinate the work of teams, shape our thinking, work out what’s needed, he emphasizes the importance of being able to improvise and adapt, especially when the unpredictable happens, which it invariably will!

I’ll be discussing the relevance of intuition to decision making in my next blog.

Intuition and process improvement (Lean and Six Sigma)

As I’ve discussed in my other blogs, analytical approaches are still absolutely important. But there will be limits and strengths to these approaches, just as there are barriers to and enablers for intuition.

As I’ve suggested before, there are implications for the tools taught in Lean and Six Sigma (or process improvement generally); for example in using decision matrices, or documenting procedures (and process mapping), in using metrics.

I’ll be discussing this more fully in the second blog of this series of three.

Intuition and knowledge management

What we may under-estimate is that intuition is not something that you either have or don’t have.  We all have it.  The key is in how we develop and use it.  Gary Klein’s book contains some fascinating implications for knowledge management techniques for example ‘learning before’, ‘peer assists’, the use of experts and discussions about ‘tacit’ knowledge.

I’ll be discussing this in the third blog of this series.


  1. The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work, by Gary Klein, Crown Business, 2004. ISBN 978-0385502894
  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.


The problem with relying on intuition for process improvement and decision making.

In a previous blog “There’s more to decision making than meets the eye… or why we shouldn’t dismiss gut feelings“, inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Blink’1, I made a case for the discretionary use of intuition in decision making.  I argued that:

  1. There seems to be a particular role for intuition when: a) encountering very new or different options for which known criteria are just not valid; b) where decisions based on intuition just cannot be explained in a logical way
  2. There are circumstances where it would be quite risky to rely on one’s intuition: a) when under tremendous stress; b) when there is just too much information to be digested; c) where our subconscious ‘houses’ prejudices that we are not conscious of.

Comments from my readers suggested that other practitioners of Lean and Six Sigma also see a role for intuition alongside factual based analysis of problems and root causes, in the evaluation of potential solutions, and in decision making.

Having now read Ben Goldacre’s book ‘Bad Science’2, I have some new reflections to add to this discussion.  Goldacre cites three main problems with intuition.

1. Our brains are conditioned to look for and ‘see’ patterns, and causal relationships where there may be only random noise.

Goldacre gives examples of random sequences of numbers that, when presented to people, ‘reveal’ clusters and patterns when statistical analyses would show that none exist.

The ability to rapidly and intuitively spot patterns of activity, and causal relationships between them, may, in the past, have been an important survival mechanism for humans, but could today be very misleading in process improvement where, for example, we want to make sure that we focus our efforts on addressing the truly significant problems.

Approaches such as Pareto analysis, quantification of issues (or Undesirable Effects – UDEs) and matrix diagrams can help us to review data more objectively and thereby focus on the right things.

2. We have a bias towards positive evidence.

In the words of Francis Bacon, quoted by Goldacre: “It is the peculiar and perpetual error of human understanding to be more moved and excited by affirmatives than negatives.”

We are much more likely to pay attention to findings that prove our theories, than to those that do not. That is why, in another quote in Goldacre’s book, Darwin made a point of noting every piece of negative evidence that he came across.

Goldacre expands on this bias further by saying that we:

  1. Overvalue information that confirms our hypotheses
  2. Seek out information that will confirm our hypotheses

Our natural bias towards positive evidence is also why process improvement and change management exercises such as force-field analysis, SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats) analysis, FMEA (Failure Mode Effect Analysis) and Six Thinking Hats can be so powerful.  Knowledge Management practitioners also make a point of capturing ‘deltas’ or ‘what could be improved’ in learning reviews, retrospects or ‘After Action Reviews’

These tools, when applied to process improvement and decision making, encourage us to think about what might prevent our solutions from succeeding rather than getting carried away by how wonderful they are!  They also help us to present this understanding more clearly in our communication activities or dialogues with our stakeholders (sponsors, colleagues and customers).

3. Our assessment of the quality of new evidence is biased by what we believe.

If we are aware of this potential pitfall we can aim to be more receptive to opposing views.  In a team of people that have been working together for some time, common beliefs may be more predominant than instances of opposing views.

An effective team leader could look out for and encourage differences of opinion as a potential way of overcoming the team’s bias in assessing new evidence.  Discussions with customers, suppliers and other stakeholders could also be very powerful for this.


Now that we know that we can be additionally blinded by our need to see patterns, causal relationships, and confirmatory evidence of what we believe, we need to be doubly cautious in applying intuition for process improvement and decision making.

As change practitioners know, we value resistance from stakeholders as this highlights potential areas for consideration that those implementing the change may be blind to.  We know now that we should also value resistance from stakeholders as a counter-balance to the risks of intuition.

However, we should continue to bear in mind that there is a role for intuition in certain circumstances.


(1) “Blink.  The power of thinking without thinking” by Malcolm Gladwell, Back Bay Books, 2007

(2) “Bad Science” by Ben Goldacre, Harper Perennial, 2009

(3) Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that uses process improvement and knowledge management to enhance team effectiveness.

Follow the links to find out more about RiverRhee Consulting, and about Elisabeth Goodman.

URS – a case study of an organisation that values the resources and knowledge of its employees

A few years ago, URS had a change in Managing Director for its UK business, and an opportunity to re-appraise how it was running the business.  It recognised that a key factor was the resource and knowledge of URS’s employees, and its desire to not only retain people, but also ensure that they had a strong career path, and a sense that their contributions are valued.

URS is an extremely large environmental and engineering company, with 55 thousand employees spread across the US, Asia-Pacific, and most of Western Europe, and a turnover of $10.5 billion per year.  Its HQ is in San Francisco.  It is split into 3 divisions: the URS Division, which focuses on engineering and environmental consultancy and design; the Washington Division which focuses on programme, construction and project management for transportation and energy sector projects and for the nuclear industry in particular; and the EG&G Division which focuses on defence projects.

I spoke to Malcolm Weston, Knowledge and Information Manager in URS Corporation Ltd the UK-based company within the URS Division, and Treasurer on the NetIKX (Network for Information and Knowledge Exchange) committee, to get a better understanding of what URS was doing to build strong teams, foster knowledge sharing, and generally enable good morale within its organisation.

URS are recipients of the Investors In People (IIP) award. When the new UK Managing Director was appointed and URS Corporation Ltd was established as the company through which the URS Division would operate in the UK as part of the wider URS group, it was an opportunity to take what was already a core of good practice in the Bedford office, and introduce it as a model for the rest of the UK organisation.  The Divisions’ clients also strongly encouraged them to apply for the IIP award as a formal badge of approval for the way they worked.  URS got its first certification in 2003 / 2004 on the strength of what they already had in place, and were again successful on the IIP’s second visit, despite increases in the level of standard expected.

The kind of practices that URS has adopted to qualify for the IIP award include:

  • Strong employee empowerment in areas such as safety and employee / team recognition.  Safety is a key aspect of URS’s work, and any employee can stop a piece of work if they see that something unsafe is taking place.  Likewise, any employee can nominate an individual, or a team that they feel has gone out of their way to help others or to contribute to the organisation’s work.
  • There are also strong employee benefits such as sports & social clubs in most offices – which build the quality of interaction within teams; opportunities to take part in charitable events during company time, and with matching company sponsorship; the ability to buy extra holiday time; medical membership for the individual plus reduced rates for family members.
  • There is an annual staff satisfaction survey, the results of which are reviewed as part of the quarterly team briefings relating to the IIP award held by Department Heads.

There are examples of how URS values expertise and knowledge sharing:

  • The career progression path enables individuals to be recognised and to progress as technical experts, rather than having to become part of the management progression.
  • Strong relationships are maintained with those who decide to leave, such that some of them continue to collaborate as external consultants with URS, or indeed return to URS on a higher grade after gaining external experience.
  • URS will sometimes support smaller specialist consultancies, for instance by providing Health & Safety advice.
  • There is a UK Business Improvement Board, on which Malcolm sits as an advisor for knowledge sharing strategies and techniques.
  • The corporate intranet includes subject / group areas for sharing knowledge and experience, and Malcolm is also introducing ways to capture and share knowledge between projects.

Altogether, URS illustrates an appealing range of approaches for building strong teams, fostering knowledge sharing, and generally enabling good morale within its organisation.

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..