Making Knowledge Work Visible

Source: HBR, Feb 2013

By definition, knowledge work goes on inside an employee’s head. This makes it difficult to supervise and to intervene if an employee needs help producing his output (deliverable/report/decision). If an employee is off track, he can consume a lot of organizational resources without the manager even being aware.

A productive working environment requires the inputs and outputs (right cart and left cart) to be visible.

That means knowing what the input is. At an individual level, we often think of it as hours spent on a task or project. However, this is only one input, and often not the best one.

How many analyses were required to complete that market segmentation report? How many times did the cross-functional team have to meet to reach a decision? What type of competitor analysis are you doing in order to evaluate that market? A system that makes all these inputs visible to management will enable better decisions.

Equally, all too often, individual outputs are only visible to the contributors at the very end of the production with little to no time for others to reflect, intervene, teach, and challenge. Maybe it takes you six hours to write that report, but it only takes your colleague two. Unless that becomes visible to you, you’ll never know there’s a more efficient way to get it done.

Making the work output visible to all workers involved allows them to contribute by providing insight, identifying short cuts, including innovations and adding suggestions from their diverse experiences and background.

At a collective level, knowledge work is often interconnected: one knowledge worker’s output is another knowledge worker’s input, so transparency benefits the process of knowledge work as a whole.

 If knowledge workers and their managers can “see” the work, they are more likely to contribute additional value beyond the narrow task that they are assigned.

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