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Innovation Reflections from Thailand

I just returned from a wonderful trip to Thailand. During my visit, I had an opportunity to give a talk at Bangkok University on Designing the Innovation Process. The talk was sponsored by the Institute for Knowledge and Innovation - South East Asia and Thailand's National Innovation Agency (NIA). During the event, I had a chance to dialogue with over 60 distinguished managers and executives who represented Thailand's leading private and public sector organizations. I had the opportunity to discuss research collaboration with the Thailand Productivity Institute, and Bangkok University, among other organizations. It was a real treat to meet University of Washington alumni in Thailand.

I was impressed by the breadth of knowledge management programs in various Thai organizations. In addition, I learnt how Thai organizations are tailoring standard knowledge management approaches to meet the cultural and economic realities of the country. Thailand is an up and coming Asian economy. While, still highly dependent on tourism, the Thai government, through agencies such as the NIA, are supporting the development of innovative and highly entrepreneurial organizations in areas such as green technologies, and biofuel, among others.

My host, Dr. Vincent M. Ribière, did a marvellous job organizing the event. I look forward to my return trip back to Thailand!

Keynote Presentation – Center of Excellence for Biosensors, Instrumentation and Process Control, Slovenia – Ten Rules of Leveraging Ideas for Innovation

On November 10th, I will give a keynote presentation for the annual conference hosted by the Center of Excellence for Biosensors, Instrumentation and Process Control (COBIK) at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. The conference is titled: Slovenska visokotehnološka MSP na prepihu inovativne in razvojno tehnološke prebojnosti: Slovenija x.0 ?

The Slovenian government has supported the development of Centers of Excellence. Each Center of Excellence focuses on creating efficient relationships between public and private research institutions, technology driven firms and their global market positioning. The Faculty of Economics, University of Ljubljana, is one of the partners in the Center of Excellence (COBIK) and is responsible for enabling the research and technology driven firms to gain business knowledge and helping them in the process to market their innovative products and solutions.

The program is available here [LINK]

Ten Rules of Leveraging Ideas for Innovation [LINK]

In this keynote address, I will discuss how leading organizations are building robust processes for leveraging ideas within their organization and across their networks. Ideas are critical ingredients for innovation. Designing robust innovation processes calls for great care in the handling of ideas. To this end, leading organizations are designing, and deploying, a portfolio of mechanisms to help their employees seek out, share, experiment with, commercialize, diffuse, and implement, ideas. I will highlight emerging technology solutions. In addition, I will outline how smart organizations are capturing knowledge about their innovation process and employing it for continuous refinement and renewal.

Optimizing Idea Generation for Innovation

I have spent the last few days meeting a number of executives from technology giants like Microsoft, to smaller, yet highly innovative firms, such as biomedical research institutes. During my meetings, I engaged in very interesting conversations, most of which centered around helping organizations design sustainable innovation programs. A key question that kept coming up is how organizations should get their employees to be more effective, and efficient, in generating ideas that can advance the business cause.

One challenge for organizations is directing their employees’ energy toward spaces that need ideas. Deciding whether the focus is domain-specific (perhaps limited to engineering, sales, or accounting), or cross-domain is a first step. Another option is identifying the future areas that an organization would like to enter. For example, if the organization is thinking of entering a foreign market, it should solicit ideas about entry strategies, clients to work with, and finding the markets that are ripe for investment. The ideal organization will update its focus areas on a regular basis as conditions in its internal and external environments change. Of A.G. Laughley’s leadership at Proctor & Gamble, Tim Brown comments “He seems to see his role as constantly reminding teams of what they should be focusing on, rather than telling them whether they've got the right idea or not.”[1]

In addition, the organization should appoint key personnel to govern the ideas being generated in each area. These individuals can serve the role of contact points for employees who would like to submit ideas. They can also champion the focus areas and develop specific guidelines on how to submit ideas, specify what kinds of ideas are needed, and determine how ideas will be evaluated when submitted. The contact personnel is also important in transferring ideas between domains.  An idea submitted to one focus area may be more suitable for another one. In addition, there might be opportunities that are submitted in one domain which should be pursued as cross-domain collaborations. For example, CEMEX, the highly innovative cement manufacturer, has an Innovation committee composed of three directors, three VP’s, and one outside consultant. The team is responsible for defining the broad themes for innovation and structure for the innovation process.  Often, the committee considers strategic areas that are outside of the core product; recent focus areas included “integrated construction solutions for affordable housing, ways to support regional development, and making it easier for customers to do business with CEMEX.”[2]

Once focus areas are defined, it is equally important to communicate them to employees and inform employees across the hierarchical levels and functional divisions that they may contribute to these focus areas. It should be clear to employees that the work they do on a daily basis is related to at least one of the focus areas. Some organizations erroneously think that their mission statements are the best guide to how employees should focus their idea-creating. But if you asked a sample of employees in your organization to repeat the mission statement, by my estimates, less than15% would be able to give you a half-baked recital. Most employees do not see the relevance of these glorified statements as they have not been translated into terms that matter to their daily work. One useful strategy that I have seen work is to build archetypes that resonate with employees of what an idea contribution might look like in each of the focus areas.

To learn more about how to design innovation programs at your organization, or to optimize your current innovation processes, please send me an email.


[1] Brown, T. (2009, October 24). Corner Office: He Prizes Questions More Than Answers. Retrieved March 22, 2010, from Interview by Adam Bryant of NYTimes: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/25/business/25corner.html

[2] Sull, D. N., Ruelas-Gossi, A., & Escobari, M. (2004, January 26). What Developing-World Companies Teach Us About Innovation. Retrieved March 2010, 22, from HBS Working Knowledge: http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/3866.html

A Longitudinal Analysis of Stakeholder Sentiments: Business Modernization Project at the IRS

The Internal Revenue Service Business Modernization Project undertaken by the Tax Agency of the US Government has been singled out as an example of a massive failure. As envisioned, the project was intended as an Enterprise-wide intervention that would provide modern services and effective data access to citizenry and several government agencies. After more than a decade and 3 billion dollars later, the results appear to be less than exemplary. Sandeep Purao and I have a paper accepted for presentation at the Enterprise Architecture Research (TEAR2010) Workshop that identifies different stakeholders who participated in the project, and analyzes the sentiments and confidence each expressed regarding the fate of the project. We conclude with lessons learned from our investigation including recognizing the importance of multiple stakeholders for Enterprise-wide initiatives.

Purao, S., and Desouza, K.C. “An Enterprise-wide Intervention at IRS: A Longitudinal Analysis of Stakeholder Sentiments,” In Proceedings of the 5th Trends in Enterprise Architecture Research (TEAR2010) Workshop,  Delft, Netherlands (November 12, 2010).

Speaking at Bangkok University on Designing the Innovation Process

I will be giving a talk at Bangkok University (Kluaynamthai Campus) on designing organizational innovation processes. The talk is organized by Institute for Knowledge and Innovation South-East Asia (IKI-SEA) as part of their KM World Seminar Series and will take place on October 28, 2010 from 1.30 PM to 4:00 PM. Please click here to download the flyer.

Interview with KM Leaders: Stan Garfield

I am currently interviewing an eclectic group of knowledge management leaders on their experiences. These interviews will appear in my new book on knowledge management. Here is an excerpt from my interview with Stan Garfield. I first met Stan Garfield at the APQC Conference in St. Louis in 2005. I was immediately impressed with his depth of knowledge and experience. He invited me to give a talk to his knowledge management community of practice soon after. Through the years, I have kept abreast of his work in the knowledge management field. Through this interview, I am hoping that you will gain an appreciation of what it takes to be a KM leader.

Current Title and Organization: Community Evangelist, Global Consulting Knowledge Management, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited

Biography: Mr. Garfield began as a computer programmer, research assistant, and manager at Washington University School of Medicine and St. Louis University from 1975-1983. He then moved to Digital Equipment Corporation (later, Compaq and HP) and held a wide variety of field and headquarters management roles in presales, consulting and system integration. Among his many achievements, he launched DEC’s first knowledge management program in 1996, helped develop the corporate KM strategy for Compaq in 2000, and led the Worldwide Consulting & Integration Knowledge Management Program for Hewlett-Packard, 2004-2008. After leaving HP, he briefly served as Retail & Consumer Knowledge Domain Manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers, before joining Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited as Community Evangelist in Global Consulting Knowledge Management. He lives in Northville, Michigan.

How do you define knowledge management?

Knowledge Management (KM) is the art of transforming information and intellectual assets into enduring value for an organization’s clients and its people.  The purpose of knowledge management is to foster the reuse of intellectual capital, enable better decision making, and create the conditions for innovation. KM provides people, processes, and technology to help knowledge flow to the right people at the right time so they can act more efficiently and effectively.  To practice knowledge management, share what you have learned, created, and proved; innovate to be more creative, inventive, and imaginative; reuse what others have already learned, created, and proved; collaborate with others to take advantage of what they know; and learn by doing, from others, and from existing information.

Can you tell us a bit about your first job as a knowledge manager and how did you get this role (i.e., how did you make the transition to a knowledge manager, if it was not your first job)?

In 1996 I was asked by the senior vice president of systems integration at Digital Equipment Corporation to start a knowledge management program after we visited Ernst & Young's Center for Business Knowledge in Cleveland, Ohio.  When he heard that Ernst & Young had a Chief Knowledge Officer, he turned to me and said, "I want you to be our CKO."  I had been doing knowledge management for many years in addition to my official duties in professional services management, but we didn't call it that.  It has been referred to as something like "resource management" or "capability development" or "information."

My job was to launch the first KM program at DEC.  I had to define the strategy and approach we would use, and start the process of implementing changes incorporating people, process, and technology elements. Along the way, I had to endure many ups and downs, enlist allies in the cause to join my virtual team, get executive sponsorship from a succession of leaders, increase investment and commitment to the program, deal with constant organizational change, adjust to changing technology, migrate from and integrate with legacy software, exercise diplomacy with many other groups, and cope with two large-scale corporate mergers.

Thanks. What did you learn from this experience? What were three of the major challenges you faced? How did you overcome these challenges?

I learned:

  1. Put a strong KM leader in place, and ensure that the KM team has only strong members.
  2. Balance people, process, and technology components, with a project leader for each category.
  3. Establish a governance and collaboration process to engage all groups within the organization (e.g., business units, regions, functions), and to formally manage and communicate on all projects – appoint KM leaders in each major group.
  4. Hold annual worldwide face-to-face meetings to get all KM leaders informed, energized, and collaborating.
  5. Communicate regularly through newsletters, training, web sites, and local events.
  6. Get the senior executive to actively support the program.
  7. Engage with other KM programs, both internal and external, to learn, share ideas, and practice what you preach.
  8. Focus on delivering tangible business benefits that match the overall objectives of the organization.
  9. Deliver regular improvements to make the KM environment effective and easy to use.
  10. Set three basic goals for employees and stick to them for at least a year.

Three keys to the success of a KM program:

  1. Set three simple goals and stick with them for the long term.  Communicate them regularly.  Incorporate the goals and metrics into as many parts of the organization as possible (e.g., employee goals, incentive and rewards programs, and newsletters).
  2. Keep the people, process, and technology components of the KM program in balance.  Don't allow one element (e.g., technology) to dominate the other two.
  3. Lead by example.  Model the collaboration and knowledge sharing behaviors you want the organization to adopt in how you run the KM program.

Five pitfalls to avoid:

  1. Trying to take on too much.
  2. Focusing on technology.
  3. Not engaging the constituents.
  4. Doing too much studying and planning and not enough prototyping and piloting.
  5. Not reusing what others have already learned and implemented.

Can you say a bit more about the pitfalls, especially how did you manage not to take on too much. I have heard from a lot of KM leaders that the number one reason they fail is that they over promise and under deliver. What strategies do you recommend for budding managers?

Pick one focus area which addresses a widely-perceived need, where you can achieve positive results relatively quickly, and which can be implemented without the need for extensive approvals, expenditures, or custom development.  Direct most of your energy and resources behind this effort, and when it succeeds, pick the next focus area using the same criteria.

Find out if the senior executive has a hot button, pet project, or wish list.  Respond to these by implementing something for them, getting their endorsement and participation, and then widely communicating how everyone else in the organization can emulate the leader.

Pick the three goals and repeat them in all communications until everyone knows them.  Relentlessly stick to achieving these goals until you can declare success on one or more of them.  Then pick new ones and repeat the process.

Harness the efforts of others and connect their people, processes, and tools into your program.  For example, if another group has implemented a blog platform that your program can use, embrace that as your blog platform rather than launching your own.  If yet another group has an innovation process, adopt it as yours.  And invite people outside your group to participate in your activities as virtual or extended team members.

Thanks. Can you please also say a bit about the importance of prototyping and piloting approaches and solutions to KM?

Classic software development projects included lengthy time allocations for analysis, design, and development before users ever had a chance to try out the results.  Given that it is difficult to know exactly what features users want and how they should actually work before using a new program, the "finished product" would often be unsatisfactory to the users for which it was developed, despite the fact that it met their specifications.

Knowledge management programs and intranet systems often make the same mistakes as software development projects.  Lengthy designs or redesigns are followed by big launches and then by users disliking or ignoring the touted offerings.  I call this the "big bang" approach, such as when a new or revised web site is unveiled after six months of development, only to miss the mark as judged by its intended audience.  What are the users supposed to do during the time prior to launch?  It's much better to quickly launch a simple site serving up the most important content (as defined by the users) and then continue to improve the site and add more content on an ongoing basis.  This results in a site which is both immediately useful and which is also perceived as being continuously improved.

Whenever you have a potentially good idea for a people, process, or technology innovation, try it out as soon as possible.  Start by discussing it with a group of trusted colleagues, fellow members of a community of practice, or insightful friends and family.  Mock up a simple picture, screen shot, or process flow.  Encourage candid comments and suggestions, and incorporate as much of this feedback as possible in your initial design.

Implement your idea directly, through a colleague, or through a team good at development.  Do this sooner, rather than later.  Publicize your initial implementation through a relevant community of practice, your social network, and your work team.  Solicit feedback for improving functionality, usability, and effectiveness.  Then quickly make improvements and repeat the cycle.  Continue this process indefinitely, with longer cycle times as functionality better aligns with user requirements.

Over the years, can you describe what has changed in your approach to leading knowledge management programs in organizations?

My approach has evolved as opposed to changed.  I emphasize understanding the needs of the organization and responding to those needs, rather than trying to roll out a system and try to get it adopted.

Here are 13 insights I have drawn from my 14 years in KM:

  1. Collect content; connect people
  2. Try things out; improve and iterate
  3. Lead by example; model behaviors
  4. Set goals; recognize and reward
  5. Tell your stories; get others to tell theirs
  6. Use the right tool for the job; build good examples
  7. Enable innovation; support integration
  8. Include openly; span boundaries
  9. Prime the pump; ask and answer questions
  10. Network; pay it forward
  11. Let go of control; encourage and monitor
  12. Just say yes; be responsive
  13. Meet less; deliver more

To read more about the interview, stay tuned for the book…

To be interviewed or recommend renowned KM leaders and managers for interviews, please send me an email.

Looking for Clues to Failures in Large-Scale Public Sector Projects

Sandeep Purao and I have a paper accepted at the 44th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences in the Electronic Government Track (Development Methods for Electronic Government, Minitrack). The paper analyzes the IRS’s Business Systems Modernization Project using sentiment analysis.

Abstract
We describe results from historical analysis of a large-scale, public sector effort: the IRS Modernization Project that has already spanned a decade and consumed more than 3 billion dollars. The results focus on analysis of Sentiments and Confidence expressed by different stakeholders, as found in various documents. We explore how such analyses may provide a window on project progress and potential early clues that may contribute to preventing undesirable outcomes in the future.

Reference: Purao, S., and Desouza, K.C. “Looking for Clues to Failures in Large-Scale Public Sector Projects: A Case Study,” In Proceedings of the Forty-Forth Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS-44), Los Alamos, CA: IEEE Press, Kauai, HI, (January 4-7, 2011).

Large IT Projects as Interventions in Digital Ecosystems

Sandeep Purao (IST, Penn State University) and I have a paper accepted for presentation at the International ACM Conference on Management of Emergent Digital EcoSystems (MEDES’10) (BangkokThailand).

Abstract: Large IT projects, such as the US Government’s Internal Revenue Service Business Modernization Effort, can take a decade or more and consume billions of dollars. Traditional approaches to the study of such projects emphasize concerns such as requirements monitoring, progress tracking and risk mitigation. We propose an alternative approach guided by a digital ecosystems view instead of a hierarchical, decision-oriented view. We argue that this perspective is more suited to understand how such projects evolve and cause changes in the underlying digital ecosystem characterized by not only the IT infrastructure but also the transactional relationships among stakeholders. We illustrate our arguments by drawing on an archaeological case study of the IRS effort, and discuss implications of the digital ecosystem perspective for the study of large IT projects.

Reference: Purao, S., and Desouza, K.C. “Large IT Projects as Interventions in Digital Ecosystems,” In Proceedings of the International ACM Conference on Management of Emergent Digital EcoSystems (MEDES'10), Bangkok, Thailand (October 26-29. 2010).

Designing Sustainable Knowledge Management Programs

I will be giving an invited presentation at the 2010 Talent Management Conference in Portland, Oregon (September 8-10). My presentation will highlight strategic, tactical, and operational mechanisms for building sustainable knowledge management programs.

About the Presentation

As an organization prepares for the departure of valuable staff, a key challenge is how to capture, store, and transfer knowledge. Managing knowledge and ensuring its transfer will increase productivity. This session will provide useful tools and processes for selecting the best strategy to fit your organization’s culture. Participants will explore the use of technology as well as best practice approaches and tools to preserve and transmit institutional memory.

Topics include:

  • Understanding the value proposition of investing in knowledge transfer mechanisms
  • Creating appropriate knowledge creation and transfer strategies for various organizational contexts
  • Measuring the impact of knowledge transfer on organizational outcomes (e.g. innovation, cost reduction, etc.)
  • Deploying technological solutions to enable knowledge transfer
  • Deploying social solutions to enable knowledge transfer
  • Understanding the changing dynamics of knowledge transfer with social networking sites
  • Leveraging knowledge transfer processes for sustainable competitive advantages

Consulting and Advisory Services

I have updated the Consulting page on my website. Consulting engagements I offer range in scope from single-day senior executive briefings to small-term strategic project assignments. Here are some of the most common offerings:

Executive Strategic Planning Retreats: Working closely with the client, Kevin scopes out a keynote presentation followed by a workshop. The day begins with the keynote and a thought provoking discussion. The workshop can be used to facilitate corporate strategic planning and design, forecasting and planning for future trends that impact the business, or brainstorming and consensus building. Past retreats have focused on strategic innovation, designing collaborative alliances for organizational resiliency, and building crisis detection and response programs.

Strategic Advising and Consulting: These short-term engagements allow Kevin to work intimately with the client on focused areas of strategic opportunities and challenges. Advising and consulting projects range from strategizing knowledge management and innovation endeavors to technology management projects and competitive intelligence assignments. Past engagements have included advising a major engineering firm on designing a knowledge management program, reviewing business plans and specifications for products of a major technology organization, and serving as a senior adviser for market and customer intelligence projects.

Ideation and Commercialization: This unique offering by Kevin is centered on helping entities leverage their ideas. Kevin works with entities ranging from individual executives in leading organizations, to technology start-up firms, to independent thinkers (e.g., scientists, bloggers, and product designers). The focus is to help entities manage their ideas optimally for goal attainment. Past engagements include working with senior executives to publish their ideas in mainstream journals or books and helping technology start-ups formulate key strategic alliances.