Knowledge Management Strategies

Large parts of my PhD thesis are based on a theory by Morten T. Hansen, Nitin Nohria, and Thomas Tierney [1]. In their article the authors analyze different consulting companies and define two basic strategies for knowledge management: The codification and the personalization. An organization has to follow one of those, the one that fits to the competitive strategy best.

Note: Most of the text from this post is directly taken from my PhD thesis. That is also the reason why this text is so long and detailed…
Sorry for that. :)
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How Scrum is like Soccer: Cross-Functional Teams

I introduced this little Christmas series the other day, explaining that I compare scrum to modern soccer. Yesterday then, I focused the efficiency in both disciplines. Today I discuss cross-functional teams.

Let’s again go back in soccer history a bit. Not as much as in the last part though. Until recently, say before the year 2000, it was quite common for every player in a soccer team to have a clearly defined task. There were not only defenders, midfielder and strikers, it was way more fine-grained. There were roles like defensive right midfielder, left winger or center forward. These roles describe the positions on a pitch, where a player would be. And players sticked to their positions, no matter what.
A player that is supposed to stand on the front left, stayed on the front left. Regardless what happens around them. They would wait there until the ball gets closer to their “area of work”.

The defensive strategies soccer run through in the last century are similarly stiff. When the tactics changed from just focusing on the ball, players first practiced a one to one coverage. Every player had their counter player from the other side on the pitch. Sometimes it looked like 10 couples running up and down the field. Not necessarily bothered by the ball.

Later, the zonal marking was introduced. Then every player had a predefined zone to watch and defend. Again, players would stick to their zones. If the ball was not penetrating it, the players just stayed in their zones, waiting. The description of work for each player was so specific, that each had a defined job to do, which limits their activities.
Obviously, that is a generalization. There were plenty of exceptions. But it is easy to see that many of these exceptions became huge stars.

Franz Beckenbauer, for example, who was a defender, but had the cheek to just leave his position and run forward with the ball. As every opponent was too busy defending their empty zones or inactive players, Beckenbauer could run across the whole pitch without being attacked.
Or take Maradona, who did not have a position at all. He was figuratively everywhere, which was against the defensive patterns of that time. That made him so difficult to defend.

The approach to imitate behavior like this, and of course trying to defend players with behavior like this, is the cradle of modern soccer. Today, the top teams of the world do not have fixed positions anymore, rather orientations for players according to their skills. But no matter whether a player is considered a winger or a striker, each of them has to defend. Just as each team member has to attack. In modern soccer, the match is played on a sub-part of the pitch, which is shifted constantly. Everyone within this sub-pitch has to defend or attack. The collective offensive pressing of Barcelona, for instance, became the key to their success.

A very specific example here is the goal keeper. Traditionally, a goalie’s job is to stand between the posts and try to keep the other team from scoring. And then Arsène Wenger bought Jens Lehman for Arsenal FC. It was the first time that a keeper’s job description contained “play football”. Lehmann being able to play passes that reach their target (which was not common for keepers in the last century) became part of Arsenal’s strategy, so they figuratively had one playing person more on the pitch than their opponents. The modern goal keeper was born.

In scrum this concept is called cross functional teams. There is no grouping into business analysts, designers, programmers, testers and what not anymore, like it used to be in traditional software development. Instead there is one team. People in the team have different backgrounds, experiences and expertise, but they are not limited to that. It is specifically required that all team members have more knowledge than just in one field. The members learn from each other, which increases the team’s skill set and allows it to be more flexible (read: agile).

Designers should be able to run the tests and the programmers should be able to analyze the business case. The idea behind that is simple, just like in modern soccer, the team and the product (ball and score) is the focus, not the individual team members. The lean term for this concept is “stop and fix”. Whenever a team member sees a problem, they have to solve it. In modern soccer this is similar, whenever a player can help defending or attacking, they have to. Each of course according to what’s best for the team. Waiting and doing nothing is usually not among the valuable options…

This concludes my little Christmas series on the comparison between scrum and soccer. I hope you enjoyed it. Now watch soccer and adopt scrum!
And have a very happy new year, of course. :)

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How Scrum is like Soccer: Efficiency

As I described yesterday, this is the second part of my little Christmas series, in which I compare scrum to modern soccer. Today I focus on the efficiency in either discipline and tomorrow I will discuss cross-functional teams.

When you want to look back in time and see how soccer was played in its beginning (say, 150 years ago) that’s easy to achieve. Just visit a game of your local kindergarten team. The squad size may vary, but there’s always one keeper and the rest of the team is chasing the ball. Like crazy. Each of the kids desperately wants to have the ball. If it wasn’t for those cute little jerseys, you could barely recognize who plays for which team. The whole match seems a tiny little bit chaotic.

And while the fight for the ball is happening on the pitch, the parents are standing outside and watch it. There are all sorts of different feelings involved, but whenever one of the children takes a break from running after the ball, for whatever reason, you can count on one of the parents yelling at them: “Move!”

Even though it is obvious that the constant ball chase is highly inefficient, parents seem to appreciate any movement higher than none.

Over the time people noticed that it was more efficient for the team, if there is one guy with a special job. Supporting the keeper. Let’s call that person a defender. The first defenders were yelled at in the stadiums of the world just as kids are today. These guys are lazy, they said. They don’t support the team, they said.
But their teams became more successful.

In fact, the teams became so much superior, that soon people thought to have another one of these defenders. And later a third one. And eventually a fourth. Also, there could be players between those that play and those that are lazy. Let’s call them midfielders.

This way the whole game became more and more defensive, which reached its peak in an Italian trademark: The catenaccio. It does not contain any offensive players at all. Even today, you still see this system every once in a while. However, the international soccer audience is very happy that it was not the final mark of the football tactics evolution.

In soccer, people realized that it is not the most efficient way to just chase the ball. Instead, it makes sense to have members of the team that are not utterly active and yet play an important role for the team. The key term here is positional play.

In traditional software project management a team member, who is not fully busy, is considered inefficient. Scrum follows a different approach. It is considered to be more important to have a team that can act as a unit and can be productive as such. Efficiency is only valued on the team as a whole and not on individuals. Just like in modern soccer, the team and the product (ball and score) is the focus, not the individual team members. Individuals are difficult to value from outsiders; plain busyness is clearly not a good measure…

Tomorrow, I will post a discussion about cross-functional teams in modern soccer and how it reflects scrum teams. Until then, enjoy your Christmas holidays.

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How Scrum is like Soccer

Recently, I became certified by the Scrum Alliance as a Scrum Product Owner. During the course, Craig Larman gave many analogies of scrum behavior to different sport disciplines, like relay races. After all, scrum is a method in rugby.

Personally, I am some kind of football-geek. The European style, of course. To avoid confusion I will call it soccer from now on. I read tons of books and articles about soccer, how it works, how it is organized and how to be successful in it. During this course I began seeing the aspects that both things have in parallel: Scrum and modern soccer.

That was the motivation to write a little series of three blog posts, in which I want to discuss the similarities of team work in each discipline. I begin briefly with a discussion of the one exception (below). Tomorrow, I will publish a post that deals with efficiency and the day after that one about cross-functional teams.

This little Christmas series covers one new post per holiday. Make sure you follow the RSS feed of this blog, so you won’t miss the first part tomorrow.

Note that I concisely focus on modern soccer, as the game changed vastly even within the last decade. However, I will explain these aspects and what I mean with modern soccer regarding the two perspectives efficiency and cross-functional teams.

One Exception

I will not try to describe a soccer match as a time boxed sprint or the score as a product. That would take it too far. Plus, I actually think that’s ridiculous. However, there’s one thing I have to consider. Despite all similarities of teams in scrum and modern soccer, there is one major exception. A significant role in soccer does not fit into the analogy at all: The manager.

On first glance, the manager can be confused with the scrum master. They provide guidelines, help with systematic issues and are not part of the team. Not necessarily at least.

But a closer look reveals that the manager compares much better to the project manager in traditional software development. This is the person that orchestrates the team from the outside and the only authority able to make decisions with a larger impact. Both, project managers and soccer team managers tell their team members what to do. They are responsible for the result and try to influence and improve the activities of the team members in order to be successful. However, they are not directly involved in the matter of interest (i.e., winning a match or developing software). Therefore, the manager of a soccer team is the one argument that contradicts my argument, that scrum is like soccer.
That is then probably, why soccer is more like fake scrum than the plain practice… ;)

Tomorrow I will discuss the efficiency in modern soccer and how it is reflected in scrum. The day after that I will then focus on cross-functional teams in either discipline.
Until then: Merry Christmas to yourself and those who are close to you.

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Scrum Product Owner

Last week I attended a course for my certification as a Scrum Product Owner, held by Craig Larman. He is very inspiring and taught us in two days the details of scrum and about the responsibilities of a product owner. The underlying concept of scrum is a high ability to learn and change, which helps to improve and provides a competitive advantage. Being agile makes changes easy and cheap.

Especially as part of the certification course Craig Larman emphasized that the product owner has to be the owner of the product. It is not acceptable in scrum to have a product owner without authority or competence regarding the product. The product owner is the business-side representative and steers the release directly. Project managers do not exist, and neither do projects. Scrum follows a long lived product culture (through product backlog and product owner) instead.

In scrum the goal is to have running software by the end of each sprint (i.e., iteration). The measure for that follows the definition of done. Each sprint should conclude with a potentially shippable product increment (PSPI), which means that by the end of each sprint the software is ready for a new release. Whether the software actually is released or not is optional, of course.

Also, scrum has two major requirements regarding the teams. First, the teams are self-organized. While the product owner defines and prioritizes the items in the product backlog, the team can autonomously choose the tasks to be realized and further, how these are realized. The product owner must not influence the team’s work. Second, the scrum team is cross-functional. The team members, though coming from different backgrounds do not have a specific job description anymore. They are potentially required to do anything necessary. The natural expertise of every team member shall be utilized by the others in order to learn and extend the own knowledge.

After those details concerning scrum, we discussed and followed some exercises regarding the ideation for innovation as well as the communication of a vision. Each of which is an important aspect of the work as a product owner.

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Knowledge Management in Software Development

Last Thursday, I successfully defended my PhD thesis [1]. My PhD studies were supervised by Peter Axel Nielsen and took part in the Research Centre for Socio-Interactive Design of the Computer Science Department of Aalborg University. The committee members that assessed my thesis were Keld Bødker, John Krogstie and Jan Stage. The defence itself consisted of a presentation of my research for 45 minutes, followed by almost two hours of examination.

As a part of the EU-founded FP7 project KiWi – Knowledge in a Wiki, my research deals with the design of a knowledge management system for a software development company, whose analysis showed a number of knowledge management problems, grouped to four problems regarding isolated islands of knowledge and three problems regarding the inadequate bridging of knowledge.

The analysis led to a distinction of two organizational layers within the case company: Management and development. Each of these layers follows a different knowledge management strategy. The management layer follows a codified strategy and the development layer a personalization strategy.

In my thesis, I propose four design ideas, regarding the distinction of the organizational layers, their connection and supporting systems for each. All four design ideas form the foundation for a prototype of a large knowledge management system, composed of three sub-systems: The KiWi Platform, a Data Exchange Agent and a Project Management Application.

This thesis presents a design study, with an analysis of a case company, the design of a knowledge management prototype, and its evaluation through the case company. I followed the action design research methodology, organized in iterations and focused not only on the IT artefact, but also its environment within the case company.

This research contributes to different aspects of the knowledge management theory, elaborating on the codification and personalization knowledge management strategy by presenting how to adapt more than one strategy in an organization. Further, he connects the knowledge management strategies to the knowledge bases and shows how specific knowledge bases have advantages in the different strategies.

[1] Karsten Jahn. »Knowledge Management in Software Development«, PhD Thesis, Department of Computer Science, Aalborg University, ISSN 1601-0590, 2012. Link

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Blind Men and an Elephant

Just recently, I learned about the story from the blind men and an elephant and was amazed at once. Apparently it is an old tale with its origins in south Asia. The goes something like this:

A group of blind men touch different body parts of an elephant; one part each. Everyone thinks of the elephant as being something different. The one touching a leg claims it was a tree. The one on the trunk calls it a snake. One on the side of the elephant thinks it was a wall. And so on.

I find this tale amazing for two reasons. First, my imagination produces the most hilarious cartoons about the discussions of blind men, scattered on and around an elephant. The second reason is that this tale describes my field of interest pretty well, even though it is actually related to the different realities that people have. Everybody has their very own island of knowledge, but in too many cases the communication between the people is simply not good. We often don’t share enough of what we know, to help each other gaining the greater picture.

It is a commonly known problem of us humans that we think others know what we want or mean. Psychologists call this the illusion of transparency. Truth is, people can always just look at ones face, not into the head. Also, we think that we’re much smarter than anyone else, really, way too often. Obviously not true.

Both, my research and experience shows that communication is usually not considered as something that creates value or might be important. Except for larger meetings, where half of the participants are bored, communication is often seen as something that does not need any further attention. This, however, is the wrong approach. Communication is necessary. Only a team that is able to communicate has the power of we.

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