Thx to everyone for the retweets on my previous post about socialising processes, adhoc work, observable work and ACM.
If you are going to take something away let it be the concept of BRP (Barely Repeatable Processes) to enable adhoc, unpredictable work…and at the same time reclaiming observable work, and as always ambient awareness.
I’m sure the pioneers like Thingamy, Traction Software, Activities on Lotus Connections, ActionBase, Google Wave will be joined by many others.
And let me give a shout out to Keith Swenson for his incredible blog on Adaptive Case Management (ACM)…empowering workers to deal with the unpredictable "practice" that is knowledge work.
Like Paula Thornton tweeted:
|"…heuristic structure rather than process. The means for work to flow"|
Yes, and perhaps knowledge work is about practice execution, rather than pre-defined processes…but this is a tricky one as whether predictable or not, whether repeatable or not, it’s still a process, even if it only happens once in it’s life.
A long while ago I posted why KM failed in a nutshell, and it was about KM being a separate thing you need to do rather than embedded as a literacy. My post shared that magnificent gem by Ross Mayfield on what’s happening most of the time in this knowledge work era is that people are dealing with exceptions to processes and workarounds. And they do this using email and attachments which is messy, and not visible or amplifying.
Since then we have had social computing platforms as an alternative, and now we are starting to see this evolving where the tools are designed or allow the user to design them in the flow of the way we practice work.
Jim McGee warns of Enterprise 2.0 playing the game of enhancing processes as it’s much more than that. In my post I talked about that as just 1st gear to not only get adoption but because it’s also useful for knowledge work, but not to lose site that enterprise 2.0 is also about emergence, networks, connections, transparency, awareness, etc…
I not only talked about enhancing or socialising business processes, but also building your own processes using new tools. The thing is a "2.0" approach can be used almost anywhere, and existing processes need not be left out.
I won’t say too much as Jim had not read my post thoroughly at time of publishing his post.
Patrice talks very passionately about visibility and fragments, rather than closed and big buried documents.
And most importantly emerges the concept of "know-why".
It has come to the point that social computing is the way Patrice has been working for the last while, and she could not bare facing a new job where they use email and attachments. It seems a lack of social computing would be a show stopper for Patrice deciding on whether to take on a new job…and I second that! And so does Karen Lilla it seems: “@marciamarcia Our team at IBM can’t live without our social media tools. Anarchy would ensue if it was ever taken away! @geoffliving”
OK, I just read Paula’s latest post and what do you know she reviewed the same video, and we both describe Patrice’s diatribe as passionate…I have also borrowed some of Paula’s words for the title of this post.
Like I said before no matter what I talk about lately it seems to be intune with what my network is thinking…indeed feels like a collective intelligence.
What Patrice said on fragments and context
|"I knew at an instinctive level that what we were doing — all the unstructured communication, all the relationship building and stuff that our team was doing — was much more valuable than the work we were doing in written reports and meetings and minutes, which is what consumed the body of our time."|
She typifies the usual scenario of all the brainwork and conversations done in meetings and email and then distilled into massive document that get shelved into a filing cabinet.
Where has all that brainwork gone, there is no trace of it…the unstructured stuff (know-why) is missing as it happened in email.
|"Everything is fragmented. We evolved to handle unstructured fragmented fine granularity information objects, not highly structured documents. People will spend hours on the internet, or in casual conversation without any incentive or pressure. However creating and using structured documents requires considerably more effort and time. Our brains evolved to handle fragmented patterns not information."|
Access the link above for related issues on summarising content or codification, like:
|"We only know what we know when we need to know it"
"The way we know things is not the way we report we know things"
"We always know more than we can say, and we will always say more than we can write down"
And Dave again:
|"We urgently need to shift from working with chunked documents that seek to summarise material, to increasing direct access to fine granularity raw data in the form of anecdotes, sound files, pictures etc. etc. The process of chunking, or abstraction involves loss of content which may well contain weak signals or subtle clues and more importantly involves making the material specific to the context of its creation in time and socio-cultural context."|
And yet again:
"The more you structure material, the more you summarize…the more you make material specific to a context or time, the less utility that material has as things change. For years now I have asked this question at conferences around the world: Faced with an intractable problem, do you go and draw down best practice from your company’s knowledge management system, or do you go and find eight or nine people you know and trust with relevant experience and listen to their stories?
So why for the last decade and more have we focused on chunking up best practice?
Increasingly unstructured material, blended in unexpected ways, provides a richer source of knowledge.
Arthur Shelley on a comment on a past blog says:
"In many ways, documents are dead (or at the least in a coma) until brought to life through a conversation"
I take it Arthur alludes to documents being a summarised outcome of the end result (know-what), meaning you then need to find the "know-why" to understand parts of the document. And social tools are a way to do this as they are raw fragments of the conversation…they basically record the conversation.
Alister Grigg (Fastman Consulting and Solutions) via an email conversation encapsulates this:
"…the logic, the argument, the thought process can only really be captured through that conversation. Capture and contextualise that conversation and you have the why. Link that to the output / deliverable and you have the why."
Alister goes on to say:
"Well written reports will include the arguments but as an output and not a record, and often influenced…"
This is quite a pithy statement. A document like a report has an agenda, whereas blog posts are raw fragments. There may be lots of peripheral information in blog posts that people may find to re-mix and use elsewhere.
This concept of raw fragments over summarised content also paralleIs with our cognitive processes in how we apply knowledge, see my past post:
“I need to be able to flex my skill in assembling my know-how in applied and unexpected situations. Eg we have people over for dinner in an hour and I need to cook dinner with what I have…improvise.
You need to know the fundamentals, this way you can assemble fragments in new ways.
In this respect we can see personal knowledge fragments as ingredients, and when I’m faced with a situation I bring those ingredients together and assemble them into an outcome. The knowledge is in recalling ingredients for the context and assembling them (knowing how they work together and as a whole). In another context some of those ingredients will assemble with others, and also the assembly may be approached differently. To me, this is know-how!"
Alister’s quote echos a passage from Nassim Taleb’s brilliant book "The Black Swan" on raw fragments and context:
“The journal was purportedly written without…knowing what was going to happen next, when the information available…was not corrupted by the subsequent outcomes.” “While we have a highly unstable memory, a diary provides indelible facts recorded more or less immediately; it thus allows the fixation of an unrevised perception and enables us to later study events in their own context. Again, it is the purported method of description of the event, not its execution, that was important.”
Matthew Hodgson also says something similar:
"If we look back to the rich oral history of many of our cultures, blogging is a reflection of the need to story-tell, carrying with it important information not only on the what – the facts like the reports we typically store in our recordkeeping systems – but also the meaning behind the why and how."
This is also a cultural move to a work-in-progress culture, where we are sharing workings out in the open, rather than just the finished product…the workings out are always there, but is it visible…and of course if it is visible it can be enriched, and re-mixed into new contexts.
Think of it as Steam and Ice:
“Steam - The thoughts, ideas and concepts that rattle around in our heads.
Ice - Books and polished documents that we reference from time to time.”
Sorry about the tangent, but now we see how raw fragments over codified material is easier to digest and find, it is raw so it can be blended or re-mixed into another context…but most of all it’s the visibility and accessibility of all those myriad of decisions that help you understand how the "know-what" ie. the document you are reading, came to be.
Obviously both can co-exist, but as long as when when are reading a deliverable or report we can point back to the visible observable work, the tracemarks, the raw fragments, the conversations, whatever you want to call it, as this is where the "know-why" lives.
What Patrice said on "know-why"
Patrice mentions that we can’t reduce our brain work, you still have to work, but we can choose to re-purpose the tools we are currently using. She says with absolute clarity that an email is a blank page, an MS Word document is a blank page, a wiki is blank page, etc…which one are you going to choose when you do your work…a social and visible team space or email and attachments.
A social space has more value added down the road (tags, comments, links, visible, tracemarks…basically findable). Patrice shares a story of a task she was working on, and how a search in the Traction social platform revealed that her task had already been worked on or attempted before by another party:
|"Along comes me, I’m here. I would not ever know about either Person A or B or that they had a conversation, but I can exhume a dialog that took place two years ago between these two individuals that lays out the problem and the solution. I can say…the following technology is now available. Problem solved."|
Patrice also echoes something I posted about in getting up to speed with the help of accessing past conversations in online group spaces:
|"…being placed in new situations, new organisations, and needed to get up to speed quickly - there was no luxury of time"|
A quote in the Wikinomics book tells this same thing, in that the conversation once existed as it’s findable in a visible place (as opposed to closed email silos, which are a poor excuse for corporate memory). Now we can say, yeah this happened 2 years ago, not based on hear-say, but check out these links:
|"When new problems and exceptions arise, people in organisations will swarm around that exception to try and resolve it […] this dencentralised approach to problem solving might be worked out in the lunchroom, while leaning over a colleague’s cubicle, over a pint after work, or increasingly through a long thread of emails
The problem is that this causal approach to problem solving leaves no organisational memory of the event, with the risk that only people involved in creating the solution walk away with any new insights. Problems can persist like a bad cold, and solutions will be reinvented everytime the problem occurs.
Social Software provides companies with a way to document and leverage those moments of innovation with relative ease, providing a living, breathing repository of easily accessible knowledge that grows along with the organisation. Companies can continually harness their local insights and adaptations to new problems by capturing and using those insights to drive organisational change and renewal."
The above quote is in relation to the context of "problems", but to me working visibly could be the norm in all group work, whether it’s a problem, task, coordinating something…anything.
And this echo’s Ross Mayfield’s quote about practice execution in that practice is used to fill the void, practice is used to fix things, but doing it in an invisible way using closed tools means we don’t leave any tracemarks behind, therefore no corporate memory.
And then Paula really brings home my notion of know-why and what the real corporate memory is:
|"And yet, in most storage mechanism the work products themselves are stripped of the reality in which they were created. All the context as to why certain decisions were made at that time are all missing from the painfully-scrubbed collections of results and conclusions.The painful truth is, knowledge work products are not accurate representations of the work. The real work is on the cutting room floor and/or still in the minds of (or faded from) those that did the work and who may be gone. While there will always be ‘waste’ in any process, might the cuts from one project be relevant for another? Work products by themselves are often meaningless as they reflect what made it through the cuts. They lack the context of the work itself. When time and resources have past, how does one reconstruct the context for which the work product was created and you can no longer ask the workers questions about their work?"|
And now let’s go back to Patrice in how she gives the details of Paula’s brilliant insight via a simple example of the invisible knowledge work that goes into a document review. It’s all too common that the person reading the document is missing the know-why in how to interpret the document. If all that know-why, all the workings-out that happened in creating/reviewing the document were visible, then it can easily be retrieved as the document can link to these raw fragments (conversations). These raw fragments, the knowledgework, can be consulted without having to track down the author (if they are still around), which we would then have to try and track down some emails, minutes, whiteboard, print-outs…
The key here is a document comment stream…which can inform the know-why or comments that hyperlink to other areas that have the know-why
Patrice’s know-why tragedy
|"…100 page document get written, they’re beautiful, there’s a lot of work, lot of meetings, lot of brainpower, bright minds on difficult problems…and all this stuff…gets filed into Sharepoint [Document Managenent System]…nobody knows it’s in there…they don’t know how to find it, and if they could, they don’t know what they’re reading, why should they read it, there’s no context…because it’s been stripped now out of its environment…"|
Patrice then talks about an order by the General (manager) to go back and re-work the document, and goes on vacation:
|"…we work on pages 18 - 25…we do a lot of work - we cross out lines we explain why, we put in an appendix - and we put it back in Sharepoint…"
"…unstructured conversation…our emails back and forth in generating that product which are now removed from the document itself…if we were blogging…it all would of been captured"
The lieutenant is asked to retrieve the document for the General, who wants to see the revised document…they are pointed to the new version of the file in the document management system:
"…change comparison…100 page document now an 87 page document [pages don’t match up anymore due to re-working it]…[the General and Lieutenant]… read this but…don’t know what they are doing. On page 20 there’s this whole paragraph about A and B and C…why did they do this…"
So they have to track down the authors of the document and get them back from the vacation:
"Now we are doing the work twice because we spent 3 weeks…doing this work and delivering it…all the value add is gone…yes we got a product, we still need a product…but this product is useless, because the knowledge work and the thinking, and the exchange, and the brainstorming, and the whiteboarding, and all that is gone…what good is it"
"I will never use Sharepoint again because you’ve divorced me from my work"
"Care and feeding of knowledge work requires relationships…people want high performance, but they forget about high touch…relationships are everything"
"We did a lot of work…it got turned into some flat 80 page document that some General needed to have, and he got the document but he couldn’t understand the whys and wherefores"
"He wouldn’t have…had the meeting to make the lieutenant retrieve the document, sit down with him and interpret the document [had he been able to access the visible unstructured conversations related to the document…whether in a blog or document comment stream, or whatever]
Sounds all too common. I bet you would hear hundreds of examples of this same story if you started asking around or eavesdropping in your workplace. I listen all the time at work and hear pains and pangs about communication and decisions being echoed around near where I sit.
Know-why is missing in action
Not long ago I was talking with Alister Grigg (who I linked to above) and he told me a story of a bridge built over a freeway. What the documentation didn’t tell them is why was it decided that the bridge was built to cover a 6 lane freeway when the freeway is only 4 lanes…where is this conversation that led to this decision?
Up until now the corporate memory has been in email silos, this is the know-how and know-why….the workings out, decisions, and conversations that led to deliverables. Just having end products (the know-what) is not good enough, we need to share the talent of the work that goes into this output…a move to a thinking-out-loud / work-in-progress culture.
Email silos are not discoverable and accessible, and people often will not share stuff in email that they would in blogs and forums. And now all the knowledge and decisions about documents can easily and intuitively be accessible via fragments whether they are micro-blogs, forums, blogs, wiki, document comment streams, etc…
Convergence of Themes
Barely Repeatable Processes
Stocks and Flows
In the next post I’ll explain my idea of conversational metadata. A way this "observable work" concept can be adopted (and take some email market share) as it’s designed into the process flow. This can happen various ways, but I’ll explain how it can happen against the backdrop of a Document Management System.