posted 18 Dec 2006 in Volume 10 Issue 4
The Gurteen perspective
What I learnt about KM as czar
By David Gurteen
From 1989 to 1992 I worked for Lotus Development in its then headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts as ‘International Czar’. Yes that was my title. I still have some business cards to prove it. Funny thing was, though, even with such a grand title I had no authoritative power, yet I did get to build a small team.
My mission was to ensure that all Lotus products were designed for the global market. This meant they needed to be coded in such a way that they could be cost effectively localised for other languages and cultures. Not just European languages, such as French and German, but Japanese, Chinese and Arabic – somewhat harder propositions given their multi-byte character sets.
I started, thinking this was simply a means of understanding the requirements, documenting them and making that ‘knowledge’ available to the development and marketing teams. I could not have been more wrong!
Having created an international handbook that explained how to design software products for global markets and distributed it, run training courses and built international requirements into the formal software development process – development teams still did not take the time to build international products.
One of the main reasons was that they were not measured or rewarded on it and they were under huge pressure to ship the US product. This meant that international concerns always came second. Another reason was that they did not really understand why we were asking for all the things we did.
But I was not to be beaten. I developed a strategy that turned out to be very successful. Basically, we built and nurtured close personal relationships with the people that mattered. We worked and collaborated with them to get the work done.
We took the time to understand their problems and avoided confrontational situations with them. We would sit down and discuss how we could help each other and meet both our objectives.
Often senior managers were under such pressure that they would not even give us the time of day. So we would move down the organisation until we found someone who would. That was one of the things I loved about the Lotus culture – that I could do that without too much fear of recrimination from a senior manager – although at times we did need to be careful.
At times we would move to the lowest level – the programmer cutting the code. By building a relationship with them and explaining what we were trying to do and why it was important we could often persuade them to design and write the code the way we required and frequently it required no additional effort. It often meant doing deals. If you do this for us – we will help you by doing this for you. Basically, we would do what ever it took – as long as it was ethical, of course.
In my last year there, every single new product was sufficiently well designed for the global marketplace. And I had learnt a lesson that profoundly changed the way I saw the world and the way I behaved.
‘Sharing knowledge’ is not just about documenting that knowledge and formal process. It’s about building relationships with people and working together with them to get things done.
David Gurteen is the founder of the Gurteen Knowledge Community. He can be contacted via www.gurteen.com.