Knowledge management requires a price, and good design an even higher price. It is important that those involved in knowledge management pay attention, acutely, to the world around them, if they are to pick up the weak signals that precede new knowledge, or the wake of dissonance that alerts one to a changes in what is important to know. The price is time. Knowledge management, as much as consultants and managers want to integrate it directly into the work, can’t be integrated.
Knowledge often arrives at inopportune moments when capturing it, it displaces other, more immediate work, often causing consternation for the individual, and sometimes invoking the coach in a manager, or even their ire, because capturing knowledge appears unproductive.
Throughout this book you will read critiques of industrial age measures being used to validate, or invalidate, knowledge-oriented work. The problem is that industrial age measures typically look at the short term and at well-defined processes. The goal of industrial age measures was to remove slack and variability from processes in order to reduce cycle times and costs. If you learn something, and you take time out of your process to capture it, the industrial age process slaps you on the wrist for introducing a variation.
One way to combat this, as you will read later, is to introduce feedback loops into structured processes so the learning exemplars become an integral part of the processes. If this is done well, then not only is learning allowed, but it is expected. Not providing feedback becomes an unacceptable deviation from the process.
“The risk, however, is that as people continue to look for ways to shorten cycle times and reduce variability, learning gets squeezed from the processes, and the feedback loops lost.”
The risk, however, is that as people continue to look for ways to shorten cycle times and reduce variability, learning gets squeezed from the processes, and the feedback loops lost.
In nearly pure knowledge organizations, this is less likely, but even when looking at the large consultancies, they tend to create heavily process-oriented delivery products that attempt to industrialize consulting. They need feedback loops in order to allow their methodologies to adapt to changing conditions.
Creating Knowledge: Developing A Methodology
When I worked at Hughes Aircraft, I worked closely with Ernst and Young (E&Y) consultants to create a client-server version of Information Engineering (IE), the methodology created by Clive Finkelstein, James Martin and others designed to manage large mainframe projects. E&Y hadn’t modified their methodology fast enough, so Hughes hired them and invested people, with at times, five internal senior staff members, to go line-by-line through multiple notebooks in order insert and augment IE to match current development needs. We got our methodology faster and paid to help E&Y update theirs. Eventually similar exercises were undertaken elsewhere in the industry to account for the development of object-oriented methods. Of course, with Agile and Scrum and many others, IE doesn’t get used much any more as an actual development methodology, but its influence remains strong in systems architecture circles.
That learning cost Hughes significant amounts of money in terms of labor and internal publishing. Hughes, however, decided that it was worth this investment given the size of their projects and their bet on what was then, a new approach to application development and deployment. This project probably worked because the methodology development was seen as a one-off, and its costs, although reallocated back to divisions, was done through management overhead already allocated to them. In other words, it may not have been transparent, but it wasn’t invisible.
“Interestingly, the people involved in this project became rather myopic over the course of the project, and were pulled off of line duties or other projects, therefore reducing the broadness of learning from senior people who might otherwise enjoy much broader exposure.”
Interestingly, the people involved in this project became rather myopic over the course of the project, and were pulled off of line duties or other projects, therefore reducing the broadness of learning from senior people who might otherwise enjoy much broader exposure. The time was limited, but there was surely a cost in lost insight and lost learning, from and for, those involved in this project. Another version of the cost of entry, but this aspect balances one type of learning against another.
I haven’t worked in many places, or heard of them, that make this kind of investment consistently. At lower levels, knowledge work and learning often finds time stollen, unaccounted for, or hidden in order to circumvent the strictures of industrial age measurement. That is the cost of entry for those people who find passion in learning and continuous improvement.