Monday, September 14, 2015
Part III - Knowledge Cubes & The Art of Foundational Process
In Part I of The Art of Team Building, I discussed the process behind, and the importance of, understanding your team’s strengths and weaknesses. Gathering this information is the crucial first step towards building a high-performance work team. Part II discussed establishing a culture of transparency to bond your team. Both articles utilize components of Six Sigma that gradually propagate to your team as you go through this process.
Now that you have your heat map and have established a culture of transparency, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get the team operating at maximum performance by fostering functional knowledge workers through the development of Knowledge Cubes.
What is a Knowledge Cube?
Think of a knowledge cube as visually similar to a Rubix Cube. Each small cube is a function within a department, and the operations provided by the department equal a completed colored side, or aggregate of a whole department. When the cube is assembled, it will clearly define the functions for each of the departments and create paths for associates to have autonomous movement inside each other’s organization. These cubes are designed to foster self-determination and build their skills sets to become self-directed knowledge workers. The concept of object-oriented coding is analogous to how one uses knowledge cubes to develop an organization. They serve to free up “brain space” by normalizing everyday processes to be more innovative.
The Art of Foundational Process - The Basis of the Knowledge Cube
A Technology organization must standardize the Art of Foundational Process. Whether making a sandwich, or negotiating a multi-billion dollar business deal, there is a process involved that must be documented for continuous improvement.
An assembly line is a classic example of a foundational process. Henry Ford’s system for building a vehicle is a step by step, repeatable process. As the vehicle moves along the line, another component is installed. His foundational process laid the groundwork for the successful development of a multi-billion-dollar industry, promoting innovation and proper training of personnel.
This design promotes associate growth and organizational development. It will create a path to master every aspect of IT, including software development, Operations, Security, QA, Process, and Desktop Services. CEOs and COOs can apply this organizational behavior from the top down in all functional areas of business, such as Human Resources, PMO, Supply Chain, and Finance. Utilizing this approach can structure your organization to achieve Malcolm Baldrige levels, renowned for the highest tier of performance excellence. Foundational process lays the groundwork for creation of knowledge cubes that will standardize operational agility.
Organizational Evolution Through Knowledge Cubes
Illustration 0 - Chaos in pieces
The organization has no form, and nothing but chaos exists. You will have disparate teams that do not operate as one. There is no sharing of knowledge, and everyone is stuck in their areas of expertise, causing single points of failure. Morale is low, while frustration is high. Team members are in a groundhog day state, and are looking for a better way.
Illustration 1 - Organized Chaos
A leader assembles his team, and begins to take the chaos of dispersed workflow and knowledge and structure it. Teams start to get excited when they see the information, but may not understand how or why it’s coming together.
Article Zero represents the least common denominator. It establishes the foundation for your team to build effective knowledge cube articles. Create your Article Zero, and it will serve as your template that any person on your team can use to execute. An effective knowledge cube is accompanied with a flowchart on the exact way to execute the action.
Illustration 2 - Introduction of KC Process (baby steps) - lowest hanging fruit
Each individual square represents an activity area a group provides to an organization. The visual representation of the process is designed with simple polygons that transcend technical language barriers. Accompanying the flow chart is the writer’s step by step directions that lay out the article in its most basic form.
Each square is self-policing. Since each article is a repeatable process, when the steps cease to work, one can go back to revise the process. This keeps each article relevant through continuous improvement.
Illustration 3 - Tracking & Metrics
Create and place a knowledge cube training matrix in public view for everyone to see. This will create an air of friendly competition, empowerment, and autonomy. The cubes actually became a vehicle to drive accountability and competition . It innately makes people elevate because their peers are doing it. Everyone will take on a “leave no man behind” mentality. These transfers of knowledge can lead to increased associate morale, and will benefit work-life balance.
Illustration 4 - Assemble the group
An assembled cube for the group can represent a subset of a department. For example, in a Supply-Chain organization, this assembled cube would can consist of squares from Logistics, Procurement, and Vendor Management. The cube, or subsets of the cube can then be shared outside of the department to align on corporate-wide initiatives that require collaboration.
Your knowledge cube program will never end, as the organization is constantly changing. Executive leadership must drive a culture of continuous improvement, while the managers work to propel the program forward.
Illustration 5 - Assemble the Organization
As the program propagates across the company, the cubes develop a form. Teams begin to communicate and collaborate as knowledge is shared. Single points of failure are eradicated from your environment.
Morale increases as team members become functional knowledge workers, and the organization evolves to an autonomous state.
Illustration 6 - Goal State
Once Foundational Process is implemented in an department, the knowledge cubes can then be shared inside and outside of the organization. Standardization of processes across the company will reap countless benefits.
Alignment, Camaraderie, and Standardization of YOUR Operations
Documentation of all processes for the individual cubes is critical for standardizing an operation. Once knowledge articles and processes are documented, an organization gains many benefits:
- It visually puts everyone on the same page as to how each process operates
- Clearly defined roles and responsibilities for a given task
- The learning curve is reduced for new associates entering the department
- Efficiency is gained from the analysis and streamlining of existing procedures
- It standardizes the process with which your operations run
A great example of this: say your business is experiencing large amounts of down time due to a persistent system outage. A leader would assemble the team to draw info graphics, as-is process maps and the group image of the future state while discussing key areas of concentration. They should focus on a reiterative process that concentrates on people and execution, followed by a technical approach, and finally change control mechanisms. Knowledge cubes would be created and modified for continuous improvement throughout the exercise. Over multiple iterations, one can observe up to 95% reduction in outages and defects, saving the company millions in downtime. All this is achievable through the application of a knowledge cube program.
There is a significant social factor within this process that is a key to its success. Writing up a knowledge cube for the sake of doing so simply isn’t enough. Leaders must encourage cross-department communication as well. If a team member who works in Department A cross-trains with a knowledge cube from Department B, merely completing the cube to gain a small piece of knowledge defeats the overall purpose. The team member must make time to interact with the subject matter expert (SME). This builds camaraderie, opens additional channels of communication, and allows both the mentor and mentee to learn more about each other both professionally and personally. These interactions are a small part of the whole that builds high-performing teams.
When properly implemented, knowledge cubes cross-train teams on industry best practices. It can also teach the particulars of how those standards are applied and customized inside your organization. Knowledge cubes benefit internally in that team members can move between departments with the ability to hit the ground running. The inherent organizational agility offered by this process can save companies thousands of dollars in third party training costs, as all the training material is being developed in-house.
Implement the program - Knowledge Cubes In Action
Every successful integration requires key components that include executive sponsorship, proper communication, and change management. Installing a knowledge cube program into your organization is no different. Once the executive has communicated the 5 W’s (who, what, where, when, why) of the program and generated an air of excitement, the management team must rally their group to drive the program, and maintain its excitement and relevance.
Knowledge cubes are a push/pull. At some point, a knowledge worker will be the Subject Matter Expert (SME) who contributes to the departmental and organizational cube (push), and at other times they, will be the ones acquiring the knowledge (pull).
Train the team on how to PUSH:
- Use the “Knowledge cube on how to create a knowledge cube” above to train your teams on how to build cubes.
- Create a standardized template for the documentation. This will ensure that every document is created and looks/feels the same. This will make the process repeatable.
- Implement a bounty program that rewards your top performers who create the most relevant articles
- Keep it simple! If the process for creating the documentation, storing it, and accessing the articles is too difficult or cumbersome, your adoption rate will plummet.
Train the team on how to PULL:
- A person chooses an item on the cube training matrix. An associate may desire to expand their functional knowledge cube to master a specific subject matter. Or a leader may might want to grow someone to an area that might not have enough of a specific skillset.
- Contact the SME who created the article to establish initial contact for mentoring
- Execute and learn the article. This is done by either observing the SME, or by the SME guiding the mentee through the process repeatedly.
- Take the associated quiz; the passing grade is tracked in the cross training matrix.
Summing Up the Cube
In a world where companies are achieving more work with fewer employees, creating a culture of employees who can become multi-purpose or “Swiss army knives” will yield you positive results not only from a developmental psychology perspective, but from a performance perspective as well. When the process is used effectively, career progression occurs at a rapid pace, and the benefits reaped by the company are bountiful.
Some of the most gratifying moments in my personal career occur when witnessing the expedient growth and elevation of numerous individuals who have mastered the cubes. Seeing them now as Directors and Executives of Fortune 500 companies in a variety of industries speaks volumes to the process and the impact it can have on an individual.
“You can dance while your knowledge is growing”
The WHO - Another Tricky Day
(Conversely to the Lyrics -- You CAN always get it when really want it)
In the 1600’s Philosopher Francis Bacon said “knowledge is power”. Today I say knowledge cubes are powerful!