In this same article, Mr. Hammer admits that he has made a mistake. His mistake is, as he states: "I forgot about the people." After making millions of dollars, and many thousands of people being laid-off he admits that BPR forgot that people are important in a work system. Our fear is that we will see history repeated. Once management starts to embrace knowledge management we fear that, again, we forget about the people.
Knowledge cannot be disembodied from the people and the situation. In this paper we first discuss four concepts that are central to the notion of situatedness. Situatedness changes the way we think about how knowledge is created (learning) and applied (action), and managed. In this light knowledge management changes its meaning from managing the knowledge of an organization to managing the situation in which learning happens. Collaboration and participation become the key management principles. We propose that Brahms (Business Re-design Agent-based Holistic Modeling System), an activity-based multi-agent modeling environment, allows us to model knowledge in situated actions and learning in human activities.2
1'Next Big Thing': Re-Engineering Gurus Take
Steps to Remodel Their Stalling Vehicles, Wall Street Journal 11/26/96
2 Brahms is being developed at NYNEX Science & Technology, in collaboration with the Institute for Research on Learning.
How then can we disembody knowledge from the actor acting in a situation? If knowledge does not exist outside of the situation, how then can we manage knowledge? We should view management as not only managing processes, but also managing the situations in which people act. For example: In rethinking how the to eliminate errors on order forms, we not only need to rethink the sales process, but also how the sales representative and the engineering manager can collaborate better in their activity of solving the errors that are being introduced (e.g. assuming that a process re-design alone will eliminate all errors is wishful thinking). We need a) to nurture the situation, b) view managing knowledge as the ability to manage the learning situation, and c) view knowledge as something that only exists when people can act in a way that allows them to interact, collaborate and learn. Repeating a task without learning is merely an information process, or a non-knowledge intensive process. Acting is creating knowledge and thus learning at the same time. It is not executing a description of knowledge, like an inference in a rule base. Acting is knowledge creation in action.
This view of human behavior, actions and plans creates the need to rethink the use of models of knowledge in situation-specific activities. On a larger scale it takes into question the ability to manage people's activities through the modeling of their knowledge. Suchman proposes an alternative approach to knowledge management. The aim is not to create formal models of people's knowledge and actions, but "to explore the relation of knowledge and action to the particular circumstances in which knowing and acting invariably occur."
This notion of learning changes how we might think of a learning organization. Creating a learning organization is a by-product of allowing people to be legitimate peripheral participants in the communities of practice within an organization. The notion of learning by "listening to stories" is changed to "participating in the creation of the stories", i.e. being situated within the activity, as opposed to hearing about it post mortem. Van der Spek and Spijkervet write: "An important aspect of knowledge management is improving an organization's learning capability."  In the view of situated learning, knowledge management becomes the management of the process of legitimate peripheral participation.
What we'd like to propose is that we look at an organization in a company (or the company as a whole) as an autopoietic system. It might be useful, as in descriptive analysis, to break the world into parts, but in dynamic systems, as in biological and social processes, parts do not have such an existence independent of their interaction. Maturana and Varela state that the only product of an autopoietic system is itself, with no separation between producer and product, and the being and doing of the organization. We can say the same for an organization of people in a company. An organization in a company can be looked at as trying to sustain itself. In that way the only product is the organization itself. An organization only exists when it is in action, i.e. the being and doing of an organization is inseparable. We call this a human activity system.
This view of a company as an autopoietic organism can bring us closer to viewing the people as the most important units of the structure. Autopoietic organization can be attained by many different components. As Maturana and Varela suggest, only certain components possess the right characteristics for creating a unity. The same can be said for people in human activity systems. The "components" in a human activity system are people. From this it should be clear that an organization of people can only sustain itself if the people (units) act, collaborate, learn and evolve as an unity in action. Separating the knowledge from the people is impossible in the view of autopoiesis, because it tries to separate the knowledge of people from the interaction of people, and therefore from the autopoietic dynamics.
Knowledge is created, and learning takes place during the activity of participating. For example, in the morning coffee meeting where a manager assigns new jobs for the day to the technicians, there are discussions around the problems that were faced the day before. One technician explains why he couldn't finish a certain job, and that he has to go back and finish it today. This changes the way the manager assigns the other jobs of the day, because he cannot assign a new job to him. In a scenario like this, what makes the manager react in this specific way? Why not just give the job to the next guy? This is knowledge in action. There is no fixed plan or set of plan fragments that generate all aspects of the manager's job assignment decisions. Some aspects are improvised; some might require re-conceiving how assignments are made. The manager plans in action. The ability to react to the situation is knowledge created in action. We might model the manager's problem solving process in this situation, but the next situation will be just a little different and create a different interaction, different stories to be told, different people to speak up, such that the manager comes up with a different plan. In traditional planning models, all such re-conceptions are modeled as re-assembly of existing descriptions. Situated cognition suggests that the person can appeal to more: to other modalities of conceptualization (imagery, sense of timing)  and to emotional values.  What about the learning that takes place in this situation? It takes too much space to write about all the possible learning situations that take place in this morning coffee activity, but we can all imagine what it is that the people in this meeting will learn from this situation.
Instead, what the current, most prevalent, view of knowledge management will drive to do is re-engineer away the morning coffee meeting, because it is "a waste of time", and develop a knowledge-based system that assigns the jobs for the day for the manager. What is not understood is what is lost with such a solution, let alone the fact that a knowledge-based system does not have the ability to react to the activity-specific context. The dynamic situation that constitutes the activity is part of an autopoietic system. The knowledge that is used within this activity does not exist outside of it. In other words, the knowledge is in the dynamics of the situation. Eliminating the possibility for this situation to take place eliminates the creation of this knowledge, as well as the situated learning. In contrast, if we understand the dynamics of the activity we understand that changing it will change the knowledge and the learning. If we have a way of understanding the dynamics of an activity we will have a better way to manage the knowledge and learning.
What we propose is that knowledge management is not just about modeling problem solving and expert knowledge. Knowledge management is also about modeling the dynamics, social and cognitive, of a human activity system. In the next section, we propose an activity-based modeling technique that allows us to investigate dynamic activities in which groups of people communicate and collaborate to perform a certain task. Activity-based modeling helps us to understand the situatedness of people's knowledge in activities.
Brahms models consist of groups of agents with context-sensitive, interactive behaviors. Agents are located, mobile, and have knowledge and changing beliefs. Groups may define job functions, teams, people at a certain location, or people with certain knowledge and beliefs.
Brahms enables modeling activities of people during the day--how people spend their time--emphasizing information processing, communication in different modalities (phone, fax, voice mail, face-to-face, databases), and location-specific interaction (meetings, chance conversations, teamwork). Thus, Brahms allows modeling a community of practice--a group of people who participate in some shared, choreographed interaction, usually involving collaboration between individuals with different roles and experience.
Brahms combines the functional perspective of business process models (orders, organizations, roles, product flow) and the knowledge perspective of cognitive process models (transformation of representations, flow and storage of information, error detection and problem solving) with models of active objects (e.g. fax machines, workflow systems).
Brahms models are designed to make social processes visible by incorporating social knowledge--what people know about each other, relevant to assigning jobs, getting assistance, and prioritizing work.
Brahms models incorporate generic protocols and objects, such as computer terminals, phones, and fax machines, and how to engage in a face-to-face conversation.
Thus, Brahms models provide a holistic perspective on how work gets done, emphasizing informal, social, circumstantial practices (rather than policies or procedures), while incorporating standard "task flow" views and productivity statistics.
For example, in Brahms models one might represent that what an agent does between 9 and 10am is quite different from the habitual practice at 4:30pm--even though the agent is doing the same "job." Similarly, a worker might engage in the activity of a coffee meeting, at which time a supervisor hands out the days' job assignments and workers bring up problems that occurred the previous day. Thus, problems are articulated and resolved in the context of activities. This context establishes what information is conveyed by whom, who participates in problem solving, and what actions are available. Activities, unlike tasks, do not have well-defined goals, whose accomplishment by definition terminates the task (e.g., "being a computer scientist" has no well-defined termination condition at which point we could say that the objective had been reached).
A simple example is illustrative. In developing a medical diagnostic expert system, one might ask the physician what kinds of patients he or she sees, what information is used, etc. In developing models of practice, one would start with questions like: Where do you work? What time do you start working each day? What do you do first? Is your schedule different during the week? Whom do you work with? How do you communicate with other people and what kinds of conversations do you have?
A typical Brahms model captures a day in the life of some main character in a community of practice, or perhaps some key collaborative event in development of a work product. To make the modeling manageable, one thinks in terms of writing a play: There is a stage, main characters, a point of view, and probably some climax scene. For example, in our most elaborate model, the climax is a three-way conference call by which a "turf coordinator" brings together a service technician at a customer site and another craftsman in the central office.
Models of practice include the lowest level tasks of a corresponding
business process model, but omit the cognitive modeling level of reasoning
and calculation one might find in a typical expert system. For example,
we might model a person as filling out a form, but not indicate the inferences
necessary to do this. The information required to fill out the form and
the changes to the form are only modeled to the extent necessary to represent
what triggers or modifies another person's activities. Especially, we model
information and tasks that might be in error or produce error. But the
distinction is subtle: A Brahms model might represent the specific inferences
by which a supervisor prioritizes the day's work and assigns jobs to particular
workers. Unlike in an expert system, the simulation of this "scheduling
task" might include an interruption by a co-worker, an inability to log
onto the computer database, running out of time, copying information to
In summary, Brahms models are not as detailed as models of cognitive skills, nor are they as general as functional models of business processes. They do not describe just what people are supposed to accomplish (functional transformations of materials), nor do they describe the intricate details of reasoning or calculation. However, Brahms models describe people's situated activities, collaboration, and interaction. In short, Brahms models human activity systems.
Workframes are inherited by agents from all groups to which they belong; groups may belong to other groups. Priorities allow workframes to interrupt each other or carry out specific aspects of a more general protocol. For example, workframes at the "all groups" (top) level specify how to use a telephone and have face-to-face conversations; these have intermediate priority. Workframes that trigger conversations are most specific and have the lowest priority. Workframes that specify what to say during certain kinds of conversations have the highest priority. By this simple scheme, it is possible for one agent to initiate a conversation and for the responder to "remember" something he wanted to tell the first agent when he called; thus a give and take may ensue.
Thoughtframes model agent reasoning about implications of beliefs, leading to changes in what they do next (thus a distinction is drawn between "action rules" and "thinking rules") Thoughtframes take no time, and are similar to rules in a rule-base.
Changes to beliefs may occur by virtue of: broadcast (e.g., speaking outloud), transfer from agent (telling or asking), transfer from object (e.g., reading a database or a fax), detectables, and consequences. Activities are spatially-dependent:
Action: wire end section & install jack
Objects embody stored information about the world, modeled as the "beliefs" of the object (e.g., a database). Factframes model object behavior, including what they detect and how they change state. Object instances may be created by an action (e.g., fax transmission creates a paper copy at the receiving station).
Facts are an eagle-eye view-from-nowhereÑthe outsider's view of the simulation, for example, the state of telephones, location of agents, etc. Detectables specify what facts an agent might detect during the action of a workframe. Beliefs are propositions agents believe about objects (state of the world) or other agents.
A communication may involve asking or telling. A communication may be from an agent or object to a specific agent or object, a group of agents, a class of objects, or may be a broadcast. For example, a factframe for the fax object broadcasts to every agent within geographical proximity that a fax has arrived.
Brahms currently models geography in a rudimentary way, consisting of regions, buildings, and their connections. Duration of movement is simply proportional to distance; for convenience movement between non-connected locations takes no time.
In general, descriptions of activities are associated with groups. In practice, there may only be one member of a group in a given workplace (e.g., one "physician's assistant" in a medical care module) or roles may be highly differentiated (e.g., the role of the "physician in charge"). Depending on the purpose for building the model, models may represent:
Brahms exists as a prototype developed in G2 on a SUN workstation, and Visual Basic on the PC. The system has a useful, but rudimentary interface, editor, and trace/debugging package. Current work includes comparative studies of tools and exploratory use on client projects. The name "Brahms" stands for "Business Redesign Agent-based Holistic Modeling System," but it applies to any human activity system.
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