Powering into an active future? Or Slamming on the brakes? #COVID-19 #lean-six-sigma


Hello all - I see many familiar faces from the early (for me) KM days of the late 90s/early 2000s, the heady days of Enterprise 2.0 and through to... the current state of things. (whew)

I recently reconnected with Stan,who gracefully steered me here.

I'm on a bit of mission these days to demonstrate business, organizations and people who are actively SOARING in the last few months. They haven't stopped in their tracks, haven't retreated to safety in a hope that everything will go back to "normal" (a constant moving target).

I'm hunting those who are proactively working through their reaction to the pandemic to see what the commonalities (or rarities) are for this somewhat rare cohort.

Early hint, I'm finding that organizations that had almost any real experience with Lean (Thinking/Manufacturing/Startup) are generally in far better shape than others.

As a 60+ year old management and thinking practice, that gives me hope that there are OTHER common practices that that the assembled KMers here may be able to point me to.

I'd love to get additional interviews going to help expose what's possible and sew more seeds for others to reap.

Any people/organizations you'd like to nominate? (And that includes you and your organization)

Thanks in advance, and looking forward to rejoining in the KM camaraderie!


Stan Garfield

Dan, welcome to the community!  Thanks for jumping right in to start this thread and to reply to several others.

SIKM Members, if you can respond to Dan's query, that would be great.  Thanks a lot.


Hi Dan, Welcome to the community - your interest in proactively working through commonalities (or rarities) is a great topic for discussion. I'm finding that discussions on what's needed most to enable remote workers to work efficiently, effectively or just to work as their normal pace is impacted by ease of access to knowledge assets and the ability to create them in the context of their work/discussions. I'd welcome a discussion on the topic and would most likely bring in some points on the Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS) practice that is not necessarily common in this part of the world but fairly well known in Boston! (...spoken by a Bostonian living in New Zealand). 

Dennis Pearce

Hi Dan, glad to see you here!

After spending most of a 40-year career at large global companies like IBM and Lexmark, I retired in 2017 and for the last year and a half have been working for a Chicago-based non-profit called the Ounce of Prevention Fund, which focuses on providing health and education to infants and preschool children of underprivileged families.  I think we have been very successful at transitioning to a post-pandemic work from home environment for a number of reasons.

I spent the last 6 years at Lexmark managing their internal enterprise social network, and am in the process of launching one now at the Ounce.  The difference in cultures is pretty dramatic, and not only because of the for-profit vs. non-profit perspective.  At Lexmark I was surrounded mostly by engineers, about 80% male.  At the Ounce I am surrounded by about 80% women, most of whom have Masters or PhDs in education or social science fields.  The organization has about 320 employees and most of them pre-COVID had worked in their Chicago headquarters, with probably 20 or so scattered around the rest of the country. 

I had spent the last year getting them used to working in Microsoft Teams as opposed to email, so the timing couldn't have been better when they were suddenly forced to work from home starting in March.  I have found the transformation work so far to be easier than I expected, which I think stems from several factors:

  • The timing, as I mentioned -- we had spent a year experimenting with MS Teams, so they were prepared to start using it "for real" when they suddenly all had to work remotely.

  • A 300-person organization is a pretty nice size for these kinds of experiments.  Not so small that everyone knows each other personally but not so big that it takes years to turn the ship around.

  • With so many employees having advanced degrees in education, they quickly get it when I talk about things like capturing lessons learned, building a learning organization, experimenting with new ways of working, working out loud, etc.  They are much more amenable to change and experimentation than the engineers I worked with.

  • Because of the nature of the organization's mission, there is a feeling that there are others depending on us which keeps everyone motivated.  For example, we were working on developing an online community for early childhood "system builders" (those folks in a community who pull together non-profits, government agencies, business leaders, etc.) to share tips and ideas.  When the pandemic hit, we had only just purchased the software and had planned for a roll-out several months out.  But we immediately were hit with requests from across the country asking if we had any information on managing day cares and pre-schools under these new conditions.  So we drastically condensed our timeline and launched it in a week instead of three months as planned, with a specific focus on COVID (see Early Childhood Connector).  I don't know if for-profits can generate that same feeling about their customers, but having a sense of mission or purpose goes a long way toward helping employees adjust and power through into a new way of working.
To your point about Lean, even though most of our employees come from the Education field, we have a Project Management Office with project managers who are pretty well versed in Lean, Six Sigma, Agile, etc. so that gets folded into our approach to how projects are delivered.  Much of the Ounce's activity over the years has been delivering training, which was of course done mostly in person in the past.  There were several project teams recently created to look at what we are now learning from having to deliver this training virtually and determine what aspects of this we might want to keep in the future even when in-person training becomes possible again.  We're also trying to design our internal processes in such a way that we can easily switch back and forth from in-person to remote work on the assumption that we might be fluctuating between the two modes for several years to come.

Aprill Allen

Hi Dan,

Good to meet, and welcome to the group. I've noticed with the various businesses in my circle, that those with a remote-first approach to work are carrying on, business-as-usual. These are solely SaaS companies, and like you've said, startups or digital-native businesses. (Two examples: Buildkite - a continuous integration/cont dev platform; and Teamgage - an org change/employee engagement platform. For Teamgage, it's the current conditions that led to increased sales and growth.) It's not because of any kind of intentional KM that these examples are going well. It's purely the normalised WFH and the small number of employees compared to other orgs.

My enterprise clients are so-so. They've coped so far, but service desk volumes are high and with so much adjustment going on, I imagine they're stressful positions to be in.

Aprill Allen
Founder and Managing Director | Knowledge Bird
KM Consulting & KCS Training
M: +61 (0)400 101 961


Thanks Beth - apologies for delayed reaction here, my inbox runneth over lately! I'll circle back offline from here so we can have a chat.


Dennis - whew, that's quite a lot of detail you've unloaded there. Sounds like timing is everything, and the differences between cultures from one organization to another can be so radically different, can't they?

I'm working as part of a team for a startup (a social good corp) that's focused on upskilling and reskilling female leaders. Quite a different experience compared to heavily male-leaning environments.

Good points about the drivers behind the people within for-profits vs. non-profits. Perfect world, that drive and sense of a mission can certainly exist in a for-profit situation, although it does seem to be rarer for sure.

Sounds like you've been well positioned and set the stage for transformation to remote at just the right time most recently, that's fantastic to here.

And most importantly, attention to detail and willingness to get focused to professional tackle issues from PMO, Lean, etc. perspective sounds like a great foundation for your current work.

Thanks for your response, let's have a realtime chat sometime soon, eh?


Hi Aprill - thanks for your response. It's funny, the last startup that I worked for (just over a year ago), all the things that are supposedly so hard about "working from home" or more accurately, "working remote," were mostly second nature.

Still plenty of fiefdoms and anti-teamwork behavior (cross-teams primarily), but otherwise, very very modern, and no big deal.

Compare that to my previous 5 years at a 2nd generation family owned business of 60+ years... it was a challenge to help hit fast-forward there, and nobody thought it was possible. But I assembled a team, did the work I've seen be successful for clients, and they can hardly believe that the old way of working ever worked.


Oh there is so much potential we can unleash in the world, if only people knew it was entirely possible, and DONE ALL THE TIME!

Thanks for your insights, and I'd love to chat in real-time sometime soon!