Note to Self – Don’t say “Data Driven” Anymore

dataJim Harris just wrote a nice piece titled “It’s not about being Data Driven” over on his wonderful Obsessive-Compulsive Data Quality Blog.  If you don’t have Jim’s blog on your radar, you should…he does great work over there.

In this recent post, Jim writes about the difference between being ‘data-driven’ and using data to make better decisions.  Jim writes:

In the era of big data, it’s not about being data-driven—because your organization has always been data-driven. It’s about what data your organization is being driven by—and whether that data is driving your organization to make better decisions.

I’ve been guilty of writing about companies needing to be ‘data-driven’ without making the very important distinction that Jim points out there. Success doesn’t come about because a company is data-driven…success comes from what a company does with their data and how they use that data to inform their decisions.

Jim is correct that many companies have been ‘data-driven’ for years. Most businesses would argue that they’ve been data-driven since inception. Most managers love to look at data to help them make decisions but I’d argue that many managers have historically looked at data in the wrong way. They looked at data as their ‘truth’ of how their team was doing. They looked at their data as a way to understand how their business was doing.   Many managers even look at their data as a way to improve their businesses.

The push for ‘being data-driven’ today can often make many of these managers angry, and rightfully so.  These managers aren’t idiots…they know data is important. They’ve always used data.

So…let’s stop imploring these managers and companies to be data-driven and start asking them to look at the data they’re using. Are they using all the data available to them? Is the quality of their data at question? Can they point to a full lifecycle of data management for their data? Can they ensure security, quality and governance of that data?

If they can’t answer these types of questions in a positive manner, its time for them to visit their data management and data quality processes and systems. Perhaps they’ve always been a data-driven company but they may have been using bad data or maybe they’ve just been using the wrong data.

Once an organization’s data quality and management practices are understood and new processes/systems implemented (if needed), the next question has to be about how that company uses their data. Do they use it to make decisions? Do they dive deep into the data to look for new ideas and problems to solve? Or do they just use that data as a way to point to how ‘great’ their business is?

There’s different ways of being data-driven, but like Jim said…the only way to be successful at using data is to use it to make better decisions.  Your organization can be data-driven and still be very unsuccessful. Find the data and data systems that work for your business and use them to make great decisions to make your company better.

A Social Approach to Knowledge Management in Projects – A White Paper

I recently submitted a paper to be considered for an academic conference on the topic of IT Project Management.

The conference uses a double-blind review process to review papers and provide feedback.  In this double blind-review, reviewer’s aren’t provided with author(s) information and author’s aren’t provided information about the reviewers.

Good and fair process….and one that I’m about to completely tear apart today. 🙂

My submission, titled A Social Approach to Knowledge Management in Projects, was conditionally accepted for inclusion if I were to address a major concern on the part of the reviewer.

The main concern was a claim of plagiarism.

The reviewer believed that the author (me) had plagiarized a good part of the paper.  They pointed to a website that they claimed proved that the author had used content from and note cited.  That website was mine –

Plagiarism is defined as:

the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one’s own original work.

I can see where the reviewer might have thought plagiarism existed as some of the work in the paper has been previously published here on my blog.  I’m actually quite excited that someone out there found my site interesting enough to cite as the original source of something that might have then been used in a plagiarism matter.

While this could be considered a case of self-plagiarism (if you believe in such an oxymoron), it’s not plagiarism.  The conference organizer requested that I cite my own work published on this blog within my article and also rework the article to ensure that the majority of the paper was significantly different than any other paper / article I’ve written.

Because I don’t believe in ‘self-plagiarism’, and because I’m feeling a bit rebellious this morning, I’ve decided to withdraw the paper from the conference and publish it, in its entirety, as a PDF here.  You can download the full paper using the link at the bottom of this post.

In the paper, I try to look at ways to answer this question:

Can a project team use Web 2.0 / Enterprise 2.0 platforms to communicate and share knowledge during a project? Can this communication be indexed and mined to capture relevant knowledge about the project, project team members and project technologies without adding additional burden to the project team members?

Download a PDF copy of A Social Approach to Knowledge Management in Projects today


Mining for knowledge in a social word

A segment of a social network
Image via Wikipedia

Last week I published a post titled Mining for Knowledge where I discussed some of the research that I’ve been doing in my doctorate program.

One of the favorite lines from the article, and one that resonated with a few others as well. The line was:

…converting tacit (i.e., internal) knowledge to explicit (i.e., external) knowledge is one of the most difficult things to do.

I’ve been thinking about this (and reading A LOT of articles, papers and books on the subject) and have come to the conclusion that trying to force someone to convert tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge is a wasted effort.


Can I truly convert 100% of my knowledge into the written form?  Will the context of my knowledge be converted?  Perhaps a good portion of my knowledge can be converted, but can my experiences, thoughts and believes that shaped that knowledge be converted?  Can I ‘write down’ the knowledge that I have and truly make it meaningful to others?  I don’t think (feel free to disagree here).

Does that mean that an organization should stop trying to gather an individual’s internal knowledge to add to overall organizational knowledge-base?  Nope…. definitely not.

Rather than forcing a conversion from tacit to explicit (which is darn near impossible), are there ways to manage the internal knowledge of people?  Managing that knowledge is a much easier process that converting that knowledge.

Knowledge is best internalized when wrapped in context

Nonaka and Takeuchi, the godfathers of Knowledge Management, argue in their book The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation (affiliate link) that tacit knowledge can be converted into explicit knowledge only through externalization and describes this process as being one of dialogue, discussion and reflection.

Basically, they’re saying that in order to share internal knowledge, you’ve got to start a dialogue with others.  That’s why activities like storytelling, mentoring and other forms of social interaction can play a huge role in knowledge managment…they help to start and maintain dialogue and discussion on various topics.  These activities help to provide context around knowledge, which helps a person internalize that knowledge and make it their own.

In my previous article I talked about ‘mining for knowledge’. I talked about using web 2.0 platforms to capture knowledge and to share knowledge. All good stuff (and still interesting to me) but I’m looking at other methods to make these platforms more social.  Make dialog and discussion a more active portion of these tools.

If we can find ways to create dialogue and discussion within the enterprise, knowledge sharing would happen much more naturally.    This is why I like the idea of Enterprise 2.0.  While some people hate E2.0, I think there’s some real value there. Of course, E2.0 won’t solve world hunger and probably will never truly win over its detractors, there are many aspects to the idea that make sense.

What would it mean for an organization’s knowledge managements capabilities if a system could be implemented that found indexed the many disparate repositories of structured and unstructured data sources found throughout the enterprise and then provided that information in a socially aware platform that could wrap context around the indexed knowledge as well as provide a mechanism for dialogue, discussion and reflection?   You’d have a platform that could capture and share explicit and tacit knowledge.

Anyone know of any companies with products in this space?  I know SocialText is out there but I don’t think they have a platform as robust as the one above. SharePoint also has some aspects to this but not everything.

Mining for Knowledge

Mining for KnowledgeIn my doctoral research, I’ve been researching ways to improve knowledge capture and sharing methods, specifically within project teams but the ideas can be dissemenated around the organization.

One of the biggest issues I’ve found while working as a consultant is the amount of knowledge that I walk away with after a project is complete.  Sure, I try to share this knowledge in every way possible but converting tacit (i.e., internal) knowledge to explicit (i.e., external) knowledge is one of the most difficult things to do.

Let’s assume though, that some portion of the knowledge that I hold in my head is converted into some form of writing at various periods throughout a consulting project.  Where does that explicit knowledge live?  In an email?  In some document stored on a server?  In a knowledge repository somewhere?

In the past, this problem has been attacked using centralized knowledge repository platforms.  These systems require users to log in and ‘enter’ their knowledge into the system.  Many of these platforms have been well built and some have been successfully used in organizations, but the success stories are far outweighed by the stories of KM repositories sitting idle and unused.

So…how can we get that tidbit of knowledge from my brain into some form of knowledge repository without me logging in and ‘entering’ it into the system?

Web 2.0 as knowledge repository

The use of Web 2.0 tools (blogs, IM, wikis, etc) has become ubiquitous..  If incorporated into a project environment, these tools might allow an easy and efficient method for capturing and sharing knowledge throughout project teams and project organizations.

The key to retrieving knowledge from tools is to make the user experience as seamless as possible. For example, an employee creates a blog on an organization’s intranet and then uses this blog to write different topics, some that pertain to her project and some that don’t.

Perhaps this employee is participating in two projects within the organization and she writes about topics that might be of interest to a portion of the organization and project team members.  While she writes about interesting topics and at times, writes about her experiences on the projects that she’s worked on, perhaps her blog posts aren’t widely read.  This employee has attempted to convert a portion of her tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge but few people on the project team or within the organization find this knowledge because its tucked away in the intranet site (which is rarely used anyway).

In the above scenario, knowledge was converted from tacit to explicit but few people are able to absorb this knowledge and make it their own (i.e., perform the conversion from explicit to tacit knowledge).  What would happen if this knowledge were indexed, searched and shared with the rest of the project team in something akin to a project knowledge ‘journal’?

Since Web 2.0 platforms are ubiqutious, why can’t we use these tools as our knowledge repository?  Employees and project team members are already using them…so can we find a way to ‘mine’ these platforms for knowledge?

Could a system be built that ‘mines’ these web 2.0 platforms along with other unstructured data (documents, email, etc) to ‘build’ a knowledge repository available to the entire organization?

Mining for Knowledge

I’m currently looking at ways to use text mining methods and techniques to mine for knowledge. Text mining looks to be a good approach to solving this problem because it allows for knowledge to be gathered without additional work by project team members.

There are other approaches that could be used for gathering knowledge from project team members, but all require additional work to input information.  For example, a project team using a manual approach could ask team members to regularly update their blog and to ‘tag’ their posts with a special project tag or keyword so that a non-intelligent aggregation system (RSS, etc) could simply pull these tagged posts into a central repository.  While this is a good approach, it relies on the end-user to tag their content correctly, accurately and in a timely manner.  Tagging, and other categorization and taxonomic approaches, require the user to do something to allow their knowledge contribution to be categorized, indexed and found by aggregation systems and other users.

Using text-mining methods against pre-existing tools and platforms takes away the human fallibility issues found in current knowledge management repository platforms or by requiring a user to ‘tag’ a piece of content correctly as described above.

Using text-mining and other data mining approaches, I’m looking at ways to build semi-autonomous systems to index and organize both structured data and unstructured data pulled from blogs, email, IM, social networks, documents, spreadsheets and any other location / data sources. This system could aggregate knowledge found via text mining and social network analysis and build a project knowledge ‘repository’ that will contain all knowledge for any specific project. This repository will be searchable and will contain both manually curated content (e.g., content uploaded by project team members) and automatically curated / generated content based on text-mining and indexing techniques.

There are some major privacy issues here of course. How can you mine a users email and find the relevant knowledge without truly invading their privacy?  Not sure you can but I’m looking at it.

Trust & Mined Knowledge

One key element of this new inter-connected world that we live in is trust.   How can I trust that the information I read on a web page is worthwhile, honest and accurate?   If I want to know something about organizational behavior do I read go read a Wikipedia article on the subject or do I go look through the Harvard Business School’s Organizational Behavior faculty pages and find publications written by the faculty there?

Which of these two sources of knowledge would you trust to be more accurate?

The same can be said of knowledge captured and shared within an organization. How do you know that the white paper on your new API is true?  Is it because it was released? Is it because of the author(s) of the paper?   What if you had a knowledge-base generated by an autonomous agent using text-mining techniques…how would you know to trust the information contained in it?  Who wrote the content?  Were did it come from?

This is where trust comes into play. If you could ‘see’ the qualifications of the author or authors of the knowledge base articles would you trust the content more?  If I knew that the worlds leading authority on organizational behavior wrote the Wikipedia article on the subject, I’d tend to trust that article more.

This is another aspect of my research…building trust into the mined knowledge using social network analysis (SNA) methods & techniques.  Using SNA techniques, can the background, profiles, connections and knowledge of the users within an organization be automatically (or semi-automatically) generated to provide some form for initial trust metric to show that mined knowledge can be trusted?

I don’t know if it can…but I’m looking into it 🙂

Next Steps?

So what are the next steps for me and this research?

I’m working on a research paper now that I hope will outline the research in more detail.

Lots of questions still exist and there is quite a bit of research left to do.  I do believe I’m headed in the right direction as evidenced by an HBR video & Blog tilted How Knowledge Management Is Moving Away From the Repository as Goal which discusses a similar topic.

Look for more on this topic from me in the coming months.

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The importance of story

Stories and StorytellingI love a good story.

I love to read a good story and I love to create stories…although they may not always be “good.:)

In fact, I love a good story so much that I’m researching the topic of stories and storytelling as a mechanism for knowledge capture & transfer within project teams.  See a presentation I did on that subject here -> Stories, Projects & Knowledge Management.’s another article of mine on Using Stories to Share Knowledge.

Stories have a ton of good qualities. They help set context.  They help share values and beliefs.   There are lots of good things about stories.

But the most important is one that we often overlook.  It’s the importance of YOUR story to your life.

Chris Brogan pointed me toward Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (affiliate link) a few months ago.

Chris recently said the following about Miller’s book: “It’s about the importance of living your life as if you’re the main character in an important story.

He hit it spot on.  This is a wonderful book.  Not only did it make me laugh, it made me think long and hard about MY story.  And about YOUR story too.

What’s my story?

I used to think that my story was one of small town farmboy who makes a name for himself in the big city.  I was going to work hard and climb the corporate ladder and become the CEO of a large organization one day.

But…as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that my story is changing.

I no longer want anything to do with being employed by a large organization. I’d rather be a part of  small group of people doing something fun and important.

My story has evolved and I’m evolving with it.  I’m longer interested in the office politics that some people play. I’m more interested in finding that smart group of people who want to do something fun and challenging.  Those folks that see that things CAN be different.

My story has evolved from one of perpetuating the ‘sameness’ that is corporate America to one that of wanting to be a part of (and perhaps starting) a small business.

My story includes me working hard and playing hard.   It includes my wife and I spending more quality time together traveling and actually engaging in our passion of photography rather than wishing we could.

My story isn’t the classic American Story, but I think its one that will become the neo-classical American Story.

I think people are getting fed-up with the large, bureaucratic environment found in most large busiensses. Those businesses that look at the numbers before they look at the people.

That said, my story is my story and I’m living it as though I’m the lead character.  My story is one of hundreds of millions in this country, but its an important one to me.

What’s your story?

I look out at the people I interact with on a regular basis and realize that, for the most part, I don’t really know their story.

I have almost 1400 followers on twitter but i really only know less than 20 of them. On Facebook, I’ve kept my friends to those that I know fairly well but there are still folks who I don’t really know what well.

This blog receives about 6000 visitors a month and has ~1800 RSS subscribers but I don’t know the story of every one of these visitors or subscribers.

Of course, there’s no way for me to know everyone, but I do get curious about what drives people to my site and why they decide to come back (or subscribe).

I’m always interested in hearing your story so drop a line and let me know what you are working on and/or where I can learn more about you.

The Importance of Story

As I’ve said, story is important.   Not only does your story help define who you are, it helps define were you’ll go.

Based on this post and the little bit of background I’ve provided, can you tell where I’m headed in life?  Do you know the next chapter in my story?

Do you know they next chapter in your own story?  Are you writing your own story or letting someone else?

Me – I prefer to write my own…and hope to continue doing for the rest of my life.

BTW – if you DO know the next chapter of my story, don’t tell me 🙂

Knowledge Management In Projects – An Overview

I’m continuing my research into Knowledge Management practices and principles within the project world.   Currently still in literature review mode and hope to have the majority of this review done by mid-year. I put together a presentation on what I’ve learned so far…hope you enjoy it.

In this presentation I talk about the need for knowledge management in projects and methods for sharing different types of knowledge.

I’ve embedded the video below from vimeo (jump over and watch it on vimeo) and uploaded a slidedeck to for your review. I’ve also provided a PDF version for your review.


Knowledge Management In Projects from Eric D Brown on Vimeo.

A review of current research and literature covering knowledge management methods and practices in projects

A review of current research and literature covering knowledge management methods and practices in projects

If you liked this one, you might like my other presentation titled “Stories, Projects & Knowledge Management

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