posted 10 Oct 2005 in Volume 9 Issue 2
Knowledge in action
Using KM lessons learnt to transform business processes at SAIC
By Jerry Ash
A major international science and technology company is currently engaged in a change-management process that will transform the company. Kent Greenes, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer (CKO) at Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), was originally hired by SAIC as a rainmaker in the KM consulting market, but now is the lead change-management strategist under the company’s first new CEO since the organisation was founded in 1969.
Although not all the changes will be knowledge-driven, Greenes is drawing on his experiences with KM clients, including British Petroleum (BP) and the
The value proposition of SAIC’s KM portfolio over the past six years has been based on Greenes’s previous experiences at BP and from a growing body of knowledge gained working with clients, not from any formal practice of KM at SAIC itself. Now that same value proposition is being used at SAIC to drive the remake of its own business practices.
This cover story chronicles knowledge gained from client consulting experiences and links those lessons learnt to the transformation strategies now underway at SAIC.
CompanyCommand: Timely knowledge
Greenes’s most treasured lessons come from assignments with the
The founders of CompanyCommand, Tony Burgess and Nate Allen, met at
Until the explosion of the internet, Burgess and Allen had no vehicle to create a seamless community of highly mobile military commanders. When they discovered the internet, CompanyCommand was born and quickly grew to a group of 2,500 company commanders, passing 10,000 last year.
“For many of us,” Burgess says, “CompanyCommand has become professionally the greatest experience of our lives. We naturally spend time reflecting on our experiences and have the desire to both remember them and pass on some of what we have learnt and experienced in the field to others. Those who are preparing to take command naturally would love to tap into the ideas and insights of the thousands who have gone before them.”
Kent Greenes, well known for his development of communities at BP, was asked to coach the new community. Etienne Wenger, Hubert Saint-Onge and Nancy Dixon also have worked with the group. Nancy Dixon co-authored a book with Allen, Burgess and others, CompanyCommand: Unleashing the Power of the Army Profession.
“Other than relationships built while attending West Point or War College, there was no informal way for new company commanders to learn informally from experienced commanders before taking command of troops,” Greenes says.
CompanyCommand was mostly a virtual community until last year when it held its first face-to-face meeting in
For example, one work session was set up for three commanders who had just returned from Afghanistan to talk to three new commanders who had never commanded before but were about to be deployed to Iraq.
“The three experienced commanders freely shared timeless experiences they thought the inexperienced commanders might need in the environment they were about to enter. They assumed the best knowledge sharing would come from their experiences in the field. The green commanders listened politely until one of the young lieutenants spoke up saying, “This is great stuff and one day I’m going to use it. But right now, I need to know how many mousetraps I need so I can submit a requisition and have them there when we set up camp. I heard cobras follow mice into tents over there.”
“It sounds silly,” Greenes says, “but the powerful lesson was that the most relevant knowledge is timely knowledge. Relationship, trust and conversation are the most critical things needed to inspire the transfer of useful knowledge.”
Lessons like that led Greenes, Allen, Burgess and
Beyond sales; wanting to do more
Dozens of other lessons learnt are providing the components of the knowledge-enabled transformation initiative at SAIC under the leadership of Greenes. He succeeded in developing a KM consulting business for SAIC that earned good returns for the company – first in the oil business and then expanding into other commercial industries.
“My eyes were wide open when I took the consulting job in 1999,” Greenes recalls. “I was brought in primarily to leverage my reputation in KM in the commercial and international marketplace in order to win business and help grow the company. It was pretty clear to me that internal KM was secondary and I was being hired to add KM to SAIC’s core competencies so our various offers to the research and engineering world would be more distinctive. BP was SAIC’s biggest commercial client and generated a significant portion of SAIC’s commercial revenues. I would help them expand that reach.”
That reach has extended to include clients who have ‘taught the teacher’ – Amerada Hess Joint Venture in
The arrival of a new CEO at SAIC and his future plans to grow the company presented a unique opportunity and Greenes seized it.
“After the new CEO had settled into his office, I went to him and asked if he wanted me to continue making money by selling KM services to clients or did he want me to help the company with its transformation initiatives. He knew of my experience in organisational transformation and gave me the chance to do it for SAIC.”
In late 2004, Greenes handed over the KM consulting business to a person he had groomed for the job and immediately set about his new job of company transformation, still carrying the title of CKO as well as senior vice president. Integral to that transformation would be the KM lessons learnt from and with his external clients. But the purpose for integrating KM into the transformation would not be idealistic. It would be pragmatic. As with every change, the goal for KM would be to apply its strategies, principles and procedures. SAIC has been a good performing company, improving every year for more than 36 years. But to be high performing is a much bigger challenge and to meet the challenge the organisation will have to leverage all the knowledge it has, creates or discovers.
As with the CompanyCommand experience, Greenes has learnt several fundamental lessons from clients over the past decade that he is now using while leading SAIC’s transformation. Here are just a few:
Action reviews: Hope is not a method
Of all the lessons learnt from oil fields to government agencies, Kent Greenes loves returning to the
One of Greenes’s earliest accomplishments came from learning how the Army conducts after-action reviews (AARs). Greenes took that method into British Petroleum, to oil platforms, chemical plants and refineries. However, he removed the word ‘After’ and adopted a practice of on-the-spot action reviews (ARs). When people resisted he opined,
“If soldiers can learn while they’re getting shot at, then workers can take 15 minutes in an environment that is demanding but yet nowhere near as intense as the battlefield.”
An AR is ‘learning in the moment’, not after, and became one of the primary learning tools at BP. It is becoming a cornerstone of SAIC’s transformation projects.
Another of Greenes’s favourite lessons learnt came from an opportunity to meet with one of the Air Force generals setting up a command organisation. He saw it not only as a prospective contract but an opportunity to – in some small way – help prepare and protect the country from further terrorist attacks. “We would pull all the stops to make it happen,” Greenes says.
The joint force structure resource and assessment officer (J8) who was responsible for management of all resources, planning and budgeting for the command organisation was involved in the conversation. Since this organisation would be the first joint command set up for protecting the
He saw the possibility of applying the fast-learning processes of SAIC to accelerate the re-engineering of resource allocation for the command. Speed was critical to get ahead of the annual planning cycle.
“We scoped and delivered a project to weave learning before, during and after into a traditional BPR approach to design a command-resource-allocation process. Essentially, we were re-engineering and designing the new process on the fly, but with fast learning from the actual execution of each step of the new process to build in improvement along the way. In six months, in collaboration with the J8 and his team, the new, fit-for-purpose process was delivered. The original BPR estimate was 12 months. This was particularly important in the command structure where short-term military workforce rotation combined with a longer-term civilian workforce creates a significant knowledge-retention challenge. All the more reason to be able to learn fast from those that will only be on the team for a short time,” says Greenes.
Learning on the fly is coming in handy during the SAIC transformation. “We had never used Six Sigma internally at SAIC,” Greenes says. “To help us move quickly up the learning curve, we integrated the fast-learning processes into both the Six Sigma service-improvement methodology and into our actual execution of the methodology on projects. In this way, we have been able to accelerate building of our competency to apply Six Sigma as well as the delivery of performance-improvement results to our business.”
Meet ‘em where they’re at
One of Greenes’s most powerful early experiences in KM came from a request for help by a BP offshore installation manager on the Forties Charlie Platform in the
His platform was not meeting oil-production targets and he was aware of some success BP was having with KM in improving compressor uptime in
Greenes bluntly asked why. His audience explained their problem was unplanned shutdowns, which meant they had to keep turning the wells on and off. Since oil wells don’t turn on and off like water faucets, it was impossible for the crew to think about improving performance when they couldn’t even keep the plant running.
“Their attention was on one thing and I was asking them to focus on something else. We shifted gears and learnt that most of the shutdowns occurred after handover from one work shift to another. So, I facilitated some action reviews with the teams coming off shift and those going on.” The problem was identified, teams made immediate improvements, unplanned shutdowns decreased greatly over the next week and production increased back to target.
“When it came to initiating change at SAIC, I knew we had to focus on where today’s pain was, not where we wanted the company to be,” says Greenes. “That was how we selected the first projects to begin our transformation journey. We targeted improvements to reduce the time to fill open positions for direct contract work and increase positive cash flow by reducing the cycle time to process subcontractor invoices. These were projects that met SAIC businesses and employees where they were at.”
People closest to the work know best
A two-hour presentation on the benefits and application of KM to the senior leadership at Amerada Hess resonated with CEO John Hess.
“He immediately knew right where we should focus our efforts and mandated his exploration and production drilling leaders adopt the KM practices I was offering,” says Greene.
Thrilled as Greenes was, he was worried about too strong a top-down push. He convinced the leadership team to allow him to engage the business leaders further down in the organisation to gain their ownership and buy in. “As long as I delivered the right ROI, that was fine by them,” Greenes recalls.
“The internal KM leader knew some business leaders with major drilling challenges. One was the leader of a new joint venture (JV) in
But when they arrived in the desert the project changed dramatically. The drilling manager didn’t want help improving the actual drilling process. His ‘pain’ was the length of time it was taking to move drilling rigs from well to well. “We re-estimated the ROI and it was actually a bit higher than what we ‘sold’ the executives,” Greenes recalls. The consulting team changed gears to embrace the needs of the frontline manger, executives were pleased and the KM programme at Amerada Hess was off and running.
At SAIC Greenes applied the Amerada experience to identify the first projects to transform the performance of SAIC.
“We performed a fairly rigorous gap analysis between where we wanted to be in the future and where we were at the time. We engaged the majority of business leaders from top to bottom and ten per cent of the employee population. The final criteria for project selection were business impact and timing, business advocacy, transferability and reach, and feasibility. One of the projects we selected from this process was the business cash flow process.
Not only would this meet a current improvement need, but it was a ‘high nail’ for the new CEO.”
However, Greenes and his team soon realised the project was much too big to tackle and deliver meaningful results in four to six months. So they met with the functional leaders and explored where they felt cash-flow improvements could be made. The head of the procurement function raised the possibility of reducing the cycle time to process subcontractor invoices. He estimated that improvement of several days processing time would increase cash flow by millions of dollars.
“We’ve just completed the project in less than six months and the result is in the tens of millions of dollars of positive cash-flow improvement,” Greenes says. “The procurement people closest to the work knew right where the pain and gain was.”
Build competency through delivery
For example, CECOM needed to improve source selection for the bidding of acquisition contracts. Knowledge retention was an issue, but the more immediate problem was speeding up source selection for contracts. By engaging the old hands and the new blood in solving the problem, aging staff shared what they knew and incoming staff experienced real-time learning while delivering a valuable project. Not only had the process of source selection been improved, but new people also benefited from very relevant knowledge exchange. The CECOM team won a US Army knowledge award for the project and the new process was embedded in the way the new people did their jobs. “When KM practices become part of a routine cycle, a company no longer needs to worry about ‘lost knowledge,’” Greenes says.
Similar experiences at Unocal and DAC (the Defense Ammunition Center at
Harness the power of learning
Learning before, during and after projects improves performance because the results are tangible and immediate. With its clients, SAIC has delivered a three-part methodology:
1. Learn fast, improve now;
2. Tap collective know-how through communities of practice (CoP);
3. Capture knowledge in action.
Based on client experience, however, Greenes doesn’t see knowledge capture as seizing it and codifying it in a document repository. “We have learnt to harvest personal and group experience and insight in a very rich way, actually enabling people to share their stories. When I say ‘capture’ I believe what we are trying to do is capture the knowledge of a person in the way they want it to be heard, not the way we might want to put a spin on it. Knowledge is uniquely an individual’s knowledge and I think it is wrong to attach any bias whatsoever to what the person has experienced.”
To enable storytelling, SAIC encourages people to relate their stories and thoughts on video and audio and then publishes some of the stories in written form for those who would rather read it; but still in the same personal conversational format. And even though each ‘capture’ retains an individual flavour, multiple voices are collected that often reinforce each other with repeated experiences. “I think the term knowledge re-use is misleading,” says Greenes. “KM is about knowledge adoption and adaption. It is pretty rare that someone would have such similar context and need that they would actually use the exact same lesson or good practice gleaned from someone else’s experience.”
The best story on the success of learning, sharing and capturing came in a situation at Cooks Inlet in Alaska where Unocal workers were having doubts about installing electrical submersive pumps (ESPs) for the first time. Other Unocal workers around the globe had deep experience with the pumps, most significantly in Norway.
With the help of the SAIC KM consultants, the
You can be certain that the internal transformation of SAIC will harness the power of learning, sharing, capturing and renewing individual knowledge as an integral part of the way people work.
Results facilitate change
All these experiences have one thing in common – they produced results that changed the performance of people, teams and the enterprise.
“To this day, I don’t think there is anything that changes people like results,” Greenes says. “People are understandably uncomfortable with change,” he says, “but when you show them a better result, you get them thinking about the possibility of doing something different. You can do a lot of stuff in change management by helping people see the possibilities. The key is to deliver meaningful and manageable results in short periods of time so people can see the reason for change.”
That’s the personal mantra Kent Greenes carries with him now as he carries out the transformation of SAIC to reach the standards achieved by his own clients before him. His clients have provided powerful influences. They have been the consultant’s consultant.
1. CompanyCommand: http://companycommand.army.mil/ev_en.php?ID=1_201&ID2=DO_ROOT
2. CompanyCommand: Unleashing the Power of the Army Profession, Nancy Dixon, Nate Allen, Nancy Dixon, Tony Burgess, Pete Kilner and Steve Schweitzer (http://www.kwork.org/Store/featured.html)
3. SAIC: http://www.saic.com/km/
Jerry Ash is a special correspondent for Inside Knowledge and founder of the Association of Knowledgework http://www.kwork.org He can be contacted at email@example.com