Image [cc] Alistar McDermott

Ryan McClead’s post on THE Knowledge System has made me think of the way we ask others to work, and how effective, or ineffective that process is. In watching the TEDx video, there was a different part that stood out to me as Michael Idinopulos discussed the Disembodied Work process and how most of our work is now a series of “one-off” requests rather than a structure process. Idinopulos discussed the idea of putting Wikipedia-style knowledge system in place and encouraging people to transfer their knowledge from inside their heads onto a discussion board. The process started out fine, then dwindled, then incentives were offered (iPods, champagne) to promote sharing, but as the incentives went away, so did the effort to add information into the knowledge system.

The basic problem to these types of processes are actually very simple to explain, but difficult to fix. The overall problem is that these processes are viewed as “outside the normal” flow of work. If a person has to stop what he or she is doing (practicing law, answering reference questions, responding to RFPs, etc.) and go do some data entry so that someday in the future the results will make it easier for someone else to do their job, then these processes are doomed to fail. We try to make adjustments for this outside-of-the-normal-work-pattern by giving incentives for data input (back to the iPod, champagne ideas) or, even worse, by hiring people to be data stewards to do the work for them because we simply know the person that should be adding in the knowledge, won’t do it.

Now, this brings me to a story that I heard at lunch last week with a vendor. He said he was talking with his boss about a new product launch and they wanted to define what they would consider to be a “success.” Do they look at dollars as a benchmark? Do they look at usage? Do they look at market share? All of those are pretty definable goals and easy to track. Or, do they look at ease of use? Do they look at how the product helps attorneys do their jobs better? Do they look at whether current customers tell others about how great the product is? Not as definable, but probably a better indicator of how good their product really is. At the time, we didn’t really come up with which of these questions would actually help identify what would be a success. Then he mentioned another story, and that’s when I realized what the answer should really be.

While in the UK, he mentioned that he surveyed a number of attorneys about a product and what is would take to get them to move off of that product and on to his alternative platform. One of the responses he got went something like this:

If you take this away from me, I will quit my job. I cannot effectively do my job without it.

That, my friends, is what everyone wants to hear. That is the definition of success.

Now, this answer related directly to a product, but the same concept can be applied to almost any type of process that should be included in the normal flow of how we conduct our work. Take for example, the library:

If you take the library support away from me, I will quit and go somewhere that has it. I cannot effectively do my job without the resources and support the library provides.


If you take the knowledge base that KM (or IT or __) provides to this practice, I will quit and go somewhere that has it. I cannot effectively serve my clients without it.

The key is that the product or service has become so ingrained into the normal work flow of the person, that they would be less effective without it. The PC, email, and ‘the network’ have already become success stories in the modern work flow. Can you say the same about the Client Relationship Management system? The Document Management System? The Firm Wiki? The After-Matter Review process? Probably not.

As long as those systems are viewed by the worker as processes that require them to stop doing their normal job, and input data into something that they may, or may not see any return on their investment of time and effort, then those systems will never be successful.