The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is a major Command of the Army, with more than 37,000 employees. The USACE’s mission covers major public civil engineering projects in both the military (e.g., facilities construction/maintenance) and the civilian sectors (e.g., roads, bridges, dames, water protection).
The USACE supports activities across all U.S. states and territories, along with U.S. military installations overseas. Its operations are spread across eleven geographic regions and an additional division is focused on research (called ERDC). The USACE’s senior commanders are Army officers, but most of its workforce is civilian.
Until recently, the implementation of knowledge management (KM) at USACE was driven by local business units and regions, where they developed their own goals, approaches, and supporting initiatives. The result of this decentralized approach was a wide range of capabilities, standalone tools, inefficient programs, and a large amount of lost business value.
In 2014, the new USACE Commander identified knowledge management as one of the enterprise’s five most important initiatives, and put in place a new Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO) to drive the buildout of this capability. A series of Operation Orders (OPRD) were published, which outlined the scope and role of the USACE KM program and also defined initiatives, called Lines of Effort (LOEs). LOEs spanned topics such as document repositories, document-based workflow tools, business intelligence platforms, lessons learned and best practices processes, expertise locators, and collaboration.
In addition, the USACE made the decision to adopt the American Productivity & Quality Center’s (APQC) KM Maturity Model as its framework for constructing KM capabilities and measuring progress against the plan. The CKO took the action to lead the Maturity Model effort, working with newly installed KM leaders (called KMRs) in each division. From 2014 thru mid-2017, the USACE began to build the programs for an improved knowledge management capability and completed two rounds of APQC KM Maturity Model assessments. The USACE set a goal to achieve enterprise-wide “Level 3” certification on the APQC Model by July 2018.
In September 2017, USACE contracted with Iknow to support a wide range of topics within its KM program, including the support for the 2018 APQC Maturity Model assessment.
Over the course of the five-month engagement, Iknow provided support to the USACE in the following six areas.
- APQC Maturity Model submission preparation and support. Iknow worked closely with each of the 12 KMRs in coordination with the CKO to develop their maturity model submissions. Iknow served as a subject matter expert on the APQC’s KM Maturity Model, providing guidance to the KMRs as they collected data/examples for their submissions and providing feedback on their draft submissions. Iknow used these submissions to provide a preliminary assessment of the ratings achieved by each of the twelve divisions, along with recommendations for each to close any gaps relative to the Level 3 rating. Iknow worked with the APQC’s experts during the project.
- Expertise location LOE review and assessment. Iknow conducted a brief assessment of the expertise location LOE, by interviewing members of the LOE team, studying the progress made on their pilot projects, and reviewing two draft reports written by the USACE staff. From this assessment, Iknow authored a report containing a recommended strategy, roadmap, and immediate next steps. This report was delivered to the USACE’s Knowledge Management Leadership Team.
- Content and records management assessment. Iknow performed an assessment of content and records management at the USACE. The assessment covered content strategy, lifecycle management, technology platforms, taxonomies, and roles, as well as specific action items for the organization to pursue over the next 18-24 months. Iknow’s approach for conducting the assessment included stakeholder interviews; the review of existing documentation, policies and metrics; and demonstrations of several existing technology tools. One software product that was proposed for wide use across the USACE was an engineering project collaboration suite called ProjectWise.
- Knowledge management training. Iknow created a training strategy document for the USACE, covering the training requirements and proposed programs for both end-users (all off the 37,000 workforce) and KMRs (roughly 50-100 core knowledge management staff). Iknow also developed the “KM Familiarization” training programs for both of these stakeholder groups, in both PowerPoint and online formats. The online programs were created using LearnDash LMS, a plug-in tool that runs on WordPress sites; Iknow used LearnDash upon the request of the CKO.
- Preparation of Lines of Activity (LOA). LOA’s are defined as the lower level building blocks of strategy implementation. Iknow created a library of LOAs for Knowledge Management, which provide instructions and guidance to each of the divisional KMRs on the key activities they need undertake when leading their local KM programs. This library was created in Microsoft Word.
- General KM program support. Iknow also participated in many other activities in the KM program, including KM Working Group meetings, technology reviews, and ad hoc support as needed.
Because of the wide range of topics and deliverables addressed in the contract, it was critical for the USACE and Iknow teams to communicate and collaborate effectively. Several key techniques included:
- Use of Slack as an information collaboration tool. Slack was used as the primary mode of communications among the joint team, and generally replaced email. Team members used Slack to provide updates, ask/answer questions, and share informal documents. Team members knew they could find quick answers and an historical record of conversations. The team also used Slack’s private channel capability, for collaboration among subgroups.
- Use of Asana as a master repository for deliverables and reports. Iknow’s project team as well as other consultants working for the USACE posted workplans, project updates, reports, and other deliverables in Asana.
- Weekly team check-in calls. These calls were used to review the most recent deliverables, review progress, and agree on the next steps.
The USACE CKO’s office used Iknow’s recommendations and deliverables to plan the next phase of their KM program implementation, including FY19 budget requests and the mobilization of staff. An immediate next step was to formally submit the Maturity Model package to the APQC for evaluation and ratings.