During my last eight years at Rocketdyne (which traversed ownership by The Boeing Company and United Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney Division) I was the Project Manager for an internal tool called AskMe. It’s original intent was to provide a method whereby people could find both experts and expertise, i.e. people with knowledge they needed or papers and other publications that expressed useful knowledge. I later came to realize what we were doing was using a social media tool.
During the entire eight years I worked on that system, it was a constant struggle to get people to use it. People clearly believed that sharing was not in their best interests. Either that, or they were too intimidated by the thought of putting their knowledge to the test of time, as the whole idea was to foster conversations that would be saved and could later be searched when that kind of knowledge was needed again.
At any rate, I tried lots of different ways of promoting the tool. This one, below, came about after I received an email (at home) for a penis enlargement product. I thought to borrow the concept and see if it flew. I have taken the liberty of blurring out my colleague’s face, as I’m not sure where he is and, frankly, I don’t even remember who he is!
BTW – Within a couple of years of my departure, much to the chagrin of many who had worked on it, the tool was gone. I’ll share later why I think this was so.
the current move toward gathering, cataloguing, storing, and disseminating
information and data for widespread organizational use is a fairly recent
development, the basic concepts of Knowledge Management have been with us for
as long as humans have gathered in communities. Humans have always struggled
with the need to pass on information gathered through hard experience and
his new book, to be published this fall, Steven Denning sets forth a brief
synopsis of the human activities which have preceded our current drive toward
Knowledge Management. In it he states, “The pursuit of any significant
human activity typically leads to the acquisition by those involved of know-how
and expertise as to how the activity may be successfully conducted. Insofar as
what is learned in the process can be captured, and communicated and shared
with others, it can enable subsequent practitioners – or even generations – to
build on earlier experience and obviate the need of costly rework or of
learning by making the same repetitive mistakes.
“In the village, from time immemorial,
the elder, the traditional healer and the midwife have been the living
repositories of distilled experience in the life of the community.
Interactive knowledge-sharing mechanisms
have always been used – from palavers under the baobab, village square debates,
and town meetings, to conclaves, professional consultations, meetings,
workshops, and conferences – all functioning to enable individuals to share
what they know with others in the relevant area of knowledge. “
(emphasis the author’s)
1988, as the pace of change was accelerating with the rapid development and
deployment of large-scale information systems, Peter F. Drucker observed,
“Information responsibility to others is increasingly understood, especially in
middle-sized companies. But information responsibility to oneself is still
largely neglected. That is, everyone in an organization should constantly be
thinking through what information he or she needs to do the job and to make a
understood then the pivotal dilemma with respect to data and information now
being faced by many organizations, that of understanding its power and devising
the methodologies whereby it can be harnessed and used to the benefit of the
people who need it to perform their jobs properly.
referring to information specialists as toolmakers, Drucker said, “They can
tell us what tool to use to hammer upholstery nails into a chair. We need to
decide whether we should be upholstering a chair at all.
and professional specialists need to think through what information is for
them, what data they need: first, to know what they are doing; then, to be able
to decide what they should be doing; and finally, to appraise how well they are
doing. Until this happens MIS departments are likely to remain cost centers
rather than become the result center they could be.”
MIS departments are still struggling with the notion of becoming “result
centers”. Too frequently, they concern themselves with the infrastructure of
the organization’s data processing capabilities, and completely ignore the role
Knowledge Management (in its broadest sense) can play. Instead of leading the
way through the morass of competing needs, whether perceived or real, they find
themselves being led around by various departments seeking to have their agenda
legitimized, often to the detriment of the MIS department’s ability to serve the
company as a whole.
Rocketdyne, which employs a large percentage of well-educated, highly computer
literate individuals, there exists a great deal of enmity between the users and
the Information Systems (IS) department. There are many who feel the department
should fulfill the role only of providing the infrastructure, i.e. the
telecommunications backbone and the hardware, and maintaining its reliability.
These people believe IS has abdicated its responsibility of providing guidance
for software development and acquisition, through an historic ineptness in
performing this function.
this view is accurate or not, it demonstrates a division which has long been
developing and will not soon go away, especially without visionary leadership
schooled in the concept of Knowledge Management. Many knowledgeable workers at
Rocketdyne believe they must have the freedom to purchase software which will
support their needs, or to develop that software without interference and
second-guessing by the IS department.
question which looms now for most organizations, and certainly for Rocketdyne,
is how can the data which is both created and collected be harnessed for the
purpose of continuing a company’s pursuit of its goals.
we are experiencing, I believe, is a time of challenge and opportunity.
Historically, humans have always valued the hard-earned wisdom of our
forebears. We rightly believe in the inappropriateness of “reinventing the
wheel”, and we have continuously improved on our methodologies for categorizing
and memorializing the lessons we have been taught or have learned through
Management is merely the application of this historical pursuit of know-how and
expertise to the comparatively new tools we have developed. The concept itself
is nothing new, The question then becomes one of how do we go about harnessing
these tools to our advantage; how do we make that quantum leap into an entirely
new way of viewing an old problem.
the next section we will look at a little bit of the background of the present
day approaches to Knowledge Management, and see how companies are beginning to
recognize the necessity of understanding and utilizing this approach to
conducting business and running an organization successfully.
I’ve begun work on something I have wanted to do for a long time but, for numerous reasons (some of which actually make sense in retrospect) have not been able to accomplish. I’m speaking of writing a book. Actually, I’ve had three books in mind for a few years: One sharing my blog posts; one about the years I spent in the Peace & Justice movement, with special emphasis on the movement against the war in Vietnam; and, my memoirs. I can say with reasonable objectivity, I have had a rather unconventional and interesting life.
Since the beginning of March of 2018, I have been working part-time as the business manager for a small AI software development firm. In doing so, I transitioned from my Mac to a PC laptop in order to comply with the company standards. Today I moved my Mac out into a place in our living room where I can sit quietly and write. Since this is the first time I’ve actually spent a while at the Mac, I have been going through my files and am somewhat pleased to discover there are a lot things I’ve written over the years that should prove helpful in writing (at least) my memoirs. Some of the things I’ve written are only a couple of sentences or a paragraph or two, but they convey the essence of a thought I can expand upon. On the other hand, some of them are completely unintelligible.
What I’m going to do here, however, is use this blog to publish a term paper I submitted 19 years ago, when I was attending classes at California Lutheran University, in their Center for Lifelong Learning offering, ADEP (Adult Degree Evening Program.) It’s 22 pages long, so I’m going to post it in sections, as I wrote it. Today I’m sharing the intro. As I’ve re-read parts of it, I’m reasonably certain some will end up in at least my memoirs, as they are part of my unusual education.
this paper is being written as part of the requirements for a grade in
Organizational Management, its impetus and content are driven by a real life
situation at the company I work for, Rocketdyne Propulsion and Power, a
business unit of the Space and Communications Division of the Boeing Company.
As suggested in the course syllabus, I selected a subject which I felt had some
relevance to my company’s activities and my position within it.
with many organizations throughout the world, mine is struggling with
understanding and implementing the concepts of Knowledge Management. These
concepts, and the issues surrounding them, are numerous and complex. As an
example, one question which must be asked is how does an organization determine
the importance of the information it uses and how does it weight that
importance? How does it determine who needs it, who wants it, who might benefit
from knowing of its existence, or whether or not it should be available to
everyone who might wish to make those determinations for themselves?
there are numerous software developers who are touting their particular method
of capturing data and making it available to a company’s workforce. Each of
these developers will attempt to convince you their method is best for your
application. Of course, this situation is hardly different from that faced by
anyone who has to determine what method they will use, or what software they
will purchase, for any task. Nevertheless, at this early stage of the game it
doesn’t make the task any easier.
propose, in the following pages, to set forth some of the history of Knowledge
Management, from tribal times to today, and the perceived need for Knowledge
Management, both in general, and with particular emphasis for my company,
Rocketdyne. I will look at what knowledge management means, and briefly mention
some of the tools which are being used to develop its use. The definition of
tacit knowledge, and the importance of understanding it when implementing
Knowledge Management will be discussed, along with a brief look at how we
acquire and share knowledge. I will close with a glance at what is probably the
most daunting task facing a company which desires to utilize Knowledge
Management to its advantage, the need for dramatic cultural change.
beginning, however, I would like to quickly explain the nature of this paper’s
subtitle, “Breaking the Information Bottleneck”. Here, the word
bottleneck has the same meaning we use when speaking of a traffic jam. Most of
us have experienced being caught on the freeway when suddenly we come to a
crawl or dead stop. Usually there is an explanation for the delay. Sometimes,
however, there is no apparent reason.
the same way that freeways experience bottlenecks, so too does any system which
requires the smooth flow of some activity or commodity. On the shop floor, it
is generally components, though it can also be tooling, raw material, or usage
hardware. In the office it is generally data or information, and when its flow
is restricted the organization suffers.
believe, with the advent of computers, and their widespread use through Local
Area Networks and intranets, and with our increasing dependence on technology
to solve our problems, we have forgotten how sharing knowledge actually works
and, in the process, created huge information bottlenecks which will not go
away until we learn once again how to manage knowledge.
the scope of this paper is woefully inadequate to fully treat all the issues
involved in this major change now occurring. It is my hope that I will be able
to expand upon and use it to help melt the glacier of resistance which
surrounds my organization at present and makes change painful and tedious.
At the end of 2005, I was still five years away from accepting an early severance package from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and then retiring a couple years early. I don’t think the Shuttle program had yet been cancelled, so everything appeared to be full steam ahead. I had been deeply involved in developing the concept of Knowledge Management (KM), primarily to the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) team—for which I was the lead—as well as for the entire organization, from its ownership by Boeing to a subsequent purchase and merger with United Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney Division.
So, there were two teams I was involved with: the corporate, enterprise-wide team, and the SSME team. I had convinced my management to start the SSME team before I knew there was a corporate team, and it was my primary focus of attention at the time. Starting in December of 2005, I published a newsletter for the team; a KM newsletter, ostensibly by the SSME KM team for the entire SSME program team.
When I returned to work for a couple of years at Rocketdyne in 2015, I was able to find pdf files of every issue of that newsletter, which we called “quicKMemos.” I’m am converting these pdf files into png files so I can upload them here. I’ll post them somewhat sporadically, no doubt, as I have several duties and obligations that are always tugging at my sleeve and demanding my attention. So . . . here’s the first one; Vol. 1 No. 1, December 2005.
NB – Check out the Eleven Deadly Sins of KM. They still seem relevant to me, though it’s hard for me to tell as it’s been nearly 10 years since I’ve been in a large enterprise environment.
Here’s an award I received when I was working on the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) program back in the day. NB – This was a few years after I hired in and Rocketdyne was then owned by Rockwell International, before it was purchased by Boeing, then United Technologies, then Aerojet (current owner).
Actually, when I first hired in (after being a “job shopper”, a temp, for a little over a year), I did take a great class on how the SSME operated . . . still operates as today’s slightly modified RS-25, four of which will power NASA’s Orion spacecraft, providing 2 million pounds of thrust and working with a pair of solid rocket motors to generate a total of 8 million pounds of thrust. Orion—also known as SLS (Space Launch System)—is being built to return humans to deep space destinations, including the Moon and Mars.
There’s a little sort of game going on in Facebook lately. Someone is challenged to list three things they’re thankful for for seven days, at the same time tagging a friend each day (or something like that) to do the same. I haven’t been asked to do it, and I have no plans of doing it either, as it just seems too spread out and broad to do justice to the recognition of those things we might be thankful for. Nevertheless, it does give me pause and I have been thinking about what I would say should I choose one or two specific things for which I’m thankful. There is one seemingly mundane thing that keeps popping into my head. My ability to type.
I can’t imagine how different my world would be if I had to use what an old girlfriend of mine called the “search and destroy” method of typing. Most people use the more pastoral term “hunt and peck”, but she spent several tours with the USO in Vietnam and her life was colored by her exposure to that war, the military, and her involvement in the movement to end it. If I were hampered by that inability, my social presence and my ability to communicate would be virtually non-existent.
I was fortunate. In Junior High School I took a typing class; instead of what I haven’t the faintest, but I recall it seeming to be the most useful option at the time. As a result, I learned to touch type. Later on, when I was in Law School, I secured a position as a legal secretary for a sole practitioner who did a lot of contract and property damage work for several of the largest car rental agencies in the country. We were very busy and my workload was challenging enough that my speed increased. I’ve never been as prolific as the best, but I was up to a little over 80 wpm, with few if any errors. That’s not quite as fast as the average person can speak, but it’s a respectable clip.
The IBM Memory Typewriter
The job turned out to be a major turning point in my life, as I was introduced to the early stages of office computing and word processing. We ended up getting an IBM Memory Typewriter, the one built on the correcting Selectric, but with a dial providing memory for 50 separate pages. We moved up shortly to an Artec Display 2000, which used two 8″ floppies and had a scrolling display of approximately 30 characters. I don’t remember if it was LED or LCD, but the characters were red. We used it for pleadings, and wills and trusts.
Back to typing speed and how critical it is to communication in today’s world. I don’t really have to imagine what it would be like, because I had an experience with a colleague that pointed it out rather clearly, though it took months for me to recognize what was happening. I was working with the Director of our newly formed Program Management Office at what was then the Rocketdyne Power & Propulsion business unit of The Boeing Company. We were at almost opposite ends of the main office building in Canoga Park and I was upstairs in what was called The Annex. The distance between his office and my cubesickle was around 400 yards; not a huge distance, but it took time to walk back and forth. Plus it meant passing through the Executive Office area and there were always distractions.
I can’t recall the exact dates, but it was very early in our use of Instant Messenger; so early that I had to point out its value, as most of the older staff (which meant all of the Executives) perceived it as only a toy their kids used to communicate with each other. I kept sending IMs to this Director, but he never answered them, nor did he respond in anything resembling a timely manner to emails, so I was forced to walk to his office repeatedly during the day.
It wasn’t until a couple of months had passed that I happened to be sitting with him in his office and he was answering an email. Watching him type . . . ever so slowly and painfully . . . made it clear why he never responded to me. He had to hunt anew for each letter and, with his two index fingers, peck them out in a long, excruciatingly difficult session. He clearly hated it. I know I was cringing as I watched. I never sent him an IM after that day.
I’m thinking the ability to type is one of those essential tools we seldom think about — perhaps take for granted — without which our world would be far less rich and fulfilling. I can type this post, tweet, post to Facebook, engage in lengthy, spirited debates with dozens of widely dispersed people, and participate in a plethora of other forms of communication or collaboration relatively easily, all because of my ability to type quickly and accurately. I imagine this is true for almost all, if not all, of my friends and acquaintances.
I recently posted a little bit about a presentation I gave entitled “The Crowd, The Cloud, and Working Out Loud”. One of the examples I’ve always given when explaining the value of working out loud (sometimes referred to as “Observable Work”) is that of eliminating monthly progress reports. Most anyone who’s had to do these knows how time-consuming they can be and how much of the information meant to be conveyed by them is lost or distorted as it moves up the corporate power structure.
The whole idea of working out loud is to make the things we’re doing more (and more immediately) visible to those who need or can use such information. In this way, less fidelity is lost in translation and useful information and knowledge are available quicker than with conventional methods, which generally take more than a month before they get filtered, rehashed, and finally communicated.
At any rate, I am currently working on a short introductory paper on the usefulness of an Earned Value Management System (EVMS) and, in doing so, I was searching through some of my old papers, etc. I came across a status report I sent to my managers at what was then called Boeing North American, Inc. – Rocketdyne Division (part of the Boeing Defense & Space Group) on October 1, 1999. Interesting, the subject is “August 1999 Status Report”, so it looks like information lagged even further behind than I have been thinking.
The sections of the report are Accomplishments, Issues, and Performance Improvements. In each of the first two sections there’s some serious stuff being addressed regarding our effort at the time to complete 10 High Pressure Fuel Turbopumps for the Space Shuttle Main Engine. I find it somewhat fascinating to read this stuff after almost 15 years have passed.
However, what really stood out for me is the final entry under Performance Improvements. As I have indicated, I’m not a big fan of status reports . . . and here’s what I had to say in that section:
Probably lots of little things. Nothing significant I can remember. Oh! I’ve started using a 7-Iron again to chip around the greens. I chipped in for a birdie on number 10 at Simi the other day. That was an improvement.
Although I have no specific recollection of writing that bit of important information, I am not surprised. Clearly, I did not take the authoring of status reports any more seriously back then than I do now. Neither should you.
Farewell, Beth. You touched a lot of lives and will be sorely missed
I posted the following on Facebook two days ago and I want to share it here as a tribute to my friend and former colleague:
I am beside myself with grief. A couple hours ago I received a message from a friend who wanted to confirm what he had heard – that our former colleague and good friend, Beth Thompson, had passed away. I started frantically contacting as many people as I could think of, all the while hoping it was just some stupid Internet screwup. It was not to be. Apparently, while preparing to leave for work this morning, Beth suffered a heart attack and passed.
Beth was one of my first friends when I joined the Program Office on the Space Shuttle Main Engine program at Rocketdyne. Her good humor and iconoclastic attitude helped me ease into the corporate world, a world I didn’t join until I was 40 years old, and was ill-suited for. Along with many others I’m proud and happy to still call good friends, Beth was family. I still have the card she picked out for me and had everyone sign when I left for what turned out to be a short stint back in my family’s business. That was about 17 or 18 years ago.
She moved up to the Seattle area with her husband, Paul, and their three children, where she continued to work for Boeing, one of several major players that passed Rocketdyne around like a financial hot potato. This is tough to digest. My kids have seen me cry for the first time in their memory. People who are younger than you aren’t supposed to die before you do. It’s just not right.
We hardly saw each other in the past few years, but we liked and commented on each other’s FB posts now and again. At least I knew she was there and I got to see a little bit of her life and happiness. That is now gone and my world is poorer for it. Goodbye, Beth. I love you and will always remember how you brightened my world and the world of so many others.
I worked for over two decades at a very large (and exceedingly ponderous) corporation. Actually, I worked at three of them without every leaving the location I originally hired in at. Although I worked at a company called Rocketdyne, it was a division of Rockwell International when I hired in. It was later sold to The Boeing Company and, in 2005 was purchased by United Technologies and became a part of its Pratt & Whitney family.
Each one of these organizations were not only capable of, but repeatedly dabbled in a level of bureaucratic numbskullery that I still find hard to fathom. I have yet to have it explained to me – at least in a way I can understand – why large for-profit organizations engage in activities that are guaranteed to hinder their ability to perform well or that cost far more than is reasonable. Frankly, I’m not sure anyone who’s directly involved in them can explain why it’s so, because I’ve never known anyone who said it was their job to slow down or squash anything . . . yet that’s exactly what happens in many instances.
The other day I watched a video shared with me and others by Euan Semple. I would link to the video, but it’s been removed by the user. I guess it was meant to just make the point for Euan mostly. Anyway, shortly after looking at it I came across a three-year-old email I had sent to a colleague. The video Euan shared was made by a student. It’s quite simple and shows how many of the social sites this college student wished to go to during the course of a day were blocked by the school’s policies. Maybe you’re thinking that isn’t such a bad thing, but I’m of the belief that people should be trusted first, as most are trustworthy. Should they betray that trust, then there might be consequences based on their situation. Spending 15 minutes on Facebook catching up with friends and family is not the same as spending an hour or two trading stocks online or visiting pornography sites. Wholesale domain blocking does not exhibit any level of trust at all and tends to alienate the majority of people who want access when they need it, but will not normally abuse the privilege.
Now to the rediscovered email. I’ll let it speak for itself. The episode which sparked it is not terribly important in my opinion, though it was important enough for me to memorialize and share it with a colleague whose mission was (and is) to steer the organization from simple-minded, one-size-fits-all policies and procedures. This is, I think, what it evidences. I hope you don’t think it too petty of me to point it out. I think this approach still dominates the thinking of the corporate world, as well as academia, as evidenced by the video Euan shared. What follows is my email.
I don’t know what to make of this. Well . . . actually, I kinda do. It’s kind of funny, yet somehow a bit infuriating. Allow me to explain. As you may or may not recall, the men’s room near my cubicle was recently finished and re-opened. One of the features they installed is those waterless urinals. I’ve only seen them once before, and each time I go in I make note of the name of the company – thinking to find them on the Internet so I can read something about the science behind them. Also, each of the urinals has a bee painted on them and I wanted to see if I could find something quickly about why (though I suspected I already knew). At any rate, I finally remembered to investigate both (after several weeks of forgetting as soon as I got back to my computer) and found what I wanted and decided to just click on Google images as well. The first picture was of a urinal with a fly – not a bee – painted in the sweet spot.
I decided to take a close look and clicked on the picture. Although I was able to see the picture, even open the full-size image, the website it was on (which appears in a lower frame in Google images) was blocked by Websense. What I find remarkable, ironic, asinine, stupid, foolish, and probably a dozen more useful adjectives is the category they chose to block it under – “Tasteless”. Tasteless!!!! Is there some sort of absolute scale on which that quality can be measured? It was probably the name, but what if the website was about caring for infants or puppies or god knows what? This I find not a little insulting. What children they think we are! Let’s not forget the further irony that I could, for all their blocking, see the image. Perhaps I should sue for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Here they made an attempt to insulate me from something as tasteless as this, and I was nevertheless forced to look at a painted fly in a vitreous porcelain urinal due to the incompetence of Information Technology and UTC Policy. I hope I recover. I hope I can sleep tonight.
There! I got it off my chest. Please realize this email was sent approximately 3 years ago, so some things (like Google’s positioning of images and their associated sites) have changed. If Euan’s friend’s example is any indication, however, other things haven’t changed at all. I don’t think this bodes well for any organization seeking to do its best work. My experience says it hinders creativity and innovation, as it blocks people from following leads and decreases whatever chances might exist for serendipity and loose ties to open up new avenues and approaches to solving problems.
Since my retirement from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in 2010, I have spend quite a bit of energy on developing work as a social media marketer for small business, a business manager for an AI software development firm, and as an editor/proofreader for a number of business books and a couple of novels, as well as a two-year return engagement at Rocketdyne from 2015 to 2017.
I have decided to stop actively pursuing business in these fields and am now positioning myself to be a writer. I have done quite a bit of writing over the years, but I’ve never really attempted to make any money at it; at least not specifically. I’m starting out with a couple of memoirs and, currently, I’m studying the craft, creating a detailed outline and timeline, and honing my skills as a storyteller. Pretty sure I’ll be writing some fiction as well.
The views expressed herein are those of the author. Any opinions regarding the value or worth of particular business processes, tools, or procedures, whether at his former place of employment, at a current client's enterprise, or in general, are his responsibility alone.