Saturday, February 03, 2007

Book review: Siemens Best Practises

For once a review of a book I'm not recommending.  In fact I found Knowledge Management Case Book: Siemens Best Practises quite disappointing.  Not what I hoped for at all.


I bought this book for two reasons.  First knowledge management (KM for short) is so often a soft and vague kind of subject.  What exactly do you do when you are a knowledge manager?  Just saying "what do you do?" usually leads to the question "what is knowledge management?" and "how does knowledge benefit us?".  So I thought a book of case studies would shed some light on it.


Second Siemens were (are) one of the moving forces behind the European patterns movement
and several pattern people I know are Siemens employees.  So I looked forward to learning about how Siemens saw patterns.


Unfortunately I was disappointed on all counts and I'm giving up on the book after only 3 or chapters.
The chapter on best practise sharing starts well, for a start it acknowledges that defining what is best practise is hard.  How do you know you’ve found best practice? Who decides what is best? Does knowing the best stop you looking for better? 


From a good start the chapter goes down hill.  Although the chapter says it describes a "market place for best practise" I never found out what the market place was.  Did money change hands?  Did they all get together and shout?  In short the big idea was talked about but never revealed.  Instead there was a lot of small detail - a re-occurring theme.


What was interesting in this chapter was the route they used to document the "best practice."  There was a lot of overlap with the way patterns get written.  However no mention was made of patterns in this chapter or elsewhere in the book.


One chapter describes how Siemens created a knowledge management programme to train their managers in knowledge management. Again the chapter is heavy on detail but doesn't describe anything other than a online learning programme.  Yes managers came together for some classes, and they did some work on line but that's about it.  Nothing special about KM really, a staff development programme really.


Another chapter described how the company gave training to its managers.  Again I failed to see the KM connection.  It was an example of the application of knowledge but I didn't get any great new ideas from it.  Training managers is good, and yes it transfers knowledge but it felt this chapter was more about management development than KM.


I was disappointed that no mention at all was made of patterns or any of the people I know.  Perhaps Siemens is so over flowing with KM that patterns are a tiny part.  I just can't believe this.  I think the book missed something very important. 


Neither did the book escape the "what is knowledge management" and "why is knowledge good for business" questions.  Like so many knowledge management books this one spends too much time on these questions rather than just getting on with it.  With the added twist that everyone congratulations Siemens on being such a good KM company.


So I'm not recommending this book.  Sorry Siemens, I know you take KM seriously but this too much of a corporate book heavy on detail to recommend.