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October 09, 2013

An alumni's view of MBE

I post this reflection on his time in MBE with permission from the author. If you have any comments or questions that arise after reading this piece, please ask them here and I will respond.

Hello everyone,

My name is Jan from Germany and I am a former student of the WMG at the University of Warwick in 2010/2011.

I am writing this reflection more than one and a half years after I finished my studies in Management for Business Excellence (MBE). I am still in contact with several people of WMG, especially Paul Roberts (Course Leader) and one of his doctoral students. My reason for keeping the contact is that I am convinced that WMG and especially Paul are doing a great job and staying in contact with academics always gives you new input.

This continuing contact actually gave me the motivation to write this blog. I think, and Paul agrees, that it is important to know what you can do with this degree—what is the benefit of MBE. After my studies I got in contact with some people and they asked what was the biggest benefit, what kind of job did I get afterwards, etc. Indeed these are very important questions and so I decided to write a few lines with the aim to share my experiences and thoughts regarding this topic.

I am aiming to support this course and its underlying philosophy, so that finally people have more motivation to decide on this course and to give them more belief in what they are doing during this one year of studying MBE.

Just to summarize it in advance—it was the most mind-opening year that I’ve ever had and it was worth every minute. In my opinion, every job on this world would benefit from these experiences and the conveyed message. So let's have a look at it in more detail:

First of all I should mention that directly after my studies I got employed by a big German company. For 20 months now, I have been working as a project engineer. Even though it is a technically-oriented job and on the first sight it doesn’t have that much to do with MBE, it is a challenging position and MBE steps in every day.

One thing that should be born in mind is, that most of the times you won’t enter a company and be the boss. There are competencies and experiences that must be gained. It is hard to manage and lead if you have no idea how a company works, how people behave and how the work is carried out. Besides getting the respect you need when you come directly from university, respect is easier to get if people see that you have a clue what you are talking about.

However, let me tell you a bit about my business life: I am responsible for a production site that produces a component for automobile paint. It is a chemical process that I didn't know much about. But actually that was not important for me because I do the engineering for this site, and this goes in the direction of what I knew from my previous studies. But being honest, I must admit that my technical knowledge is very basic and I had no clue about the technical component of my job at the beginning. In addition, and mostly forgotten: you work in a company, there are procedures, rules, responsibilities, actually it is real life and not comparable with the university life, even though university tries quite successfully to come close to it.

So at the beginning I had to deal with two main totally new areas. This is why I was also happy about not getting a management position right from the beginning. Even though I see myself capable of doing such a job (this applies to everyone from MBE), I would have been overloaded. Having responsibility for others right from scratch would have been a third main area, probably too much to make for me to be good at my job from the start. Besides without work experience I think it is hard to get the acceptance of your colleagues. It may work out but it would be tough.

But why is this course so beneficial for professional life afterwards?

On the one hand you have the concept of the course and on the other hand the content of the modules and the masters’ thesis.

With regard to the mentioned two main new knowledge areas I would like to kick off with the first one:

The concept, the idea behind MBE and its organization already forms one major benefit. It is about learning how to learn. And this, as simple as it is, is a great and future-building competence, which will help you in every situation. Previously, I studied in Germany, sitting in a class with hundreds of other students and listening to one professor, making notes and I finally proved in a final test that I am capable of learning something by heart. But the real world is different. You do not sit in an office in the basement; alone, no colleagues around you, no computer and you have to write from memory something on paper that you have learned quite a while ago. You do have experienced colleagues; you do have Internet, books, documentation, etc. Finally, your task is to take this basic knowledge and apply it to a new situation, task, project, whatsoever. Otherwise you would need ages for a little task. And this is what the course work but even more the PMAs are about. Like in real life, identify your aim and solve your task with existing knowledge that is available in various sources, while enriching it with your own thoughts and thus developing the solution. Getting used to this and seeing it as normal way to obtain knowledge, becoming confident to work in unfamiliar areas, is of great benefit.

I am quite certain that during your masters’ you will find yourself concerned about time at some point or even frequently. The pressure is high, you have PMAs, you have the dissertation, modules and the time will come when you want to apply for jobs. So it might seem that there is no time for fun and the workload is not manageable. But it is, thousands of people have proven it and it brings its own benefits. At the end of my year, indeed all concentration was on the thesis and the last PMAs, the weekly and daily workload was massive. To be honest, most of the stress was made by myself: how often did I postpone something or wasn't really working when my timetable actually said: Study. But from time to time you learn to cope with it. And this pays back in professional life. In my job it is normal to have about 15-20 projects at the same time. Some are smaller and actually no big deal, but some are quite comprehensive and you have due dates. So it is about keeping every ball in the air. Actually like during the masters’ and specifically when there are the mini projects, if I got it right in mind it was about 5. Having gone through these lessons the job that I am in now was nothing new. It was different, and it was serious, but I had my patterns from the studies at Warwick that I adapted. Of course a university won't be able to mirror professional life for a 100% but WMG has done a great job. Compared to other colleagues who started working at the same time as me, I saw myself more comfortable with the given new situation and all the side effects. It was just like a new module. Besides, all that I have written in this paragraph is also true for diverse Assessment Centers. I have gone through three and the hardest part was nothing other than course work.

So what about content of these studies? Well it also depends on how you understand them and how you apply them to your professional life. Let's take the Six Sigma modules. I wouldn't expect to go into a company and start implementing Six Sigma and optimize processes and products. Nonetheless, you have the idea of DMAIC in mind and this already is worth a lot. You know something different than others do and thus can push, e.g. a project group in the direction to try it. Thinking this further leads you to other modules like Leadership. How do I lead people towards a new initiative, how can I influence? You might not be the boss but you can lead and show the aim, the vision. Ok, that might happen in a smaller circle of influence than when you have learnt it, but it is a beginning and it is a great opportunity to try out several approaches. And this is what I meant about your own understanding and usage of the content. If you keep it in mind you can work with it and try out what works for you. Apart from leadership, change management is vital to implement something new in a sustainable way. Understand why people do not want to change and indeed cope with it. I don’t know if you are surprised to hear that, but I see that as the biggest challenge in a business and there are only a few people out there that are good at it. I am not saying that you are an expert in each of these fields, modules, and this is not the aim, but you definitely have a basic toolbox you can work with. The rest comes from experience and further education.

Let me give you a real life example: I started together with 6 other people in the same department; it was decided to form a newcomer group that was supposed to work on an undefined project. So it was up to us to define it. With everyone having a different background and position we ended up working on something that was concerned with the entrance of new employees. How do they get known to the company, where can they find answers to explicit questions and how could they gain technical knowledge and expertise? After a while the question came up on how knowledge in general was transferred. Therefore, I suggested calling the project knowledge management. That enabled me to contribute the knowledge I gained during MBE, and finally I ended up as the elected leader for a group of 12 people. Following the basic knowledge about change management proved to be absolutely valuable in order to persuade the older colleagues that our project is a positive thing and everyone could benefit from it. Although my experience was mostly theoretical, the knowledge about leadership allowed me to try out several things and finally find my way to lead the team to a successful project completion. In the end the project benefited from 3 WMG modules and my thesis, which I think is a good result.

The Masters’ thesis is a good opportunity to get deeper into a topic. There you really start becoming an expert in this field of knowledge and this is why you can apply it even better to your future job. So choose it wisely ;)

What more is to say? I know Deming is a big topic in MBE and this is a must. When you start working you quickly see Deming with his deadly diseases and 14 points of management everywhere. It is incredible to see that it looks like nothing has really changed for nearly 30 years now. During the studies I always thought: This is common sense, of course you are not doing it like this, you are doing it the other way; you are a nice guy and act like a human being. Who the hell behaves like that described by the seven deadly diseases? Therefore, I was shocked entering the business world and I can feel that it is of great importance to keep the words of this wise man in mind! It hopefully prevents you becoming and a****. In business it works differently, it is not a safe environment and it is vital to get grounded and remember what you have learnt.

In my eyes business ethics is a vital component of professional life and MBE provides the right direction. Paul once said that for him it was important to have his own values, set up his own mindset and stick to them. Although I am not in a leading position, this proved to be great advice and good support for decision-making. It doesn’t let you doubt. An example: should I go to my boss and tell him what I think? Sure, no excuse! I promised myself to always be open and honest as well as having my say. So I went there and in the end it was the right decision.

I am convinced that I actually could write some more pages, but I think this gives you a first insight on how you can benefit from the MBE course. But again it really depends on how you approach the course and use the given input for your benefit. It is not just about taking; it is also about developing it continuously.

If you have got any questions regarding MBE, etc. just drop me an email:


Finally I want to wish you all good luck with your studies but never forget:

Have fun and enjoy your life.


October 08, 2012

Welcome to MBE 2012

A warm welcome to everyone in the new Management for Business Excellence (MBE) intake--32 students of 14 nationalities. Today saw the start of the Creating Business Excellence module, the first of six MBE-specific modules. Everyone was engaged and lots of questions were asked in the introductory sessions. So, a good start for what promises to be a challenging year. I look forward to working with you.

October 22, 2010

Angry and ashamed

On Wednesday 20 October a student on the Management for Business Excellence masters was attacked by thugs on his return to his accommodation in Coventry after a day studying on campus. He was severely injured and had to go to hospital.

Words cannot adequately express the anger that I feel about a situation in which a supposedly civilised country spawns mindless thugs who prey on young people motivated to extend their education. An unprovoked attack by cowardly bullies against a foreign national fills me with shame. I have travelled throughout Europe, South-East Asia, North America, Africa, Australia and have always been met with courtesy, hospitality and friendship. Not once have I felt a threat to me personally, and yet here in Coventry, two weeks after his arrival in Britain our colleague is savaged by two of the poorest examples of humanity.

I take it upon myself on behalf of all the decent people in this country to offer you and your family my sincere apologies for what has happened to you. I hope that you get better soon and I trust that you will return to your studies with the enthusiasm and motivation that brought you to the University of Warwick in the first place.

October 17, 2010

The start of a new academic year

A new academic year has started and there are 45 students on the Management for Business Excellence (MBE) masters programme. There were 47 originally, but two left, one after the first 90 minutes of MBE induction and the second after a couple of days. Although I was sorry to see them go, they decided that the style of learning on MBE was not for them and they chose to move to another course. I wish them well in their studies this year.

21 nationalities are represented on MBE - wonderful - so many opportunities to learn from others who have different experiences and perceptions. However, this is not without its problems. Given the learning style in CBE which is largely team-based problem solving, one student wondered how they were ever going to come to an agreement on anything because of the diversity of views.

I think that the answer at least in part, will come from consideration of one of Stephen Covey's 7 habits of highly effective people: Seek to understand before seeking to be understood. In a group with diverse views there is the temptation to makes one's own views heard and be accepted by the group. What Covey proposes is to spend time listening empathetically to truly understand the views of others. If each team member does this there is a far greater chance that they will be able to understand their common ground. And it is on this common ground that they can build their responses to the projects that they are working on, always working towards win-win outcomes. This process of sharing views, analysing and discussing them will inevitably lead to better understanding of others, help everyone to express themselves more clearly and bond the team in the process of working on the mini-projects, learning through practice the true meaning of collaborative working.

I am sure that Vineet Nayar would be happy to employ every graduate of MBE next year:-)

March 18, 2009

Obsession with targets

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7948162.stm

When will organizations and (especially) governments learn that the use of arbitrary targets is a fundamentally flawed practice? There is much condemnation at present of the tragic loss of life at Stafford Hospital and no doubt someone will be found to blame and appropriate action taken. Job done. Problem solved. Or is it? I suggest that a scapegoat or scapegoats will be deemed to be the cause of a badly run organization and the underlying root cause will continue to remain unexamined, far less eliminated.

The outcome at Stafford Hospital is an extreme case of what happens when organizations or individuals foist arbitrary targets on other organizations or individuals. When failure to meet these targets is likely to be career limiting or have other undesirable effects on one's employability, they become the focus of daily life rather than the purpose of the organization.

An organization is a system and a system should have an aim. To achieve that aim processes are developed. Processes have an inherent capability arising from their design. Their actual capability is dependent on the quality of materials, equipment and people that are used to create and run the process. All of these processes should work together to achieve the aim of the system. If the system is not achieving its aim it is necessary to understand the root causes of under performance and take corrective action that improves its capability. The changes implemented should be monitored for efficacy and further improvement action taken as required until the system is achieving its aim.

Now let us imagine an organization that is not achieving the required level of performance, or is costing too much to run. Let us apply targets to focus the people in the organization and get them to perform better! How to reduce the cost of running the organization? Well, let's not recruit to replace staff who have left; cut back on training; don't replace aging equipment; reduce maintenance effort; outsource to a lowest cost bidder. I am sure that with a little imagination we could find myriad ways of reducing the cost of running an organization. And don't forget that these cost savings are not usually done in one fell swoop. No, this is death by 1000 cuts. No single action to delay recruitment, purchase equipment and so on causes catastrophe, but collectively over time the capability of the organization degrades until it is operating so far from its design capability that it fails to meet its primary aims.

So, instead of introducing arbitrary targets, institute leadership. Put in place leaders who understand the nature of a system; who understand that the output of all processes is subject to variation; who understand that working hard without knowledge can never lead to improved performance; who understand that to get the most out of a process, the people in the process have to feel valued and enabled to contribute to the improved performance of their process.

To setters of arbitrary targets I recommend that you get out of the library or preferably purchase copies of a couple of books which, if you spend sufficient time to understand, will help you to realize that setting arbitrary targets is a poor substitute for leadership. When you understand that you will start to know what is really required to help organizations and individuals to improve their performance.

October 10, 2008

When have you researched enough?

Writing about When do you know you have researched enough? from Lila's blog

Lila raises some interesting points about when have you done enough research. My thoughts on this for the Management for Business Excellence students follows.

For the team study phase of the Creating Business Excellence module you have a number of projects to complete. Each of those projects could be studied for many hours, let’s say several hundred hours for a reasonably in-depth literature review. Each team member only has 30 hours to spend on pre-module work and this has to be split between the projects appropriately. If you refer to the learning objectives for the module, by now you will hopefully feel that these objectives will be achieved by working for a total of 100 hours. Your question indicates to me that you are in the process of making your own learning decisions, a key element of critical autonomy in which you go beyond the learning objectives set and start reflecting on your progress.

What all this leads to is study to the depth and breadth that time allows, recognizing that you will not be able to cover everything, and make objective choices on what to place emphasis.

Please do not be tempted to spend longer than the total time allocated for each phase of your study. As wonderful as it is to enjoy researching a topic of interest, your degree comprises many elements and focusing on a few to the exclusion of the others is a recipe for disaster from a qualification viewpoint.

October 08, 2008

What is leadership?

The Management for Business Excellence course started last week with registration and induction and the intake of 24 started the first module, Creating Business Excellence on Monday. Organized into 4 teams, the module starts with 30 hours team study on 6 mini-projects.

I suggested that there was an opportunity for everyone to lead a project; everyone could take a turn in monitoring the use of time, managing the paperwork etc. No instruction was given on how any of this could best be achieved and it appears from recent blog posts that there are different ideas about leadership and there exists in some teams frustration and perhaps a little tension. So perhaps the question that arises is “What is leadership?”

Bernard Bass, a respected scholar on leadership, has written that there are as many definitions of leadership as there have been attempts to define it, and so it is perhaps to be expected that ideas about leadership differ when people join a course from different parts of the world and are placed in a team that ensures the widest cultural mix.

I have analyzed 20 definitions of leadership that have been published in journals over the last 50 years and conclude that my definition of non-coercive leadership captures the essence of all of these definitions. Leadership is the process of influencing the thoughts and activities of followers toward achievement of shared goals. This definition implies that the leadership is non-coercive, otherwise the goals would not be shared. They may be agreed due to the use of power or fear, but not necessarily agreed and I think that this is most relevant to the team situation in the Management for Business Excellence course.

There is a great difference between personal power and positional power. If someone assumes leadership of one of the Creating Business Excellence projects, the other team members may go along with that person. But he or she has not been granted positional power by the group, and I think that is unlikely to ever happen in this scenario in which teams are made up of future leaders in whatever career they choose.

Thus, unable to rely on positional power to coerce team members to follow, the leader in this situation has to use personal power to influence and this must surely start with identification of goals for the task that all share. That’s all very well, but have we got time for this? Wouldn’t it be simpler to give the leader the positional authority and let him/her get on with the task? We could do that but this would not be leadership (in my opinion), it would be headship. Headship, through positional power, can influence the activities of followers, but will their thoughts be influenced in the ‘right’ direction? Will the goals be shared? Without hearts and minds working towards achievement of shared goals, how can headship compete with effective leadership?

If as I do, you find it useful to look at extremes, take a look at any one of a number of 20th century dictators and compare their accomplishments to a thought leader such as Gandhi. I know whom I would prefer to follow.

October 05, 2008

Good wet weather gear

I went walking today in the pouring rain, taking my two dogs on a forest track. After about two hours I returned home and apart from spots of rain on my glasses, I was completely dry. So I thought that I’d share what I was wearing in case anyone would like some recommendations on good gear that works in wet weather.

Firstly, I start with my walking boots. I’ve recently returned from a holiday in the Lake District where they were first put to the test. I have to say that these are the most comfortable boots that I’ve ever worn. They are like putting on a pair of slippers. Check out the website at http://www.ecco.com/gb/en/collection/men/outdoor/68074/51052/detail.do. Made of Yak leather, with a great inner lining that cushions and protects, giving great support but being very light and completely waterproof.

I bought a pair of Sprayway all day rainpants at the start of my holiday in Cumbria because the weather this summer had been so ppor, I was convinced that we’d be walking in the rain in the hills. Webpage http://www.sprayway.com/view/mens_pants-and-shorts_waterproof/product/all%20day%20rainpant refers. As luck would have it, we had the best two weeks that Cumbria had experienced since May and the rainpants stayed in the cupboard. So it was this morning that I wore them for the first time, and they kept me completely dry without feeling like waterproof trousers. Although it rained really hard at times it felt that I was wearing a normal pair of trousers without getting soggy.

A year ago I bought a Montane Velocity DT jacket, http://www.montane.co.uk/productdetails.php, because I need a highly breathable waterproof shell when I am walking in wet weather otherwise I just turn the inside of the jacket into a sauna. This jacket kept me completely dry this morning and did a pretty good job of breathing too, especially as I was completely zipped up with cuffs closed tightly and the hood drawn quite tightly around my face.

My outdoor clothing was finished off with a pair of SealSkinz waterproof activity gloves http://www.sealskinz.com/cgi-bin/psProdDet.cgi/KJ461||@c@b|0|user|1,0,0,1|26|. These are truly great because there is nothing worse in my book than keeping dry and warm in wet, windy weather except for your hands. With the Montane jacket cuffs close securely over the wrist of the gloves, my hands stayed dry and warm throughout.

I thoroughly enjoyed my walk today despite the weather thanks to some excellent gear. I’m not so sure that my dogs were impressed with the walk, but they enjoyed being rubbed down, having a meal and a sleep by the gas fire.

MBE class of 2008

This week saw the start of a new postgrad academic year with enrollment on Monday and induction starting on Tuesday. So far there are 24 students enrolled on Management for Business Excellence (MBE) and there may be three more joining the course on Monday. It is a pity that these three will miss the induction sessions, but I am sure that their colleagues will help them get up to speed quickly. Why do I think this? Well, although it is early days, it looks as though this group is already working well as a team. There have been lots of good questions and discussions and the team working shown on Friday’s Teambuild exercise was excellent. I am sure that the newcomers will be welcomed and will integrate quickly.

This is the first year that the course is called MBE and it is also the first year that the numbers on the course have exceeded 10. This in turn means that a greater number of nationalities and hence cultures are represented and if the group continues to go from its excellent start, this year promises to be very exciting because of the high levels of motivation that will lead to a very rich learning environment.

Welcome to MBE. I look forward to working with you all.

October 14, 2007

Developing reflective practice

This entry follows on from my last in which I considered whether I should make blog entries part of the summative assessment for my modules. I have decided to do so.

Thus, in their first module, the EEE students will be awarded up to 17 marks for the number and quality of their use of blogs and forums. A third of in-course marks (10 out of 30) will be awarded for these contributions. Ten percent of the post module assignment (7 out of 70) will be allocated according to the development of their reflective practice using blogs during the post module period of 6 weeks.

Although it is a little early to discuss results, some EEE members are taking up the challenge and some have yet to do so. I know that doing this is a huge leap for many people, but it is possible to restrict the readership to a group of people with whom they are reasonably comfortable to share their reflective thoughts.

I agree with the comment on my last post that there are other ways in which people can develop their reflective practice. However, the blog is surely the best way in which I as a tutor can follow an individual’s development and add value through supportive, constructive comment.

May 10, 2007

Learning from KBAM–PMA Research

Thoughts Derive from Journals

Maintenance should not be treated as an extra cost. To me, it is a chance, a chance to differentiate your business from rest of competitors; a chance of quality improvement whilst act as a cost (long term and Cost Of Poor Quality) saver; it could bring profit and competitive advantages. Many authors recognized the value to have a holistic, strategic and proactive maintenance policy that combine different type of approaches to maximum flexibility and reach better cost-effective position. But just understands the issue is not enough, people need to start acting on it. An article that published at 2005 indicates that many businesses had awareness about the importance of maintenance, but the actual spending that committed to maintenance is inadequate.

In my opinions, many companies still can not get rid off the old habit of chase Quick Fix, or Big Move. In here Quick Fix refer to short term solutions that create temporary benefit without thinking about its afterward impact or even ignoring the further development. I use the word ?¡ãBig Move?¡À to represent the solutions such as, buying new machine (capital investment), redundancy (cut out headquarters, middle managers, and workforces) or Business process restructure. The approach of Big Move is flawed, but the main reason is people abuse them. Company tend to use these approaches as the only hope of improvement, and most of time they applied it without strategic view and carefully consideration on its consequence, they just abuse these methods or blindly follow the fashion.

May 09, 2007

Learning from KBAM–PMA Research

Thoughts Derive from Books

There are some interesting points that have been found from the research so far about the Knowledge Based Asset Management (KBAM) essay. As many authors mentioned, the focus of Knowledge Management should be on Knowledge sharing rather then Knowledge creation. In my opinion, the underlying reason is for the best use of knowledge and increase probability to maximum the value of existing knowledge.

For one single entry of knowledge, different people will have different use of that knowledge and therefore, create different value from same thing. With a large collection of the idea for potential application. This knowledge is become valuable asset to the organization.

And also, this single entry of knowledge will bring different clue to different people and create / derive innovative thinking. This knowledge is become valuable lesson learned / experience to individuals (as a personal improvement)

Therefore, the most important thing is not blindly analysis knowledge or collect data, the focus should be sharing, let more people get involved and create an opportunity of contribution and sharing thoughts / ideas. It leads to a proactive team effort that could increase the probability to generate maximum benefit from knowledge.

Organizations should not just create condition for knowledge collection, but also create a culture, company policy and facilities that enable and encourage people (become habit) to sharing their experience / thoughts and with discussion, learning from others and even apply brainstorm or other seminar techniques to best use the existing knowledge and create valuable asset / capital from it.

March 30, 2007

Start from basic and start it realistically

Although the session is finished, the journey of reflection is just start. From today¡¯s presentation and some thoughts from Paul¡¯s EEE structure design. I learned that everything has to start form basic and reality.

Firstly, after the two presentations, Paul acted as the board of the company which has asked a lot of realistic questions, such as the potential cost, the detailed approach and which department would be required etc. Although we all prepared to be quested, the realistic level is still giving both teams a big sock. After this I suddenly realize how tough the reality could be. Then I found that the question which shows the board did not expect any dramatic changes, all they asked was just the most basic and straightforward approaches to solve the current problems. All these facts make me think about one thing, maybe we have the most fantastic philosophy of KM and AM, and maybe we are full of passion and confident about what is right or wrong. However, this was only a dream, the dream that requires a lot of fundamental basis to make it to come true. Whereas we only know how to dream but we would never even think about where to start the basis. That¡¯s why the board is not convinced. We always tell ourselves excellence is a journey but it seems that we never learned how to start the journey.

Similar situation was happened few minutes later. Paul demonstrated his thought on why he let the students to choose the seminar topics. Basically, he believes that students should choose the topic that they are keen on, tutor should support students¡¯ decision. He also believes that learning is a journey, any EEE session is only the start point of the journey. The topic chosen by students could be effective initiations for intrinsic learning thus make a good start point. I think Paul¡¯s thoughts provide us with a good example on how we should view our management careers in the future. As we all know excellence is a journey like study, it is a never ending process. To make a good start would provide us with a platform toward future development. Tomorrow¡¯s job could never be done without today¡¯s efforts. Therefore, I think that maybe to start from basic and realistically would be our best solution for the excellent dream coming true.

Review of module – KBAM

Improvement to EEE module structure:

During the discussion after the AM&KM approach presentation, we have once again, mentioned the purpose of EEE course and its module structure. Seems this non-lecture style really caused many concerns and confusion to students. Apart from my thoughts that wrote down at previous two blogs, I think EEE provides a true learning opportunity.

I do appreciate the importance of lecture, but to me, learning from lecture = only learning tutor’s own experience on the field. Look at the way of having open topic seminar, mini project, teamwork and practice presentation, EEE = Self-motivated research; willingness to study the topic; sharing and learning colleagues’ knowledge. It leads to improvement of communication skill, active listening skill, better understand of how to deal with people, appreciate other’s knowledge and contribution. To me, knowledge is gained from discussion with colleagues. By sharing and exchange knowledge, we will no long just mastery our own individual-knowledge. Instead, we receives a collection of knowledge and insight from the entire EEE team.

In EEE, teamwork and projects also gives us an experience of project management, and human resource (plus other intangible asset) management. And by study other people’s view, we can gain an insight by raising question such as ‘Why I did not think that way? Why they do not understand me’ These reflective questions also improve our ability of influence people, interchange each other’s view and gain better understanding of psychology.

From my experience and actual observation, after one week of lecture, students could feel ‘Satisfied’ because they covered all the area in lecture notes, regardless to the real amount of knowledge captured, learned and reviewed. But after EEE, we could all feel ‘a bit lost and confused’, having concerns such as ‘Did we covered that area? Is that enough? Are we on the right track?’ In fact we have researched and captured knowledge that covers more then lecture note, curry out thoughtful discuss through the week and exchange knowledge between each other. Done a great job but still not feel right, something missing. One reason could be we are so get used to the traditional ‘duck feeding’ style of learning and Lead by Someone. We just not feel comfortable without instruction. Secondly, the nature of topic is large and wide, cross different aspect of management, philosophy, sociology, culture and people behaviours. There is just no boundary for us to say ‘I covered all’.

For the further improvement to the course structure, it will be really helpful to have extra presentation at first week, rather then just one big project at the end. And my personal favourite – industry talk. It could introduce more reflection and learning. If could find company to talk about real-life practice of KM&AM approach right after our team presentation, it will bring direct impact on our learning progress. Differences could be discovered and studied, we will no long just live in the academic world but to have an insight to real practise.

Review on Seminars

From Thursday Seminar

The topic for today is 9. What is the relationship between Individual and Organizational knowledge? How can they be transformed? Tacit to Explicit and Explicit to Tacit. From the team discussion, we have go through the possible definition of Individual and Organization¡¯s Tacit and Explicit knowledge and build up scenarios that how to transform between those four types of knowledge. For me, the most important gain from this topic is the awareness of in the real organization – how to translate people tacit knowledge into organizational knowledge. Below is a simple summary of thoughts that in form of basic procedures (not all necessary) to achieve it in terms of effective Knowledge Management.

For Organization:
Consider the impact of Leadership and a balanced reward system.

(1)Individual Tacit to Individual Explicit:
Achieved by motivate employee to share tacit knowledge, encourage them to exchange both form of knowledge. Organization should have a health organizational culture that involves tolerance-failure, people empowerment, appreciate people value and respect to employees¡¯ contribution.

(2)Individual Knowledge to Organization Explicit:
Need capture employees¡¯ knowledge, test of understanding and avoid misinterpretation. Encourage people express their suggestion and appreciate its potential value.

(3)Organization Explicit to Individual Knowledge:
Achieved by exchange of knowledge, such as provide access to the collection of knowledge database, better organize and store of database structure.

(4)Organization Explicit to Organization Tacit:
This procedure is take place while collected knowledge is reflected, studied and keep reviewed. Create value for organization and bring insight to other people. All about manage (include create value) of knowledge, and make use to knowledge.

Example of organization tacit knowledge is when a successful leadership is performed in a certain level of the organization, even if that person left the organization, the way of leadership that have been introduced are likely to remain into the organization and act as part of the organization tacit knowledge or culture. And this organization tacit knowledge is the most valuable asset of the company.

Once organization explicit knowledge is translated to tacit knowledge, its value is unlikely to be lost (hard to discover or have an awareness of existence) to other company or studied and copied (only physical and surface could be observed and copied). Consider the unsuccessful examples for external companies try to study and implement Toyota Production System.

For me:
In order to transfer individual tacit knowledge to others, I need to consider the issues of:
Introduce the Win-Win mindset and Find support;
Awareness of SoPK ¨C understands the company as a whole system; Appreciate its value and culture; Understand people philosophy and Variations embedded in the system; Keep learning / reflecting on necessary knowledge.
Ability of influence people, individual¡¯s thoughts and behavior, value and mindset, and organizational culture,

Thoughts about introduction of mark-reward blog reflection:

As we know Dr.Deming says 80% of errors is due to the system, but in terms of attitude and purpose – I believe, 100% due to individual, or human influence (external element do have influence, but once again, depend on individual people how strong their believe holds).

Look at Paul’s approach, I am not saying that is the most perfect one. But we need have an awareness, that is all we have – the current best solution. We suppose to view this mark reward as the short term profit that encourage us to try blog, and we should discover by ourselves that the true benefit lay in the reflection process that curried out on daily basis. And then, we can keep this blog version of reflection without external reward, because we understood its true purpose and embedded benefit.

I admit that, this method is misleading, But I have to say, this is our best shot. Look at six-sigma, method itself did no harm to people, but still, many people now view it as a completely rubbish. Are the tools that stupid? Is the theory really old-fashion? Sure many people fail to implement it, and discovered its limitation and misleading. But ask once again, did the tool failed them or their own quality stopped them?

Consider years ago, people are crazy about six-sigma and rush into it without understanding, for this kind of behaviors, are they in good quality? I treat them more like gambler and unreasoning (blindness) follower rather then thoughtful businessman or don¡¯t even mention the word leader (also leader for himself). I believe many companies apply six-sigma because they heard the ability to cut down cost, if that is all their attitude and purpose, no wonder (not accident) they fail ¨C It is a consequence of their input (mindset, attitued, behavior).

We say people control their own destiny, but we do not say people only control 20% of the destiny. My view is, you go as far as your effort, only your imagination could stop you.

The importance of sharing

After this week’s study, perhaps we all recognized that most of the management issues are associated with people. People created the system and at the same time people eliminating the system to improvement. So what is wrong with the people? May be a story could give us some initiations

Today I have read an old story, which is about the different types of living in heaven and hell. There was an envoy that came to examine heaven and hell. Firstly, he came to the hell. He found that people there were very thin and hungry, and they were suffering. Was there no food for them to eat? No, there was enough food for everyone, but the problem was that the handle of the spoon was one meter long. As the result, although there was lots of food in the spoons, but people cannot put the food in their mouths. The more they wanted to eat, the more pain they felt. Then, the envoy came to the heaven, where people there looked very healthy and happy. However, surprisingly, he found that the spoons here were the same as in the hell: with one meter long handle. He felt confused that why people here were so peaceful and happy? Finally, he realised that people in the heaven, they put food in other people’s mouths, in order to help each other to eat; but people in the hell, they just wanted to put the food in their own mouths, therefore they can never eat the food.

This story takes me back to this morning’s seminar. There was a short discussion about wiliness knowledge sharing and performance relevant pay system. From my opinion, any kind of performance pay or promotion should only be viewed as incentives for the wiliness of sharing. What is more important is people should realise that both or many of them exist in a shared system, this system is created by and contains everyone. Anyone within the system should beware that system has far more power and value than any individual. Therefore, collaborate and share is the best and only way to continuously survive. The short-term individual benefits could only lead both the system and any individual within the system to long-term death. Therefore, as the story described: do we want to leave in the hell or in the heaven?

After all this thought, I made an assumption. If I share an apple with one of my classmate who really wants to eat apple, then I would double the pleasure of having an apple (two people), and also I gained the happiness and trust between us. Overall we strengthen our system. I can’t see why should not share with others.

Moreover, as towards the end of the week and term, teamwork was a large part of EEE studies. Looking back to the beginning of the term, actually I have no idea what is teamwork about, although at the time I may think I do. Till now, I realised the amount of knowledge that we have gained from our team’s generation is far more than anyone of us could achieved. Gradually I realised this is because we were operated in a system that we all willing to share and collaborate our individual knowledge towards a shared goals. This led me to think about the collaboration in real organization, if everyone gives sharing and collaboration a try, maybe they will realized that there are much more things have been gained.

March 29, 2007

Some thought from an outstanding seminar

The seminar topic was ‘What is the relationship between individual knowledge and organizational knowledge and how can they be transformed?’ I suggested the topic simply because I believe this is the most important and tricky part for the KM. And as I expected the discussion of the seminar was outstanding. There were two major parts within the seminar.

The first part was about understanding and differentiation of the concepts of tacit and explicit knowledge. Gradually we are getting to understand both terms. Then the exciting part came up which is about the transformations between individual knowledge and organizational knowledge. In this section, all the team members made a great contribution under Paul’s coaching. The major benefit that I have gain was the understanding of the knowledge transition process within the organization.

My understanding is assuming the knowledge start as an individual tacit knowledge. Then under a pleasant environment that created by the efficient leadership, the individual would document or codify his/her knowledge to an individual explicit knowledge. After the assessment of this explicit knowledge, it becomes a public explicit knowledge. Then the public explicit knowledge gradually embedded into each individual’s mindset and behaviour. By repeating this process, gradually we generate a shared organizational tacit knowledge, such as organizational culture, shared vision and mission. Eventually, the tacit to tacit knowledge transition could be achieved. As IBM claimed that ‘tacit knowledge is the most valuable source to create knowledge’.

It may sound like a simple process. But it requires huge amount of conditions.
Firstly, patient is the key to success. This process may take a long time to establish and operate. With patient the whole process should eventually embed into people’s behaviours as a way of working life. Secondly, this process requires a substantial amount of supports from leadership. The leadership needs firstly understand the process and facilitating or maybe creating all the sufficient conditions that are needed. Some levels of communications (vertical and horizontal) are also necessary. An effective communication facility (IT system) is also very important.

Successful knowledge transition process could have many significant contributions for the organizational transformation. The most obvious one is to provide the most valuable source for the continuously development. Knowledge sharing culture is also the one of the key contributions. By sharing the knowledge, the effectiveness and efficiency of knowledge transition process is improved. Although the communication is the pro for the process, at the same time it is also improved by the process. Overall each department of the organization would work together as a system.

This is just some personal interpretation for the topic; please contribute to enrich the understanding.

Review on Seminars

From Wednesday Seminars

Today¡¯s seminars are much harder to progress then others, the topic itself drag in other complicate issues and create confusion through the session. Apart from the progress, I am actually satisfied with the outcome and learning gained. At the beginning, I could not see any link between Knowledge Based Asset Management and Business excellence, due to lack of the awareness of KBAM, I did not see the point to have it as an EEE module. After the seminar topic on How AM and KM contribute to business excellence, I learn quite a lot and able to ¡®hook¡¯ previous learning to this module. Gained a better insight of how managers deal with issue, how to manager / encourage self-motivation on hard and soft resources. Most importantly, ¡®How to make judgment without discourage employees¡¯

I always have a thought that, ¡®Measurement is the second-best solution (best solution not feasible, just like in Performance Appraisal)¡¯, and ¡®Measurement actually kills¡¯ this could be explained from my view to the implementation of Six-sigma. Six-sigma always emphasized on how much have been saved in the project, cut cost in million dollars become the advertisement of six-sigma. Apart from I do not think it is accurate and wise to say ¡®we saved $11,500.43 in one project¡¯. This advertisement actually misleads people from work toward business excellence to chasing cost cutting. Once the purpose and attitude is change, the result will be different in matter of time. But things is there due to a requirement in market, the six-sigma customer—CEOs and top managers, most of them are driven by short term profit, no wonder every improvement have to shown a figure on financial gain.

After the seminar on How to measure the achievement of AM and KM improvement, especially after the metaphorical explanation using Cp (potential), Cmk (system capability without human involved) and Cpk (current performance, department capability) It really introduced a new way of viewing and solve this issue. This seminar also bring me another meaning of measure: although the accuracy is low, result is poor, the key issue is how people use them.

Disadvantage could be turned into advantages, value could be created, it all up to the way people view, treat and use them.

[View about this Non-lecture style of EEE model: To me, self-discovery on the topic is exciting, meaningful and forever ¨C as part of my own; lecture material only work as long as the exam period goes; but I do miss industry talk, a really good chance to learning the real practice.]

enviroment or food?

Yesterdays seminar we had some discussions on environmental issues. I do agree with many classmates’ idea that environment is a precious intangible asset which could add value to human life. However, different people have different value scheme. An American multi-millionaire may pay £50m for a house in Beverly Hill due to the pleasant surrounding environment. However, a ShanXi province’s coalminer would give up his beautiful surrounding environment for the food on the table.

This take me back to Maslow’s needs hierarchy. What are people’s current needs? A beautiful environment or food for the family. No matter how much the basic environmental education people have, if there is no food on the table, anyone would give anything for their basic need. On the other hand, if we all have a relatively good living, then environment issues would obviously attract our focus. I think this is human nature, such as if anyone win the lottery they would firstly want a bigger house in a better location.

Therefore, may be we should contribute more on third would economy development (fulfil the basic need for the people) rather than shouting at them about the environmental issues.

March 28, 2007

How do I define…….? Realistic thinking…..

There are many situations recently that make me to think about these questions. The story went back to last Xmas, when I had a discussion session with my father and several his business friends. At the end I was regarded as a dreamer in an ideal world, like a lot of other graduates who would likely to be at their first entrant of any organization. There were a lot of confusions, but I was not able to work out the answer. Today the situation happened again in the seminar. I was asked by Paul whether my ideas would work for my future employers. After the seminar, I think the right questions raised on my head, which I think could bring me a step close to the root answer.

Firstly, how should I define myself? Appropriate definition of oneself is regarded as one of the hardest thing in human life, which requires a continuous self assessing through every stage of life. The self-assessing requires a principle to measure, which is defined by the knowledge that we have.

Secondly, how should I define others and our system? What has been ignored is that others may have their principle and the system (me and others) has its principle. The system is much more powerful than any individual within the system. As Covey suggested, before seeking understood, understand others first. Therefore, understand the system and others within the system should be our first priority. In other word, we should try to understand and be part of the system before change it.

As Deming emphasised in the SoPK, the system is constructed by a group of people, and the people within the system drives the system. Therefore, it is obvious that respect and understand others’ principle would help us to embed in the system. During this process, we could also build relationship with others which is the most necessary intangible assets, power and condition that we need before start to influence others. As time pass by, we could also observe a lot of root problem of the system. By solving these problems with other members and learning from each others, gradually we build our relationship and solved the problem. Although this process may take us a life-time, be patient is still the key. Quick fix can only make the problem even worse.

Then realistic think is to appreciate the current system that we have, and to appreciate others’ principle and situation before any actions. Effective influences are spoken by action and willingness to share the contribution and knowledge with others. Eventually together we (not I) could optimize the overall system. And most importantly: be patient.

Special acknowledge to Mr P Roberts and every classmates in EEE. You taught me idealistic principles and wake me up with realistic thinking….

March 27, 2007

Review on Seminars

From Tuesday Seminars:

For the seminar topic:
5. To what extend does it make sense to be environmentally friendly?
I have couple of thoughts for the discussion in seminar session.

1. While average people life in modern society is getting longer then before, how can we say the environment is getting worse? For this case, we need to consider about HOW does this long-living age be achieved? Is it natural cause or modern health care under operations and medicines? In fact, new and mutated disease appeared frequently cross the world, for example, in China, new case of oafish infant appears due to their mum lives in just decorated house while pregnant. From investigation, it is caused by toxics decoration material, such as paint. Environment is not actually getting better, people still got harmed from it. Modern medical technology could only save victim (to certain level) but can not prevent it.

2. Focus on earlier education for next generation? It is actually the most important issues need to be done. It changes the mindset of future customers, business owner and shareholder, and will be the best and most effective approach, in long term. What about now?

3. Let us wait for regulation? Actually, regulation will not be that effective. Strict regulation could only be effective under certain point, people will always figure out way to get around it. In order to increase profit, organization will do anything necessary: play the word game, other alternatives, hides to shadow, and use of corruption. Paper shown electronic cars have been invented more than decade ago, mature technology and good performance, economical and environmental friendly. But where are they now? Or maybe ask, Who killed it? Many evidence shown the true reason is from those big organization of oil company and oil export (large oil reserve) countries, if that is the case, even regulation will not work.

Then if this environment issue is so important, why can we only learn (appreciate the real situation) it from disasters to ourselves (sadly, tragedy happen to others normally can not ‘weak up’ people)? I think one big reason is due to the payback to be either environmental Friendly or Harmful to environment is too long to foreseen, most organization is not driven by long term vision. Another reason is the allowance from competition and market is limited, environmental friendly activities do not have much allowance and bad practice still tolerated. In other word, need call for the awareness of general public—customers.

The current solution learned from this seminar: since environmental issues and CSR is part of business excellence, we have to shown that, the investment made to be environmental friendly will be recovered and maximum the profit as the return to be business excellence. Without significant cost and even a sign of increase profit, business organization will only then slowly react and truely become environmental friendly.

ps, suggestion to next year EEE advertisement: ‘Develop Your Intangible Asset!’

Old Chinese Philosophy, Reflective Learning (Blogging) and Organisational Learning

Last week I have read a book called “the Philosophy of Zhuang Zi”, Zhuang Zi is one of the most famous philosophers in the history of Chinese civilisation. He was believed living in around 369 B.C.. Most of his philosophy is about the attitude towards human life in order to optimally harmonise with the surrounding environment (system). There is a small section about philosophy of learning and understanding. He developed this philosophy from the ancient Buddhism theories which is described as one Chinese word “Jue Wu”, where the direct dictionary translates into English is “consciousness” or “enlightenment” which is a state of deep understanding. This word contains two Chinese characters, where “Jue” means a quick understanding by observation, which is a sensational understanding of certain knowledge; the second character “Wu” means understanding by my heart, which means as the time past by, the knowledge is deeply embedded into somebody’s heart. By combining the two characters together, the word shows that adoption of knowledge is a growing process, where observation and understanding is the first stage, on the other hand to embed (grow) this into somebody’s behaviour is the last stage. To understanding that adopting knowledge is a process between both stages and complete the whole process, could enable someone to apply knowledge in various situations. This old Chinese philosophy is provided as a thorough understanding of the true meaning of learning (direction) and how to learn (the approach).

This old philosophy reminds me with Paul’s encouragement of reflective learning—blogging. A reflective learner shares the similar philosophy of Zhuang Zi’s definition of learning. Blogging is not only a way of recording the reflection of knowledge, but also a process of embedding the knowledge into somebody’s vein. The beauty of this activity is to make us to think and think again. Through this process of understanding and accessing this knowledge, gradually we could apply this into our behaviour. Although blogging cannot be regarded as the full process, it can be an effective approach of the learning progress (reflection) during the process. Moreover, to become to a reflective learner, not only in terms of theoretical, but also in terms of practical, which could assist us gain the full benefit of learning?

This philosophy can not only be applied in individual learning, but also can be applied in organisational learning. In terms of organisational learning, R. Ackoff’s journal named “From Data to Wisdom” shared similar idea. This philosophy of learning process is regarded as the transformation from individual tacit knowledge to organizational explicit knowledge. When the tacit knowledge is generated by people within the organisation, it can only be called “Jue”; whereas after period of time, the individual tacit knowledge transformed into explicit organisational knowledge, then it can be called “Wu”. The organisational learning is to constantly repeat this process, and in order to gain the full benefit of the knowledge. By embedding this process into the organisation’s culture, thus the organization become a learning organisation. Moreover, in terms of management of knowledge, this philosophy of learning could also provide a principle for the management of knowledge.

March 26, 2007

Review on Seminars

From Monday Seminars:

Three mind maps from morning seminars are quite helpful, bring a better view to the topics and also highlight several aspects that I didn¡¯t concern at the preparation stage. For the first seminar, my preparation end at the ¡°Exchange of Information¡±, but this is not the whole knowledge management. From the seminar, it reminds me the next stage ¨C need to do something about gained knowledge, not just exchange or capture information and knowledge.

Organization need to effectively transform and manage gained knowledge to generate value. This value is not just in the form of profit / money, it also could be customer loyalty, competitive advantage, create new market etc. Without generating value, the knowledge gained from exchange is meaningless and useless. Successful knowledge management (collection, analysis, recognition and transformation to value) should be the next key issue after exchange knowledge between people inside and outside the organization. Another point is the need to have organic implementation about knowledge management, avoid any sign of quick fix. Seek true improvement from incremental ¨C step by step change and effort.

From those three seminars, it seems the Pre-requirement / Barriers / Required Leadership for effective knowledge management is almost identical to other quality improvement approach, such as EFQM / Lean / Six-Sigma / TQM etc. The reason is quite straight forward, because any kind of business activities (include improvement activities) require human input, involvement, contribution, effort. The critical success factor is the Willingness from people. By achieve this factor, it will bring result such as change in people¡¯s mindset and behaviors, performance beyond expectation. Therefore, be successful in any implementation of business activities.

Thought for Seminar

Preparation about Monday Seminar:

1. What prevent organization from developing knowledge?
2. What are pre-requests of knowledge management?
3. What sort of effective leader is require for effective knowledge management?

For the first topic: from articles and learning from previous EEE module, my first impression is ¡§C there are just so many barriers. Many issues could stop or at least not encouraging knowledge development inside an organization, and each barriers should connected to each other, have interrelationship. In order to get away from this magnifying¡§Cglass view, maybe helpful to think from top: Look at how knowledge could be developed under natural condition.

First, knowledge could be self-developed by one person with great wisdom. But in certain percentage, that person needs previous experience and other knowledge, which means assistance or influence (indirect ?¡ãhelp?¡À) from other people. Secondly, knowledge could be developed by learning and adapt from family, school, sociality, from other people. Therefore, the keyword appears is Sharing. It??s about Exchange of information, any form of information: experience, expertise, thought and knowledge etc.

Then what stops people exchange information to each other in an organization? It could be two major and deeply connected issues:
(1) Physical issue ¡§C Organization structure that not encourage it happen.
(2) People issue ¡§C Organizational culture and people??s mindset not willing to perform / contribute to it.

The physical issue should include sub¡§Cissues about company police, structure and equipment. Involve communication channel; data sharing channel; synergy / re-education establishment and environment; balanced and healthy reward system etc. I would say the people issues are huge in size and much harder to solve compare to the first one. It contains sub¡§Cissues of Leadership, organizational culture and behaviors, people??s mindset. For example, effective and successful leadership; organizational culture; employee relationship and motivation; build cooperate team based organization etc. After sort out the barriers in first topic, the answer toward second and third seminar topic will appear, easier for analysis.

March 22, 2007

Developing reflective practice

Had a conversation today about reflective practice and blogging. As stream leader of the Engineering Enterprise Excellence (EEE) MSc programme I have encouraged the use of blogs as a tool that assists development of reflective practice. One of the key aims of this programme is for the students to achieve deep learning, and reflection is an essential element of this learning process. Why use a blog for this? Why is a blog so much better than a diary? The blog can be used like a diary because you can create private entries. However, the power of this medium occurs when we choose to make our entries public. By making our reflective thoughts public, we engage the social aspects of learning - of inviting others to comment on our thoughts, helping us to build on our ideas and enabling us to become aware of and understand other views. This provides us with a deeper learning experience and with practice this reflective thinking will become ever more natural.

I recognise that some people are nervous about making their thoughts public.  It is very easy to restrict access to your blog to a circle of friends or colleagues in whom you can confide your thoughts. As you develop confidence in the positive nature of the bogging community, you will widen the circle and thus expand the opportunities for development of ideas. Your blog will become a learning log that will enable you to track the development of your thinking during your study year.

For the current EEE module I have incentivised the use of blogs by allocating marks for the number and quality of reflective entries. My hope is that some students will continue to use blogs when the module and assignment is over.  Perhaps next year I should use this approach from the beginning of the course to increase the probability that EEE students become lifelong reflective practitioners.