Archive for January, 2008

Organizational Knowledge – Are you dead in the Water?

If one of four people didn’t show up, projects would stall at my previous employer.  One guy ran the back-end/operations, another constructed the prototypes, I did programming and IT support, and my boss did programming and sales.  All the passwords and network configurations were located in the operation’s guy’s palm (I didn’t set-up the network, I just inherited it and would write down stuff as I worked with it).

I soon discovered that we could live without a programmer for weeks, without an IT person as long as the infrastructure didn’t break down, without a prototype person for days, without a sales person for a few days, but never without operations.  The operations guy had probably only taken a handful of sick days and even fewer vacation days in the 10+ years he worked at the company.  Every time he was gone, due dates got moved back, customer orders were late and we lacked the passwords and information to fix IT issues.  It was insane, and very stressful for the operations guy when he returned.  It’s almost as if he had to make up on nights and weekends, the hours he took off.

As I look back on the situation, I note there was a lack of Organizational Knowledge.  Every person had their fiefdom and when someone was gone, the people who covered had to make it up as they went.  Organizational Knowledge is the howto of the business world.  It is the time saver and organizer of the company.  It’s the encyclopedia of how things get done around here.

My friend, who was the operations person had to order supplies and parts, gather production kits from inventory, ship orders and debug prototypes.  Not only did this require knowledge of the production planning software and store, it required knowledge of SED’s (export declarations) lead times, parts distributors, channels of contact for the distributors and a process to complete each task.  It was overwhelming to jump into his shoes for a day (and I was next in line!).

The problem was that we never took the time to write down the process.  There were so many other things to do.  Yet, we would have been far better off, had we known how to cover for him.  The hour of process mapping would have saved at least a half day of thinking through it (and still getting it wrong).  We need organizational knowledge.

Some companies take it to the other extreme.  A handbook/manual is only as good as it ability to communicate.  I’m not going to read 200 pages of how exactly something was done unless its a project that requires significant investment.  Give me the guiding principles and bullet point summary.

When I google on how to fix something, if it is a multi-page article or string of text, I skip it.  The knowledge of how to fix the problem has to be clear, concise and organized.  The company Organizational Knowledge should be the same way.  The better the access, the more people in the organization will use it. 

Think of Organizational Knowledge as the path of the least resistance.  If it is accessible, understandable and digestible, people will use it.  Most people do not like to reinvent the wheel unless they think there is a better way.

We make Organizational Knowledge by giving the people in the know the tools, the motivation and the time to create it.  The tools can be anything from a blog to a content management system.  The motivation can be monetary, recognition or both.  The time taken must be encouraged and rarely, if ever, punished as a bad decision.  What’s more is that a content review before publishing can be given as a positive because the company cares about what is being written and cares enough to read the organizational knowlege before publishing.

Organizational Knowlege gives employees the tools to succeed, be recognized and feel good about their legacy.  Organizational Knowlege gives employers an increased productivity and employee satisfaction, when implemented correctly.  Sounds like a win-win to me.

Consumer Psychology – Differentiating without Change

One of the most interesting and scary courses I took during my JD/MBA career is consumer psychology.  I learned a great framework for describing how I interact and reinforce my purchasing habits.

One of the points that really hit home to me is about differentiation.  It seems like a lot of my entrepreneurial friends work hard to make new points of differentiation that the consumer can see between themselves and others.  My education hammered home the importance of differentiation avoiding commoditization.  My friend Stormy started Maoomba.com with such differentiation in mind.

The strange piece is that the consumer only need perceive a difference between you and the competition (think store-brand vs. brand name medications).  That difference need not be tangible or apparent.  It can simply evoke a feeling.  And the crazy part is that consumers want you to reinforce that difference.

What this means is that a company can take an internal look at itself, an external look at its competition and then look for differences.  These differences can be thrown at a panel of people and see which ones don’t stink (ie which ones people see as smoke and mirrors).  These differences can be highlighted in marketing campaigns to consumers.  The more (frequency and length) this message reaches consumers, the more accepted it becomes (familiarity breeds acceptance).

I see this play a lot in ads that play on the past.  Ads in this category often use trust, parent’s habits and experience.  Consumers value these ideals, but the organizations didn’t change to get them.  They’ve just communicated them to the consumer as part of their offering.

Following this recipe, the company has now taken an intrinsic part of its product or organization — without change — and turned it into a competitive advantage because the consumer sees it as such.  I was shocked not because I knew a good marketer could do this, but because the recipe was so easy.

Be careful what you plug-in, you may get what you ask for

So I had this friend that told me about the rabid stealing of rss feeds on sites that would claim credit for your work.  He encouraged me to install a plug-in to give notice to people about the stolen content.

 That was great when I was just posting to my own blog.  However, when ConnectBlogs offered to syndicate me (and I accepted), the copyright infringement accusation came through as well.

In short, please ignore the trailer to the last post.  ConnectBlogs has full permission to syndicate me and my ramblings.

Mac 10.3 and iPod Classic Fix

Although I am not a mac owner, my uncle is and he just got an iPod classic for his son.  As it turns out, if you have Mac OS 10.3.9 and an iPod classic, iTunes refuses to sync to the new iPod and gives an error requiring an upgrade to 10.4 or later.  The Mac boards are some help, but it took piecing together a few things to get the iPod Classic to work with 10.3.9.  Here’s our outline:

  1. Have someone format your iPod through iTunes (we went to the SLC apple store)
  2. Find out your fwid (the SLC apple store was helpful there as well)
  3. get yamipod and install
  4. plug in ipod
  5. tell yamipod that you have a ipod classic
  6. tell yamipod the fwid
  7. add songs!

If you don’t have an apple store nearby, I’m not sure what to tell you.  Google shows that getting the fwid might be difficult.  You also need to have a friend with 10.4 to initialize the iPod.

I can only think of a couple of reasons for the restriction for 10.4.  None of them make much sense.  Apple wants people to upgrade their OS; Apple worries about the user experience of people taking days to sync their library over USB 1.X and won’t allow it; Apple programmers use a function available only in 10.4 and apple is too lazy to add it to 10.3.  With my uncle’s iPod classic playing music and syncing to yamipod running in Mac OS 10.3.9, the restriction is obviously not a hardware problem, but a software restriction put in by apple.  Not cool.

Edit: 1/8/2008:

yamipod has a faq on how to find the fwid.