Our Way of Working with Customers and Partners

Oliver Thylmann

• Sep 29, 2020

 

In other words: Why Knowledge Sharing is Important Part II

To recap my previous article: if knowledge is important, then the creation of that knowledge is what adds value and that again means you need to optimize for human interaction and adapt processes accordingly. This obviously doesn’t just apply to our internal interactions, but also interactions with our customers and partners.

Communities of Practice

Palanyi said: “We know more than we can tell.” This means that rather than simply writing things down, we need to interact with each other to learn and build knowledge.

This is where the system of Communities of Practice (CoP), as a communal learning system, comes from. A CoP would be a group of people with a shared craft or a shared goal in the more liberal interpretation. If you want to know more, look up 'Situated Learning', as it explains in large detail the systems that are relevant for developing professional skills.

This CoP can be done around shared interests, beliefs, values, and fits the Special Interest Group (SIG) and Chapter construct inside Giant Swarm, but also our informal Slack channels. Our Giant Summit Events and our Engineering Days are created to extend our CoPs to our customers. During these events, Giant Swarm and our customers hold talks, sometimes together sharing their learnings and sometimes individually to share knowledge.

If we agree that CoP and something like a master-and-apprentice system are important for knowledge distribution and creation, then we need to make sure that we tailor work around getting knowledge shared between people in those settings. With that, we need to accept that it might never move to the company, meaning that it will always only exist in the space between people interacting.

The way it possibly can be transferred to the company is through people expressing sentiments like; “this is the way things are done around here” in personal interactions. This isn't about dictating a certain opinion or process but rather explaining a way of working that is more around cultural development than documentation. Management can possibly see knowledge and repackage it as best practice and share stories.

Hence, the reason why our customers need to experience our ways of working to truly understand what sets Giant Swarm apart from other companies. We have found out the hard way that simply telling people what to do is not enough, you need to give them a reason to do it. And sometimes their reason needs to be their own, developed over time, based on their own frame of reference. 

An example is that we can fully explain why we believe upgrading clusters regularly is important, but no explanation beats experiencing a failure to upgrade first hand, within a team that has a real application running into real problems due to outdated components on the clusters.

The value of knowledge is beyond you

We've established that freely sharing knowledge is important and that we need to allow for diverse interactions for it to really flourish. You need to keep an open mind, interact with a diverse group of people, allow for discovery and sharing, all this together will allow you to create new information, to create new knowledge.

“Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes.” ― Peter F. Drucker

The interesting mix is that knowledge does not decrease with use, but has a short half-life. You need to focus on using your knowledge as best you can. Read that again. This is important! Existing knowledge that you share doesn't lose value for you; it might only decrease the difference between you and the other person you've imparted your knowledge onto. With the right setup, that knowledge sharing will also add to more information for you and allow you to create new knowledge.

Even more wicked, knowledge value is deemed highest at the place of the highest need, which certainly is not with yourself.

Running managed Kubernetes clusters for our customers, this is especially true for us. We are here to be the pro that our customers can depend on. If a customer cluster crashes, us knowing what happened will not bring it back to life. However, fixing it, and even better, explaining why and discussing with the customer how to avoid it as a team, is where we grow and can build more valuable knowledge, especially across a network of customers. Knowledge is created at the edge.

If you think about the open-source world, this is exactly what is at play. Everything that can be written down, the code and documentation, is theoretically free, but the interaction with the code at the edge, at the point of value creation, possibly creates new learnings, more knowledge, that is then fed back into code. Still, the people that are the real experts in the system are really expensive because their knowledge cannot be written down so easily. 

 

The company now goes beyond borders

You are in a network with our colleagues, friends, customers, partners, and extended families, with some of them working at the same company as you. But all these parts need to work together for the whole to be successful. The size of companies is actually shrinking and the network you work in is growing, as things become more complex and these companies or groups of people with a shared interest, focus on specific things. In the case of Giant Swarm, it makes no sense for us to build shoes, a mobile phone network, and IoT platforms, the same as it makes no sense for our customers to become experts in running container orchestration platforms. With transaction costs, and communication costs and barriers between companies getting lower and lower, you will see this happening more and more but in a real partnership setting instead of an outsourcing-like construct.

Companies need to focus on the part of the value chain that makes them different, that makes them who they are. Our customers decided that Kubernetes management, the same as building your own cloud, is clearly not their reason for being. And make no mistake, running Kubernetes is like building your own AWS.

Additionally, Giant Swarm is built to make talking to us as frictionless as possible, making the transaction costs between us and the customer as low as possible. There is a reason that we have Slack channels instead of ticketing systems. Some people likened it to how support in open-source systems works. You become part of our community. The network becomes one.

We need to understand networks a bit better, and for that, let's just take McKiernan's (1992) 7 basic premises of network theory:

  • Networks relate organizations to others
  • Dependence on each other is high
  • Resources are firm unique (mostly)
  • Networks are in a flux
  • Strengths depend on links (remember: knowledge is valued highest at the point of highest need which might not be with you)
  • Information exchange is key (transparency and no-blame culture are key)
  • Product and service characteristics influence bonding (we build our product with our customers)

The important thing is that you need to remember these characteristics when you think about the future of your company.

A good example is how we work with Container Solutions. Our resources are very unique and how we connect is always in flux. We know we can always work together due to our common love for technology. Through working together, we see each other’s strengths and hence deepen our links. This happens only because we are exchanging a lot of information and our services push for sharing that information.

The same is true for our customers. All of them have hired bright minds for their cause, and we can always learn from them. Our Giant Summit events are built to facilitate that sharing and create deeper bonds.

Conclusion

Now let's go full circle from the last article to this point. Firstly, we cannot write everything down, and secondly, to succeed, we need to allow for constant and diverse interactions. These interactions need communities of practice and need to extend beyond your own company, in a network setting that is always in flux, with constant sharing of knowledge as well as creation. We need to remember all of the above when we design our processes.

We clamor for simplicity that's not there. We long for clear and explicit knowledge, which in many cases is nothing but a pipe dream. Our knowledge is most valuable with our customers and partners and we need to build networks to increase the knowledge pool available to our customers, thus creating a viral loop of knowledge inception in the process. You win by enabling your company to automatically flourish in the future, based on the structure it has now and how it is able to adapt.

And oh boy, am I looking forward to the future of this company.

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