A Knowledge Management Framework

Rick Dove, Paradigm Shift International, www.parshift.com,

Our last discussion began the design of a core-competency knowledge management system, and developed the primary design requirements. We also introduced a design architecture that fulfills those requirements - which we will explore here. The context of our design is a GM Metal Fabrication plant with exceptional competency at creating high-variety, low-volume production processes, and their desire for training both new employees and a broader base of existing employees in this competency.
    Any knowledge management system must deal with rapid change in knowledge value, and provide means for evolving the knowledge base under management. Even leadership core competency becomes irrelevant in the churning competitive environment. The design requirements (
Dec '97) focus on the dynamic nature of knowledge capture, dissemination, renewal, and creation; and recognize the need for transparent training which does not interfere with daily employee productivity.
    To start - we need to build one process to capture knowledge and insight that a few people possess, and another process to plant that knowledge and insight effectively in other minds. Since the value of knowledge and the nature of its application changes constantly, these processes must be change proficient. Consider the alternative: if we succeed in capturing and packaging the insights of a few people today, and also succeed in feeding this boxed wisdom to everyone else, there is both a risk that the contents are incomplete and a time when they become stale - better to let things compete for acceptance than to institutionalize rigor mortise.
    Leading management sage Tom Peters says it well: "I'm totally opposed to the learning organization idea. I argue for the forgetting organization. You get droids when you have too much training and too many people thinking and learning in the same way" (Wired magazine, Dec 97).
    So we need a process that captures wisdom from those who have it, even if they can't articulate what it is; that seeks wisdom wherever it may be at the moment; that actively renews (improves, upgrades) its content; that creates and accepts new knowledge when it is appropriate.
    With this reasoning our knowledge capture process has grown into a capture, renewal, and creation process - the activities that identify and package the right stuff. But we're still going to have problems if this stuff is simply put in a box and handed over to a separate and dedicated "training" process: for one it'll go stale, for another the trainers will not be quick to change what they teach.
    A little more reasoning is needed. New employees come in the door and existing employees change job functions constantly throughout the year - frequent events that trigger a need for training. Meanwhile, deliberate knowledge generation typically relies on the slow-to-admit failure of existing knowledge as its triggering event. This tells us that the knowledge generation activities are better tied to the training triggers - and leads us to the conclusion that we don't want separate generation and dissemination processes but rather one integrated system - one that generates and reaffirms knowledge in the process of teaching it. The implication here is that the people being trained will be the agents of knowledge generation as well as the triggers.
    We don't want off-the-shelf knowledge to feed to people - but rather a training process for discovering and reinterpreting appropriate knowledge and its application.
    OK - we've addressed the stale knowledge problem and the stuck-in-a-rut teacher problem. Now reality bites: performance pressures preempt time-off for training and postpone dollar commitments for training resources.
    Actually these are blessings in disguise. We don't want dedicated training resources - they institutionalize the rigor mortise. Instead, we want a rotating mentor-student relationship that exposes the wisdom of real workers, and challenges them to explain their insights explicitly. And we don't want time-off for training - that encourages the wrong knowledge focus. Instead, we want training to occur during the process of solving real problems - with solutions that provide real value in real time to the organization. We've called this employment of real people solving real problems in real time Realsearch in prior essays. Details can be read in "Realsearch: A Framework for Knowledge Management and Continuing Education" available on the web site at www.parshift.com.
    So we know that we need a highly change proficient process. The cases analyzed here in the last four essays show that we can gain this with a framework/module architecture based on RRS (Reusable, Reconfigurable, Scalable) principles (
Sep/Oct '97).
    We define the architecture's framework as a set of evolving standards that both constrain and enable the interactions of compatible system modules; and note that there is both an implicit and an explicit framework.
   The implicit framework is present whether we design it or not: the local corporate culture, global corporate policies and strategic plan, regulatory
 constraints, union contract and work rules, communication infrastructure (e.g., electronic distance learning technology), and skill sets and workforce capabilities. Though these are all real parts of the framework, practically speaking we can have no immediately effective hand in their redesign - they are the "givens" of the framework, and for the most part are the constraining portion - they limit what is possible.
    We will focus our framework design effort on the enabling portion - that part which provides the adaptability to changing knowledge values and application requirements as well as changing personnel priorities and profiles.
    We design the framework after we establish the change issues it must accommodate (
Dec '97). The reasoning process above coalesces these issues around six strategic themes that emerge as our key framework elements.
    The accompanying diagram shows these strategic theme elements as dark/red bubbles connected to each other as well as to functional activities (light/yellow bubbles) that support these themes. The connecting lines convey a strong support relationship which is generally neither uni-directional nor strictly hierarchical - thus we have themes supporting themes as well as activities supporting themes. More connectivity indicates a tighter weave of mutual support, leading to a more consistent, more compatible, and higher leveraged set of elements.

A Quick Look At The Framework

1) Change Issue/Value Focus: Change proficient production process design is the core competency knowledge of interest here. A strong focus is therefore put on identifying the change issues addressed by a design. Knowing how to analyze or develop a highly adaptable process is not necessarily good if no value accrues to the company. To this end all process analysis and design work is accompanied with a performance value analysis (a subject for the future).
    Value is also important to the student. Developing new knowledge is not easy, and developing knowledge at the depth of insight is tougher yet. Preparatory work is aimed at relating mastery of the fundamental principles to personal values.
    2) Based on Fundamental Principles: Earlier we discussed the problems associated with static knowledge. These problems are greater to the extent that knowledge is specific and narrow, and lessor to the extent that knowledge is fundamental: in physics, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle is less likely to change than is the location of a particle it governs. Thus, we focus on principle-based knowledge with examples of good application. In the GM context the RRS principles themselves are appropriate as the core competency GM wants to manage is about adaptable systems. The RRS principles become more accessible, however, when they are translated into local rules - using the vernacular of the plant, its processes, and its people.
    3) Students Renew Knowledge: We want a fresh look continually at the knowledge base - students provide this when they build and refine metaphor model "candidates". The models remain candidates until the "QA committee" (mentors and prior students) decides that they are worthy of entry into the official case study library. Students are also responsible for identifying and adding applicable outside information and readings to the review library. With less historical vestment in the status quo students are more aggressive in their outside information considerations.
    In our earlier discussion we arrived at the need for an integrated process - one which utilizes those being trained to develop the very substance of the training material. The act of capturing core competency knowledge is the same act that also disseminates it.
    4) Solve Real Problems: When learning time is focused on solving a real problem for the business, the time spent has direct and immediate payback, and the relevancy of the knowledge is self ensuring. In our GM context, topics for analysis and solution work are chosen for their abilities to shed new light on existing processes and/or develop new processes with superior characteristics.
    5) Insight Facilitation: The real aim of all of this is to build a work force highly competent in what this plant perceives to be a preemptive strategic advantage. Competency comes in varying degrees - and when accompanied by true insight it is formidable. Supporting activities (yellow/light bubbles) are organize to facilitate the development of personal insight.
    The diagram below depicts our design progress so far. It is not presented as a template for universal application, but more as an introduction to design concepts and process - and arose from only a brief 3-day Realsearch workshop conducted earlier at GM's Pittsburgh plant. Next we will employ RRS principles to design the functional activities that support the framework themes.


1998 RKDove - Attributed Copies Permitted
Essay #037 - Originally Published 1/98 in Automotive Manufacturing & Production, Gardner Publications

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