KA Dialog #1 – Part 5: Leverage yourself, and each other.

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“Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the Earth.” Archimedes

This post is the fifth in an open dialog with Bob Batcheler of Newforma. Here are links to Part 1: Knowledge management is squishy, Part 2: PIM is like a bunch of boxes… , Part 3: Information Disasters vs. Knowledge Disasters and Part 4: Disaster Prevention and Recovery (PM and KM Style) for reference.

Batch,

Happy New Year! I apologize for the delay in responding to your last post. I spent December on the road talking to all kinds of folks about knowledge management on both a strategic and tactical level, including Newforma. My journal is full of anecdotes, techniques and lists of ideas – many of which I’m sure I’ll be sharing on this blog.

I have a New Year’s day ritual that I’d like to share with you. I have a personal journal and a Knowledge Architecture  journal. At the start of every New Year I brew some coffee (this year I went to Starbucks)  and read through the previous year’s journal entries chronologically. Beyond having a good laugh at false assumptions and worries that never came to pass – I look for patterns that emerge or phrases that repeat. This year, one cluster of phrases from my Knowledge Architecture journal stood out:

“Leverage yourself.” “Leverage yourself and your organization.” “Leverage technology to…” “At its core, knowledge management is about leverage…”

A scan over my blog posts, website, and workshop materials confirms that leverage was my word of 2009.

Knowledge management and leverage

I know what you are thinking. 

“Good for you Chris, after a year of writing you have discovered that the point of learning and using technology is to leverage yourself.  I’m sure that Archimedes would be proud to personally welcome you the last two millennia of human progress .”

Fair enough, but I think that there is more to it. You closed your last dialog post with the following questions:

So, Chris, the question to you is, as you build your business, how are you investing in building KA’s knowledge assets?  Or are the cobbler’s children running around without shoes?

Building a new business  in a recession (the DJIA was around 6,000 when we launched in March, 2009) has led us to deeply embed bootstrapping and leverage deeply into our culture.

As you know, we are a small company with limited resources. While it is true we are growing, the wisest investments we are making are into leveraging our people and their knowledge.

I am also seeing this approach from our customers. Many of them do not anticipate hiring in 2010. They have cut the fat from their budgets, and many have gone further. So what’s left? The prevailing cliché is “doing more with less.” Which is exactly right as long as you move beyond simply repeating the slogan and waiting for change to magically appear.

I believe that “doing more with less” means creating, capturing, and sharing knowledge assets to leverage yourself and your team so that you can work smarter, faster, and more profitably. 

The silver lining for 2010 is that now is a perfect time to invest in becoming a knowledge-driven firm. Let me nail that down with some specific examples on how Knowledge Architecture is leveraging knowledge assets both individually and as a team.

Everyone is their own knowledge manager

My wife, Denise,  serves as my own personal Peter Drucker – asking me Yoda-like questions when I am stuck. Here’s a question that she asks me on a regular basis which is an excellent jumping off point for discussing knowledge management at Knowledge Architecture (and beyond):

WIIFM – What’s in it for me? As in, “what’s the WIIFM for X person?”

For Brian Campbell, a Senior Consultant with Knowledge Architecture, the WIIFM for developing a checklist for performing Deltek Vision – Newforma Project Center (DV-NPC) integrations is to be able to nail every integration efficiently and right the first time.

Why? Beyond the obvious high level of pride that all of us take in our work – we have a couple of structural elements built into our business model which support a knowledge-driven culture. The first is that we run open-book financials and share profits based on firm performance. In addition, all of our integrations are supported for a year under our subscription plan. This means that Brian (and all of us) are personally invested in performing our fixed-fee engagements both efficiently (profit-sharing) and right the first time (preventing costly and embarrassing re-work.)

Leverage that asset

Let’s keep following the DV-NPC integration checklist asset through the organization to see how we can leverage it in marketing and sales.

My primary roles at Knowledge Architecture are marketing and sales, product management, and corporate operations. There’s a WIIFM here for me as well. I obviously need to be able to talk about features and benefits of our products and services when I’m meeting with a potential customer. However, the knowledge asset (checklist) created by Brian also allows me to speak confidently about the process and provide accurate estimates for our fixed-fee services. In addition, our standard proposals and contracts are derived from our methodology.

Furthermore, our debrief after every integration engagement (yes, we do closeout meetings) ensures that our methodology and our marketing materials stay in sync. I’m not selling something Brian can’t deliver and he’s able to update the team on the latest lessons learned and updates to our checklist.

Our continuous feedback loop ensures that I’m not selling something our consulting team can’t deliver and we’re all aware of the latest changes to our methodology.

I suppose this might be described as the WIIFU – What’s in it for us?

Growing the firm and sharing knowledge

As you know, we have recently hired my brother, Chad Parsons, to join us as our Director of Engineering. Chad’s primary responsibilities include overseeing delivery of our solutions, software development, and internal technology operations. Welcome Chad!

One of our top priorities is to transfer our DV-NPC integrations from Brian to Chad. We have a couple new initiatives in the first quarter which are more applicable to Brian’s background, experience, and skillset than Chad’s and we want to free him up.

In order to leverage Brian and Chad appropriately — our knowledge asset is on the move again.

But there is more to bringing Chad up to speed on DV-NPC integrations than handing over the the knowledge explicitly contained in the checklist.  Brian also has experience and intuition (tacit knowledge for the KM geeks out there) which are not so simple to codify in a document. Our tactic here is for Chad to shadow Brian on enough DV-NPC integration engagements so that Chad can take over primary responsibility for delivering them in the future.  And of course, Brian will always be available as a backstop for questions.

Is it inefficient and expensive for us to have both Brian and Chad work on integrations in January and February? The short-term answer is yes. But in the long run we are investing in creating assets and leveraging our people appropriately, ensuring that we are working smarter, faster, and more profitably.

Back to you

The most successful knowledge management examples I saw last year were almost always bottom-up, instead of top-down.  They all had a WIIFM and many times that benefit was the ability for an individual to magnify their personal impact or that of their team by creating, capturing and sharing knowledge.

Which leads me to my questions for your next post:

As a software company who has a five-year head start and thirty employees on us, I’m interested in learning how you are investing in building Newforma’s knowledge assets? How are the lessons learned from both of our companies applicable for our architecture and engineering clients?

 

Best,
Chris

Bob Batcheler is Newforma’s vice-president of industry marketing and product management. Bob’s career as a professional engineer includes time at Black & Veatch and Bechtel Power Corporation. His AEC technology background encompasses a variety of roles at Autodesk and Softdesk. Bob earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from Lehigh University, and qualified as a registered professional engineer in Maryland.

Posted: January 3rd, 2010 | Filed under: General, Guests, Most Popular | 3 Comments »

KA Dialog #1 – Part 3: Information Disasters vs. Knowledge Disasters.

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                                                                                                               TOHO CO. LTD.

This post is the third in an open dialog with Ian Howell and Bob Batcheler of Newforma. Here are links to Part 1: Knowledge management is squishy and Part 2: PIM is like a bunch of boxes… for reference.

Ian and Batch,

Batch’s last post about “information boxes” got me thinking about “knowledge boxes.” And since you brought up using the idea of an information disaster to illustrate the importance of project information management, I thought I’d pick up on the thread and extend it to knowledge disasters.

Let’s start with two exercises. (If you aren’t Ian or Batch – you should play along at home as well.)

Exercise # 1 – Information Disaster

Clear your mind. Think about the “boxes” that you referenced in your last post. Specifically, visualize the contents of projects on servers or in the “CDs/DVDs in filing cabinets and paper drawings in boxes stored offsite by services like Iron Mountain” that you mentioned.

Now, imagine that your building burns down. What types of information artifacts would you lose?

Task – Write down at least 10 information artifacts you would lose. (Humor me here, you’ll see why at the end.)

Exercise #2 – Knowledge Disaster

Let’s try this again. Only this time, imagine that a couple senior folks in your company have just told you that they are leaving. Not only are they leaving, but they are setting up shop across the street. Not only are they leaving and setting up shop across the street, but their first client is actually one of your best clients and oh…by the way…they are taking about ten of your best people with them.

Now I hope this does not happen to you. But it happens all the time. It is how most companies get started.

When companies are confronted with the question “What is your company’s greatest asset?” the answer is some variant of “our people.”

So let’s try a second exercise…

Think about the scenario I described above. When those twelve people walk out the door to start their new company what types of “knowledge assets” would you lose? In other words, we’ve established that our people are our greatest assets, so what exactly is the impact of the disaster?

Task – Write down at least 10 knowledge assets that you would lose.

We don’t prepare for Knowledge Disasters like we prepare for Information Disasters.

Here’s an excerpt from Batch’s post last week:

This leads to an interesting potential thought exercise in promoting the value of project information and knowledge management in an AEC organization. I suggest you go back to the CIO in your story to ask, “What would be the impact of your firm losing all of the information associated with any one of your major projects over the past three years?” I suspect he would characterize that as a disaster, right? Then ask a follow-up question – “What would be the impact of being unable to find a key piece of information required to avoid a claim?” or “What would be the impact of hundreds of hours of skilled labor, from a project manager and IT support, required to find the information required to respond to a claim?” If he is honest with you, he will admit that the scenarios depicted in each of the follow-up questions is nearly as dangerous as the obvious disaster of outright data loss.

I don’t have to go back to the CIO in my story and ask those questions. I already know the answers and so do both of you. Of course he would agree that your scenario was a disaster and that the inability to discover data is nearly as dangerous.

Back to Exercise #1. I bet your list (you did write it down didn’t you?) looks something like this.

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Sample project directory from Knowledge Architecture.

I believe we have a strong understanding about what information loss looks like because information artifacts are so quantifiable. The extent of our familiarity with the risks of poor information management procedures is evidenced by a robust,  information-centric disaster recovery industry.  Those risks are underscored by the amount of time and effort first put into disaster recovery planning on an annual basis.

At the same time, my observation is that companies don’t have an inventory of  knowledge assets written down. They don’t have  strategies to prevent losing knowledge assets in knowledge disaster scenarios like the one I illustrated in  in Exercise #2, people walking out the door. I had never heard the phrase “knowledge disaster” until I started working on this post. (Looks like “the Google” hasn’t either.)

Why is this? Why are we prepared for information disasters and not knowledge disasters?

Knowledge management is not squishy, it is simply more difficult than information management.

Knowledge management is more difficult than information management because it requires people to do something. Knowledge management is unlike information management in that we have to intentionally create, capture and share knowledge assets whereas information artifacts are the by-products of our daily work.

Now, I’m not saying that information management is easy. I most certainly understand the challenges that come along with the unimaginable volume of information architects and engineers generate annually. I think that project information management (PIM) tools such as Newforma Project center have made information management far less daunting.

But to put it quite simply…

Managing information artifacts is a challenge of abundance. Managing knowledge assets is a challenge of scarcity.

I want to close by picking up on the last line in your post from last week.

“…our shared belief (is) that AEC organizations must manage their project information effectively in order to have any hope of transforming that information into knowledge.”

 

I like the idea that there is hope for transforming information into knowledge.  Your comment implies that perhaps technology can aid with our “scarcity of knowledge assets” problem by doing some of the heavy lifting for us. 

Can Newforma Project Center help firms to transform information artifacts into knowledge assets? Could Newforma help firms to prevent knowledge disasters?

Looking forward to your next post. And happy unpacking.

Chris

Ian Howell is Newforma’s chief executive officer. He’s an architect by training, with practice experience in Australia and the United Kingdom. His AEC software industry experience includes positions with Autodesk, Citadon, Alias Research and Rucaps Australia. Among his contributions to the AEC software industry, Ian is a founder of the International Alliance for Interoperability, and currently serves on the board of direction for the buildingSMART Alliance.

Bob Batcheler is Newforma’s vice-president of industry marketing and product management. Bob’s career as a professional engineer includes time at Black & Veatch and Bechtel Power Corporation. His AEC technology background encompasses a variety of roles at Autodesk and Softdesk. Bob earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from Lehigh University, and qualified as a registered professional engineer in Maryland.

Posted: October 30th, 2009 | Filed under: General, Guests | Comments Off on KA Dialog #1 – Part 3: Information Disasters vs. Knowledge Disasters.

KA Dialog #1: Knowledge management is squishy.

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Ian and Batch,

Thanks for agreeing to participate in the first KA Dialog. I’ll get us started with a story.

I had a wide-ranging discussion with a CIO of a large architectural firm several months ago. Near the end of the conversation, I asked him for his opinion of my plan to build a knowledge management consulting practice focused on the AE industry. He kind of danced around what he really thought for a bit, and then came out with the truth:

CIO: “The problem with knowledge management is that it is squishy.”

Me: “What do you mean squishy?”

CIO: “I mean it can’t be measured. Going to my board to ask for money for knowledge management initiatives is always a struggle. Everyone gets that we need to do BIM. Same for buying servers or upgrading bandwidth. Easy sale. Knowledge management? Not so much.”

Me: “I’m sure the ROI…”

CIO: “My board doesn’t care about ROI because it is invisible. They can SEE us moving forward with BIM. They can SEE us upgrading to iPhones and 3D-printing our models. They can’t see us managing knowledge, and even if they could, it isn’t clear what the benefits are.”

I’m sure you two have have conversations like this before. I don’t know about you, my initial response to hearing something so diametrically opposed to what I believe is often to get defensive. I thought that perhaps my CIO friend wasn’t effectively selling the value of his initiatives. Or that he was pitching the wrong projects. Or any other number of reasons why he was wrong.

Eventually I moved from being defensive to becoming curious. So I started asking around…

I asked dozens of individuals ranging from CIOs to CEOs, architects to engineers, software companies to other consultants about knowledge management. I asked for definitions, strategic plans, measurement frameworks, and proven tactics. And what I found was that my CIO friend from the story above was correct. Knowledge management in our industry IS squishy. We don’t have a good sense of what knowledge management is, how to manage knowledge, what knowledge to manage, and who should be doing knowledge management.

I realized that if I wanted to build a practice around knowledge management, I’d better start putting together a pretty persuasive case to combat this perception. More to the point, I’d need to be able to hand folks a blueprint for knowledge management, a “knowledge architecture” if you will.

Enter the dialog that the three of us began a few months ago.

Ian, you gave me some advice that has become foundational to my approach. You suggested borrowing a lesson from Psychology and focusing on applied knowledge management, rather than on knowledge management theory.

Batch, you suggested that we un-muddy the knowledge management waters for ourselves and our customers by becoming more precise with language. There are tons of information systems in architecture and engineering firms — project information management (PIM) systems, digital asset management (DAM) systems, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, intranets, and so on. I think we both agree that the relationship between those information systems and knowledge management could use some definition.

I’m interested in hearing more from both of you on these topics.

From Ian, what applied knowledge management tactics does Newforma Project Center enable? How would you pitch the benefits of Newforma, specifically measurable metrics, to the skeptical board that I introduced in the story above?

From Batch, how does project information management software fit into a knowledge architecture, or knowledge management blueprint? What are the key knowledge assets that Newforma Project Center helps individuals to create, capture, and share?

Looking forward to your responses next week,

Chris

Ian Howell is Newforma’s chief executive officer. He’s an architect by training, with practice experience in Australia and the United Kingdom. His AEC software industry experience includes positions with Autodesk, Citadon, Alias Research and Rucaps Australia. Among his contributions to the AEC software industry, Ian is a founder of the International Alliance for Interoperability, and currently serves on the board of direction for the buildingSMART Alliance.

Bob Batcheler is Newforma’s vice-president of industry marketing and product management. Bob’s career as a professional engineer includes time at Black & Veatch and Bechtel Power Corporation. His AEC technology background encompasses a variety of roles at Autodesk and Softdesk. Bob earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from Lehigh University, and qualified as a registered professional engineer in Maryland.

Posted: October 16th, 2009 | Filed under: General, Guests | 3 Comments »

Guest Post: Chris Marolf on the tangible benefits of Knowledge Management in the AEC.

Quick – what were the five things from your last project that you should remember for future projects? Got ‘em? Good. How about three important lessons learned from the project you did in 2006?

If you are struggling to remember these lessons, you’re in good company. I’ve been helping firms in the construction industry develop institutional memories with their lessons learned for the past ten years, and I find it striking how few firms are able to answer the above questions. As part of my work I also facilitate lessons learned meetings at the completion of projects. Two things really stand out after having done about 150 of these meetings: first, there aren’t many truly new mistakes in this industry. Most of the things that go wrong on a project have gone wrong on past projects as well. Second, these mistakes cost a lot of money, but they aren’t often fully accounted for. There is a lot of money at stake here!

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: August 6th, 2009 | Filed under: General, Guests, Most Popular | 1 Comment »