Wednesday, March 4, 2015
I always find his interviews very interesting, but this one even more so, because he spoke frankly about learning from failure. As head of its detergents business in the early 1990s, Niall Fitzgerald was responsible for the development and launch of Persil Power (a powerful dirt-busting washing powder) which was highly successful for the first few weeks with sparkling results.
Dreams of world-wide detergent domination soon wound up in metaphorical and actual tatters, when it emerged that the washing powder caused clothes to fall apart at certain temperatures. A few months later the product was withdrawn by Unilver.
Referring to the project as his biggest failure, Niall Fitzgerald also said that it was 'probably the most important business learning experience I ever had. Your best learning comes from failure'.
That's why lessons learned should be an important component in your organisation's knowledge management toolkit. When a team or department has completed a project or a piece of client work there are huge educational and strategic benefits from analysing what you did right and what you did wrong. You can look at the strategy you used and extract useful elements to be deployed in future work or projects and eliminate (or exercise caution) less successful elements. Use the opportunity of a lessons learned session to extract useful know-how and templates.
Most importantly, use the benefit of your collective experience (successful or not) on the project to educate and engage junior staff as part of their ongoing training and learning.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
The start of each New Year brings with it the inevitable flurry of resolutions. It's the one aspect of New Year which drives me crazy as I usually resolve to make so many changes, or changes that are so momentous, that after a few weeks I find it all completely overwhelming and conveniently forget them for the rest of the year!
So, this year (as I resume my business after being at home with my lovely daughter for the first year of her life) I resolve to make a few small changes in my professional and business life. Most are designed with a view to my working more efficiently and a great deal smarter (the typical stuff of knowledge management) so I have plenty of time to spend with my family, while still providing a high quality service to my clients (not to mention marketing to and winning business from new ones). In other words, it's about time the knowledge management practitioner started to practice what she preaches! My first resolution is to actually update this blog more regularly. I've always had an array of excuses ready to roll off – I've been too busy over the last few years; I've been on maternity leave; I've been renovating our home; washing my hair etc etc. Check back in a month to see how I'm doing on that one!
Professional service firms have much the same issues as me (i.e. implementing knowledge management practices in order to work smarter). Judging by the number of enquiries I've received this week regarding potential new work, lots of you are busy acting on your own professional New Year resolutions too! Before you get completely carried away with your knowledge management ideas, can I suggest that each of you examine your resolutions and ask if they achievable and can be approached in small steps?
Chatting with some of my clients, it would appear that some of the greatest successes of knowledge management strategies I have developed for them have been those elements that, to me, were 'no- brainers'. It was the success of those quick wins that won the hearts and minds of staff and gave them the understanding to come on board and embrace the more challenging behavioural and technological changes identified in the knowledge management strategy.
Whatever knowledge management project you resolve to undertake this year, whether big or small, plan hard and think hard first. If you are resolving to undertake projects which have failed before, why are you resolving to do so again this year? Why didn't the project get off the ground or fall apart when attempted previously? Was there the necessary commitment, understanding and leadership at the top of your organization? Were the aims of the project thought out and scoped clearly? Ask yourself what went wrong and tackle it before attempting the project again. One of the most over-used quotes of this recession goes something along the lines that 'insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results'.
Now this doesn't mean that you shouldn't 'try, try, again' (sorry, but I couldn't resist it!), but instead learn from those projects that weren't completely successful and do try again, but in a different way - one that reflects the reality and workings of your organization. That way you can keep your sanity, keep your New Year resolutions and achieve excellent results! Now that's what I call a no-brainer!
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
I'm a huge West Wing fan. I have the entire series on DVD and every now and then I'll dip into it if I have the time.
At the weekend I happened to watch an episode called 'Institutional Memory'. In the final two weeks of office, CJ Cregg (White House Chief of Staff) asks all White House Staff and heads of Department to draw up transition memos. The purpose of these memos was to help the incoming staffers and members of the new administration with details of procedures, current work underway and any other nuggets of information to ensure that they know how to do their jobs. Increasingly frustrated, CJ doesn't get much co-operation. Everybody has an excuse not to complete their memo – they're all busy interviewing for new jobs and are firmly in holiday mode. Furious with the lack of co-operation CJ, at one point, yells at a reluctant staffer that this is the most important thing they will ever have to do and that it will be impossible for new staffers to do their jobs without it.
Later in the episode, CJ finds herself between a rock and a hard place when the President Elect asks her to stay on as a special adviser to him for the next two years. He tells her that the Oval Office will not be able to function without her as she has the institutional memory that he needs in order to govern the country – i.e. she has all the know-how, history and expertise that he needs to tap into in order to govern with continuity. Torn between her desire to take time off to learn how ski and serving her country, CJ replies that she'll be at the end of the phone to help out and provide information to the President Elect whenever necessary. Suffice it to say, that he wasn't wildly impressed!
A couple of things struck me about this episode as it raised some issues very relevant to my work in law firms. Firstly, I couldn't believe that the White House (of all places) had no knowledge management programme in place that would capture procedures for each staffer role, and one click access to commonly used forms, documents etc. Surely, they would have stringent procedures in place so that staffers wouldn't have to compile half-hearted and last minute transition memos?
Secondly, CJ herself, who albeit at the last minute was pleading for transition memos from staffers, was just as guilty as the others. She had worked in the West Wing for almost eight years, the last two of which were in the position of Chief of Staff (arguably the most important role, next to the President). The sum of her experience, learning and wisdom, would walk out the door with her. A mere transition memo from her fell far short of what was required.
If you remove the White House setting, it's easy enough to translate these issues to legal practices. People leave jobs, new people start but most of them do so without the benefit of having access to 'transition memos'. Part of the firm's institutional memory evaporates when people move on elsewhere. This is where a knowledge management programme can help.
The third thing that occurred to me while watching the episode was swine flu. Yes, think about it. Elements of a sound knowledge management programme can assist with business continuity planning. It is likely that this winter some of your employees will be absent with swine flu. The nature of the illness (like other flu) is that it's highly contagious. Apart from implementing practical sanitary and hygiene procedures to alleviate the risk, what else can you do?
Well, if you have seen the light and have a working knowledge management strategy in place, this is a really good start. You should have a good precedent bank (quality assured and approved and easy to access). If you have a know-how database with access to previous golden nuggets of research (which are annotated and tagged by other staff members), this will also come into play. Document management systems will allow other staff members to quickly identify the latest version of the document worked on by the staff member who is absent. Features such as the ability to search by date, client and matter and folder facilities will make it easy to track the latest emails from a client regarding a matter and identify other members of staff who have been working on the case. An Intranet page (or even an updated paper-based manual) for each area of your practice and support functions are all components of a sound knowledge management programme. If you have a Continuing Professional Development Programme, departmental information meetings and communities of practice (I'll talk more about those in a forthcoming blog) your staff will be updated on current legal developments and cases being undertaken by their colleagues (who may be out with swine flu). (Hopefully, the proceedings of these meetings will be minuted and available on your Intranet).
Consider taking your Continuing Professional Development Programme a bit further. By providing some rudimentary cross-training you can mitigate the risks posed by the swine flu to your firm. Have a member of your accounts team train two members of professional staff on entering new matters to your client/matter system. Make sure they know how to issue bills and receive payments! Train another member of your staff on the switchboard and reception, likewise with the post-room. The main thing to do is to carefully think about and then identify key functions and practice areas without which your practice would not be able to function - then develop a brief cross-training programme.
Oh… and 'don't forget the transition memos'!
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Yet, within the growing silo of unchecked mails there could possibly lie something that is of vital importance to your practice and your clients.
Personal knowledge management ("PKM") is a term that's been around for a few years now in knowledge management circles. Essentially, it's micro knowledge management, or taking personal responsibility for managing the knowledge of relevance to you as an individual rather than the management of knowledge of relevance to your firm as a whole.
RSS feeds and alerting services are an important element of PKM. While the technology also has a useful role to play in practice-based knowledge management initiatives, individuals can harness this technology to manage and control the information they wish to receive on a personal basis. Effectively, the technology allows you to receive notifications from websites only of interest to you and also gives you the ability to sniff out stories from the web according to your areas of interest.
Firstly, let's have a look at RSS (Really Simple Syndication):
There are a number of free RSS readers on the web available for download eg Feed Demon, Google Reader, RSS Bandit. Readers allow you to suggest sites from which to receive feeds but bear in mind that the websites you have an interest in must have an RSS facility. Most of the readers allow you to enter search terms or keywords for the type of website of interest to you and will come back with a suggested list of feeds to which you can subscribe. Integration with Microsoft Outlook is a feature of many of these readers so you don't have to go to a separate website to check for new stories. Folders are created within Outlook for each of the feeds to which you subscribe.
I use an RSS reader to receive press releases from Government departments such as the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Environment to ensure that I'm up to date on legal developments when preparing website updates and compiling newsletters on behalf of my law firm clients.
This is a screen shot from Newsgator Inbox to give you an idea of how the feeds would appear to you in Outlook:
Web alerting and search agents crawl the web to find updated web pages containing keywords and search terms specified by you, regardless of whether those sites have an RSS facility e.g. I have set up Google alerts to monitor any new content on the web containing my name or those of my clients. Yotify is another agent which works in a similar way. While I use these services and do find them of use, I don't fully rely on them. With Google Alerts you will only be notified of news stories appearing in the top 10 or top 20 search results, depending on the type of content you have specified, so don't use the service as a replacement for a good old-fashioned Google search. You can also specify whether you want to receive alerting emails on a daily, weekly or 'as it happens' basis. Selection of appropriate search terms will also impact on the results you get, as it will with any search you execute in a search engine.
There are a number of fee-based news aggregation and media monitoring services out there, probably suitable for larger firms with dedicated business development and KM functions or for those firms who are regularly involved with large-scale litigation cases.
I also use Google Alerts for my personal use. As I'm a die-hard, red-blooded Munster Rugby supporter, I've set up an alert for all stories relating to Munster Rugby! This is a Google Alert I received today:
Getting back to the idea of PKM, it's up to you to carefully manage your feeds and alerts. Update and delete them according to your changing requirements, otherwise your Inbox will become clogged up, you'll become a victim of information fatigue and your competitors will be sniffing out the story!
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Here are a few things you could do over the next month to ensure that you are managing your outlay in the most efficient way possible:
1. Contact your publishing company representatives and ask for a list of all the standing orders they have on your account i.e. journals, loose-leaf subscriptions, annual texts such as tax books. Ask your in-house accounts administrator to consolidate these payments with your in-house accounts system to ensure that no duplication or over-payment has occurred. Overpayment and duplication of payment is not uncommon, particularly in small practices where no librarian is employed. Librarians keep a very tight grip on spending and understand the often-confusing invoicing methods of publishing houses.
2. If you don't already have a separate ledger for expenditure on library materials put one in place. Putting your library spend under the general Office ledger will not give you a clear picture of your outlay on books, journals etc. In order to be more cost-efficient, you need to be in a position to see exactly where your money is going!
3. Distribute the list of subscriptions to your staff and ask them to indicate how useful these subscriptions are to their work. This will give you a clear indication as to what, if any, subscriptions, may be cancelled when they come up for renewal (usually at the end of each year). (This is a primitive form of an information audit – for a more detailed guide to conducting a comprehensive information and knowledge management audit for your practice email me on email@example.com). Also consider whether online sources to which you subscribe are not used to their full potential simply because your staff are not adequately trained to use them. Consider running regular in-house training sessions on these sources and general legal research skills. An added incentive is that these sessions qualify for CPD points as part of the Law Society's training requirements.
4. Check that you are not paying for CDs (that accompany some loose-leaf subscriptions) which you do not want. Most of my smaller clients find CDs to be an administrative burden as they either need to be installed on their server or individual’s PCs. In many instances this rarely happens and the CDs wind up in the bin. Why pay extra for something that you’re not going to use? This ties in closely with item 5 below.
5. Examine on-line services which may be relevant to your practice. Many loose-leaf publications are now available in electronic format via web-based subscriptions. Commonly used precedents for conveyancing and commercial transactions might be easier for your staff to access electronically than those in paper-format. They also tend to be updated quicker than their paper-based equivalents.
6. And, while we’re on the topic of loose-leaf publications, do you have a particular individual in your practice appointed to update these publications as soon as they arrive? If not, you need to! What’s the point in paying handsomely for updates that never get filed and frequently get lost? While loose-leaf filing is, undoubtedly, one of the most mind-numbing tasks to be conducted in your office, you do need someone who is familiar with this kind of work to carry it out. Missing pages and mis-filed releases are a frequent source of frustration, particularly when you need to find something in a hurry - not to mention that out of date advice may get you into hot water!
7. What are you paying for that's on the web for free? While much high-quality legal material still needs to be paid for (either in paper format or via web-based subscriptions services such as Lexis, Westlaw, Justis etc) some legal material is available on the web for free e.g. BAILII, IRLII, CELEX and Government department websites. This ties in with the suggestion of running regular legal research training sessions.
8. Appoint one Partner or Associate to control library spending and manage library-based resources. Implement a policy of placing orders for books through this appointed individual only.
9. Maximise your investment in library and online materials by establishing a system to record all library orders and purchases. This should be accessible to all solicitors in your practice so that they can see what materials you have in stock and what is currently on order. Tracking orders and delivery of items, along with invoice numbers will also ensure that you are paying only for what you have received! Ideally, all practices with more than 4 or 5 solicitors should have a library management system in place. These are relatively inexpensive to buy and will allow your staff to search for materials by basic index fields such as author, publisher, subject and location. They also allow your staff to record the fact that they have borrowed a book, so that you will be able to find it in a hurry. If you have an Intranet, most systems can be placed there, and allow you to search for items in your library in a Google-style fashion. You will find that any spend on such systems will, in fact, maximise, your investment on library materials. At the most basic level, you should at least have a spreadsheet on your network drive, which records all items in your library.
10. Consider appointing a subscription agent. Subscription agents will handle all your book and journal ordering needs through a variety of publishers. Administratively, this means that you will not have to handle multiple invoices from a variety of publishers and therefore your administrative burden should be eased. However, there are pros and cons with this option.
These are just a few things that you should consider as part of your overall practice management. My experience of dealing with small to medium-sized practices, particularly those who cannot justify employing an in-house librarian, has shown that money is often wasted and resources are not deployed effectively. In leaner and quieter times, now is the time to tackle your library management. It might just save you a few euro, or more!
Thursday, March 12, 2009
It's important for lawyers to think about KM in the recession; firstly,because they may have more time on their hands to tackle those projects that were put on the back-burner when the Celtic Tiger was in full roar e.g. drafting precedents, assembling precedent banks, finally implementing a uniform house style, developing an Intranet, and, secondly, because they may find themselves in the sad position of having to let some staff go.
The second reason should beg legal practices to ask the question: "Have we effectively managed the work product and expertise of those individuals we now have to make redundant?" Think about it for a moment. As a solicitor in a practice, would you be able to quickly put your hands on the advice given to a client in the last few years or the research undertaken by a colleague who has since left? Also, think about the specialist knowledge that colleague may have accumulated about your clients' business or industry sector in the years they were working for you. Has this knowledge and expertise been shared and transferred to other colleagues in your firm so that you can provide a seamless, continuous and high quality service?
The worst case scenario is that the person who has left did not, in fact ,create documents on the network (but has instead saved them to the computer's hard drive (yes, this does still happen!), has made copies of your valuable precedents and previous client work. Worse still, armed with this valuable information and knowledge could they be now be in a position to take your client with them?
So, with this in mind, over the next few months I will be posting ideas on how you can turn the downturn into an opportunity to finally tackle knowledge management and become a 'work smarter' legal practice. My suggestions will be cost-effective, cost-saving and hopefully inspire you to embrace knowledge management principles - on a shoestring!