Sunday, April 30, 2006

Tool to Improve Written Communication

One of my colleagues, who is a smart person, had difficulty with written communication in English. So when he composed his emails he always used MS WORD as an editor, checked the spellings and grammar before sending the email. I believe that it is a very good idea to do so.

While typing in form based applications such as email or other online form based applications such as, I use the spell check feature in Google Toolbar. It works very effectively on any form based application which does not have a spell check feature built in.

I read about tools such as WhiteSmoke that help you improve the quality of your written communication. I have not tried them yet. You can download a trial version from their site.

Welcome: UK, Singapore, Australia and Mexico

I noticed that my Journal is read by people from the UK, Singapore, Australia, Mexico and USA. It is good to see that a blog can be used effectively to share information with so many people so inexpensively.

I use Google Analytics to keep track of the traffic to my Journal and figure out what kind of information interests readers. The amount of intelligence you can derive from this tool is quite fascinating. For example the image on the left gives me an understanding of the users who visited the site today.

Training Via Person To Person Interaction

I have worked in the eLearning industry for over 10 years. So the advise above might sound strange. However I have seen that high quality knowledge transfer happens only when there is large scale, prolonged people to people interaction. I read a few examples recently. Toyota motor company's famous production process relies on people a lot. Toyota uses less automation compared to American auto companies. Toyota moves hundreds of experienced people to their new plants for several months to train new employees.

Many corporations that I have seen in my 10 year career in the eLearning industry do something very strange. They spend millions of dollars on software that supports training and expect their employees around the world to become effective. I believe that large companies that rely on their employees' capabilities to derive their edge over competition should rely on tecnology based training and people to people interaction.

A Harvard Business Review Article describes this very well. Codified knowledge [Knowledge that is captured in documents and eLearning courses] is effective for training people on low value repetitive tasks. In most cases, high value knowledge in a company [the kind of knowledge that sets you apart from your competition] is new, poorly defined and tacit. The most effective way to share such knowledge is through high volume people to people interaction.

I am not talking about a two day offsite by the managers to discuss strategy. I am talking about putting the people who do the job in one physical location for weeks or months together to enable high value collaboration between them.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Capturing Tacit Knowledge: Point The Camera

My company does business process outsourcing for large multinational companies. We take over standard processes and help our customers reduce their cost of transactions. In the process we have identified a vast library of processes that are common across multiple clients. We have many subject matter experts within the company who understand these processes. However when it comes to capturing this knowledge and turing it into training material for our distributed operations teams, we faced several hurdles. The subject matter experts were too busy and were not willing to write down what they know. In some cases they had trouble with the format of the document. Sometimes they did not know the tool they were supposed to use. In some cases the knowledge they possessed was so fluid that they could only explain it verbally and could not write it down.

However they were willing to present their knowledge to an audience using Visio Diagrams, PowerPoint Presentations or White boards. So we decided to capture their presentations instead of asking them to document their knowledge.

This turned out to be very inexpensive and effective. We use a SONY Hi-8 Video Camera with a Zoom Microphone. We convert the tapes into DVDs [we use a local vendor who charges about $50 per tape] and share the DVDs with our team members around the globe. One of my colleagues works with the vendor to point out the logical breaks in the tape and the vendor creates the DVDs with menus [like movie DVDs]

The knowledge captured is very rich, the DVDs can play in any laptop computer or regular DVD player and we just need limited amount of time from the subject matter experts.

The DVDs are so popular that the subject matter experts write to us months later asking for copies of their material.

If you plan to do this in your organization, I would recommend a SONY Digital Video Camera, A Tripod and a SONY Zoom Microphone to capture good quality audio.

One word of caution: This approach works for capturing tacit knowledge that cannot be captured in a document. Distribution of DVDs is for a large audience is not efficient. If there is a large audience for this material, consider converting the video into WMV file format and placing them on a webserver so that your users can view them on the Windows Media Player.

Some softer aspects

  • In some cases the experts were a bit reluctant to be taped. Once we spoke to them and assured them that this is for training purposes, they agreed.
  • Another belief is that the camera can only be operated by a technician and we need to hire someone to do this. In our case, the lead consultant and senior managers of the company take on this responsibility.

If you have a distributed technical writing team or an online course development team that converts subject matter expertise into training courses, capturing subject matter in video might be a good idea.

I believe that in the next few years video streaming will move from the entertainment industry to the business world. With cheap capturing devices, cheap storage and efficient streaming, sharing tacit knowledge via video is going to be very feasible. It is a matter to time before services like Google Video and iTunes move over to the business world.

Wiki's as a Learning Tool in the Workplace

One of my colleagues who leads the global implementation of learning systems for one of our a large clients asked me recently if we can use Wiki's for learning within an organization. I thought about that for a while and wondered if Wiki's will be appropriate for corporate knowledge sharing. What could be the few reasons why Wiki's might work within an organization.

People seem to enjoy typing a lot. I read that people send over 2.5 Billion emails everyday. We seem to trust information provided by people we know rather than go to a training program and sit through a lot of presentations with superflous information.

Jay Cross recently made the observation in an article in Chief Learning Officer magazine that adults prefer to explore and get to the information they neey quickly rather than go through a lot of superfluous material. I agree with him. Even while preparing for my recent Corporate Finance exam, I found it easier to google the questions and reach a trusted source of information rather than open my text book and go through a 20 page long chapter to find the answer. Over a period of time, I recognized the sources of information I could trust.

I googled to see if any company is testing Wiki's for internal knowledge sharing. Looks like Nokia is testing it. I am sure that there are many tech savvy teams using it effectively within companies. As I mentioned a few days ago, we are using blogs effectively within our company to track the lessons learnt on projects. Blogs have one disadvantage compared to a Wiki. Not all Blog softwares are designed for collaborative editing.

I plan to try out the hosted Wiki provider SocialText. Social Text claims that several customers are using Wiki successfully. I am not very pleased with the look and feel of this service at this time.

We plan to try out Wikis for creating an internal body of knowledge. A custom corporate encyclopedia perhaps. Once we use it for a few weeks, I'll write about how it is working out for us.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Project Blog as a Business Tool

We signed a large HR outsourcing implementation engagement last year. Our IT implementation teams are in Florida. Business consultants are in San Francisco and Hyderabad.

The Florida IT team's culture was new to us and we struggled to understand the key relationships we need to build and key people we need to know. One of my team members who moved there to work with the IT implementation teams started sending out a 'Lesson of the day from Florida' email. After a couple of those insightful emails we decided that a blog would be a good place to post those 'Lessons from Florida' emails. So we set up an internal blog powered by Movable Type . That was a good idea. Since then a few more of our implementation project teams started separate sections for their project. The information is company confidential and is behind the firewall.

Since all these projects are similar to each other the cross pollination has been very good. We do this despite the fact that we have document repositories to share documents. Some of the functional leads started posting their meeting minutes and updates in the blog. A few weeks after we started posting info on the internal blog, I shared it with my peers in the leadership team so that they can be informed about what is going on.

I wonder if blogger [This blogging site] has plans to provide features to attach documents to a blog. It will be a good feature. Providing password protected blogs for a small monthly fee to enterprises might be a good idea as well.

Until then Movable Type hosted by Yahoo might be a good option for small businesses and teams. I have not tried it out. But I use other services by Yahoo and trust that they will do a good job with this one.
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