Experts, Novices and Assimilation | Onboarding using CDM

On-boarding, assimilation, norming are all just different names to the same problem that Cognitive Task Analysis terms as the Expert Novice Gap. In my industry this process of apprenticeship is seen as

1. A billing leakage, that is if I do not start billing the new support personnel as soon as possible I am losing billable hours

2. An additional problem, if elder/more experienced people are left to support results in reduced profitability (experience costs money)

3. A pain, as there is 25% attrition/retirement in the industry on average and makes the problem more substantive

This is a KM problem and needs attention as it affects business directly. If you are a KM Manager, really only skill that is needed is what Klein calls as "helping practitioners "tell stories"", not just any story but stories that uncover what makes an expert expert.

Stories are inherently emotional and deep domain. For KM Managers it is easy trap as it has most elements of distraction like conflicts, pressure, politics, a new language of the domain itself that we cannot fathom, among others. So when interviews or structured elicitation is done here is the recommendation on what to gather without getting distracted

1. Cues and patterns that experts see but novices don’t, I used to illustrate with the military story of counting tanks from Klein but over a period, these were replaced with real internal stories. For the practitioner to trust you, a minimum level of understanding the expert’s job is mandatory.

2. Heuristic is one of the major dimensions in the ASHEN framework where experts generally have a short (not necessarily safe) way to tackle a situation. If you cannot make the expert articulate the heuristic, even after conversion the captured knowledge will be vacant. But if you just have the experts rattle out heuristics, it is of no use either. The conditions/situation are more important than the captured heuristic.

3. Decisions made, in the typical heroes journey there is this increasing level of conflict making decisions harder. In experts’ life, this increasing level of conflict is prevalent and generally, they are very much aware of what the situation was and what forced them one way or other.

4. Anomalies in situations are the anti-climax type incidents, examples here may be limited in number but are very close to the heart for the expert, and they remember mostly why it is an anomaly. Even if this does not come out in a single interview, over a period this comes to surface.

Typical Critical Decision Method (CDM) involves 4 sweeps as below

1. Incident Identification

2. Timeline verification

3. Deepening

4. What if queries

Working Minds: A Practitioner’s Guide to Cognitive Task Analysis has excellent practice guidelines on how to do CDM and creating a record of the lived experience. What you get as output is not a Standard Operating Procedure, but actually a story of when a SOP will fail and what to do if an expert is not around.


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