posted 25 Aug 2010 in Volume 13 Issue 10
Out of the sidings
Tim Hawley and Danal Blessis present part one of two articles on how Arup and MTR Corporation collaborated to design and implement a worldclass knowledge and information management programme, to aid
With 12 months from concept to reality and now 12 months in use, Arup and MTR Corporation’s collaborative knowledge and information management programme, is embedded in the organisation’s workflow and is proving itself to be a valuable tool in enabling the team to meet its objective of ‘excellence in project management’.
The approach taken demonstrates that it is possible, given a virtually
Readers considering embarking on a similar programme might find the basic steps outlined in the approach useful, particularly utilising the influence of opinion leaders and change agents.
The business imperative for KM
The MTR Corporation operates
A rail merger in late 2007 brought the railway operations and employee populations of the MTR Corporation and Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation under a single management structure with MTR Corporation (the Corporation). At the same time, the Government of Hong Kong gave the green light for the Corporation to undertake a significant multi-project expansion programme to extend the network by more than 25 per cent, with an additional 56 kilometres of railway. This was an unprecedented expansion in terms of scale, complexity and cost.
The new projects are managed by the MTR Corporation’s Projects Division (the Division), which is ramping up its staff resources from 700 to 2,000 in preperation for the peak construction period in 2012. Interfaces with consultants and contractors are also increasing proportionately. The management team identified that a new set of issues, ranging from how to manage millions of documents, to new joiner induction, knowledge attrition, learning, communication, knowledge sharing/retention and collaboration, would all become critical to survival, never mind success. In addition, existing systems and organisational culture were not equipped to deal with these challenges. Nevertheless, the Division was, and is, committed to meeting these challenges and delivering the projects in a manner consistent with the highest project management standards. The implementation of an effective knowledge and information management programme was deemed critical to meeting these demands.
In June 2008, a strategic change management initiative was launched to formulate the systems required and to address the necessary culture change within the organisation – breaking down silos and converting from a norm of hoarding to one of sharing. Key components of the equation were the Division’s strong focus on innovation and continuous improvement and a highly collaborative style of working in partnerships with contractors and consultants.
Management was keen to adopt a proven, best-practice approach to knowledge and information management but it also needed a system that would support its goal of achieving excellence in project management.
The Division recognised that Arup possessed world-renowned expertise in the KM arena, which could help it achieve its goals in terms of the process and system requirements, as well as the cultural and organisational behaviour change capability necessary to sustain them. The Corporation and Arup have a longstanding relationship based on mutual respect and one where Arup has provided much of its core consulting engineering support to the Corporation’s various railway expansion projects over the years.
Arup’s own KM system had won numerous awards over several years and had been operating successfully for more than a decade. In addition to being a consulting firm with a strong track record of implementing successful KM projects to clients across multiple sectors, Arup’s long heritage in engineering and real-world experience of actually designing and delivering rail infrastructure meant it was ideally positioned to understand the Division’s unique requirements.
A consultancy project was undertaken to develop a vision and concept for knowledge and information management (K&IM) and, ultimately, to provide a common platform for knowledge sharing.
Establishing the vision
As the Projects Division looked forward it had a very good grasp of the challenges it would face and intuitively understood the value that KM could bring in meeting these. The specific business drivers and objectives of the K&IM project become clear very early on:
Establish a K&IM System to improve effectiveness and efficiency of project delivery;
Consolidate and integrate existing information repositories and hence provide a one-stop-shop for the retrieval of projects-related information;
Provide a more robust search engine and content management platform to support future KM and other collaborative applications;
Enable collaborative working through communities of practice and networking, to handle unstructured problems and to share knowledge outside of the traditional organisational boundaries, working across silos; and
Deliver a system that is simple to use and largely intuitive. All users must have the opportunity to take advantage of its functionality, including those who might otherwise be averse to using such systems.
A critical early step was setting out the vision for K&IM in a way that represented a shared view across the senior management team, provided clarity of purpose for the organisation and informed the development process.
Senior management were engaged in a series of educational discussions that culminated in a workshop session exploring a number of KM strategy dimensions. These included considering such factors as the balance between ‘codification and personalisation’ or ‘exploitation and exploration’. The senior team watched a role-play exercise that described life in the future and set out a possible vision, following which they were split into two groups; one to attack the vision and one to defend, before reconvening and reaching a collective view.
This captured vision was then synthesised into a coherent view and articulated in various forms including a ‘future state’ picture, which described how each employee would be central to the K&IM system, its culture and connecting networks.
With the Division’s head of project engineering as the champion for the initiative, and fully supported by the senior management team, a project team leader was identified and tasked to work with the Arup consultants for the initial investigative work on the project.
Within the first month, it became clear that the success of the knowledge sharing initiative would depend on: (1) a highly collaborative process to identify specific user requirements; (2) a robust information system; and (3) a change management programme that would instil a desire and culture within the organisation to share knowledge.
Building early organisational buy-in
Before the wider organisation could be effectively engaged in K&IM, a lot of initial work was required to take the vision and concept and define how they might work on a day-to-day basis, and to establish the requirements for the supporting system. This period was utilised as a golden opportunity to engage change agents.
To quote Dr Everett Rogers, who spent a lifetime studying the diffusion of innovation, “84 per cent of the population is unlikely to change its behaviour based solely on arguments of merit, scientific proof, great training or jazzy media campaigns. The majority of those who try new behaviours do so because of the influence of a respected peer.”
When faced with change, people are often risk adverse, so prefer to stick with the status quo. But fortunately not everyone is the same; there is diversity in the population, with some people more willing than others to adopt change. The most striking feature of Everett Rogers’ diffusion theory is that, for most members of a social system, the adoption decision depends heavily on the adoption decisions of the other members of the system.
Within the early adopters are opinion leaders, or change agents – a group who are respected among their peers and who have social influence. Much of the organisational social system merely wants to stay in step with the rest, so a large sub-section of the social system follows suit with the trusted opinion leaders. This often leads to the fabled tipping point, where the rate of adoption rapidly increases.
With this thinking in mind, the identified opinion leaders were invited to join a series of cross-functional working teams to identify user requirements from a number of perspectives: (1) System Foundation; (2) Process Management; (3) Connecting People; (4) Change Management; and (5) Tacit Knowledge. Fifty colleagues representing a cross-section of the Division served on these work-stream teams. The result was a highly collaborative process that culminated in the preparation of a requirements specification for the K&IM programme within five months (November 2008) that would meet the practical needs and expectations of users.
The following knowledge-sharing tools were identified for development in time for Day one implementation (June 2009):
A common intranet portal (branded iShare) as the one-stop-shop for all knowledge sharing functions;
A unified division-wide document management and filing practice for simple and efficient storage and retrieval of information utilising the Corporation’s standard for Microsoft SharePoint 2007;
‘People profiles’ – searchable quick-reference guide for each staff member, providing ready access to those with particular expertise, work history or interests, and giving direct links to related information within the iShare portal;
An interactive organisational photo chart, to be integrated with ‘People profiles’ for ease in locating and connecting with the right people and expertise;
Communities of practice – facilitating groups of people connected by a common area of work, expertise or interest, who collaborate and support each other. This would improve organisational efficiency and incorporate Web 2.0 tools, such as discussion forums, wikis, news updates, and blogs to build a body of knowledge and a repository of important standard information;
‘Project profiles’ – a quick-reference guide of key information, facts and figures about new and ongoing projects, with useful insight into current activities and a repository of re-useable examples, approaches, solutions and lessons learned from past projects; and
User-friendly workflow processes for registering, tracking, sharing and retaining key information such as design standard waivers and lessons learnt across all projects.
When we look back at what was done to deliver the project in 12 months, and at the successes achieved in the first 12 months after the launch, MTR Corporation and Arup are in total agreement that there were clearly three elements that developed during the course of the project and became instrumental to the success of this project to date.
First, the Arup consultants arrived in the client’s offices with all the knowledge and expertise in hand to do the job but, perhaps most importantly, with the spirit of transferring their knowledge and educating the client to become self-sufficient in creating a positive and sustainable knowledge-sharing culture. They brought recognised expertise in KM, technology and in organisational behaviour and change management. It was clear from the beginning that the solutions would be driven by people and assisted by processes and technology.
Second, the team employed a hyper-level of consultation and engagement with a large number of staff throughout a broad cross section of the Division. The staff were willing and interested to explore the concepts of KM and how they could be incorporated into the business. They committed their time to serve on work stream teams, focus groups and task forces. They worked hand in hand with the project team to develop the functional requirements for the programme, ensuring that the project outcome would be fit for purpose and positioned to make immediate impact to the organisation. Choosing to engage with opinion leaders very early in the programme paid dividends later on, with the broader organisational engagement and acceptance.
Third, senior management in the projects division outwardly displayed their unwavering commitment to this initiative from the beginning to the end. Management supported the project with their time, communications and actions. They remained open-minded throughout the development of the project, and when resources were needed to take the project to the next level, they ensured that the appropriate resources were provided.
The next stage was the development and launch of the ‘iShare’ knowledge platform and the wider organisational engagement, establishing communities of practice and fostering collaboration and knowledge sharing. This will be discussed in the second instalment of this two-part case study, in the September issue of Inside Knowledge.
Tim Hawley is associate director at Arup. He can be contacted email@example.com
Danal Blessis is manager, knowledge management (projects) at MTR Corporation. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org