Our Recipe: How we wrote the KM Cookbook
An idea that emerged at dinner overlooking the River Tejo.
It all began over dinner, as most good things do. Having run a joint Masterclass in Lisbon in May 2017 Chris Collison and Paul Corney were sitting in a restaurant overlooking the River Tejo supping a wonderful Alentejo Red wine enjoying Arroz do Marisco (Portuguese Seafood Rice).
“Navigating the Minefield: A Practical KM Companion” (Paul and Patricia’s previous book) had just been released to critical acclaim, and Chris and Paul were talking about one of its key observations: the lack of any governing principles, an industry body or a globally recognised accreditation / certification for Knowledge Management.
As a member of the British Standards Institution’s (BSI) KM Standards Committee, who had been working on a set of ISO KM Standards for over a year, Paul had expressed the view that:
“The arrival of the ISO KM Standards (albeit that adherence is voluntary) provides a framework against which KM Programs can be viewed. An independently assessed external accreditation is another key component of the KM practitioner’s path to corporate legitimacy.”
Paul and Chris agreed it was a topic to be revisited later, when the standards development process resulted in a draft circulated for general comment.
In December 2017, following the general release of the draft of ISO 30401, Chris and Paul sat down to discuss comments Chris had made on the draft. After a while it became clear both shared a view that the ISO KM Standard was a great topic around which to base a book; but not one which promises to help the reader ‘pass’ an assessment, rather one that draws on great examples from leading global organisations and highlights aspects from their KM Programmes others might find inspirational. A book which is conversational in style and follows a similar format to “Navigating…” and Chris’ bestselling “Learning to Fly”, often cited as the book to read on practical KM.
Coincidentally and concurrently, Patricia and Paul were working on a workshop they had been asked to conduct by Henley KM Forum on the release of the ISO KM Standards. Paul suggested to Chris that Patricia be invited to participate in the book discussions. He pointed out that they had worked together on a previous book and she was a former Nuclear Plant assessor who had set up and run a KM Program in a regulatory environment, as well as having written and implemented US and international standards. Chris readily agreed that there was something unique about this potential combination of ‘ingredients’, and so began the process that culminated in the release of the KM Cookbook.
Creating a collaboration protocol
With authors geographically dispersed and often overseas with clients, it was important to establish a central repository that we all could post content to and comment on, a video conference facility that straddled time zones and overcame poor bandwidths and identify a publisher who shared our passion for the project.
We chose Zoom and / or WhatsApp for our video sessions, Facet Publishing (Part of CILIP – Chartered Institute for Libraries & Information Professionals) as our publisher and Evernote as the document repository and ‘wiki’, backed up with Dropbox for storing the larger files and raw materials.
Face to Face meetings usually took place offsite at Pyecombe Golf Club on the Sussex Downs. Mid-point between Chris and Paul and with stunning views it provided a great place to generate ideas. Outcomes were captured and relayed back to Patricia via Evernote and where necessary a follow up video call made.When the whole team got together it was at the offices of CILIP in London, usually followed by a meal.
As befits Knowledge & Information Professionals we set about creating a naming convention for all material we generated and a numbering system for interviews and meeting notes.
A cookbook not a cocktail makers guide
Earlier we described why we chose to use the Kitchen and Cookery theme. It was a close-run thing between that and “How to shake the Perfect Knowledge Cocktail: A Leaders guide to ISO30401”. Early discussions with potential interviewees and our publisher expressed doubts over the appropriateness of the metaphor, particularly in certain regions of the world where there could have been potential cultural discomfort.
Shifting from drink, to food, we discovered a similarly flexible metaphor, settled on KM Cookbook and began the challenging but vital step of agreeing a cover image for the book.
Our publishers, having weaned us off the Cocktail metaphor, were strong on the idea of the Cookbook. The creation of a cover page was more of an issue. Our belief was that the ISO KM Standards provided a blank canvas – creating the outline of the kitchen but not prescribing the utensils or ingredients, or the menus or the catering staff’s roles. We wanted a pictorial representation that picked up the idea of using different cooking techniques and utensils to deliver the KM meal. After a couple of months, input from friends and family members, and numerous iterations we ended up with the cover you can see now.
Agreeing a framework & table of contents
Our aim had always been to produce a highly readable, slightly tongue-in-cheek dinner companion for a wide readership. We hoped that anyone looking to see how Knowledge Management could make a difference to their business would enjoy this as a stimulating read - and that KIM Professionals, Senior Management, Quality Management and Human Resource Professionals would find much of specific interest to them.
Agreeing a framework and table of contents took time; we narrowed down the immediate target audience to:
Senior Management: trying to decide whether to apply or adopt the standards
Practitioners: tasked with implementing the standards and remaining compliant or using the standards informally as an internal reference for their own programs.
Assessors: who will assess organisational KM activity against the standards to help them understand KM
The structure of the book had to primarily address the needs of those readers. We ended up agreeing the bulk of the book would be 15 (now 16) ‘menu chapters’ celebrating the experience from diverse organisations. This was to be preceded by a discussion about the new ISO KM standard using the restaurant metaphor and, distinctively, a chapter describing how an Assessor (who we equate to the ‘Restaurant Critic’) might approach the job of reviewing a KM programme against the standard – Patricia was uniquely qualified to write this.
As we progressed through the interviews and writing of these ‘menu chapters’, we kept stumbling on memorable examples which we wanted to curate for the reader. A Chef’s Special chapter will act as a summary of the Menus and highlight where we feel the KM programmes meet or exceed the KM Chef’s Canvas, our way of presenting the requirements of ISO 30401 in a one-page visualisation.
Working closely with a metaphor can lead to fascinating discussions via WhatsApp!
Selecting the Menu Chapters
We always knew that there would be value in diversity when selecting our Chefs. Geographical spread was important as was the nature of the business, as although industrial groups often have similar issues, the way different cultures embrace KM has a significant impact. We therefore sought to cover 5 regions (North and South America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East and used our networks of clients and contacts to surface organisations which were likely to have a great story and be willing to share it for the benefit of a wider community. They didn’t let us down.
(If you turn back to the book cover for moment, you might notice that the choices of large kitchen utensils on the rack represent our spread of participation, moving from Western to Asian cuisine, via a Middle-Eastern maraq (tagine)!
Crafting the questions and the invitation to participate
We approached the target list of organisations with this initial invitation (see later in this post):
Those who showed interest and received permission to participate were then sent a list of questions to be considering in advance (see later).
We took several iterations to arrive at the list of questions. Patricia’s regulatory ‘eye’ was really important to ensure we and the interviewees maintained a focus on evidence and examples which demonstrated KM activity. (An assessor will always look for documents and policies to prove adherence to the standard!)
Finally, ahead of the interview, we sent them a Release Form which gave us the right to use the material generated.
Conducting and transcribing the interviews
Interviews were conducted 50/50 by Chris and Paul. Some took place face to face, others (in Brazil, Iran and Saudi Arabia) were on Skype. Some interviews were conducted in perfect quiet rooms whilst others were snatched over the phone at airports and during car journeys. Our interviewees were busy people, but very supportive of what we were trying to achieve. Interviews of 60-90 minutes were recorded using iPhone and iPad so that all three of us were able to listen to the interview, sharing securely via Dropbox.
Initially, we used an external and trusted transcription service, or spent several hours typing slowly ourselves, before Chris discovered Temi, an online advanced speech recognition engine using artificial intelligence, which produced a reasonable transcription for further editing at a fraction of the price. Those transcriptions were also made available to the interviewees.
Curating the interview content
With two people interviewing it was important to have a consistent approach. The interviewer wrote the chapter, and where practical, passed it to the other authors for review and comment.
A key ingredient in the write up process was Chris’s selection of Icons for the headings we used in each chapter. This gave us continuity and a consistent flow for the reader.
Having completed an internal review with the KM Cookbook authors, the chapter was then passed on to the ‘Narrator’ for review and amendment where required. Often the organisation would supply additional documents and images for inclusion. We chose to use the title ‘Narrator’ as we wanted to reinforce the idea of that person ‘joining you for dinner’ and telling you the story of their organisation’s KM program.
Pulling everything together
It was important to select one of the team to act as the final editor before the manuscript was handed over to the publisher. Chris took on this role, but all three members of the team were fully committed to keep reviewing and improving the content right up to the publishers’ deadline. On occasion this included Patricia sending comments from a cruise ship! When it came to working patterns, Paul tended to be an ‘early bird’ and Chris was more of a ‘night owl’. Coupling this with Patricia’s base in Washington DC, it gave the team 24-hour capacity for collaborating and refining the content - whilst some of us were asleep!
Keeping in touch
One of the important aspects of managing any project is keeping all stakeholders informed. As a matter of policy, we provided regular updates on progress to those who shared their stories and time. At our end of year end thank you and update message, we made this gesture:
“And finally: a gift: The Blad
We have agreed with our publisher that in addition to a signed copy of the KM Cookbook when published, each of our narrators will receive a copy of their Menu Chapter as a gift for them to use within their organisations and beyond. Our aim is to get these 'blads" to each of you before formal publication of the whole book.”
It was also vital to keep the wider KM community aware so, working with our publishers marketing team, we have used social media and created a website kmcookbook.com* to share news.
*We wish to acknowledge and thank Tony Mendelez (see chapter 24) for his generosity in giving us the kmcookbook.com domain, which he had registered years before we agreed on the book title.
Bumps in the road
On a couple of occasions, the going got tougher than we would have liked with unforeseen challenges to overcome. First, our publishers had a crew change (reorganisation) which meant building relationships with a new set of people, none of whom had been involved in the original design brief.
Second, the approval cycles took longer than we had anticipated. Surprisingly, the organisations which we anticipated might need longer responded with alacrity whereas others took longer, sometimes due to internal reorganisations and that old KM bugbear, changes of reporting relationships!
Third, virtual working with three is more challenging that two. “Two’s company and three’s a crowd” – so the saying goes. We used our trio to crowd-source our insights, but there was always a risk that one person or another felt estranged and ignored unless communication was regular and clear, and roles and expectations are clearly identified. We wondered initially, as another saying goes, whether “too many cooks would spoil the broth”?
We believe that we got the broth just right.
“The KM Cookbook” – An opportunity to be part of a practical and contemporary book about knowledge management and organisational learning.
About the book.
After many years of committees and discussions, the International Standards Organisation, ISO are at the point of publishing a standard for Knowledge Management systems (that’s systems with a small s). The standard will be voluntary and relatively generic. However, if it’s used wisely, it will provide a very helpful list of ‘ingredients’ for organisations to consider and give professional credibility to a discipline which has been accused by some of being poorly defined or even ‘fluffy’!
As experienced practitioners and authors, Paul Corney, Chris Collison and Patricia Eng feel strongly that this international recognition of knowledge management at an organisational level is an important moment for KM to receive strategic attention. There is also work underway in parallel with the ISO standard to provide ‘chartered knowledge manager’ status for individuals working in the field – hence it is a key time for professionalising knowledge management.
“We believe that this is the moment to share and celebrate the work of successful organisations, and to include these stories into a practical and inspirational guidebook for leaders.
Conversely, it would be disappointing if the new standard resulted into a compliance or box-ticking exercise when it’s actually a golden opportunity to ‘mix the perfect cocktail’ of strategy, process, methods and leadership.”
We want the book to stand out and be accessible, so we will be employing the metaphor and finding parallels for the cook book: ingredients, recipes, menu, decorations, kitchen-staff, chefs, hygiene inspectors - relating these to strategy, measurement, methods and tools, policy, communication, engagement, implementation, roles, leadership, external advice and governance.
Patricia’s experience as a certified quality management program inspector and creator of an award-winning KM program brings a unique perspective. Her chapter will provide key insights into the ISO KM standard and the auditing process to help organizations prepare for an ISO KM audit.
The remainder of the book will be dedicated to a selection of ‘menus’ from organisations who have a particular strength in the way they have implemented their KM approach.
This is where we would love to include your story.
Each ‘menu’ will be a small case-study – probably 5-10 pages. We’re not ‘putting organisations on a pedestal’ as having achieved perfection or claiming that they would be ISO accredited (there will be no accredited organisations at the time of publication). However, we do want to draw attention to aspects of what they have done where there is something distinctive from which others can learn.
Agreed menus* currently include: World Bank, International Olympic Committee, Schlumberger, Petroleum Development Oman, USAID, Transport for London (TfL), Linklaters, Syngenta, Defence Science & Technology Labs (DSTL – Part of UK’s Ministry of Defence) and Médecins Sans Frontières.
Our target for publication is Q1 2019, with the writing completed by Q4 this year.
About the process.
Q) What are we asking for?
A) An interview (in person or virtually if preferred) in which we will pose some open questions about the initiative for which you have been responsible, and listen whilst you share your story.
Q) Why are we asking you?
A) Because you have led a successful initiative relating to knowledge-sharing and organisational learning in your organisation, and we believe that there is mutual value in publicising aspects of your story to a global audience.
Q) What is the process?
A) Once you’ve agreed to participate, we will set up a time that is mutually convenient for the interview. In advance, we’d agree the focus and emphasis together through a discussion. We will then send you an outline of the areas we will be focusing on, and an example from another organisation as soon as one becomes available.
You may have a copy of the recording if you wish.
We will then write up your ‘menu’ and send to you for amendment and approval.
We will ask you to sign a waiver that we can use the material as part of the book.
Q) What’s in it for you?
A) A chance to share your experiences with other KM practitioners, and to achieve global recognition for the work you done. And of course, a signed copy of the book!
Q) How long will it take?
A) The interview will take approximately one hour. We may need to contact you again if we need clarification of discussion points prior to publication, or there are additional materials or illustrations which should be included.
Q) Where will the book be available?
A) It will be published by Facet Publishing http://www.facetpublishing.co.uk/. As a result, we expect the book to be widely recommended as part of a programme to recognise and accredit ‘chartered knowledge managers’.
Describe your working environment – what would I see if I was sitting at your desk? (books, views, awards, certificates, artefacts…)
Please explain the background to your KM programme:
Specific Goals and objectives?
Who would know about these?
(Were they documented?)
Position in the organisation. Branding. Team resources.
What leadership support have you had? Has this been continuous or sporadic?
Culture of the organisation. Barriers, behaviours, positives to build upon?
What was the starting point? The business need/pain-point/imperative?
How do did you go about meeting the challenge - tell your story as it happened…
What did your plan look like, and how did it change? (Did you have to do any course corrections? Why?)
What KM-related roles and competencies are necessary for your approach?
How do you measure your success?
What's next? Do you have a continuous improvement approach? How would you improve what you are currently doing?
What aspects of your approach to KM are documented? (policy, tools, procedures?)
How do you define and describe your program to others in your organisation - Do you have a strapline?
Do you have a picture or visualisation you use when describing the program?
Is there anything you could share with us?
On reflection, what was the biggest challenge you faced?
Where did you get lucky?
What are you most proud of?
What’s the nicest thing anyone ever said about your programme?
What advice would you give to someone facing a similar challenge?
What skills or behaviours would they need in order to repeat your success?