Good article in Newsweek that complements our reading for next class: In The Next Industrial Revolution, Atoms Are the New Bits.
I view this trend as evolutionary rather than disruptive. Hobbyists have been around forever and there have been options for building prototypes in the past.
However I do think that the TechShop is a clever business model.
Knowledge management is defined by Wikipedia as “a range of practices used by an organization to identify, create, represent, and distribute knowledge for reuse, awareness, and learning.” Effective knowledge management is essential to the continued growth and success of all modern organizations. For an organization like Katzenbach Partners LLC, knowledge management is even more critically important since a key driver of its growth is the development of new intellectual capital. Much of the Katzenbach organization’s success in the management consultancy field can be attributed to the collaborative approach used by its consultants. The intellectual capital created by these collaborations can then be applied in future projects. Prior to 2005 Katzenbach had some rudimentary knowledge management systems in place, but in that year the organization launched a knowledge management initiative. The initiative was a fundamental revamp of how the company handled the use and swapping of information. This revamp called HUB+ created several organizational and technical challenges for Katzenbach.
The success of Katzenbach Partners’ new knowledge management strategy would be closely linked to its ability to gain system adoption by the consultants. In addition, consultants would have to be instilled with new behaviors. Prior to HUB+ most knowledge management within the firm had been people-oriented. When information related to certain areas of expertise was needed, consultants would simply ask the other consultant most likely to have the requisite project information or expertise. This method was further embedded by the creation of informal practice areas with the heads of these areas designated as the “experts” in their domain. This sufficed when the number of employees was relatively small and the number of offices was limited. As the firm grew in the number of consultants and geographic locations, this method of knowledge management became less effective. This long-standing method of sharing information had become embedded in the culture of the organization. In order to overcome this challenge, management would need to demonstrate a strong commitment to the success of the new Hub+. This was accomplished in several ways
a. by using the bi-annual review process to positively recognize proper usage of the new system
b. by making the system analytics public, management would promote the system
c. by creating a full-time knowledge director position
A technical challenge faced by the User Experience team was creating a user interface that was intuitive to the user. The team wanted to limit the amount of time needed to input a document and also have the system create recommendations for the user without the user knowing how it happened. This was made more difficult by the fact that there were no comparable models to emulate. This challenge caused the creative process to take longer but was in fact overcome.
The modern organization can benefit greatly from some of the challenges overcome in the Katzenbach case study. Primarily, for a system to flourish there needs to be “buy-in” at all levels of the organization. A knowledge management system is only beneficial if it is frequently utilized by all members of the organization. The system must be relatively easy to use so that employees feel comfortable and confident that it will be of assistance to them. The system needs to be open meaning that employees can upload and tag documents without multiple layers of approval. Finally the system needs to be flexible, allowing employees to use it to create and evolve structures that will make it easier for them to manage information.
In updating their Knowledge Management (KM) platform in 2007, Katzenbach Partners, LLC (Katzenbach) developed a strategy with a limited, yet powerful set of elements that were a direct reflection of the firm’s ethos of uniqueness and differentiation. Early in the process, Katzenbach determined that existing “out of the box” solutions would not suffice. Available platforms, including simple file sharing systems or off the shelf software such as Microsoft’s Sharepoint, simply were not adequate. Katzenbach felt they were too rigid. This was in keeping with the firm’s Value Statement. Throughout the case, and Katzenbach’s own literature, the firm is repeatedly described as, “unique,” as “a different kind of firm,” and that they developed solutions that were, “distinctly different.” This culture permitted and encouraged Katzenbach to create and unleash a powerful yet flexible hybrid KM system that was both unique and useful.
Historically, KM relied almost exclusively on the informal and personal interaction of people within the firm. In determining how to manage knowledge on a go forward basis, Katzenbach realized that users would have differing needs. To create this flexibility, Katzenbach hit on a hybrid approach. The proposed KM system would be comprised of both formal and informal components. The traditional or “formal” component would provide the structure or “taxonomy” familiar to many existing users of document management systems. The “informal” component of this strategy element incorporated the new possibilities created by the emergence of Web 2.0 technologies and the advent of Enterprise 2.0. Katzenbach’s hybrid system utilized the “tagging” aspects of Web 2.0 to create a better, more powerful KM system. In addition to formal classification, users could classify documents with informal “tags” that were most meaningful. Most important, users not only tagged their own documents, but tagged documents created by others. This created a much more robust description of a document’s contents and utility.
In addition to the formal and informal essence of the hybrid KM system, openness and the lack of rules were two additional key elements. While recognizing the risks inherent in an open system, Katzenbach felt that the benefits outweighed these concerns. Similarly, Katzenbach felt strongly that the desired flexibility of the KM system would require a minimum of “rules.” This “rule agnostic” approach recognized that initial use might be more difficult but valued flexibility and uniqueness of the system over initial productivity.
Another essential element of the KM strategy was management leadership. Any strategy, no matter the quality of the “blinky lights,” is doomed to failure without management buy in and leadership. At Katzenberg, the KM strategy was clearly a top management priority as evidenced by the level of effort – and funding. Moreover, Katzenberg spent significant resources on the roll out of the KM system. They implemented an informal communication strategy to supplement the roll out and also hosted a series of contests and events to promote the system. Management also identified Intellectual Capital “Champions,” early adopters, and project historians to reinforce the notion of KM as a responsibility rather than a burdensome new system. The components of this element of the strategy were intended to ensure that the new KM system achieved the breakthroughs they had spent so much effort developing.
Given the timeline of the presentation in the case, it is impossible to grade the “goodness” of this strategy. The elements of flexibility, openness, and a lack of “rules” might not work for some enterprises. It is fair to say, however, that for Katzenberg, the final strategy was probably predictable. Maintaining the status quo or implementing a standardized solution would not be in keeping with the values of the firm and the personality of its leadership. A unique and distinctive KM system was fait acompli at a firm like Katzenberg.
Katzenbach Partners, LLC, a management consulting firm that started in 1998, had expanded to over 150 employees in four office locations by 2007 and at that point had an ambitious goal of 25% growth in the next five years to reach a target of 500 employees in eight or nine offices including multiple international locations. Although knowledge management had been a challenge for Katzenbach Partners; it now became more important in light of the anticipated growth. The reliance on people for knowledge management that worked well when the firm was small became no longer effective due to the sheer size and multisite locations. The organization made significant investments monetarily, in system development and in the approach but faced both organizational and technical challenges.
Two main organizational challenges the firm faced were gaining system adoption and instilling new behaviors. The firm members had their own individual approach to knowledge management. In order to allow users to continue to use their approach, the firm needed to adopt a system that would allow this flexibility. However, this would result in increased expense and risk of developing the system in-house as none of the available systems provided this flexibility. The approach used was a combination of both formal taxonomy that allowed classification of documents in a predefined taxonomy as well as an informal taxonomy in which users had the ability to “tag” a document in a way most useful to them. In order to meet the challenge of employees fully embracing the system, several initiatives were planned. These included strategies for encouraging users to adopt the system, advocate the system, promote the system in a positive way; ensure the system would be useful with manageable content and protect confidentiality.
The firm faced several technical challenges as well. A shared folder was used to manage the several documents created by each consultant; however using shared folders was not mandatory and in some cases not practical as certain client sites did not offer access to the Katzenbach network and consultants did not use it during travel between assignments. As a result, email rather than shared drive was used for access to the latest version. In addition, the ability to search the contents of the shared drive when Google search was rolled out yielded results that were not useful due to the vast amount of information on the shared drive. An email address “KM Capture” was used by firm members to store the final version of the document. Heads of practice management areas became the “go to” person for some practice areas.
To meet the unique needs of the firm, the knowledge management team at Katzenbach developed a hybrid system with key aspects of openness, few rules and limitations, an intuitive user interface and a personal repository. Enterprise 2.0 technologies enabled a system that would allow users to create and modify content, provide tagging and search capabilities that would generate relevant results in a time efficient manner and at a lower cost. At the time of the case study, the system was initially being launched with approximately 2000 documents which was less than 8% of the total documents. As the volume of content increases, the major challenge was in ensuring that the system remains manageable, relevant and yet continues to maintain its dynamic nature. The success of the system really depended on the way the system would be used to support the firm’s knowledge management. In addition, knowledge management would have to be incorporated on a more frequent basis and active participation with contributions by the users was considered key to the success.
When Katzenbach Partners implemented HUB+, the firm’s new knowledge management system, it used a number of strategies that focused on both technology and human resources. The management consulting company’s leaders saw the intersection of these two elements as instrumental to the success of HUB+ and the firm.
In terms of technology, the company planned to expand its HUB system, an intranet that Katzenbach created. HUB enabled Katzenbach’s consultants to learn about the company’s projects and key areas such as staffing and finances. This may have helped the firm with implementation, since employees were already familiar with the intranet. The second key to the new system was Enterprise 2.0, the use of Web 2.0 tools in businesses. Specifically, Katzenbach’s knowledge management system would incorporate a tagging feature that would enable consultants to identify projects based on keywords that the company’s leaders anticipated would foster communication, collaboration and knowledge sharing. This was critical as the company planned to expand the number of offices from four to eight or nine, including international locations, and increase employees by 233% from 150 workers to 500.
While the mechanics of knowledge management were critical, the firm’s careful management of staff was even more essential to its success. The system’s success would be measured by such factors as whether employees use HUB+ and tag their documents, as well as other documents. In order to accomplish this, HUB+ needed to provide a sense of ownership and be user-friendly. Katzenbach attempted this by establishing both formal and informal structures. The formal structure provided a company-wide taxonomy of tags that all users would learn and use to label documents, which would prevent the system from being disorganized. The informal nature provided the sense of ownership, enabling employees to add tags that would help them to categorize documents and conduct effective searches. A key challenge for the firm is whether the formal and informal structures can truly co-exist, or if it will create confusion and chaos. In terms of a user-friendly system, HUB+ was designed to only take 30 seconds to tag a document. The screen shots in the case study also show an easy-to-read list of filters for different project categories. The list of resources, meanwhile, displays tags or projects that have been used the most, by font size. This is certainly creative, but could frustrate or confuse some users.
The human resources side also included a slow, natural implementation. Some critics may question whether Katzenbach should have piloted the program to first work out any problems. However, the company felt the slow roll-out would enable employees to ease into HUB+ and not feel forced to learn a new system. In addition, the company tried to be fun. For example, they organized social events and games around the system roll-out, such as tagging parties. This helped make the implementation seem less onerous for the firm’s employees.
A system like HUB+ has great potential for companies, especially since the case cites only 12% of senior executives are satisfied with how their employees share knowledge within the firm. However, companies need to be careful, because the case study also notes that 50%-70% of knowledge management systems fail. In order to avoid this trend, it seems evident that companies must be sure to focus on getting staff buy-in and making the system user-friendly, in addition to acquiring good technology. It will be interesting to see if Katzenbach Partners is successful with its knowledge management system.
The founders of Katzenbach Partners have ambitious growth plans; expecting to grow by 25% per year over the next five years. Their goal is to increase the number of employees from 150 employees in four offices to over 500 employees in eight or nine offices. With such aggressive growth plans, the company is faced with the critical challenge of how to scale their current Knowledge Management (KM) system.
Today the company maintains a document management system that they call HUB. Usage of this system varies widely by employees. Some regularly upload their latest documents; others do not. In either case the system has limited use as a KM system since it lacks useful search features.
In practice, knowledge at Katzenbach Partners is often shared informally with ‘hallway’ discussions and other face-to-face interactions. As the company grows and adds new offices around the world, Katzenbach Partners needs to find a way to scale its KM system to support a larger organization. Fortunately the members of the company see the value in sharing knowledge with each other and are fairly well disciplined in uploading documents to the HUB.
A critical challenge for the KM team is create a system that allows members to keep their own approach to KM. They plan to achieve this using a hybrid approach that provides both a formal and informal approach to classifying documents. The formal approach classifies documents into predefined subjects and types, while the informal approach uses a system of tags that are generated by users.
Another technical challenge for the team is to determine the best balance between openness and protecting sensitive or confidential documents. The primary concern at Katzenbach Partners is that knowledge may be used out of context. At many other companies, I believe a chief concern will be over confidentiality.
Creating a simple and easy to use user interface to the KM system is another critical challenge. They want to minimize the time and clicks required by a user to upload documents and to perform a search. Their goal is to hide the complexity of the system from the user, while enabling them to benefit from it.
Perhaps the greatest challenge in implementing a KM system is from the organizational perspective. The development team at Katzenbach Partners worked to allow users flexibility and, as much as possible, to emulate the system that they use now. However for the system to be successful the employees must fully embrace it. In this case that means that they have to regularly upload their latest documents and spend time creating their tags and tagging their own and other employee’s documents.
From this case study, it appears that the team has come up with some excellent ideas to facilitate a smooth system roll out including contests and tagging parties. In addition they have appointed champions in different departments and have identified likely early adopters from whom they can get early feedback and develop into evangelists. There is every indication that the HUB+ will be a key enabler for Katzenbach Partners to meet their growth goals.
Katzenbach Partners had previously faced many challenges around knowledge management and had quickly recognized with its exponential growth; from both a geographical and employee hiring standpoint, the need for an effective knowledge management strategy was critical. The strategy to plan how their organization manages its internal knowledge effectively to benefit the organization itself and their clients was closely linked to their firm’s overall strategy and goals. The founders’ vision was to “build a firm that helped clients achieve peak performance by integrating strategic problem solving with insight into people and organizations.” Their goals around knowledge management included having the information to provide the best service to their clients, to leverage existing information for new junior consultants coming on board to learn from independently, and use best practices to multiple clients.
In their effort to develop a good succinct strategy with key elements, they performed need-finding interviews with consultants and determined where they are now, where they want to be, and how can they get there. They realized that each user had an individualized approach to knowledge management and there was sometimes no participation. Part of their strategy was to ensure that the knowledge management process was a daily critical job responsibility of every employee and not a cumbersome non-value added activity. The key element that their knowledge management system needed was flexibility and a user friendly feel. This would ensure that consultants were not circumventing the knowledge management system which would in turn yield a good management of resources and would increase their intellectual capital.
Katzenbach realized it was critical to build an internal software system in house instead of the commercial setting because their system would allow for the flexibility and that user friendly atmosphere. There would not be stringent rules or limitations put on the consultants during use which would promote use. They came up with a concept for the knowledge management system that had formal and informal components which allowed for a hybrid between a formal systematic approach to classifying information and an informal tagging system which allowed for a elastic, less time consuming, value laden, innovative and insightful way to classify information. In keeping with their strategy of flexibility and no limitations, they put down all barriers to information meaning that everyone was open to freely share and access information even some that may be considered confidential. To stay true to their strategy of creating a user orientated atmosphere to promote exercise of the system, they allocated a lot of resources to creating a user interface that was not time consuming (i.e documents could be uploaded in less than 30 seconds), and also programmed system recommendations to be generated and provided to the user as little cues of interest. Finally there was a full time support person in the role of ensuring the system was flowing properly and the users were getting the most out of the system.
Overall Katzenbach had a great strategy to implement their knowledge management system and they stayed focused on what would work for their organization. They realized that the business intelligence in their organization is harbored through having a robust knowledge management system and since Katzenbach relies so heavily on their consultants for that, the ease of use and flexibility is paramount.
Interesting article on the use of WEB 2.0, by a high tech family.
For those of you with small children, what do you think of this parenting style? With so much focus on kids spending too much time on line rather than in face to face play with their friends, this article suggests that it is a necessary skill to be learned.
Blogging. The barriers to entry are low and some people are making enough money to support a small full time staff. Would you consider starting a blog in the hopes of making good money or influencing other people? I am thinking your passion for the blog’s subject matter needs to come first. If people pick up on that, the blog’s traffic and advertisers will come. Check out this segment from the CBS Sunday Morning Show from 6/12/11. It looks like the more popular blogs may be disrupting some print media publications.