An alternative way to look at uncertainty is offered by Klir, which adds discord to the mix.
Work-As-Prescribed can be a real avenue for all three of these uncertainties. But by using risk management to examine the possibilities of these uncertainties we can truly interrogate. This is one of the things we mean by risk management and knowledge management being bound at the hip as enablers.
To do this we need to make sure that:
There is the management of information quality. Management of information quality is crucial in risk management because uncertainty is prevalent. Uncertainty, as a state for which we lack information, means that uncertainty analysis should play an integral part in risk management to ensure that the uncertainty in the risk management process is kept at a feasible level.
There is explicit management of either existing knowledge that can be applied to improve the quality of the analyses or to improve the knowledge acquired in the process that can be used in the follow-up process. Knowledge management is pivotal to ensuring an effective risk management process by providing context and learning possibilities. In essence, risk management is not just about managing risks – the entire context surrounding the risks must be understood and managed effectively.
Knowledge management is a key enabler for quality, and should firmly be part of our standards of practice and competencies. There is a host of practices, and one tool that should be in our toolboxes as quality professionals is the Community of Practice (COP).
What is a Community of Practice?
Wenger, Trayner, and de Laat (2011) defined a Community of Practice as a “learning partnership among people who find it useful to learn from and with each other about a particular domain. They use each other’s experience of practice as a learning resource.” Etienne Wagner is the theoretical origin of the idea of a Community of Practice, as well as a great deal of the subsequent development of the concept.
Communities of practice are groups of people who share a passion for something that they know how to do, and who interact regularly in order to learn how to do it better. As such, they are a great tool for continuous improvement.
These communities can be defined by disciplines, by problems, or by situations. They can be internal or external. A group of deviation investigators who want to perform better investigations, contamination control experts sharing across sites, the list is probably endless for whenever there is a shared problem to be solved.
The idea is to enable practitioners to manage knowledge. Practitioners have a special connection with each other because they share actual experiences. They understand each other’s stories, difficulties, and insights. This allows them to learn from each other and build on each other’s expertise.
There are three fundamental characteristics of communities:
Domain: the area of knowledge that brings the community together, gives it its identity, and defines the key issues that members need to address. A community of practice is not just a personal network: it is about something. Its identity is defined not just by a task, as it would be for a team, but by an “area” of knowledge that needs to be explored and developed.
Community: the group of people for whom the domain is relevant, the quality of the relationships among members, and the definition of the boundary between the inside and the outside. A community of practice is not just a Web site or a library; it involves people who interact and who develop relationships that enable them to address problems and share knowledge.
Practice: the body of knowledge, methods, tools, stories, cases, documents, which members share and develop together. A community of practice is not merely a community of interest. It brings together practitioners who are involved in doing something. Over time, they accumulate practical knowledge in their domain, which makes a difference to their ability to act individually and collectively.
The combination of domain, community, and practice is what enables communities of practice to manage knowledge. Domain provides a common focus; community builds relationships that enable collective learning; and practice anchors the learning in what people do. Cultivating communities of practice requires paying attention to all three elements.
Communities of Practice are different than workgroups or project teams.
What’s the purpose?
What holds it together?
How long does it last?
Community of Practice
To develop members’ capabilities. To build and exchange knowledge
Members who share domain and community
Commitment from the organization. Identification with the group’s expertise. Passion
As long as there is interest in maintaining the group
Formal work group
To deliver a product or service
Everyone who reports to the group’s manager
Job requirements and common goals
Until the next reorganization
To accomplish a specific task
Employee’s assigned by management
The project’s milestones and goals
Until the project has been completed
To collect and pass on business information
Friends and business acquantainces
As long as people have a reason to connect
Types of organizing blocks
Establishing a Community of Practice
For a Community of Practice to thrive it is crucial for the organization to provide adequate sponsorship. Sponsorship are those leaders who sees that a community can deliver value and therefore makes sure that the community has the resources it needs to function and that its ideas and proposals find their way into the organization. While there is often one specific sponsor, it is more useful to think about the sponsorship structure that enables the communities to thrive and have an impact on the performance of the organization. This includes high-level executive sponsorship as well as the sponsorship of line managers who control the time usage of employees. The role of sponsorship includes:
Translating strategic imperatives into a knowledge-centric vision of the organization
Legitimizing the work of communities in terms of strategic priorities
Channeling appropriate resources to ensure sustained success
Giving a voice to the insights and proposals of communities so they affect the way business is conducted
Negotiating accountability between line operations and communities (e.g., who decides which “best practices” to adopt)
Communities of Practice need organizational support to function. This support includes:
A few explicit roles, some of which are recognized by the formal organization and resourced with dedicated time
Direct resources for the nurturing of the community infrastructure including meeting places, travel funds, and money for specific projects
Technological infrastructure that enables members to communicate regularly and to accumulate documents
It pays when you use communities of practice in a systematic way to put together a small “support team” of internal consultants who provide logistic and process advice for communities, including coaching community leaders, educational activities to raise awareness and skills, facilitation services, communication with management, and coordination across the various community of practices. But this is certainly not needed.
Process Owners and Communities of Practice go hand-in-hand. Often it is either the Process Owner in a governance or organizing role; or the community of practice is made up of process owners across the network.
Communities of Practice allows its participants to build reputation, a crucial asset in the knowledge economy. Such reputation building depends on both peer and organizational recognition.
Peer recognition: community-based feedback and acknowledgement mechanisms that celebrate community participation
Organizational recognition: rubric in performance appraisal for community contributions and career paths for people who take on community leadership
A SME is engaged in knowledge management activities, what we want is for those activities to be a explicit and systematic management of the processes of creating, gathering, validating, categorizing, archiving, disseminating, leveraging, and using knowledge – whether for improving the organization and the individuals in it or the broader profession.
The thing is, this is another skill set for most SMEs. There will be SMEs out there who can do this from practice, but we need to be more deliberate in providing the skills. To provide the skills we must understand what we need to teach, which is where a competency model is valuable.
Basic: Possesses general, conceptual knowledge or awareness of this concept OR a limited ability to perform this skill. Needs reference materials to complete tasks related to this concept.
Intermediate: Able to apply knowledge of this concept in work OR can perform this skill consistently with minimal guidance.
Advanced: Provides expert advice and make sound judgments using knowledge of this concept OR provides consultation and leadership to others using this skill. Can foster greater understanding of this concept among colleagues and stakeholders.
Level to build towards
Knowledge of principles of knowledge management, for example conceptualizing, managing, preserving, and/or maintaining organizational knowledge.
Knowledge of methods and techniques for disseminating and/or sharing knowledge across individuals, groups, and organizations.
Skill in designing and implementing knowledge management strategy.
Skill in identifying the quality, authenticity, accuracy, impartiality, and/or relevance of information from various sources, for example databases, print and online media, speeches and presentations, and observations.
Skill in organizing and synthesizing information from multiple sources, for example databases, print and online media, speeches and presentations, and observations.
Skill in curating instructional content, tools, and resources, for example researching, evaluating, selecting, and/or assembling publicly available online courseware.
Skill in identifying the type and amount of information needed to support the development of others in the topic.
We need to recognize that not every SME will get to this level, or have the time to consistently apply it. This is why it is important to have knowledge management experts to support, nurture and step in where needed to assist.
Organize resources so it’s easy to understand. Reduce cognitive load by breaking information down into small, digestible chunks and arranging them into patterns that make sense to the individual. Always start by giving an overview so individuals know how all the smaller chunks fit together.
Use visuals. The brain has an incredible ability to remember visual images so you must exploit that as you look for ways to reinforce key learning points. Create tools that are primarily visual rather than word-based. Use images in place of text (or at least minimize the text). Use videos and animations to help people understand key concepts.
We can drive a lot of effectiveness into our processes by structuring information to make complex documents more transparent and accessible to their users. Visual cues can provide an ‘attention hierarchy’, making sure that what is most important is not overlooked. People tend to find more usable what they find beautiful, and a wall of text simply looks scary, cumbersome, and off-putting for most people. I am a strong advocate of beauty in system design, and I would love to see Quality departments better known for their aesthetic principles and for tying all our documents into good cognitive principles.
Cognitive Load Theory
Cognitive load theory (CLT) can help us understand why people struggle so much in reading and understanding contracts. Developed by John Sweller, while initially studying problem-solving, CLT postulates that learning happens best when information is presented in a way that takes into consideration human cognitive structures. Limited working memory capacity is one of the characteristic aspects of human cognition: thus, comprehension and learning can be facilitated by presenting information in ways minimizing working memory load.
Structure and Display
Information structure (how the content is ordered and organized) and information display (how it is visually presented) play a key role in supporting comprehension and performance. A meaningful information structure helps readers preserve continuity, allowing the formation of a useful and easy-to-process mental model. Visual information display facilitates mental model creation by representing information structures and relationships more explicitly, so readers do not have to use cognitive resources to develop a mental model from scratch.
Leveraging in your process/procedure documents
Much of what is considered necessary SOP structure is not based on how people need to find and utilize information. Many of the parts of a document taken for granted (e.g. reference documents, definitions) are relics from paper-based systems. It is past time to reinvent the procedure.