Knowledge Management at Goddard Space Flight Center
By Ed Rogers, Chief Knowledge Officer
The first thing I realized was that knowledge management would come across as a fad or a waste of time to the competent and busy people at Goddard—more than three thousand government employees and six thousand contractors on site—unless what I did clearly met the organization’s real needs and suited its way of working.
I began by thinking about what Goddard actually does repeatedly as a business. What we “produce” over and over again is not any particular mission but the assembly and execution of a project. Because each project team has a different assignment and a different mission, people tended to think, “We never do the same thing twice. Lessons don’t apply since the mission is always unique.” But what we do over and over is put together a team to accomplish a mission. So that suggested what the knowledge management focus should be. Many of the lessons we should be learning had to do with how we manage those teams as much or more than the technology or design of a specific mission. To be useful, knowledge management would have to address issues of how we manage our projects, not just pass along test and failure data at the technical level.
I modified the After Action Review (AAR) concept used by the U.S. Army into a NASA process we called Pause and Learn (PaL). Most NASA projects last years; some go on for a decade or more. An AAR at the end of a long project would be almost meaningless with respect to design decisions made years earlier by people who may have left months or years before. So I introduced the idea of pausing during development at appropriate points to reflect on what has been learned so far. I called it Pause and Learn to make it unique to NASA and to distinguish it from an AAR. It focuses on group reflection and learning that will be valuable for the participants first and foremost.
Participants are encouraged to share their perceptions of what happened and process the insights together. Because the PaL is local and real, it is seen as valuable. After PaL sessions, participants often comment that this was a lessons-learned activity from which they actually learned something.
Building on the PaL success, I focused on two other learning activities at Goddard. I set out to write case studies to help people think about the project and management aspects of our missions in addition to the technical lessons. I also started holding interactive discussion sessions often using these case studies to engage people in learning from prior missions.
Rather than talk up the value of knowledge management to a skeptical audience, I used words the technical workforce understood and cared about, things like “cost,” “schedule,” “reliability,” and “decision making.”
I argued, for instance, that knowledge had to be better organized and shared at the working level so Goddard could assemble teams more reliably. The hook I used to explain this was asking whether it was important which engineer was assigned to a project. Many project managers were quick to admit they spent much time trying to get the “A team” of engineers onto their project. I had my opening. If the engineering branch as a group shared and organized their knowledge effectively, then it would matter less which engineer was assigned, because any engineer would bring the network of knowledge from the entire branch to the project.
Similarly, good decision making is a practice that all managers treasure. Using case studies, we focused on improving decision making, something managers could recognize as an immediate benefit to them and their team. Project managers who thought of their projects as unique could see that decision-making processes are similar across projects and they could learn from others. So we connected knowledge management to something considered a core cultural attribute at Goddard: the ability to make good decisions.
Participants in successful knowledge activities who tell their peers how those events helped make their projects successful are your greatest allies—their stories will do more to promote your knowledge management work than any arguments, presentations, and advertising you offer.
Encouraging others to “sell” knowledge management for you helps make up for the fact that a chief knowledge officer only has so many hours in the day and can’t do it all alone.
On a similar note, the best way to ensure that valuable knowledge management activities become a robust and persistent part of how your organization does business is to “reproduce” yourself.
Start investing in people who can take over significant parts of what you do as early as possible.
You don’t want to be the sole source on knowledge management energy and therefore a single point of failure.
These positive lessons about making knowledge management work suggest why some of the commonly held beliefs about knowledge management don’t work. Here is my top-ten list of false assumptions about knowledge management. Think about them as recipes for failure that should be avoided.
10. Culture can be mandated from the top.
9. Collaboration can be “purchased” or sharing can be rewarded.
8. Knowledge management can be outsourced.
7. Anybody (who isn’t busy) can do knowledge management.
6. Knowledge management can be done by buying the right software.
5. Knowledge management can be independent of the business process.
4. Communities of practice can be established by the top.
3. Knowledge management is about centralizing knowledge content to use it more efficiently.
2. Knowledge management is really about databases.
1. Knowledge management is an IT function and should be given to the chief information officer.
As simple as these errors are, they are repeated over and over by people who hope that those failed approaches will work this time. If anybody ought to learn these lessons, it should be the people whose job is sharing lessons learned, but that is sadly often not the case. A main source of these repeat failures is the assumption that myth number seven doesn’t apply. Over the years, I have met dozens of knowledge management managers in various government agencies with no relevant experience who were assigned to “go do knowledge management” and given budgets to do it. One scientist-turned-knowledge-management-expert told me she had a $2 million budget and no idea what knowledge management was but was eager to find out. Another told me confidently, “I’ve got knowledge management all figured out. It’s just a matter of getting the right software systems in place.” Ten million dollars and five years later, this same person told a public meeting, “We now know that knowledge management is 80 percent people and only 20 percent software”—which he could and should have known at the outset. This is an expensive way to educate government leaders.
In answering the questions below, consider the following:
• Maintain a balance between theory and application;
• All theory must be referenced from the textbook and other credible sources;
• You are required to paraphrase and explain concepts in your own words, with references.
Q.1.1 Identify and explain the impact of KM on the organisation’s people. (10)
Q.1.2 Defend the statement from the case study: “We now know that knowledge management is 80 per cent people and only 20 per cent software”. (10)
Q.1.3 Explain how knowledge is stored in organisational artefacts, with examples from the case study. (10)
Q.1.4 Assess the importance of organisational culture in KM infrastructure with application to the case study. (10)
Q.1.5 Analyse the mechanisms and technologies enabling the four types of knowledge management systems with examples relevant to the case study. (15)
Question 2 (Marks: 20)
Consider an industry of your own choice to write a report where you describe the various types and perspectives of knowledge with application to your selected industry.
Lay out your report in the following themes:
• Identification and description of your selected industry;
• Comparison of tacit and explicit knowledge;
• Comparison of declarative and procedural knowledge;
• Create your examples as per the table below:
Question 3 (Marks: 25)
Write an essay where you compare knowledge management and business intelligence. Illustrate your understanding through the use of your own detailed examples.
• A word limit of 1 000 – 1 200 words applies. Markers will disregard any text beyond this limit. Please indicate the word count at the end of your answer;
• An essay requires a clear introduction and conclusion, use of paragraphs and academic tone;
• Use headings to structure your essay;
• Explain relevant theory in your own words from credible, referenced sources;
• Use correct in-text referencing as per The IIE referencing guide, and include sources in the main reference list at the end of the assignment;
• Detailed, original examples of each concept are required. You will receive more marks for your own original examples than for examples in your textbook, from your tutor, or on
Answers to Above Questions on Knowledge Management
Answer 1: Knowledge management is an important process that involves increasing employees to share the knowledge in experience with the objective of enhancing the overall knowledge and understanding about organisational processes and procedures. The impact of knowledge management is therefore crucial on the people of the organisation, as it allows them to enhance the knowledge, and apply it towards the overall improvement in the productivity of their performance.
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