Knowledge Management

Case Study #1 Buckman Labatories

W. E. Fulmer, “Buckman Laboratories” Harvard Business School Case Study 9-800-160. October 1, 1999.

Did Bob Create a Knowledge Processing Strategy to Match His Business Goals?

Bob Buckman did create a knowledge processing strategy to match his business goals. Bob realized that he was not selling chemicals; he was selling people and their problem solving expertise. Customer relationship management, the building and maintaining of customer relationships, was his main driving force. His organization ran intelligently because he invested in his human capital. He crossed the line of the traditional organizational structure by giving more power and responsibility to the people. The lines of the chains of command were distorted in order to create a more dynamic environment. Now, all employees could share their knowledge across the organization versus sending it down the branches of management. This innovative move saved time and money by getting the message straight on the table versus waiting for the information to flow down the levels of management. To motivate his employees to participate – Buckman gave out incentives for valuable knowledge sharing efforts.

Bob did more than just give more power to the people. Goals were set beyond the initial knowledge sharing efforts. Buckman Labatories set sight on their goals and successfully conquered them. There were aggressive efforts to increase the sales force and the sales of products less than five years old. The initial goal of 25% of employees being in the sales force was greatly surpassed when it reached 65% in 1992. By the company adapting a 3M initiative to increase sales of products less than five years old, sales rose from an initial 14% to 33% with the implementation of K’Netix.

What Did Bob Do to Fill the Knowledge Gaps?

Bob wanted more than just a multinational language; he envisioned a global corporation. The initial efforts for the company’s code of ethics exemplified Buckman’s strong emphasis on efficient and effective knowledge sharing throughout the world. To unify corporation, a foundation had to be built to bring the parts together as a whole. There was a strong need for the organizational culture to be universal. The first line in the Mission Statement sums it up best –

“Because we are separated – by many miles, by diversity of cultures and language – we at Buckman need a clear understanding of the basic principles by which we will operate our company."

The most crucial gaps in this customer-driven company were the knowledge sharing limitations due to real time and real place. At that point, the knowledge transmission process was costly and inefficient. Buckman realized his company’s weakness, which in turn, was the driving motivation behind a new knowledge transfer system. The system would be the key to getting the organization up to speed with its markets, products, and services. It would reduce the number of transmissions of knowledge to one, give everyone in the company access to the knowledge base, and allow each individual to contribute 24 hours / 7 days a week. In 1992, K’Netix was born and the Knowledge Transfer Department was developed to maintain this system..

What Kinds of Knowledge was Bob Interested in ‘Managing’?

Bob was interested in the conversion of tacit knowledge (sales force interactions with customers, company’s operations) to explicit knowledge (centralized depository where information is shared). K’Netix had been his answer for implementing this conversion. It had been created as easy to use as possible with around 80% of the workforce not having any technical background. This change was not initially accepted throughout the organization. In the beginning, the employees were not willing to trust this new system. The information being shared across the individuals, groups, and the organization brought need for a new management approach. The system was a significant change in culture – the employees had to embrace K’Netix for it to work. Once adapted, it did significantly foster the spread of knowledge across Buckman Labatories.

Which Components of the Knowledge Life Cycle Do You See in Bob’s Attempt to Reform the Company?

Bob’s Knowledge Management movement covered almost all of the phases of the Knowledge Life Cycle. K’Netix was a real time knowledge production and knowledge validation environment in itself. Employees at all levels could formulate new organizational knowledge claims and review their peers’ claims. Sysops, the monitoring service for K’Netix, was hired for both the knowledge validation and the information acquisition phased. They censored the efficiency and effectiveness of the information being posted. They provided the most input for what organizational knowledge claims would move to the knowledge integration phase. The individual and group learning phase came during the development of the Learning Center.

Was the Buckman Labs Knowledge Management Effort a Success?

Buckman Labs knowledge management effort was a success. Every goal Bob set was accomplished. Every obstacle he encountered was addressed and ignited him to continuously improve his organization. He was relentless in his knowledge management efforts and although the results can not be accurately measured – great tangible results came from these efforts.

K’Netix was created and successfully adapted. His sales force increased far past his original goal. The sale of products less than five years old surpassed his original vision. Buckman Labs became an intelligently ran organization that valued its knowledge assets – information technology and human capital alike.

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Case Study #2 Boehm and Farrell

Barry Boehm, Alex Egyed, Julie Kwan, and Ray Madachy, "Developing Multimedia Applications with the WinWin Spiral Model", pp. 20-39 in Proceedings of the Sixth European Software Engineering Conference.

Maureen Farrell, "How The Internet Saved Literacy", Forbes.com November 30, 2006.

What Kinds of Learning Do You See in Knowledge Management?

Both cases, Boehm’s and Farrell’s, are excellent examples of situational learning. The students individually and in groups experience are learning while doing. Adaptive learning, the freedom for creative thinking and problem solving, is demonstrated in this classroom assignment. The students from both disciplines, engineering and humanities, are being given the opportunity to interactively participate in a real work situation.

Whether or not, they have a defined role or they are creating their own role, they are engaging in true representations of everyday life in the workforce. In both courses, the students partook in self-study and group learning. While working in their defined roles (humanities students had a greater degree of flexibility than the engineering students), they had to learn on their own and communicate their findings to the group. While group learning (humanities students as a class and engineering students working in a team), their interactions were fully evaluated. The most criticism from the students came from the risk of forming teams with personality-conflicts and critical-skill shortfalls. Despite their concern, when it comes to working in a real office – there will be nothing that you can do. The opportunity to choose who you work with on a project is unheard.

Both professors have laid the ground work for building a learning environment which has been developed to measure their success in challenges they will eventually face outside of school. In both predicaments, technical literacy is presumed as a prerequisite of performing well. Teams with members lacking in this department had to adapt to this disadvantage.

Why Do You Think the Instructors Used These Methods?

Boehm and Farrell wanted to expand their students’ horizons by pushing them into an unfamiliar territory of coursework. Rather than focusing on theoretical knowledge throughout the entire semester, they gave them an applied knowledge assignment. They had a reasonable enough time span to work through a scenario similar to what they will be doing after college. Rather than have them open up a book, they want them to apply their book knowledge to the closest controlled simulation that they could create.

My friend, a student at Cleveland State University, is actually involved in a project like the one in the engineering case study. As a Software Engineering major, his project is to create an application with the full business plan to present to the class. The similarity with these cases is that the whole entire process will be virtual without any face-to-face interaction. The need to adapt to our knowledge economy is presenting itself within our studies now. We are being prepared to survive in this environment.

Why Do You Think Engineers Might Need to Learn Differently Today Than They Did 20 Years Ago?

Engineers have to learn more communication and technical skills than they had in previous years. Entire organizations are expecting higher technical literacy and stronger person skills. They have to adapt to the technology users’ needs. To understand the user, they have to be aware of their non-technical audience and co-workers to clearly transfer their knowledge.

Dynamic work environments today call for greater interaction and defined roles are not as clear as they once were. Engineers are expected to have a working knowledge of not only their tasks, but of the business practices and communication technologies within the company.

Why Do You Think Humanities Students Might Need to Learn Differently Today Than They Did 20 Years Ago?

After the emergence of all new technologies, humanities students are expected to have more technical skills than ever before. In an information society, all knowledge is spread through technology – no matter what career path you choose. Humanities students have more freedom in creative expression through the interactivity of websites. This software gives students the opportunity to dive deeper into their imagination while receiving feedback from their peers.

How Do You Think These Students' Learning Experiences Were Influenced by These Methods?

Their learning experiences were improved much more through these real life exercises than they would through theory. Despite the new obstacles to be overcome with different technologies, they were able to develop their literacy of these new applications. They were given a realistic preview of the new workplace, the chance to simulate the planning stages, and face the challenges of a diverse work environment. These projects are the most effective and will prepare the students with the best learning experience to face their future.

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Case Study #3 Google

Thomas R. Eisenmann and Kerry Herman, Google, Inc. Harvard Business School Case Study 9-806-105, November 9, 2006.

Existing Organizational Culture

The story of how Brin and Page, as Stanford Graduate students, created the PageRank algorithm is a secondary embedding mechanism. These leaders shaped Google’s organizational culture in the Start-up stage of the lifecycle. The organizational structure – no middle management – has helped the company maintain its culture by preventing any outside influences from coming in. Google has always had a unique personality since its roots.

“The company’s founders are, upon first impression, strikingly similar to the persona that Google projected during (its) early years – aloof, super smart, dismissive of unsolicited advice. They are…first and foremost engineers.”

The company has a strong engineering culture. Regardless of this foundation, the owners have to focus on being business men versus their backgrounds. The leaders’ emphasis on protecting themselves financially in the long term has also aided in shaping their current culture. How the leaders protect themselves is a primary embedding mechanism. They gave themselves immunity from replacement by disgruntled investors who might second-guess the company’s strategy.

“We are creating a corporate structure that is designed for stability over long time horizons.”

Here are several basic assumptions that sum up the company’s culture. They have become espoused values at Google:

  • Don’t be evil.
  • Technology matters.
  • We make our own rules.

How the Organizational Culture Influences Knowledge Sharing and Innovation

At Google, all employees are given 20% of their time to work on their own individual projects. The employees are recognized as highly valuable individuals and the trust within the organization is high enough for them to be allotted this liberty. Knowledge and innovation are highly admired within the company. Engineers and their competitive nature excel in this environment where they can see their efforts pay off.

Google has a highly adaptive culture which promotes trust between workers, encourages them to think innovatively, and does not discourage taking risks. The company lacks middle management which brings the co-workers closer to their leaders – permitting a more dynamic work environment. Information exchange is fostered through Friday meetings set in an open forum. The reduction in levels of authority, the freedom for creativity, and the individualistic environment encourage the free flow of knowledge within Google.

How Changing Business Would Affect the Organizational Culture

If the original leaders’ goals were to change for the company, the adaptive culture might get lost in the mix. Yet, they have survived the constant changes in technology for the past decade without creating any upheaval in their culture. My biggest fear would be bringing in middle management. I fear this would be the greatest hit to the existing organizational culture. New leaders with new ideas could come between the original leaders and their followers. Google might lose direction if it does not choose any new leaders wisely.

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© 2021 Gabrielle Bhagwat-Zwilling
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