This is a new series of posts, an alphabet primer of agile knowledge management (KM), to touch upon some of the key concepts, approaches, methods, tools, insights in the world of KM. And because there could have been different alternatives for each letter I’m also introducing the words I had to let go of here.
This is the fourth part of this alphabet primer, with some heavyweight words between P and U.
P for People
In order to have any success, KM has to be about, for, and by the people. It’s the people that think, that feel, that identify, that explore, that analyse, that summarise, that rally, that use, that reflect, that unite, that live with anything that KM produces. Focus on the people, YOUR people and at least you don’t miss the most fundamental first step. Who are they? How will they think and feel and react about issue abc, system pqr, approach xyz? Let them help you!
P could also have been…
P is also a heavyweight letter, covering many rejected candidates:
Processes – In the KM heyday, people, processes and systems were the litany of KM heads. While this has waned to some extent, processes remain an important lens to see how the information (the content) is used and absorbed by the people, and how to organise workflows that work. And process literacy is essential to KM success.
Portals (expired) – For a long time many KM people were building portals just because it sounded like the right thing to do, until there was already too many platforms out there and it became cumbersome. Nowadays agile KM no longer looks at portals as the go-to solution, but rather looks at meta portals for helping the questioning process, such as with Quora or Wikipedia.
Patterns – An essential aspect of learning, and of complexity, patterns are necessary for knowledge management in that they offer ‘invisible feedback loops’ that can be used to inform how KM is doing and how all the people and elements around them are gelling or not.
And I could have also written about: platforms (covered in this primer through systems, portals etc.), pacing, purpose, personal, presence, participation…
Q for Question(ing)
Q has to be about questions and the act of questioning to find out what is the next quest, what is the new insight, what is the emerging feeling, what is the anticipated vision. Questions are at the heart of learning and (ever) adapting. Methods like ‘nine whys‘ are at the heart of agile knowledge management. So practice your questioning!
Q could also have been…
Quality – In some environments where KM is not so well-known, and where social media are questioned, as in my home country France, the quality approach is another term for parts of what KM tries to do, around information management and ensuring the right service at the right time for the right person. With quality comes also the idea of quality standards and monitoring processes, other elements that guarantee a certain degree of service that can be expected.
R for Rituals
Central to learning are rituals. And although in the industrial age rituals were perhaps partly eclipsed, they are gaining ground again in the network age, as a rediscovered attribute of ‘tribes‘ and of community gatherings. In KM, rituals entail both the ritual of a quality approach e.g. reviewing what’s out there and building upon the latest available information, but it also entails group rituals that mark important moments in the knowledge life of a grouping e.g. in(tro)duction of new staff, exit interviews, after-action-reviews, yearly learning retreats etc.
Here’s more about tribes from Seth Godin:
R could also have been…
Results, reviews and ratings – Results, reviews, ratings are all part of a healthy approach to any (set of) system(s) that are used, to better understand what is going on and what needs to be kept, tweaked or removed. In other words, use metrics to define your baseline, and then assess your end result through reviews, ratings and other tests that provide you with that data. And think about the functions you need for the results you wish to obtain.
Reinventing the wheel – I illustrated in a post about KM in cartoons this common challenge that KM aspires to tackle once and for all. Even though a small dose of reinventing the wheel is unavoidable and perhaps even desirable to tickle peoples’ curiosity and empowerment.
Role modeling – In any behaviour change approach, there are models that inspire others. These are the champions that lead the way, the positive deviants that discover smarter ways, the herders that pull everyone in a direction etc. Find out what are some of the role models you need for your initiative and see who can role model for you. These people can be your most precious assets.
And still R could also be… relationships (covered by people, and trust), reflecting etc.
S for Social
In the first era of knowledge management (partly disputed by these 7 ages of KM), all that mattered were information systems. But fast forward to 2016 and no one doing KM can pretend to do a good job when they’re not looking at the social dimension of knowledge management. And engagement and learning through the social interfaces is key.
S could also have been…
Systems – as in ‘information systems’. Yes systems are as central to KM as the social side of things. But I just happen to believe in the people using the system more than in the systems themselves. And not least because too many people got attracted to the idea of ‘be-all-do-all’ global information systems.
Sharing – Nothing new under the sun: information – and knowledge – are meant to be shared for any agile KM approach to thrivingly flow. HOW you get there is a different issue, but sharing is one of the archetypical expected behaviours of successful knowledge management (and knowledge sharing one of the three pillars of KM in my definition).
And S could still have been stealth (KM), scaling etc.
T for Trust
Knowledge management is not flavour of the day, and the reason behind this is that it takes time: to understand the situation, to imagine fit approaches, to build systems and crucially to build trust among the people that are part of an agile KM ecosystem. But trust is one of the cornerstones of sustainable knowledge management (and a great many other things)…Trust is the truth.
T could also have been…
Thinking – Because knowledge management is very much in the realm of logical reasoning (even though there is much place for feelings too) and because analysing, reflecting etc. are all avatars of thinking.
Tools – Another name for systems, but in knowledge management circles there is also a whole wave of people enthusiastic about tools, exploring them, playing around with them, understanding their value… before they may get turned into systems. That playfulness with tools is essential – without falling in the tool trap on the other hand.
Tradeoffs – As with any complex domain, knowledge management is about choosing certain things – or rather slightly favouring them – over others: information vs. knowledge, pilot vs. large scale, stealth vs. big bang, centralised vs. decentralised. So tradeoff thinking is a useful card to have in your agile KM deck.
U for Unlearning
Learning, unlearning, two sides of the same coin. In agile KM we have to let go of certain ideas, behaviours, aspirations, ways of doing things. And so unlearning is just as important as learning new things. Make room for what comes next.
U could also have been…
Unconferences – Wikipedia describes these so: “An unconference, also called an Open Space conference, is a participant-driven meeting. The term “unconference” has been applied, or self-applied, to a wide range of gatherings that try to avoid one or more aspects of a conventional conference, such as fees, sponsored presentations, and top-down organization.” And rightly there’s a place for these different types of gatherings in agile KM, because the gist of it is to let ideas flow, trust build, creative energy to get unleashed. It’s also about unlearning, and taking calculated risks… and that’s what agile KM is all about.
What would be your letter choices for this section of the agile KM alphabet primer?