Knowledge Management in Special Operations
After 10 years supporting Special Operations Forces (SOF) in Europe and many interactions with special operators both domestic and foreign, I quickly learned they had little time to understand process improvement methodologies and techniques like Lean Six Sigma, Kaizen and Total Quality Management (TQM). I looked at those methodologies and techniques as tools in the Knowledge Management (KM) toolbox. Customers just wanted their problems solved.
If you didn’t solve their problem or make them more efficient, you were wasting their time.
KM at its core is People, Process and Technology. Even as a former software engineer, for me, KM has always focused on the process before technology. At United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), our KM team’s most challenging role is that of the knowledge engineer. They are the jack of all trades; a bureaucratic hacker who can manage a project, improve a business process, act as an agile scrum product owner and scope out a requirement in the form of a project charter. As a software engineer, there's nothing worse than developing a solution that you’re proud of, only to have it fizzle out in a year because it didn’t meet user requirements.
We put all the risk of failure in process and knowledge engineering.
If we make the user more efficient without the need for web development, great! If we turn over a few stones and discover a project requiring web development, we also can make an impact. If the deliverable is a project charter that articulates a problem, the background, stakeholder requirements and recommended course of actions (COAs) and the end result is great analysis work but no web development, our knowledge engineers have done their job well.
We treat our requirement owners as stakeholders rather than customers. The distinction is that we determine the requirements based on stakeholder input. We then combine and tweak those requirements to address other related organizational needs and ultimately own the requirement ourselves and act as the customer.
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From well-defined requirements in knowledge engineering to web development that not only meets requirements but also address user experience, organizational change occurs organically
When a project charter is approved and the selected COA involves web development, our knowledge engineers break down the agreed-upon requirements into digestible tasks for our developers. As an Agile web development team, we track our tasks in Jira, an issue-tracking system. Through customer engagement, we determine what tasks are part of a minimum viable product (MVP). The MVP decreases the risk of failure by giving the customers the most important features as quickly as possible. It then allows for our User Experience (UX) specialist to gather critical feedback on the app for future enhancements or features.
We kickoff web development with a scrum meeting. During the meeting the knowledge engineer runs down the list of prioritized tasks. Developers take ownership and assign story points to each tasks. Story points reflect the overall level of effort to completea task. We load up each developer with enough story points to cover a two-week sprint. During the sprint we execute a quick morning standup to state what we did in the last 24 hours, next 24 and to identify any impediments.
Some organizations focus on organizational culture (people) first. You can’t change people's perception of KM just by talking, you need to execute. From well-defined requirements in knowledge engineering to web development that not only meets requirements but also address user experience, organizational change occurs organically.
With no military or SOF background, I have deployed to military exercises in Poland, Lithuania, Romania, Israel, etc. I went from assisting members of the Joint Operating Center (JOC) with routine information-management issues to rethinking how we track missions across the world. The end result was a quick-to-deploy application used for collaboration and mission tracking during contingency operations, affectionately known as the “JOC in a box”.
A person with no SOF or military experience was invited and welcomed by our mission partners to their countries for exercises and visits is the same reason a green beret Major walked by my office to say hi, threw up his fist and in a serious tone said “PPT” (people, process and technology). We stopped trying to define KM and started doing it. My team and I are relentless pursuers of positive disruption.