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Friday, February 10, 2006

TOP TIPS: Establishing public communities of practice

From humble beginnings to a membership of over 10,000 KM practitioners, academics and students, the European Commission-funded KnowledgeBoard is now Europe's most diverse, developed and dynamic, public online knowledge community. How can you ensure your own online community is successful? Here are three top tips to consider when developing a public community of practice.

Motivated leaders are key to sustaining participationLike communities of practice in private enterprise, motivated leaders of subject groups (SGs) within a public community are vital to maintaining and developing interest. Successful leaders are often those who volunteer because there's a specific angle they are interested in. They're happy to take the time and communicate with as many people as are interested. SG leaders who contribute little or cannot afford the time will soon lose interest.

Interest, not practice drives a public communityUnlike corporate CoPs, public communities are not driven by the need to resolve specific issues or develop specific projects. Public communities are driven by individuals needing and sharing insight and information about practical, everyday problems. Such a community will more likely - especially in its early stages - to be a source of information and ideas than advice on practice.

Balance freedom and moderation Because community members post what they think are interesting articles and comments, a public community can reflect a broader interest than just the original subject matter. Left unchecked, this freedom can result in a dilution of quality information. However, too much moderation and control from community owners can result in members backing off and the development of the community stalling.

Adapted from The public voice: Managing a pan-European community in the current issue of KM Review.

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METRIC MATTERS: Designing key performance indicators

Here are three top tips on designing relevant key performance indicators:
Understand your audienceGaining an understanding of the needs of a range of stakeholders, both internal and external is critical to the design of good KPIs. Ask yourself what’s critical to your key stakeholders and use this information as a starting point for designing your KPIs. Once you know what you need to do to get it right, you can start to worry about how you measure it. Once you know what’s critical to the various stakeholders, then you can start to ask what’s preventing you from delivering on these critical things, which provides a good basis for the KPIs you’re developing. Measure the few critical things, not everything.

It will often be the case that at the end of this exercise, a KPI will cut across two or more departments. This presents an opportunity for some "creative tension," where two departments rely on each other to meet a KPI. This means that department managers have to co-operate with each other to achieve a common goal, which is something that doesn’t always come naturally.

Because managers sometimes develop their KPIs in isolation, the measures they chose related only to their own needs and not to the needs of the business as a whole, or its clients. For example, in meeting supply chain’s requirements, a manufacturing department is left short of critical components, which delays their despatch, in turn impacting on the ability of project management to complete their projects on time.

Does this sound familiar Outcomes vs. activities
Do you measure activities or outcomes? There’s an important difference between the two. Outcomes describe what will be different as a result of an activity; they do not describe the activity itself. For example, on a recent assignment I discussed an audit manager’s 2006 plan. He proudly stated that they would do 50 audits, which is laudable, but hardly describes what the outcome is to the business (reduced costs, increased margin, regulatory compliance etc).
Focus on outcomes. Don’t base your performance management system completely on what you do (activities), focus on why you do it (outcomes).

Lack of focusKPIs need to be focused. Having a dozen measurements on equipment inspections does not make for a good performance management system. Well-designed KPIs are focused and few in number. They are detailed enough to be able to spot trouble ahead (you can then do more investigation) but no so detailed that you spend more time collecting stats than doing work. Remember the ‘K’ in KPI stands for Key. Make sure that your KPIs measure the key things that tell you if your organization is performing.

By John Davidson, Facilitators UK

KM Review.

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RESOURCES: Linking KM with other organizational functions

A new report has been released by the British Standards Institution. "Linking Knowledge Management with other Organizational Functions and Disciplines: A Guide to Good Practice," was put together by a team of KM experts from the Knowledge and Innovation Network, which is associated with UK’s Warwick University.

The authors assert that "one of the main reasons that many KM projects have failed is precisely because they did not make a strong linkage with other functions and management trends and therefore did not engage the ‘hearts and minds’ of all key stakeholders." The key to making these linkages, according to the report’s Executive Summary, is to make those linkages according to the organization’s particular overall strategy, and not rely on "one or two champions or enthusiasts" to make the necessary connections within the organization.

They offer three critical factors for KM teams to increase their impact in the organization:
1. Act as an innovation agent
2. Customer focus
3. Collaboration

As for particular skills necessary to make linkages, KM teams must focus on the correct point of entry – what department, given the organization’s strategy, has the most importance; credibility to overcome scepticism; sustainability and skills development.

The report leads with a list of definitions that will be familiar to knowledge managers, but useful to beginners in the field. Likewise the second part, a review of approaches to KM. What is new is the heart of the report, which is a series of sections called KM and..., pairing the function with disciplines such as HR, IT, marketing and communications; virtually every conceivable major division in a large organization. The next section links KM to new ideas, rather than functions, such as "attention management," blogging, corporate social responsibility and measurement.

For each section the report gives good practice examples from (usually anonymous) heads of KM in private industry. For example, under KM and HR the authors advise making links through recruitment practices such as tracking recruiting data, integrating technology and assessment tools to make hiring more efficient and helping to develop a diverse culture. Another area of intersection is succession planning, and helping to create "a pool of leaders rather than a queue for each job."

In the KM and IT chapter, refreshingly, the authors report that the longstanding association of KM purely with IT is beginning to fade, based on several interviews with KM practitioners.

KM Review.

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