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Semantic, Structured Authoring


Semantic, Structured Authoring is an important concept in writing content for the web.

Semantic authoring has been defined as "to compose information content semantically structured according to some ontology". (If you've never encountered the word ontology before, the dictionary defines it as "the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of being".) A much better explanation of semantic authoring is "knowledge markup". Simple tags such as <policy> aren't the only way in which knowledge is categorised, indexed and labelled within XML. Tags can contain attributes (such as the id attribute in <section id="upg11">), and metadata can be stored in tags separate from the content itself (such as <author><firstname>Tony</firstname><surname>Self</surname></author>).

The most common semantic markup languages for documentation are DocBook and the Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA). DITA specifies a number of topic types, such as Task, Concept and Reference.

Within DITA, a Task topic is intended for a procedure describing how to accomplish a task; lists a series of steps that users follow to produce a specified outcome; identifies who does what, when, where and how . A Reference topic is for topics that describe command syntax, programming instructions, other reference material; usually detailed, factual material .

In Coherence Group��s business, writing structured content is important because we combine knoweldge, learning and software development in to performance support tools so that knowledge workers can avoid the integrative effort of putting this content together themselves.


The Sunday Herald - Scotland's award-winning independent newspaper reports in a recent article entitled, How the US forgot to make Trident missiles, that the �US National Nuclear Security Administration lost knowledge of how to make a very hazardous material named Fogbank.  As a result, the warhead refurbishment programme was put back by at least a year, and racked up an extras $69 million.��

.����vital information on how Fogbank was actually made had somehow been mislaid. "NNSA had lost knowledge of how to manufacture the material because it had kept few records of the process when the material was made in the 1980s, and almost all staff with expertise on production had retired or left the agency," the report said.��

This is a clear and very compelling case for knowledge management.  The NNSA says it will strengthen its �management procedures�� but knowledge is an extraordinarily costly commodity as this fiasco demonstrates.


Today I published a new blog post in a blog called:  Not Otherwise Categorized..., a blog by Seth Earley of Earley & Associates.   I have been doing a lot of work in Microsoft Office SharePoint Server, so I posted MOSS 2007 Requirements Gathering: Fast and Focused to discuss the process  we've use for requirements gathering and analysis.  The post notes our reliance on Agile and Lean software development methods to accelerate MOSS development and implementation and to increase the accuracy of requirements analysis.  Of course, the key is user involvement and enough user feedback to avoid rework caused my misunderstandings.

Lean approaches to Software Development

This is a great little presentation on Lean Software development.  It clearly shows where  waste creeps into the development process and demonstrates how a lean approach can accelerate applications that meet customer requirements.

In a recession companies pull back from their markets, lay people off, and put aside business process improvement.  Lean Thinking offers an alternative path. Lean Thinking does not mean cutting heads to cut costs. Lean thinking means eliminating waste and non-value-added activity, and respecting people. An activity is value-added if, and only if, the customer is willing to pay for the activity, it changes the product or service to be closer to the end product a customer is will ing to pay for, and it is done right the first time. To acheive this, leadership becomes more about enabling and empowering people to grow professionally and take responsibility and pride in their work. Lean Thinking encourages collaboration between customers, suppliers, employees and management in a positive approch to efficiency that spans the value chain.

The following chart shows Coherence Group's approach to implementation of Lean Thinking. It involves specifying value from the customer's point of view, changing the culture of an organization to embrace lean principles, teaching poeple to problem solve in new ways and encourages sharing problem solving experience using knowledge management techniques.


Lean Thinking Slide-small.png

By combining Knowledge Management with Lean Thinking companies can retain their problem solving experience, share best practices and drive operational excellence over the long term.

My colleagues and I have pioneered a way of accelerating the implementation of Lean Thinking by using "Improvement Labs". In the context of Lean, these techniques encourage management and employees to pick specific improvement projects. Once you have a portfolio of projects, we design and facilitate an accelerated problem solving sessions in which participants create a solution concept, prototype new processes, and create an implementation work plan. The "Improvement Labs" solve critically important business problems while modeling lean thinking and behaviors. The projects are sponsored by management, accelerate Lean learning and are designed to achieve fast tangible results. By documenting the work accomplished in the "Improvement Labs" we create a knowledge base of solutions and problem solving techniques that can be replicated throughout a company.

For example, you could apply this approach to supplier relationship management (SRM).An Improvement Lab could focus on how to minimize transactions across the supply chain, how to select the best supplier, or how to collaborate with suppliers to eliminate waste. Suppliers could, in fact, be included in the problem solving exercise. Highly focused Improvement Labs demonstrate how to apply Lean Thinking while solving a real work problem.

Knowledge Management Strategy

Making decisions about a knowledge management strategy that will deliver improved sales, innovation or delivery performance requires an appreciation of the value that can be created by this kind of improvement initiative.  Companies frequently diminish the value by arguing about what knowledge managment is or is not.  Knowledge sharing that produces business results is ineluctably tied to business process.  In fact, I would assert that knowledge management has no real relevance outside of business process.

To improve the performance of a process you need to understand the individual worksteps plus the information and skills that are required to be execute effectively.  Ask yourself: Is all the information required to do the job provisioned to the employee or do they have to do research in order to complete the task?  If research is required, are their job aids that can help them accomplish the task?  Is training available for people who don't have enough experience.  Knowledge Management seeks to provision the employee with all the information, content, perspective, and learning required to create value.  Mapping critical content to a business process enables knowledge workers to increase productivity and improve the quality of their work.

At Coherence Group we combine access to knowledge, learning and methods  to enable knowledge workers.  This requires adjustment to some business processes. It also requires an implementation of electronic support systems that help get employees find and apply the information they need to effectively execute their jobs.

Coherence Group Service Partners

I have created a new page on the site that highlights and links to the service partners that I work with to deliver high value solutions to clients.  Each of the firms has a unique service offering that complements the capabilities of Coherence Group and allows us to provide a broad range of services, from market research to bespoke software development.  The objective for these alliance relationships is to provide a process and technology platform for knowledge, learning, and methods in your company. 

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