posted 29 Sep 2010 in Volume 14 Issue 1
Out of the sidings: Part II
Tim Hawley and Danal Blessis continue their coverage of the knowledge and information management programme implemented by Arup and MTR Corporation. In the final instalment of this twopart series, they look at encouraging participation and collaboration
Arup and MTR Corporation have collaborated to design and implement a world-class knowledge and information management (K&IM) programme in the Projects Division (the Division) to aid
Last month’s article set out the business imperatives for knowledge management (KM) and focused on establishing the vision, developing the requirements, and building early buy-in. This article looks at encouraging participation and collaboration.
Readers working on similar programmes will hopefully benefit from our approach to the building of active communities of practice (CoPs) and establishing knowledge sharing as part of an organisation’s culture.
KM is a simple concept, but its successful implementation in organisations is fraught with challenges, both technical and behavioural. Some of the major challenges our teams faced included:
Overcoming the perception that ‘knowledge is power’;
Finding the appropriate balance between integration of people, process and technology;
Identifying key people to engage and getting quality time with, and attention from, them;
Meeting tight timescales to get changes in place within the critical early stage of projects; and
Respecting and reconciling existing cultural norms in the organisation.
The project team recognised early in the process that a major change management initiative was required, which needed to include educating staff on the principles of KM and its benefits for the organisation, creating a mandate for embracing ‘knowledge sharing as a way of life’, and demonstrating the ‘what’s in it for me’ factor.
Last month’s article described how using change agents within the work-streams helped to establish early buy-in. As the project progressed this had to be widened to identify and engage with more change agents and recruit other colleagues in the Division as early adopters. A range of activities was developed, including establishing focus groups to review the system requirements and organising CoPs in offline environments.
A Division-wide contest was organised to find a name for the new knowledge-sharing platform being developed. This began to generate a buzz and involved a large population of early adopters, who began to feel some ownership of the process as they contributed to the establishment of the programme’s identity. Also, as part of the entry requirements for the naming contest, participants completed a simple survey to gauge whether they would like to participate more in the programme and what they felt they could contribute. A month later, all the respondents were invited to participate in a large focus group session, where a tag line for the system was born: ‘We share, we excel, we succeed!’
Although the IT platform was seen as only one element of the overall K&IM programme, having the enabling technology in place was seen as a critical milestone upon which a level of anticipation could be built. So, in the lead-up to the launch in June 2009, an intensive campaign of training, education and awareness was planned and implemented by the team. This included:
A demonstration of the knowledge-sharing platform’s features at the quarterly ‘Innovation & Continuous Improvement Seminar’ in May 2009, which was attended by 300 Division managers and technical staff;
A division-wide photography exercise to ensure that all staff would have their photos in their online ‘people profile’, which would also be linked to the online organisational chart, in time for ‘day one’. The team worked tirelessly during this intensive period to construct the individual profiles and build the charts in time for the system launch. This proved to be a major success factor, as everyone was keen to log-on to the system as soon as it was launched and see their profiles;
Writing and production of a Knowledge Sharing Handbook based on a format similar to the Arup Knowledge Handbook. The handbooks were distributed to all staff on day one, together with other promotional souvenirs;
A series of senior management workshops (attended by 45 members of the top management team) to explore ‘walking the talk’ on KM – to secure their ongoing support and provide hands-on computer training on the platform, as well as to enable them to pre-populate their people profiles in time for the launch;
Intensive full-day training for 162 staff representing all of the organisation’s sections and departments to be the first ‘super users’ of the system, including full background on the knowledge-sharing imperative and hands-on training in all core functions; and
A seven-minute launch video, featuring the director and deputy director, introducing the system and providing brief computer-based training.
Within the first four weeks after the launch, the team conducted 24 road shows in small group settings at all staff locations to further demonstrate the platform’s functionality and provide training and assistance in person.
Team members showed unwavering passion for the success of this programme and worked together enthusiastically. The spirit of sharing, of both knowledge and energy, was evident throughout the project. To the casual observer in the organisation, this energy and enthusiasm demonstrated that the knowledge sharing programme was not going to be another initiative that would soon die on the vine, but that it would become a new part of the culture and way of working in the Division.
Fundamental to the KM vision was the establishment of CoPs to provide the structure for collaboration in silo-free environments, conducive to improved decision making and increased opportunities for synergistic problem solving.
Work on the communities started well before the launch of iShare, with CoP core members meeting regularly, establishing their terms of reference and starting to build some useful content for their intranet sites. Launched on day one, these sites gave them a ‘shop window’ on the platform to expand their networks and memberships across the organisation.
Some of the CoPs have been extraordinary in their rapid development and scope of activities. The ‘new joiners’ community was a complete (and pleasant) surprise; it seemed to come out of nowhere, but in a rapidly growing business it satisfied some pent-up frustrations. This community not only has the largest and most active membership, it is also starting to engage with the other communities in setting out what value they can bring to themselves and the business.
Now a year later, a new top-priority focus area has been identified for the Division to enhance stakeholder relationships. To help address this, a CoP on ‘public consultation’ has formed to engage colleagues from the project teams, engineering group, corporate relations and others to work together to become better ambassadors of the Corporation on issues of importance in the public sector.
A ‘CoP wave’ promotional campaign was launched in January 2010 and ran for six months to build momentum among the CoPs. This involved placing one CoP into the spotlight for a two-week period to promote its presence and provide an opportunity for a condensed period of highly concentrated activity.
There are now 11 active CoPs with more than 1,100 members in the areas of: building information modelling; coordination and interface management; environment; K&IM; new joiners; new technologies; public consultation; statutory submissions; trees; railway systems, and tunnelling. Two new CoPs for ‘civil engineering’ and ‘permanent way engineering’ are also in the pipeline, identifying core members and defining their charters.
Establishing CoPs has proved to be one of the most interesting areas of challenge and success. Some communities have flourished out of absolutely nowhere while others, identified by management as important, initially struggled to build momentum. Some lessons learnt in establishing communities include:
Support those with enthusiasm and passion. The healthier CoPs become benchmarks for others;
CoP champions and facilitators must be the right people for the job. Their people management and communication, and organisational skills are more important than subject matter expertise;
CoP leadership roles need to be spread out among as many core members as possible to give them ownership in particular aspects. Some key roles are discussion forum monitor, photographer, librarian and social host;
Encouragement and involvement from senior management and some ‘practical business purpose’ are needed to sustain CoPs. When used effectively, CoPs can tackle technical problems in collaborative and untraditional ways, which leads to innovation;
Assigning new graduates to support CoPs has been a big win. These ‘generation Y’ members add much-needed technical savvy and horsepower to maintain the CoP sites, plan events, and generally make the CoPs more engaging; and
CoPs need a mixture of online and offline content and activities. The human element of face-to-face contact cannot be underestimated.
Embedding change and building sustainability
The highly collaborative approach of working with a broad representation of end users in the planning and development stages has ensured that the knowledge sharing programme has become well embedded within its first year of service.
The successful roll-out required a long-range and sustained communications campaign to facilitate staff awareness, understanding and education. Communications included regular articles on K&IM in the two-monthly project link newsletter, with updates on developments of the programme. Briefing sessions were included in the director’s quarterly communications meetings with all staff and in quarterly innovation and continuous improvement seminars for managers.
Since the launch, senior management have maintained blogs, both as a means of communication and a practical demonstration that even senior management are participating
in the new culture of knowledge sharing. Staff are encouraged to post back comments and questions on the blog entries.
It’s important that, in fostering collaborative working behaviours, KM is not a discretionary activity – something to do when time and inclination allow. It is critical that KM activities are communicated as part of the workflow – and that individual jobs, or usage of new systems, would be more difficult without it.
The new platform provides all departments within the organisation with a collaborative space for capturing and sharing valuable information for the execution of projects, as well as capturing records for current projects on a real-time basis. The online document centre serves as a virtual, shared drive for all 1,500 staff in the Division. The need for the long-term retention of mountains of paper documents per project has been eliminated.
Work units are also organising important information in the form of web-based sites. One example is the project safety team, which has built a new safety site to manage all the safety-related information in a convenient, easy-to-use format for all staff. Safety messages, training programmes and forms are now more easily and readily available. Another example is the Pearl River Delta Planning Section, which has organised studies on potential new railways in the region, making the information accessible to all staff and eliminating the need to produce booklets of information.
The statutory submissions CoP has developed a way to use the platform to manage the great number of government requirements that the new projects have to contend with. Now known as ‘collaborative documentation’, documents and related correspondence are linked together using hyperlinks. Multiple parties review common versions of documents and collectively build up comments and responses in real time. Gone are the days of sending mega-bytes of files through e-mails, and the fax machines have virtually become obsolete.
A powerful people search function is the most popular feature on the portal. All staff have their own online profile including a photo, contact information, professional work experience, and so on. These are linked to the interactive organisational chart feature. In a fast-growing business, this feature has been invaluable in connecting people and establishing networking.
The new web-based workflow process for originating, approving and issuing design-standard waiver requests provides an easy and paperless method to seek approval for waivers to normal design standards where necessary. Waivers save project cost. The new process achieves more than 30 per cent efficiency in processing these waivers.
Like most organisations, one of the Division’s current drivers is to reduce costs. A series of knowledge cafés has been employed to stimulate discussions on cost-cutting and spark innovation in this area. The beauty of the cafés is their ability to get people talking about topics you don’t normally hear around the water coolers – and the conversations have been animated and enlightening. Following each café, a wiki document is placed on the portal for participants to help increase awareness and facilitate further exchange of ideas.
To ensure the knowledge sharing programme remained successful in the long term, the team suggested that a full-time support organisation should be established for the care and custody of the programme. This ongoing support team would champion change and ensure that support is in place to help users by providing training, and being role models and change agents to sustain best practice in K&IM.
A process of ‘strategic success modelling’, facilitated by the team’s Arup consultants, was employed to systematically assess the critical competencies needed for the new K&IM team and to ensure alignment with business needs. This resulted in the team now in place, with its strong ability to provide role modelling and user support, supplying the energy and enthusiasm for long-term success.
Once the team was at full complement, Meredith Belbin’s team-role-analysis was conducted by the Arup consultants to help the team quickly understand its strengths and weaknesses, and give each team member personal knowledge of their functionality within the team. Two days of facilitated team-building workshops were held to define the vision and mission of the team and to clarify roles and responsibilities, using the RACI [responsible, accountable, consulted, informed] matrix.
Now, two years since the Arup consultants first arrived, a comprehensive knowledge sharing system is in place, including a multi-functional intranet portal. The K&IM project is no longer an initiative. It is a programme that is becoming embedded into the culture of the organisation, promoting the sharing of knowledge and experiences, classification and retention of information, and professional networking throughout the organisation. The spirit within the project team and the core K&IM team is as healthy as ever, and this spirit is permeating throughout the whole Division. Senior management commitment to this programme continues to be unwavering.
Tim Hawley is associate director at Arup. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Danal Blessis is manager, KM (projects) at MTR Corporation. He can be contacted at email@example.com