'Cut the crap' and other lessons for new IT projects

NRC's knowledge management chief focused on goal rather than theories

Patricia Eng, a nuclear engineer by trade, was given the title of senior adviser for knowledge management at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and charged with implementing a system to make technical expertise and personal experience readily available across the agency. She approached the task like an engineer, focusing on the goal rather than information technology systems.

It’s all about the destination, she said, not about making the journey in style.

“Don’t be seduced by the elegance of a given tool,” Eng said. She added that it's important to understand the process that needs to be done, decide what will work and make it simple enough that the new tool will become viral in the workplace.

She said she believes her lack of academic training in knowledge management has been an asset because the experts too often focus on the fluff of theory, paying more attention to the means than to the end.

“Cut the crap,” she said. “You just do it.”

NRC settled on the Tomoye collaboration and information management platform that enables the creation of communities of practice because it is simple to use and can do the job. It was not the only option available, but it met the agency’s needs with a minimum of complexity, linking easily to document management systems and databases and operating behind the firewall to minimize security concerns.

When you need to get from Point A to Point B, consider whether a bicycle can do the job as well as a Mercedes can, Eng advised. And don’t get drawn in by the theory of gurus.

“There are people out there who talk a lot about knowledge management but aren’t doing anything,” she said. “A lot of people will tell you in theory how to do things, but you’ll spend many moons doing nothing.”

A challenge of any IT project is ensuring that it has the backing of both top management, which must approve and fund it, and users. By focusing on the final product of a new system, you can create a business case that will satisfy management and field a tool that will be useful.

“If it works and it’s a good process, people are going to want it,” Eng said.

 

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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