Can you time-write KM activity?

A common question from clients in professional services, legal or consulting firms, which usually operate a strict time-writing regime, is “How do we Timewrite KM”?

In an industry where billable hour is king, how do you timewrite, and therefore bill, time spent in Knowledge Management activities such as Peer Assist, KM planning or Retrospects?  Is the activity billed to the relevant client? Or do you introduce Knowledge Management as a separate charge code, and therefore treat it as an overhead, which you pass on to all clients by increasing your fee level? Or cover by the leverage that KM offers, through enabling more junior staff to deliver highly billed work?

Approaches seem to vary, with some companies allowing neither billing to clients nor a separate timecode, therefore relegating KM to a “personal time” activity.

Personally, I think KM should be billed to clients. Knowledge Management should only be introduced if it is going to benefit clients, and indeed the whole purpose of Knowledge Management within a professional services firm is to “bring the whole knowledge of the firm to bear on each client’s problems”. Therefore KM is part of providing a better service (in fact you could see KM as a component of good business practice), and should be paid for by the client. Therefore the time spent in Peer Assists, After Action reviews and even Retrospects should be billed to the client, by the logic of “we provide a better service to you through KM, so KM is billed as part of that better service”. (Of course, by the same logic, if KM is not delivering a better service, then you should stop doing KM). Timewriting in this way keeps the focus on KM as a means to support the clients.

Giving KM a separate timewriting code implies that KM is an add-on, and an overhead, which is why I don’t like this approach. KM should be seen as an investment, both for the client and for the firm, and not as an overhead cost.  However I can see there may be some logic in having a separate code for Retrospects which do not benefit the current client, but which benefit clients in future. You could arge that because the results of the Retrospect are not shared with the client, you cannot charge the activity to the client, and therefore bring in a separate code as part of overheads. However most firms try to keep overheads down, which disincentivises taking time for learning.

Not allowing people to timewrite KM at all will kill KM, unless you can find a sneaky way around the system. Last week I was discussing just such a sneaky way, with a KMer from a company with no KM charge code, and where nobody would spend any time on Retrospects or Lessons Learned. However one thing they do, on every client project, is to assign a junior as part of the juniors’ Development Activity.

Here they have the opportunity for KM by Stealth – to use the Junior as the corporate learning resource.

The junior can keep a “learning blog” or “lessons blog” on which they can identify and publish all lessons and good practices recognised on that project. This is analogous to the “commanders blogs” used in the Army, which prove an excellent source of learning. The blog allows the junior to reflect and learn, and through that public reflection allows the firm to learn as well. The community of learners can take a role similar to the “lessons learned integrators” but without the supporting lessons learned system.

Of course KM by stealth is not a long term solution, and should only be used to demonstrate the value of KM with sufficient clarity that it becomes fully adopted, which means it then becomes a valid timewriting activity and a cost/investment that can be passed to clients.

However you charge KM – to the client, to a separate code or as part of Development Activity – you need to find a way to make it possible, otherwise your organisation will fail to learn, and thereby learn to fail. 

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Embedding KM through accountabilities

Work gets done because people are accountable. KM also will get done if individuals are given accountability.

Work gets done because people are accountable. They are given a job, and they do their job. Where I have seen KM really live for a long time in organisations, it is because those organisations have

  • been clear on the job of work KM has to do
  • given that job to dedicated and accountable individuals, and
  • put in place a reporting chain though which that job or work is assigned and delivered.
Let me give you two examples of how this operates, using the vectors of Communities of Practice, and Lesson-Learning. The description below is based on a number of organisations who work in this way.
1) The organisation has a clear idea of the functional competencies it needs to be successful.
2) These competencies are owned by senior staff, working through competency owners, competency committees or functional excellence teams. These staff/committees/teams have targets and deliverables relating to competence protection and development.
3) The leaders of the networks and communities of practice report to these senior staff, and hold a business plan or performance contract with the senior staff, stating how they will develop the CoPs in service of competence.
4) The network leaders take accountability for the development of the CoP and for the development of the community knowledge base. They may have a small team (for example a community facilitator) to help, and may have a small budget or community business. 
If this accountability chain works well, then the network leader can track the development of competence through CoP metrics, including success stories and performance metrics. They report this upwards to the senior staff, who report against their own targets and deliverables.

1) The organisation has targets for project delivery (cost, time or quality targets).
2) These targets are owned by the Head of Projects, or some similar role.
3) Reporting to the Head of Projects will be an individual or small team responsible for project learning
4) This team, with the backing of the Head of Projects, takes accountability for the delivery of effective “learning from experience” within the project context. They monitor delivery of learning against the company expectations, they facilitate the lessons identification, and they operate the lessons management process, they drive re-use.
If this accountability chain works well, then the network leader can track the development of effective learning through metrics, and through improved project delivery (including learning curves). They report this upwards to the Head of Projects, who reports against their own targets and deliverables.
In both these cases, KM is given a job to do (“Improve or protect functional capability though CoPs and CoP knowledge bases”, “Improve company performance through project learning”), has individuals accountable for that job, and has a reporting chain. The job is clear, performance is tracked.

That’s how you really embed something for the long term.

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What does embedded KM look like?

Embedded KM is as normal as any other embedded work practise, such as budgeting or time writing.

budget cambodgePeople often ask “what does embedded KM look like? The answer is that it looks like any other embedded management discipline. It’s a work habit – something you dont think twice about.

Just in the way that “doing your budget” is fully embedded into the project cycle, do “doing your km plan” can be embedded into the work cycle.

Just like “completing your timesheet” is seen s a required step within financial management, so is “doing your lessons capture” seen as a required ad embedded step. Budgets ad timesheets are just “things we do as part of the job”, and one day you will find the processes of KM becomes equally embedded.

Just like budgets and timesheets, when KM is fully embedded we will do the KM processes naturally and without argument. We will know the processes are expected, we understand their point, everyone else is doing them, and if we don’t do them, people will be taken aback. It’s just a part of the way we work, and the things we do.

That’s “Embedded”

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How to embed knowledge activities into organizational process

Another post from the archives – this time on embedding knowledge activities into organisational process

Complex BPMN 2 process in ARIS ExpressOne of the aims of Knowledge Management Implementation is to develop and embed a Knowledge Management Framework, including building KM activities into business process. I thought I would expand a little on how to do this.

Most large organisations have pretty well-defined business processes. These may include

  • Marketing process
  • Sales process
  • New Product Development process
  • Manufacturing process
  • Packaging/distribution process
  • Project management process
  • Service-call resolution process
and so on. These processes consist of a series of steps, often shown diagrammatically as a flow chart, like the example shown.
Embedding KM into these processes means putting Knowledge Management-specific steps into that flowchart.

  • You can start, by identifying where, within the business process, there is the greatest need for the team to acquire knowledge, and adding a “Knowledge Acquisition” step, such as Peer Assist, Lessons Review, Knowledge Site Visit, Collaborative work session, or a Knowledge Management Plan. There may be several such steps needed within the business process.

  • You can look at where,  within the business process, there is the greatest need for the team to create new knowledge, and add a “Knowledge Creation” step, such as Deep Dive, Think Tank, or Business Driven Action Learning.

  • Then you can look at where, within the business process, there is the greatest need for  the team to discuss and identify learning. These will be steps which follow points where the greatest knowledge has been created, or the greatest learning acquired, and where you need to add a “Knowledge Capture” step. Some of these will capture knowledge for re-use by the same team, and may include small scale After Action Reviews. Some will capture knowledge and lessons for other teams, and may include Retrospect. Some may  include hand-over of knowledge to later stages in the project or product life-cycle, and may include Baton Passing or Knowledge handover. There may be several such steps needed within the business process.
That is your starting point – looking at the flow of knowledge into and out of the process. You may eventually add other steps where needed.
The important thing is to 1) find knowledge management processes which work in your context, and 2) make sure those KM process appear, as little boxes, within the business process flow chart.

That way, they will be applied.

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The 5 ways in which KM becomes embedded

There are 5 ways in which KM can be embedded in an organisation. Some of these are more common than others, and to fully embed KM can take over a decade.

The most common ways of embedding KM, from the Knoco 2014 and 2017 surveys

I often have people ask me what “embedding” Knowledge Management actually means, and how you do it.  Embedding Knowledge Management means making part of the normal work process, rather than an add-on. You do this in six ways, listed below in the order of most common applicaiton, as shown in the graph above.

You change the technology suite so that Knowledge Management tools are available, and used, as part of the working toolkit, and linked into the existing work tools. While email remains the number one work tool for many people, then link your KM tools into this, rather than requiring people to acquire a new habit. New habits can develop later, when KM becomes part of natural behaviour.

You change the Organigram to include Knowledge Management roles and accountabilities. You introduce new roles where needed (lesson teams for example, leaders and coordinators for the big Communities of practice, Practice Owners and so on), and change some of the accountabilities of existing roles (the most senior experts, for example, need clear KM accountabilities, as described here. You need to change their job descriptions, so that they are held acountable for stewardship of the company knowledge). Then you measure and reward people against their performance in these roles, and against these accountabilities, just as you measure and reward them against any other component of their job.

You change the high level processes and activities, embedding Knowledge Management processes and activities into the work cycles (using the principles of Learning Before, During and After). Change the project requirements, to include mandatory processes for capture of knowledge at the end of the project or after key milestones, and mandatory processes for reviewing past knowledge at the start of the project. Change the rules for project sanction, so a project gets no money if it hasn’t done any learning.

You change the behaviours through peer pressures and through management expectation.

You change the governance system to include KM. Write it into the policies. Write it into the way people are rewarded. Change the reporting requirements, the HR appraisal mechanism, change the incentive scheme to reward collaboration and discourage competition.  This is the least common embedding approach, but it needs to be done eventually.

These changes should embed KM as part of the way people work, and so make KM part of everyone’s job.  Once this is the case, you can claim KM is embedded and fully mature, as shown below.

The degree of embedding KM into normal activity, vs KM maturity. Results from Knoco 2014 and 2017 surveys

However this takes time. The chart below shows how this level of embedding varies with the length of time organisations have been doing KM.  Even after 16 years working with KM, only half the organisations claim KM is fully integrated and routine, rather than a non-routine activity.

The degree of embedding vs the length of time doing KM. Results from Knoco 2014 and 2017 surveys

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How Knowledge Management maturity progresses

Here is a nice graph from our global KM surveys that shows how KM maturity progresses.

This graph is a combination of two questions, and we have combined answers from both the 2014 and 2017 surveys, so over 570 answers are included in the graph. The first question was:

Which of the following best describes the current status of KM within this organisation (or part of the organisation)?

  • We are in the early stages of introducing KM 
  • We are well in progress with KM 
  • KM is embedded in the way we work

The second question was

To what extent is KM now integrated with the normal work of the organisation? Choose the sentence that most closely fits your answer.

  • KM is not part of normal activity but is being addressed by a separate group
  • KM is performed as a one-off intervention after which business returns to normal 
  • KM is a non-routine part of normal activity, done as an exception or when requested 
  • KM is fully integrated and is a routine part of normal activity or operations 

 The graph shows how the responses to the second question vary according to the first question, and shows how the integration of KM changes with maturity.

In the early stages of KM, KM is mostly either performed by a separate group (30% of responses) or as an exception to normal process (48% of responses).

For organisations which are well in progress, the role of the separate group is much reduced (to 12% of responses), as is the one-off intervention. The largest proportion of responses is still that KM is an exception to normal process (54% of responses), but the second largest is that KM is fully integrated in normal activity.

For organisations who claim that KM is fully embedded, almost three quarters say that KM is fully integrated in normal activity.

As you might expect, there is a close link between fully embedded KM, and full integration of KM activities into operations.

View Original Source Here.