This is part 2 of a blog post series that looks at Knowledge Management from the perspective of building transparency. Part 1 is available here and covered WHAT Knowledge Management. This article, part 2, will focus on exactly HOW to leverage Knowledge Management to grow and cultivate a culture of transparency within your organization.
The silo syndrome
As we have seen in part 1, in your daily life, particularly at work, you create content and knowledge. Your team does too and so does virtually everyone. Now, the problem arises when knowledge is localized, that is to say that it is known by a few people and most – or all – of those people are within the same team or worse, the same function (for example Accounting, Engineering, Front-End, etc…).
That is what we typically call a silo. I am sure you have all heard of this concept before, and it is common knowledge that silos are bad. But what are silos? And how do they manifest in organizational life that makes us think they are bad?
The answer is usually two-folds: knowledge travel and politics. We’ll focus on the knowledge aspect.
Example situation: releasing a product to market
Let’s look at this scenario: Your organization decides to create a new product that it wants to release to market as quickly as possible. The product requires involvement from various functions. These functions may be organized as cross-functional teams, or they may just work as a function or as a department.
Typically, someone will define the product that needs to be built, its specifications, and will then coordinate with various teams to get things done. Here, we’ll assume that functions and departments are the equivalent of a team in this context.
So, design goes on, whether it’s visual, architectural, engineering, etc… The design team creates knowledge, runs experiments, finds out potential issues with various approaches, runs into hurdles, but keeps on making progress, until it ultimately comes up with a design that’s ready to be consumed by the product delivery teams – the teams responsible for actually putting things together and delivering it to the hands of the consumers. What we usually hand over in so called “hand-off” meetings is knowledge of the final outcome: the valid and ready-to-be-worked-on set of information.
In itself, this is okay. The product delivery really does need this. They need to know what to build, and they need to understand enough that they can come up with exactly how to build it, and then build it.
The problem though here stems from what is not handed over. What’s not handed over is the knowledge of HOW this hand-off design came to become the way it is, and WHY it was designed the way it is. The internal discussions and results from experiments, hurdles, and various constraints that made that the team chose X instead of Y or Z or A or B, all of this knowledge usually does not travel. It’s possible that you may have had status meetings or collaboration meetings where some of those details surfaced at some point, but it’s also unlikely that these were documented in a way that can be consumed later to remember the context, and will be therefore forgotten, or lost in translation and then forgotten.
There are plenty of nuances that will play a role later on in the process, and the fact that some knowledge, that played an important role in the outcome of the design phase, is often not travelled as part of the whole “package”, is a source of issues.
Let’s look at a few scenarios that could go awry or incur either resources waste or plain losses to the organization:
- The product delivery team wonders about nuances and assumes that the design was done in full awareness and understanding, the team therefore chooses to implement it the way it understands it, and causes harm to either the delivery process – by requiring rework, review, tensions – or worse the outcome is flawed and incurs a loss to the project.
- A few months or years later, or in another market, the same organization tries to pull off a similar product, or a product that shares some design elements. It will most likely recreate everything from scratch, leading to waste of resources. If the first product attempt has failed, this new team may not be aware of it, why it failed and the nuances of how it was designed and built, and is likely going to reproduce similar mistakes.
- More commonly, imagine that some design elements lead to the product delivery team building a product that matches exactly the design, but gets into issues because of assumptions made – see #1. What often happens is that the product delivery team will go back to the design team and assume incompetence, and since everyone is pressured to deliver, may attempt to deflect the responsibility to the design team, while the issue may really have just been a misunderstanding of the design elements because of not knowing the context of how it came to be done this way. You get into the politics area here, and this tension is real and is extremely common.
These are high-level, voluntarily vague scenarios, designed to be easily adaptable between industries, fields, etc…
However, the human dynamics within them should feel relatively familiar, and I am certain that you have seen at least one if not more of these scenarios at play.
A culture of transparency
And we come to the crux of it. Connecting all the dots.
What these scenarios express is that knowledge was created, but possibly not stored, or not stored in a way that’s usable and even worse re-usable, and may not have been travelled correctly, and most likely not maintained at all.
What it means practically speaking is that the knowledge has lost its compounding capability. In other words, the value of the knowledge will actually become negative because it has been created and was allowed to NOT be re-used where needed, which in turns creates waste, whether operational, human, emotional or purely financial.
As a savant Agile practitioner, you could argue that these should be addressed via communication between teams and cross-team members, or even team members. And you’d be right, and it would give back some compounding value to the knowledge. But in such a situation, the traveling aspect of the knowledge is limited to just the people in the – virtual – room, and will likely not live beyond. So, my answer is, in an ideal world, it needs both. A good Knowledge Management practice is NOT a replacement for great communication and collaboration, but the enabling medium, as well as the medium that will enable creating value for the organization on the long term.
By observing great Knowledge Management practices, you don’t just create compounding value from knowledge. You create a culture of transparency.
Now, the real punch line is this. By observing great Knowledge Management practices, you don’t just create compounding value from knowledge. You create a culture of transparency.
Why? Because the secret to Knowledge Management is to ALWAYS keep in mind the following question: Who may benefit from this again in the future?
By asking yourself and as a team, you create a culture where the default perspective is outwards. You don’t think about just “logging your work” or else, you wonder “how can we help others grow faster and deliver better value in the future by empowering them with the knowledge we are creating?”
How can we help others grow faster and deliver better value in the future by empowering them with the knowledge we are creating?
And this makes ALL the difference in the world. It creates a world where your neighbor is at the very center of your mental model, whether as an individual, a team or an organization. It creates a culture where your default desire is to share your knowledge with others. To disseminate it to help others kick off any initiative with a boost in confidence or with a great foundation of knowledge to start from.
And that is an organization where EVERYONE is happy to work in, where everyone is considered and cared for. A great practice in Knowledge Management is the foundation for a culture of transparency, which will give you a cultural edge to build increasing value over time, attract great talent, and engage the people in your organization.
A great practice in Knowledge Management is the foundation for a culture of transparency, which will give you a cultural edge to build increasing value over time, attract great talent, and engage the people in your organization.
Get in touch, would love to hear your story
If you have more questions, have done this in the past, can see it in your organization but do not know where or how to start, or if you simply have comments or feedback, please feel free to reach out anytime.
You can also join semdi Business Agility ThinkTank S01E03 on using Knowledge Management to create transparency.
Looking forward to talk with all of you.