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Chapter 5: Enabling Project and Work Processes

Chapter 5: Enabling Project and Work Processes

Chapter 5: Enabling Project and Work Processes

After a team has been formed, the next step in the knowledge-enabled learning and innovation model is to enable project and work processes. This chapter will discuss how the study partners enable project and work processes through knowledge-sharing activities. It will look at different types of projects and work processes used by the partner organizations and show how they have realized the importance of enabling project and work processes by promoting access to information, content, and people with knowledge. Discussions will center around the use of technology, collaboration, and how to access and reuse applicable knowledge.


Technology is viewed as an enabler by the study partners. Although they do not completely rely on technology, most have a technology solution and strategy that makes it easier for employees to find job-related information. Two common uses of technology highlighted in this chapter are portals and databases/repositories. Portals are gateways to help employees quickly find information and provide a central access point. Like portals, databases and repositories are also effectively being used to organize company information.

Portal Technology

The study partners use portal technology to help enable more efficient knowledge sharing and innovation. About two-thirds of the partners use portal technology.


3Mís research portal, the atlas electronic library, is the research portal for finding information about 3M and the outside world and is a product of the library and information services function. The search feature and the current awareness feature are the two primary methods for encouraging people to use the library and its knowledge repositories. The current awareness feature allows a library information services staff member to set up an ongoing search of new reports in an area of interest for a 3M employee.


Millenniumís Compass is a portal and simple content management system designed to enable employees to more easily access internal documents and data sources. Millennium had many options in choosing a software package, but decided on Compass because of its simplicity, flexibility, and ability to readily customize. Also, Compass was currently being used (minimally) at Millennium, and this further aided in the decision-making process to expand Compass instead of purchasing another system.

The business problems that initially prompted conversation about a portal system were that Millennium did not know what information it had, where it was, how it was accessed, or who was accountable for it. The bottom-line result was lost time due to inefficiencies, lost opportunities due to less-than optimal decisions, lost data, redundant work, and wasted resources.

To implement the Compass project, Millennium laid out a plan that began in 2000 with three stages of development. In phase one, the discovery phase, Millennium designed, reviewed, and built the system. After building content, validating data, and identifying pros and cons, phase two sought to deploy Compass. Phase three was to better integrate Compass into Millenniumís intranet, make it more user-friendly, and decrease maintenance thorugh a catalog.

Millenniumís content within Compass is organized into categories for context and browsing, and all items may be either searched or browsed. The system allows all employees to contribute, collaborate, and find information. Contributors can submit, edit, renew, and delete their own information by using a simple one-page Web form.

Compass entries contain links to and context for a wide variety of information resources, including people locators, access instructions, keywords, and categories. Entries also cover information and data from around the company for use across departments and within departments. Resources cataloged include presentations, reports, processes and procedures, internal and external Web sites, facilities, journals, and databases. Analysis of searched and browsed content helps Millennium to continually focus Compass. By counting hits and looking for heavily searched content, Millennium is better able to make resources available.

Since its initial deployment, Compass has continued to grow. By August 2002, 45 percent of Millenniumís departments had Compass entries, one out of every six employees had contributed content, and the number of entries and contributions had grown (482 since May of 2001).

Millennium has learned its share of lessons from its work with Compass and offers an assessment of the system below. The benefits are that the system:

  • provides context for information through various views (department, projects, people, and expertise),

  • trains users through content collection process,

  • provides an easy way for content owners to keep content up-to-date through e-mail notifications,

  • can index any type of document, system, or process, and

  • can be customized to directly address Millenniumís requirements.

The drawbacks are:

  • context is buried deep in the application,

  • Compass does not represent a scalable way to train,

  • Compass needs to allow content owners to define an appropriate content expiration date,

  • the system is so abstract that many users donít understand its purpose or scope, and

  • maintenance for the custom application is somewhat expensive.

Future plans include transitioning Compass onto a commercial content management application. To successfully do this, Millennium must first reduce the technical maintenance cost and better integrate Compass into the technical architecture. Phase one of this transitions plan is to address challenges while maintaining the features of the system that work well. Secondary plans are to work alongside IT to identify promising commercial systems and establish a timeline for the transition.


NASA JPLís portal, Inside JPL, is one of many collaboration tools that the agency uses to provide information and resources to its employees. NASA JPLís portal includes news from NASA corporate, headline news, news from the aerospace industry, and daily JPL-specific news. It also includes lab announcements, a JPL events calendar, links to project libraries, and links to engineering and science pages.

Content Management Systems

Content management systems are the back-end technology solution that drives content to the portal interface that employees interact with. The best-practice organizations in this study have taken steps to develop taxonomies and metadata that define the types of information that employees can access. Typically, these taxonomies are driven by the users and take into account their feedback. Again, content management applications and portal technologies are not a solution in itself, but rather a piece of the puzzle to help enable knowledge creation and sharing for innovation. Almost three-fourths of the study partners report using a content management system.

Databases and Repositories

The use of databases and repositories is another way that best-practice organizations are organizing information and making it available to employees to use for knowledge sharing and innovation. Examples include 3Mís Lotus Notes database and Millenniumís MyBiology database and the scientific findings capture process.


At 3M, whenever a new project is started with a team of three or more people, a Lotus Notes database is set up as a team room and chat space for storing documents and sharing information. Currently, thousands of these databases exist. They may be personal, corporate, or technology-specific. Employees with access to this database are always two clicks away from learning what others are doing and what new ideas are in the works.

Although 3M restricts some proprietary databases to specific users, typically it encourages employees to explore different databases outside of the one they use most frequently. According to the director of library and information services, just making the databases available is crucial. Some employees will look around out of curiosity, but much of the exploration happens in a need-to-know fashion. More often than not, necessity, rather than curiosity, leads people into different databases.


Millennium seeks to lead the industry in its ability to leverage biological knowledge for drug discovery and development and exploit all available information to build a developing picture of complex biological systems. In pursuing this, Millennium faces challenges from the explosion of external information, limited vis- ibility to other scientistís findings, and difficulty in pulling together information that is scattered across multiple sources. MyBiology is a database that enables scientists to capture, share, and reuse scientific findings.

The goals of MyBiology are to capture findings and interpretations, store them in a database able to represent the richness of biological concepts, combine internal and external findings, embed the use of knowledge bases into scientific practice, and increase the scope of knowledge integration over time.

The projects captured by MyBiology began with scientists and the scientific findings capture process. The technologies behind the scene that drive these products are Millennium databases, Dossier (a document repository), and Ingenuity (an external, third-party source of scientific findings).

The first phase of Millenniumís scientific findings capture process is to attend a formal scientific findings meeting. Since May of 2002, Millennium has held six to eight meetings per week. The second phase is to receive or retrieve the presentation from the presenting scientist. Millennium notes that turnaround is typically one to three days for this phase. The third phase is to encode the presentations into Documentum, a document management system. The average time to complete this task is two hours, and 205 total findings have resulted by the end of 2002. The fourth phase in the scientific findings capture process is to contact the presenting scientist for approval. This step poses a potential bottleneck because it takes an average of six days for scientists to respond (with a range of 1 day to 43 days). The process is complete when the final encoded presentation is available in Dossier.

A new project on the horizon is the creation of the target validation knowledge base, which will capture the Millennium-specific scientific findings from lab notebooks and provide comprehensive access to experimental results from core systems, laboratory reagents, core systems for additional work requests, and scientific findings.

Ingenuity is a knowledge representation system complete with knowledge bases, knowledge acquisition tools, query language, and life sciences applications. Ingenuity can model biological knowledge with technical development and content acquisition. There were many products available to choose from, but ultimately, Millennium chose Ingenuity based on its core technology, superiority in industry knowledge, and the quantity of its literature-based findings. Its public literature content contains 600,000 findings, 32 journals, and 24,000 recent articles.

The proprietary findings from the Dossier knowledge repository coupled with information and content from Ingenuity have allowed Millennium some unique collaboration opportunities. Millennium has combined these two databases to form one huge, single knowledge base. This is beneficial because it allows Millennium to perform computational analysis of integrated complex biological knowledge for drug discovery. More importantly, it presents Millennium scientists with integrated views of information derived from disparate sources.


The technical questions database at NASA JPL is used to help employees quickly find answers to common problems in an electronic format. It features the best questions asked at technical reviews and helps to create a virtual presence when key people are not available. The database includes more than 700 questions in 42 subject areas.