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Creating best practices capability at KM Chicago

Susan Leandri, director of PricewaterhouseCoopers' Global Best Practices (GBP) spoke last week at the KM Chicago meeting.  She covered a lot of ground, from the need for knowledge retention, to the development of GBP, to some thoughts about how to develop your own best practices capability.  The entire talk was sprinkled with examples from her own experience as well as familiar examples from the public literature. 

Quotes of the evening:

  • "If content is king, then context is queen."  This was in relation to creating IT systems and building consistency into user experience.  It also applies when trying to understand how people are thinking and perceiving change you are trying to create.  Individuals, groups and companies all bring their own perspective and mental models to the table.  While we can't accommodate all of them, it helps to be aware that we don't all see the world through the same glasses.
  • "Best practices are really creative insight."  As has been discussed many times, the term "best practices" doesn't work for a lot of people.  Leandri's statement that BP's are really about insight gets at the nature of how we should use them.  How have best thinkers applied done this in the past?  How does it fit my situation?  Have I done this differently / better?   Personally, I work very well from examples and guidance when it is used this way. 
  • "Benchmarking is meant to disturb you into action."  If you are going to look at benchmarks, they had better get you moving.  Again, using benchmarks to get to the industry standard is not terribly exciting.  But if you can use benchmarks to help you understand your unique value to the market, then you are doing something interesting.
  • Best practices should create an incubator for "Next Practices (sm)."  Best practices are not static.  They are constantly evolving and this creative insight / disturb to action notion should be a larger part of growth and innovation. 

Knowledge retention is a motivating factor behind a lot of current KM efforts.  Leandri listed a number of statistics that highlight the importance of this trend.  In the US, there are approximately 60 million Baby Boomers who are hitting 60 this year.  There are only 45 million GenX'ers, and they are more likely to shift jobs multiple times in their careers, taking their knowledge, skills and training with them.  How does this affect companies and the public?  At NASA, for every three employees over 60, there is only one under 30.  About 1/3 of current teachers will be retiring by 2008.  For specifics on knowledge retention at one company, the May KM Chicago meeting will host people from UOP, talking about their knowledge retention project.

The development of the GBP system is itself an interesting story.  It started in the early 1990's at Anderson under the leadership of Bob Hiebeler, who is still involved in the KM community in the Chicago area at St. Charles Consulting Group.  The group moved to PwC in 2002 with the breakup of Anderson.  Susan Leandri has transferred a lot of the people and expertise into a new company with a new mandate for helping PwC consultants and clients. 

The tool itself is web-based today - the first versions were minted on CD's.  I was happy to hear that the tool is very process-centric, while also giving users multiple entry points to the same content.  Processes are broken down via the Process Classification Framework they developed in conjunction with APQC.  They have detailed out 150 total processes in the system, which are focused around the Operating and Management processes of the framework.  Each of these contain a range of materials to assist practitioners in working with clients (or building their own knowledge base): basic definition, where it fits in the process map, examples of how leading companies are using the process, stories of success, risks associated with the process (not doing it, not doing it well), studies and external research, and of course assessment tools for working with clients.  GBP are continually evaluating the accuracy of the information by benchmarking themselves and working with their field experts.  They monitor the effectiveness and usage of GBP to ensure it is providing the highest value for their base processes.

A best practices capability in an organization enables capturing & sharing of knowledge; replication of that knowledge; and the creation of an incubator for Next Practices (sm).  In building the capability, Leandri suggested a familiar-looking methodology: Identify, Analyze, Compile, Disseminate, Evaluate & Improve. 

What is the biggest challenge for creating a best practices capability?  Integration!  It has to be baked into the way practitioners do their work.  This reminded me very much of the major lesson from Learning to Fly, that it has to be part of the way you do your work, not something extra.  PricewaterhouseCoopers has done this with a mantra that is printed on nearly everything: "connectedthinking."  Connect the dots between what you are doing and best practices and other people who may be doing similar things.  Connect the dots across processes.

Leandri made two interesting comments about reputation with respect to GBP.  Number one, she has field experts who want to get involved because they see that they can enhance their reputation and contribute to the organization.  Number two, some people evaluate the quality of given best practices based on the experts who were involved in developing the materials.  This one could be dangerous if people discount BP's because they don't know or trust the experts, but it says a lot about how deeply GBP is embedded into how PwC works.

Overall, a very interesting talk.  As always with KM Chicago, people asked plenty of questions and brought their own insights.

Update: Fixed link to Process Classification Framework.

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