KM Bamboo Tools! Plant Yours Today!

The taller the bamboo grows, the lower it bends. (Chinese Proverb)

Okay, I’m just going to lay it out there. Bamboo is not really native to North America. It just seems like it is. Mostly because it has fairly quickly worked its way to just about everywhere. Bamboo certainly has many uses – from culinary to medicine to construction to furniture to textiles to paper to….well, you get the idea. Lots of uses. And how does this fit in with KM? Well, it’s an invasive species and so it can also cause a lot of trouble if it goes where you don’t want it to go. You try to get rid of it…but it just keeps on popping up everywhere. Which is a lot like what can happen when organizations allow knowledge management tools to go untended.

Bamboos are a group of woody perennial evergreen plants in the grass family and they are the fastest growing woody plants in the world with a growth rate of up to 39 inches per day. But its actually an invasive species. It is to say the least aggressive and the seedlings can quickly outstrip other plants.

And when you have bamboo growing where you don’t want it to grow, according to the American Bamboo Society (yeah, didn’t know about them either!) you typically are going to need to use special tools to cut through the underground stems, including heavy metal rods with cutting blades, reciprocating saws and power digging tools. Or to use systemic herbicides, applied over and over and over. All of which seems to suggest that the best approach to control bamboo is to start out by ensuring that the bamboo doesn’t go where you don’t want it to go – when it’s first planted.

According to the American Bamboo Society that is be accomplished by digging a “trench about 3 feet deep around the area where you want the bamboo to grow” and then pour concrete at least three inches thick to serve as a barrier. And ensure that the concrete is an inch or two above ground level because the rhizomes (underground stems) will still try to cross the trench. And they emphasize that the barrier is probably easier than having to eradicate bamboo that was allowed to grow wherever it wanted to grow.

Which brings me to the “why” of this particular blog post.

Bamboo spreading everywhere and anywhere.

In one of my recent knowledge management certification workshops I had a KM’er from a large company – one of the early adopters of knowledge management. And she was discussing one of the particular problems that she was having trying to get a handle on knowledge management in her part of the company. It seems that in her part of the company they have approximately 1,800 employees and the company had previously rolled out Sharepoint to support their knowledge management efforts. That was rolled out from their headquarters, which was overseas. And apparently there wasn’t a lot of thought put into how exactly that would be done. I’m sure that there was a lot of discussion about how the technology side of things would play out, but not much thought about “how” the Sharepoint would be utilized. No real decisions about why it would be used, or how it would be used, or where it would be used.

Which is kind of typical actually. And as is also typically the case, there didn’t appear to be any consideration of a knowledge management strategy. Something to decide who needed to use the tool and why. An expression of what they expected to “get” out of using this tool (rather than any other tool or even no tool at all).

And so lacking any knowledge management strategy what happened next was that there was no taxonomy. And not even any real training on how to use the tool. It was just made available for anyone, anywhere in the organization. And with that, pretty soon anyone who wanted to stand up a Sharepoint site could do so. Anyone doing that had full administrator privileges.

The end result is that as of right now, they have found some 484 individual Sharepoint sites. With only 1800 employees there. And every week they find yet more sites. And on those sites they have often found things that the company probably didn’t intend to have on sites openly accessible to the public. Things like Intellectual Property, or other things that they just would rather not discuss ad hoc based on the whims of whoever “owned” those sites.

Their own version of bamboo.

And sooner or later someone in the company is going to be tasked with the hard work. Meaning that they’re going to have to develop the “eradication plan” because sooner or later upper management is going to find out about something on one of those sites that hard way – on the evening news. Or when they find the company’s Intellectual Property appearing elsewhere. And at that point I envision the formation of a team armed with sharp blades, power tools and herbicide sweeping through the organization. And that’s going to have some impact upon the knowledge management – especially where/when many in the organization don’t have a good grasp of what that is and so will then associate the IT (Sharepoint) with what is believed to be knowledge management.

I’ve said it before and will say it again. Successful knowledge management implementation requires a strategy. That’s a plan for where you’re going and how you intend to get there. And a discussion of how the tools would then support the strategy, when and where appropriate as well as what they are expected to accomplish. It is detrimental to the organization to simply cast out into the organization IT and call it knowledge management. With no strategy and no controls it is like bamboo….it goes wherever it can, even if you don’t want it there. And then you’re going to spend a lot of time trying to track it all down, and having to eradicate it from wherever it’s not supposed to be.

Dr. Dan's Daily Dose:
Creating your Knowledge Management strategy is critical BEFORE putting in place any IT solutions or tools that would support KM. Absent that, the tools will likely go where they want and probably be used in ways not supportive of what the organization needs to accomplish.
About Dr. Dan Kirsch