5-C approach to making knowledge management a way of life in project

-    ‘If money is your hope for independence, you will never have it. The only real security a man will have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience and ability’ Henry Ford

Introduction

Advances in Information Technology have led to globe becoming truly FLAT. This means, various activities along the Software Development Life Cycle can be put together by teams spread across multiple geographies, belonging to different time zones, cultures and languages. Projects have to be on continuous learning mode to remain updated on constantly changing technologies.

Managing knowledge and ensuring re-use to avoid wheels being re-built every time becomes the most important challenge in this scenario. Constant changes in technology have added to the complexity and have made project manager's task of Knowledge Management (KM) even more daunting. On the other hand, IT customers are demanding increasing sophistication in vendor's KM processes; so much so, KM is no longer ‘Optional' but ‘Integral' to the very survival of an IT organization.

Infosys Technologies Limited is a Global IT Major that has won the ‘Most Admired Knowledge Enterprises (MAKE) of the World' thrice in a row and thus has featured in the ‘Global MAKE Hall of Fame'. Independent Validation Solutions (IVS) being one of the fastest growing Business Units within Infosys has been a fore runner in making KM a way of life in projects. It created IVS Academy in 2005 to ensure focused attention to KM activities within the Unit. The Academy aims at bringing in a formal structure and process for Knowledge management & tools awareness and competency development by fostering accelerated differentiation among testing professionals.

In this paper we will share how KM has become a competitive differentiator for the Unit by following 5-C Approach to Making KM a Way of Life.

Scope of this Paper

KM assumes a great deal of significance in testing projects scenarios due to various reasons such as:

  • Domains being tested are vast and require collective knowledge of the team as against one person's expertise
  • Global Delivery Model resulting in teams working across geographies, cultures and time zones
  • Variable Resource pools are used in which a core validation team is augmented by variable team depending upon troughs and peaks in demand for validation.
  • Availability of little or no documentation of legacy systems.
  • Large amount of interaction required between multiple related systems due to complex domain
  • Frequent changes to system requirements due to business or regulatory needs.

Lack of focus on KM could result in the following:

  • Increased ramp up time for teams
  • Difficulty in managing transitions
  • Risk of underestimating the impact of changes to the system

Broadly speaking, the 2 important steps in a KM process are:

  1. Knowledge Assets Creation
  2. Ensuring effective usage of Knowledge assets

In order for the KM to become an all – pervasive activity the first step is that a repository of knowledge documents needs to be created. In this paper, we have restricted ourselves to the discussion on second step, i.e., how to ensure effective usage of knowledge assets once they are created. We will elaborate how 5-C approach has enabled IVS to create a culture in which KM has become a ‘Way of Life' in projects.

The 5-C Approach

The 5-C Approach to KM consists of 5 important pillars as below and ensuing paragraphs will discuss how each of these pillars has contributed to making KM a Way of Life in projects for IVS.

The 5 Pillars of Knowledge Management Process at Infosys Technologies Limited

Exhibit 1: The 5 Pillars of Knowledge Management Process at Infosys Technologies Limited
Source: Infosys Technologies Limited

img Compulsory Shift in Mindset

The principle mindset shift required is for the project teams to understand that there is no short cut to success in KM. The momentum is slow in the beginning and progress is incremental and continuous and will require innovative approaches catering to the needs of large groups of individuals.

The first and foremost required shift in mindset is the understanding that KM is not a stand – alone activity done by an outside entity – but an integral part of every one's work. This is essential to maintain a lean KM organization and at the same time make KM a pervasive activity. In order to achieve this mindset shift, Unit decided to bring KM activities into the ambit of regular project work for the project managers. A few of the innovative practices that yielded results were:

  • Each project has a special role for KM Anchor whose responsibility is to maintain all project related artifacts, and ensure project related training & KT happens regularly.
  • ‘People Development' as one of the categories for measuring performance of every Project Manager and above. The extent of Project Manager's involvement in KM activities will serve as serve as yard stick for measurement.

IVS also felt the need for shifting employee mindset from perceiving testing as a low end work to being perceived as Thought Leaders in the software testing arena. Build Your Brand (BYB) was an initiative on this front. As a part of this initiative an internal forum called, ‘ Tripos' was started to generate articles and thought papers in the testing domain. As a testimony to this, 13 national / international whitepaper publications happened in 2006 including best paper award at EUROSTAR conference in Denmark.

To encourage KM acceptance across the unit, the IVS Academy has also institutionalized a reward and recognition program that rewards top contributors to the unit's KM initiative including thought leadership.

img Creation of Re – Use Repositories

Experts have identified Focus on Re-Usability as the 5th stage in the 6 staged path to software excellence. The quality and productivity benefits from completion of this stage are phenomenal: 85% Defect Reduction, 65% increase in productivity and 50% Schedule Compression.

Broadly speaking, Software Re-use has a wide spectrum of levels within an organization. Reuse maturity level differs across organizations, and even within an organization different Units could have differing levels of maturity.

Maturity levels of Re-use

Exhibit 2: Maturity levels of Re-use

Reusable asset is an artifact that can be used as such or with minor modification. It can also be a utility that can aid development. Typical types of reusable assets:

  • – Business Process Documentation
  • – Design Documents (Architecture, Design Patterns, Frameworks, etc)
  • – Code Components (e.g. Libraries)
  • – Utilities
  • – Test Scenarios & Plans

In the IVS context, re-use assets were mainly project artifacts such as, checklists, templates, frameworks and other artifacts like test scenarios/cases & regression/automation libraries for re-use in future projects. For ensuring wide re-use of such repositories processes had to be defined. Following were the critical success factors for the Re-Use Repository creation within IVS:

  • Selecting the right domain that is in constant demand where re-use asset can be leveraged to maximum and identifying right level of depth within that domain is the most important success factor for the creation of Re-use repository. To facilitate extensive re-use, care should be taken to ensure that the selected domain is neither too wide nor too narrow. For Example, narrowing down of the domain from ‘Banking' to ‘Retail Banking' to ‘Credit Card Rating' - narrowing it down further would jeopardize asset's re-usability.
  • Preparing the organization for heavy ‘Up-front' investment needed for the successful creation of Re-use repositories is a must. As the re-use culture will be built and nurtured within an organization over a longer time frame these costs will need to have longer time windows for amortization.
  • Strict Quality Gating criteria needs to be established as entry criteria for any re-usable asset to be accepted into re-use library.
  • Strong governance program that covers the usage, contribution, architectural & design standards, measurement and accounting of Re-Usable artifacts is must.
  • Well defined implementation plans with built in continuous monitoring and improvements and a dedicated team owning and managing with strong corporate sponsorship is a must for the success of Re-Use initiative.

Following is a typical process followed for deploying an already created Re-Usable Repository within Infosys:

Process for deploying an already created Re-Usable Repository within Infosys

Exhibit 3: Process for deploying an already created Re-Usable Repository within Infosys

Some of the benefits of this approach that we have observed in IVS are:

  • Reduction in Test planning effort
  • Improvement in Productivity of testing projects is possible due to the existence of pre-built test scenarios and test cases, thus avoiding building these from scratch
  • Improved Quality in testing projects due to:
    • The Re-use scenarios & Test cases would have already been reviewed by a domain expert
    • There will be minimum amount of review defects & rework
  • Learning curve will be small for a new testing team member working on the application
  • Easy and better requirement traceability due to an existing link between the business requirements, test scenarios and scripts
  • Data setup activity is easy and quick due to already identified data inputs
  • Clients can achieve faster time to market due to the readymade scenarios
  • Can be used as an input for automation of test scripts as the case may be.

img Clear KM Org Structure

In order to ensure ‘KM a way of life', it has to be program managed like any other customer project. This would mean having an org structure with clear roles and responsibilities, setting goals and milestones for the planned activities, periodic progress review and seeking stakeholder feedback. This is probably one of the first things that needs to happen after establishing the KM vision for the organization.

As organizations grow, decentralizing KM is the only scalable model that helps ensure the objectives are met by decentralization of responsibility and accountability. Decentralizing KM processes helps in leveraging the best people in the organization. The central KM team can greatly reduce overall cost of KM implementation by limiting its role to just designing and monitoring the process to ensure compliance and quality,. This also helps increase ownership of the KM practices across the unit.

Minimum set of KM roles for a KM initiative can be:

Illustrative KM roles

Exhibit 4: Illustrative KM roles

Listed below are some guidelines from our experience that will help implement a decentralized KM structure:

  1. Ensure that the individual and the supervisor understand the expectations from the additional responsibility the individual is taking
  2. Define an induction program for every role in the KM organization
  3. Define communication protocol, frequency and details of data that will be exchanged across the different levels in the KM organization
  4. Reward and recognition program to promote exceptional contribution to KM activities

img Consistent Communication

In order for KM to become life blood of the organization, it is important to open channels of communication. Multiple vehicles have made consistent communication possible in IVS context and they are discussed as below:

K- Forum:

The objective of K-Forum is to enable a community of testing professionals to interact so that every instance of learning within the unit is available to every employee. K – Forum is thus a ‘One Stop' Knowledge shop for testing related topics within IVS. Objectives of K – Forum are:

  • Create a common platform to share & manage knowledge
  • Increase the reach of testing knowledge across Infosys
  • Promote the usage of discussion forums & system that helps reuse of knowledge

K-Forum organizes periodical ‘Knowledge Sharing Sessions' and provides for dissemination of best practices across the unit. A web based portal containing all the best practices and knowledge assets is made available to employees. Domain Drops:

Testing is a very domain intensive area, and ensuring that all employees' posses at least the minimum acceptable levels of knowledge of various domains is essential. This is especially critical as a fungible source of testers is used as a variable pool, and these will need to be shifted from project to project depending upon troughs and peaks in demand for testing. IVS has created a portal called Domain Drops where the employees choose the domain about which they would like to know more about.

How does it Work?

User selects his/her own domain based on the area of interest and subscribe to the portal. The employee will then receive mails on the selected domain for a whole month or till he/she decides to unsubscribe. On the 4th week of every month, employee will get a Quiz to test the level of knowledge gain.

As of now it includes the following domains:

  • Banking & Capital Markets
  • Communication Services (telecom)
  • Insurance
  • Retail
  • Manufacturing
  • Transportation Services

Tools Group:

'Tool of the week' and ‘Software Testing Bulletin Boards' are used to disseminate the latest information on Automation tools in the market. The IVS_ToolsGroup mailing list is a one stop shop for all testing tools related queries from across Infosys. About 50 tools have been evaluated by this group so far. ‘Tools Repository' is another innovative portal that offers case studies, white papers, tool evaluation, tool comparison, Tool best practices, In – house tools created, tool tips, tool documentation and FAQ regarding tools.

img Career Driven KM

Contribution to KM initiatives should be linked to performance appraisal exercises if the organization wants to pursue KM seriously. However it must be recognized that that promoting KM is a gradual exercise and cannot be thrust onto any teams / individuals. It is recommended that to encourage participation in KM activities, an organization should look at a recognition scheme to reward top contributors. Slowly the recognition can be linked to the business benefits achieved as a result of the contribution. In the end state organizations can look at mandating certain minimum measurable contributions which can be linked to performance measures for the individual / team.

The other dimension of career driven KM is the expected contributions from different roles in the organization. While for junior roles, reusable software components might constitute bulk of the contributions, for mid level managers it might translate into reusable processes, templates and checklists. For seniors in the organizations the expected might be more in terms of whitepapers and innovative solutions that could have an impact across the organization.

Parameters to measure the success of KM

It is important to note that the effectiveness of the KM process is dependent on the effective re use of the contributed knowledge asset. Metrics such as user rating, relevance index, number of times knowledge asset was accessed could be good measures of the usefulness of the contributed asset. Other than this, some other key measures of KM success have been deployed in the IVS context:

  • Knowledge asset captured over time
  • Number of White Papers published
  • Number of knowledge assets accessed over time
  • Percentage of knowledge assets accessed a certain number of times over time
  • Distribution of Knowledge assets across industry segments over time
  • Increase in the number of authors over time

Another dimension to measure efficacy of KM is the tangible business benefits over time. Some metrics that can be used to measure KM effectiveness include:

  • Reduction on Cost of Quality
  • Reduction in defect rate

Conclusion

To conclude, KM is not a quick solution to the challenges of ever growing knowledge industry. Creating a KM culture is a process of gradual change and has to be managed with care just like any other change management initiative. We believe that in times to come, advancements in technology and availability of KM tools will have a big role to play in how KM is perceived and deployed in large organizations. However in our view the success of the KM journey will largely depend on the 5 pillars as described above and the way they are effectively entrenched in the DNA of the organization.

References

Capers Jones, The Economics of Software Process Improvement (Nov 2005), Retrieved from http://www.boston-spin.org/slides/056-Dec2005-talk.pdf

Acknowledgements

We would like to acknowledge the efforts of J.K, Suresh & Kavi, Mahesh towards capturing their experiences in the book Ten Steps to maturity in Knowledge Management (Chandos Publishing (2006)). The book has been a source of inputs and a reiteration of our thoughts and philosophy towards Knowledge Management.

We would also like to thank Latha A from Infosys Corporate KM Team and Arunachalam Kaushik Ganesan from Infosys Corporate Re-Use Group for their valuable insights that have helped us in writing this paper.

Last but not least the KM Group at IVS Academy which has been a source of inspiration and a testimonial of the thoughts and practices that we have shared in the paper

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

© 2007, Shishank Gupta and Dr. Bharathi Rao
Originally published as a part of 2007 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – (Budapest, Hungary)

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