R&D vs. Project

From McGee’s Musings:

The superficial resemblance between software development and construction in the physical world obscures the fact that often what we are doing in software development is more R&D than it is general contracting. Knowing which parts of the project are routine and which might be pushing the envelope requires a more sophisticated form of estimating and budgeting than vanilla project management techniques.

That makes a lot of sense to me.

Explicit – Implicit – Tacit

Jim McGee continues to clarify exactly what weblogs contribute to KM:

There is a category of knowledge that lies between explicit and tacit–what a colleague of mine, Jeanie Egmon, labels as “implicit.” This is knowledge that is actually fairly simple to write down once you decide that it’s worth doing so and once you have tools that make it easy to do so. It’s the knowledge of context and the whys behind the whats. It’s the knowledge that’s obvious at the time and on site, but mysterious even to its creators six months and six hundred miles later.

Emphasis added. What a success it would be to capture even a fraction of the implicit knowledge of everyday work in a weblog.

Here are a few definitions from Webster’s of the milestones along this continuum:


expressed or carried on without words or speech


capable of being understood from something else though unexpressed


fully revealed or expressed without vagueness, implication, or ambiguity

Cultural Chickens and Eggs

If you are interested in KM in general and the application of weblogs as a KM tool specifically, you really need to be reading Jim McGee on a daily basis. One of his recent posts explores knowledge work, weblogs, and fair process. Here is a quote:

As I’ve argued before one of the principal benefits of weblogs is the way that they can make knowledge work more visible. In this context, weblogs serve as a tool that makes fair process a natural byproduct of the work itself. They are a place where explanation can be developed and shared as it is worked out in real time. Moreover, if you can get an institutional environment in which everyone can potentially contribute their perspectives by way of their own weblogs and these perspectives can flow through the system by way of RSS, then you also increase the degree of engagement.

The flip side of this is that without a belief in and commitment to the notion of fair process, weblogs by themselves aren’t likely to last very long inside organizations. While they can be a tool to promote those values, I don’t think they can create those values if they are otherwise absent.

I agree that to successfully deploy weblogs at an enterprise level (across the entire organization) requires an organizational culture that is receptive to knowledge sharing and fair process.

However, I think that weblogs could be used within small islands of an organization that is otherwise not open to this style of knowledge work if given local sponsorship and protection. Over the long term this might lead the rest of the culture in a direction where knowledge sharing could occur more broadly. At a minimum, it would help one section to do their work more effectively. This approach does carry some risks from going against the grain. Use good judgement in how far to push.

Sharing Requires Trust

Jim McGee’s comments on moving from need-to-know to shared awareness information policies within an organization. Here is a quote:

If, on the other hand, your focus is on the external mission, i.e. getting the job done for customers, the issue shifts to how best to let everyone have access to and know what is going on that might be relevant. In part this has to be founded on a deeper sense of trust in all the members of the organization. Trust both in their judgment to make good and appropriate use of information and knowledge and, more importantly, in their capacity to manage the torrent of bits on their own. No need to be paternalistic about it.


It is the technology. And the people.

From McGee’s Musings:

KM as a technology issue

What if knowledge management actually is a technology problem?

This perspective suggests that technology’s primary organizational contribution to knowledge management is in establishing a uniform infrastructure and contributing to a consistent language and terminology environment.

To me K-Logs represent the most interesting recent effort to address this need with a simple solution available right now. They offer a starting point that a knowledge worker can understand and build from.

The catch-22 I keep finding myself in is trying to encourage the grass-roots development of KM tools and sharing while simultaneously crafting an organized taxonomy for our klog network. Too much top-down planning and structure will stifle the creativity of klogs during the start-up phase. Yet not enough structural planning will eventually lead to chaos as the network grows.

Anyone worked this out yet?

McGee on Klogs

Jim McGee on fostering weblog use within an organiziation:

The management challenge here is a coaching challenge, not a control one. Management needs to encourage you to continue the experiment long enough for you to perceive its value. After a few instances of dumb mistakes avoided by looking back on earlier dumb mistakes and effort saved by referring questioners back to the answer that already exists in the archives, the value ought to be clear. The sharing with others will evolve naturally from better sharing with yourself.

Related to this, if the staff in your organization fear failure then they are not likely to be sharing knowledge effectively (or learning much either). People do not push the limits and try new things when they think they will nailed by management for failing. The trick is not to encourage success alone but to encourage collaborative experimentation with an emphasis on early recognition of failure and why it is occuring.

Knowledge Logging 101

Here is a course in knowledge management at Kellogg where the course web site is a knowledge log and each student in the class has to write their own weblog.

Following this log is like a free course in KM for the exposure to new ideas focused around the topic of the class. You obviously don’t get the full benefit of the class but I still find it valuable. I wonder if registration for the course will go up over time as more potential students read the log?