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Organizing digital information for others

My new book on Organizing Digital Information for Others is out.

When we interact with web and intranet teams, we find many struggling to move beyond conceptual-level discussions on information organization. Hours on end are spent on discussing the meaning of “metadata”, “controlled vocabulary” and “taxonomy” without any strategic understanding of how everything fits together. Being so bogged down at this level they fail to look beyond to the main reason for their pursuit—organizing information for others (the end users) so that they can find the information easily.

Web and intranet teams are not the only ones facing this challenge. Staff in companies are finding themselves tasked with organizing, say, hundreds of project documents on their collaboration space. And they usually end up organizing it in the only way they know—for themselves. Team members then often struggle to locate the information that they thought should be in “this folder”!

In this short book, we explore how lists, categories, trees and facets can be better used to organize information for others. We also learn how metadata and taxonomies can connect different collections and increase the findability of information across the website or intranet.

10 Best Intranets of 2011

Jakob Nielsen’s Intranet Annual 2011 is out. He notices big improvements in mobile deployments and in knowledge sharing using social media tools. I think this is just natural progression—catching up with what is available on the Internet. But it is nice to see successful executions.

Knowledge management progressed from cliché to reality, based on simpler and thus more-used features. Mobile intranets doubled.

Filenaming Conventions and Knowledge Sharing

Patrick has posted an article on file naming conventions. Good. Now I don’t have to hunt for them every time!

A Better Way to Manage Knowledge

John Hagel and John Seely Brown talk about Creation Spaces - “places where individuals and teams interact and collaborate within a broader learning ecology so that performance accelerates.” They go on to discuss how these spaces are different from the traditional KM systems: “Knowledge management traditionally has focused on capturing knowledge that already exists within the firm — its systems rarely extend beyond the boundaries of the enterprise. Creation spaces instead focus on mobilizing and focusing participants across all institutional boundaries.”

Atul Gawande’s ‘Checklist’ For Surgery Success

Brilliant article by NPR on Atul Gawande’s new book, The Checklist Manifesto. Gawande has written an entire book on how checklist and other reminders help in complex situations. Here is a good quote:

There was about 80 percent who thought that this was something they wanted to continue to use. But 20 percent remained strongly against it. They said, ‘This is a waste of my time, I don’t think it makes any difference.’ And then we asked them, ‘If you were to have an operation, would you want the checklist?’ Ninety-four percent wanted the checklist.”

I’m waiting to read Gawande’s new book but right now I’m in the middle of another book that talks about the same checklist culture from a very different angle. This book titled Streetlights and Shadows and is written by the brilliant Gary Klein. Both Klein and Gawande are my favourite authors. I’ve read all their previous books. So, this is interesting for me to see how their worlds collide. In his book, Klein spends an entire chapter debunking the use of checklists in complex scenarios. His idea is that checklists are wonderful in well-structured and predictive environments and do not work that well in ill-structured and unpredictable environments.

Here’s the question I want answered when I start reading Gawande’s book: are the checklists just for mechanical tasks or are they for complex procedures? The surgical safety checklist mentioned in the article looks quite general. Maybe that is the point: even the ‘general’ stuff in surgery can lead to a life or death situation.

2-5-1 Storytelling

Robert Swanwick writes about Lt Col Karuna Ramanathan of the Singapore Armed Forces and his 2-5-1 strategy of storytelling and conducting an after-action-review.


5 fingers


via @DavidGurteen

A Good Way to Change a Corporate Culture

Peter Bregman makes a wonderful case of highlighting the need to embed the organisation’s culture with stories of change as a way to bring about the change.

“I told him not to change the performance review system, the rewards packages, the training programs. Don’t change anything. Not yet anyway. For now, just change the stories. For a while there will be a disconnect between the new stories and the entrenched systems promoting the old culture. And that disconnect will create tension. Tension that can be harnessed to create mechanisms to support the new stories.”

Reflections from KM World 09

I had a wonderful 3 days at KM World 09 in San Jose. Much of the enthusiasm was in meeting friends. I’ve known Thomas Vander Wal, for instance, only by his blog and so it was good to put a face to all those entries.

I made some new friends as well. These were the winners at the Intranet Innovation Awards. Thanks to James Robertson for making this happen.

Patrick Lambe, James Robertson, Thomas Vander Wal
(Patrick Lambe, James Robertson, Thomas Vander Wal)

As for the conference sessions themselves there were some good sessions and some not-so-good sessions, as it is to be expected in any conference. Here are my takeaways from the sessions.

I’ve not described much of the other sessions and presentations. The KM blog has got more content in this area. You can also read the tweets on the conference.

Anecdote Circles at High Speed

A great way to show a technique in action. Patrick Lambe speeds up a video of ‘Ancedote Circles’ and explains steps in the process.

Fads vs Business Value: Knowledge Management & Enterprise 2.0

Oliver Marks cautions on using the 2.0 prefix as another way to bottle old wine—for example, KM before and Enterprise 2.0 now.

Like the vast amount of blogs, there’s now a glut of content online with mostly nothing new to say (with honorable exceptions of course) on the topic of using web 2.0 technologies in business, the wonder of Twitter and on and on, in slide format. It’s far from clear who most of this material is aimed at - like the CD Roms ten years ago not many people actually look at this stuff unless there’s a compelling reason to.

Doing KM right

The Kinokuniya bookstore in Singapore is not known for their correct categorization, but guess they got this one right -- Running a Bar For Dummies in the KM section. Cool!

KM Method Cards

It’s 7 am on a wonderful Sunday morning in NYC. I’m getting prepared for meeting tomorrow. I’ve brought along the KM Method cards that Straits Knowledge’s Patrick Lambe presented me 2 weeks ago. These cards describe 80 approaches, methods and tools that can be used in a KM context.

I’ve used these cards once before to help me look for solutions to a problem I was facing. The problem was this. In my company, PebbleRoad, we spend a lot of time discussing and brainstorming on an ad-hoc basis. This is done mostly to think-through problems and discuss ideas. All of this is good, but when there’s just three of us in the company, there’s added pressure on managing our time. And then there’s this nagging feeling: I’ve just spent 30 minutes discussing this, did I provide any value?

This is when I opened up the KM cards deck and started browsing through. I picked up the Peer Assist card. Although I know about Peer Assists from a subject matter basis, this time around I was looking for a solution to my problem. So even when the Peer Assist Card mentioned that Peer Assists are done by inviting others from outside the group to provide value, I thought that we could use the same approach for seeking ideas from within the group. Within the next 10 minutes we set up a simple protocol for 'Calling and Hosting Peer Assists at PebbleRoad' that listed what was to be done by the host and what was expected of the peers. We put this up in our internal blog. A few days later we followed the protocol when we had a wireframe discussion, and this time around it felt much better and quicker.

This is where the value of the cards lie: it provides an easy way to quickly navigate through ideas and to try something out. It is also a good learning tool for those who aren’t familiar with KM approaches and techniques.

Back to my meeting tomorrow. This time around I am using the cards to craft a research plan, specifically around gathering insights from subject matter experts. I do believe I won’t be using any single approach, but then, that’s the fun I'm looking for.

The KM Method Cards product page.
The KM Method Cards quick reference (PDF file, print this out, you’ll need it).

Blog on KM & intranets

Simon Goh is going through a major knowledge management project and is blogging his about his experiences. He has a post on preparing content for the intranet when you have a large pool of contributors. Good points. [Disclosure: we worked on the project together.]

European Guide to good Practice in Knowledge Management

I'm attending the KM Singapore conference and listening to Ron Young talk about developing KM competencies. He referred to the work of the European Committee for Standardization and their best practices publications in KM. The guides are around framework, culture, implementation and measurement. Interesting stuff.

Knowledge Management and Sharepoint

There are so many discussions on these KM features in the new Sharepoint that I cant wait to see a demo or get to play with it. The Social Networks bit looks really interesting.

IBM’s KM strategy

Another article from KM World, this time documenting IBM's KM strategy. Nothing new here, but there are some nice figures to showcase the details.

Explaining knowledge management

This video on how KM can be applied in a successful manner right across the organization should put to rest all doubts about the feasibility of knowledge sharing. ;)

Approaches to classification in publishing and knowledge management

Electronic Publishing Specialist Group (EPSG) Panel discussion on the above... mp3 + slides available. [thanks infodesign]

KM review session

A good case study of using simple user research methods to uncover knowledge sharing needs in a large law firm. It's not hard to imagine how such two-level abstraction methods (data -> groups -> themes) can be used in other areas like understanding common work practices, design specifications, etc. I've used a similar approach to understand the competitive landscape for a website project.

Google Trends, Knowledge Management and Knowledge Cities

David Gurteen uses the new Google Trends tool and finds out that most searches for the term "knowledge management" comes from cities like Malaysia, India, Singapore and Indonesia. Interesting.

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