Friday, March 28, 2008

The Community Is the Platform - Part 2

In the last post, I talked about the importance of focusing on communities as the context for collaboration and knowledge sharing. How do you accelerate community building in your organization? Here are some ideas:
  1. Community Portal - Create a convenient, helpful central page of information that helps others discover, explore and engage your community. Include elements like:
    • Identification Info - meaningful description of community context and purpose, links to core community artifacts.
    • Communications - engaging news about community activity and contributions.
    • People - highlight who is involved in your community.
    • Exploration Tools - intuitive links, search and other navigation to help visitors find valuable content.
    • Self Help and Interaction - FAQs, Q&A, and discussion forums to help the community find answers and kickstart collaborative contribution.
    • Orientation - online training and help to remove barriers for new visitors, paving their transition to community contributors.
  2. Knowledge Base - create a highly accessible, interconnected repository of knowledge. It needs to accommodate both formal and emerging information. Leverage collaborative technologies to speed up the collection of emerging content.
  3. Social Info - make human expertise and social relationships highly visible. Emphasize social information on all community artifacts and communications.
  4. Facilitation - ensure success through upfront investment in knowledge professionals to:
    • Creatively help others "bump into" your community through deploying a wide variety of promotional techniques, particularly directed at unfamiliar audiences.
    • Maximize the impact of the community portal.
    • Design and automate metrics to gauge community health.
    • Actively remove barriers to collaboration.
    • Stimulate the knowledge lifecycle by helping others transform implicit knowledge through the steps of communications capture, artifact incubation, and collaborative content improvement, creating a continuous stream of reusable and valuable explicit knowledge.
What Are You Waiting For?

The good news is that many organizations already have tools and infrastructure that support the above suggestions. Where there are gaps, excellent open source and low cost solutions are available. By matching these technical capabilities with effective community development skill sets, a new level of collaboration and knowledge sharing is just around the corner.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Community is the Platform - Part 1

In a previous post, I suggested that the People are the Product, particularly in knowledge-based industries. However, when people in these contexts work and interact in a community, it becomes the platform for realizing continuous improvement and value innovation.

What is a Community?

Some of the definitions for community from the Miriam-Webster dictionary include:
  • a unified body of individuals
  • an interacting population of various kinds of individuals
  • a body of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society
In businesses, you find a variety of structures that help people interact and align to create value:
  • Organizational units and teams
  • Functional teams
  • Cross functional teams
  • Project teams
  • Ad hoc communities of practice
  • Informal associations and social relationships
If we only recognize the traditional or formal "communities" or organizational structures in a business, we can easily end up managing and assessing only a fraction of the "real world" social activity and potential. Taking a view of all "communities" allows a more complete perspective of the known activity while adding a new capability to "sense" and influence emerging activities and events.

One could view these various constructs through the lens of "community" to create a much richer, more comprehensive picture of the organization. Seeing an organization as a set of "communities" creates a powerful source of information about organizational design and behavior that can can be measured and then encouraged for sustainable, competitive value creation.

Accelerating Value Creation

In knowledge-based industries, communities are not simply the facilitators of existing collateral, but also the engines for future content and expertise. In order to optimize the agency of communities, it is important to:
  • Identify and catalog the existing communities
  • Assess the health of specific communities
  • Provide an environment that supports community development and cooperation
Concrete value is produced at the juncture where a community (via its members) uses its expertise to convert implicit knowledge into explicit products and artifacts. The conditions for accelerating this process, or scaling it include:
  • Visibility - how easy is it for others to see what you intend to do or are currently doing?
  • Openness - how easy is it for others to contribute to what you are doing or need to do?
  • Promotion - how ineffective are you at making others aware of your contribution and potential?
These conditions result in an increased level of output quality and volume. We call this output the contribution of the community.

Measuring for Success

The health of the community, or its potential for sustained contribution, can be measured by focusing on the following areas:
  1. Interaction Levels - an assessment of the visibility, openness and promotional aspects of the community. It includes:
    • Measuring new visitors to your community
    • Measuring contribution ratios and activity
    • Measuring dialogue and other forms of interaction
  2. Contribution Value - an assessment of the output of the community. It includes:
    • Measuring contribution levels
    • Measuring usage of content via access, ratings etc.
In my next post, we'll take a look at some practical tools and ideas you can use to create an environment that fosters community building. You'll be surprised at how executing simple principles and tools can generate significant short-term results, while reinforcing long-term productivity and innovation.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Six Sigma Under Tension

A friend of mine passed along an insightful article on the challenges of balancing efficiency and creativity at 3M. It describes how James McNerny, the previous CEO helped "turn-around" the failing stock price through aggressive cost cutting, discipline, and efficiency measures, modeled after successes realized at GE. This included the introduction of an army of Six Sigma "black belts" trained to measure and eek out every opportunity to improve the organization.

The program had its desired result: predictability restored, conformance enforced, and profitability returned to target levels. Despite this success, dangerous side-effects were beginning to emerge. Break-through innovations were no longer the hallmark of 3M, a company that regularly generated a large amount of its revenue from newly introduced products. Patents based on new research also began to dwindle.

When McNerny left for a position in Boeing in 2005, he was replaced with George Buckley. Buckley has used his keen insight into the strengths of 3M to re-introduce policies and practices that encourage innovation. Under his guidance, 3M is returning to it's innovative roots, attempting to maintain a healthy balance between it's recently gained efficiency and former creativity.
"You cannot create in that atmosphere of confinement or sameness," Buckley says. "Perhaps one of the mistakes that we made as a company—it's one of the dangers of Six Sigma—is that when you value sameness more than you value creativity, I think you potentially undermine the heart and soul of a company like 3M."
There's plenty of lessons for innovation-driven companies seeking to balance creativity and efficiency, direct from the experience of 3M. Read the full article on Business Week.