Monday, 19 August 2013

Straits Knowledge – Working with a David

Consultancies have had their share of bad press. Whether that’s because of a lack of sincerity in their offering (as described by a former consultant) or the result of clients who call on outside expertise without understanding if it already exists within their organisation.

Despite this, the consultancy model appeals to me. With an honest value proposition, their small structure, resulting lack of hierarchy and organisational fat can allow them to deliver cutting edge approaches to clients far more effectively than larger enterprises.

Working in KM roles for relatively large organisations so far and meeting my fair share of consultants, I’ve always wanted to experience what it would be like be on the other side. So when I was offered the opportunity to spend two weeks with a small but respected Singapore based Knowledge Management consultancy, Straits Knowledge, I had to take it.

During my visit, I was introduced to the Singapore KM community and invited to help in client projects. Highlights (of which there were many) included talking at a community of practice launch, contributing my experiences at a knowledge retention roundtable and actively encouraged to understand Strait’s own KM and learning set-up and practices with the rationale of providing an honest debrief by the end of my trip.

Having my own set of keys to Straits Knowledge allowed me to come in at any time during the day or night from my hotel room to do lots of things. Such as… attempt to take arty photos of an empty office as shown below, help myself to founding partner Edgar Tans stash of roasted almonds (I’m truly sorry Edgar for not coming clean earlier) and slightly more productively, gain a better insight into some of the methodologies Straits Knowledge has been developing and delivering for over 10 years. 

The most credible consultants I’ve met tend to possess a good general understanding of organisations and management consulting while being especially strong in certain areas. Straits CoP Workshop Facilitation, Knowledge Audit and Taxonomy Development workshops particularly stood out. I’m going to talk about the latter two.

Knowledge Audit

I understood knowledge audits as a means of identifying which knowledge topics were well managed, which ones may be at risk as a result of poor knowledge management and what actions might be needed to then help an organisation. Straits Knowledge introduce their own special sauce by approaching knowledge and cultural audit elements with a bespoke set of cards. The cards have been created by gleaning patterns of behaviours from real life organisational scenarios. Their approach allows participants to express their thoughts, while also providing a structured method for actionable next steps. This video featuring Strait’s founding partner Patrick Lambe might explain it better.  

Taxonomy Development

In my mind, Patrick is also a leading authority in this area. Prior to meeting him though, I was always under the impression that Taxonomies were a necessary component of a wider KM initiative, but fell strictly under the area of information access and navigation. It’s only after reading his book – Organising Knowledge, gaining familiarity with Strait’s methodology and how they apply it practically to client projects that I could see how taxonomies can also act as an effective enabler for collaboration too.

My Verdict

Singapore is a fascinating place in so many ways and Straits Knowledge were truly great hosts. Nevertheless, I had been asked to produce a detailed report on Straits Knowledge and this proved to be a tough task ultimately.

Edgar, Patrick and Wai Kong as well as being down-to-earth and honest individuals, were also amongst the most competent KM practitioners I have ever met. Part of me just felt like telling to them to just carry on as they were doing, but then I thought I’d have a go at picking on a couple of points anyway! 

The first (and don’t laugh) was how a laser printer would provide them with better quality text and images, as well as a time and cost saving after the initial outlay.

The second slightly more intelligent observation was that while they were highly regarded in South East Asia for providing KM and Learning products and services, they didn’t appear to have quite the same level of recognition in Europe - essentially because they hadn’t explored the market here.

I'm pretty sure they’re still using that slow and noisy inkjet printer, but the idea of a having a U.K presence appealed to them. For the first time, they will be delivering two U.K workshops  on Taxonomy Development and Knowledge Audits in Birmingham from the 19th to the 22nd of November. I would unequivocally recommend attending these to any KM and IM practitioners and internal consultants who are able to attend. Details can be found on their website or feel free to contact me for further information.