Creating a Roadmap for Management: Nick Milton

By: Yadira Y. Caro

If you are looking to know more about the field of Knowledge Management, you may often hear the name of Nick Milton. His book The Knowledge Manager’s Handbook (co-authored with Patrick Lambe), is a comprehensive guide for anyone who wants to launch an initiative or lead a program to help their organization make use of their collective knowledge for competitive advantage. He also has been blogging about KM, almost daily, since 2009.

As opposed to many others in this field, his background is not in IT. Milton is a geologist, who completed his Masters on Natural Sciences and then his PhD in Geology. Almost two decades ago, Nick and various colleagues from multinational gas company BP, launched Knoco Ltd, a management and training company focused on KM, where he is now Director and Vice President.

In this interview, Nick shared the story about this transition, discusses some of the misconceptions about KM and gives valuable resources for people in any industry.

Why did you choose Knowledge Management as a career?
I made the change to KM while working at BP. Previously I had been a geologist (which is quite a knowledge-based subject) but moved to a role in BP Norway which was called “Quality Manager;” supporting the quality of geological work. It became obvious that the quality of work was directly impacted by access to knowledge, and we build a local KM framework which was one of the first of its kind. Then when the BP central KM team was created in the late 1990s I was invited to join, which is when I formally left Geology behind as a career and moved full time into KM; initially with BP but for the last 20 years as an independent consultant. My KM career has now lasted longer than my geology career did.

There are many definitions of KM. What is your definition of KM?
My favorite definition, which is also the definition in the ISO KM standard (ISO 30401) is that KM is Management with a focus on knowledge. So its not “the management of knowledge” but “knowledge-focused management”. This at first reading seems almost a tautology, but it is really quite profound. KM is how you would manage, if you wanted to deliver the value inherent in knowledge. Then of course you have to define “knowledge”, which is where I (and the ISO standard) follow Peter Senge in saying that Knowledge is the ability to make correct decisions and take effective actions.

KM is Management with a focus on knowledge. So its not “the management of knowledge” but “knowledge-focused management”.

Nick Milton

Is there any misconception you commonly see regarding KM?
There are oh so many of these! For example: KM is a subset of Information Management; KM is information management (or content management) rebadged; KM can be solved by buying software; KM is an end in itself; KM means documenting all your knowledge; build a good KM system, and people will magically populate it. The first 2 are very common, and many times the first discussion I have with a potential client is whether they want KM at all, or whether they will be better served by improved IM or data management. The third has plagued the industry from the start – the idea that software will solve all your KM problems. Software is part of the solution, but software alone is nowhere near enough.

What significant evolution have you seen in the industry in the past decade?
In some ways the industry has not evolved at all. If you look at some of the lists of “greatest KM pitfalls” written 20 years ago, all of those pitfalls still affect KM today. However there are certainly some developments: the creation of an entire discipline for Knowledge Centered Support (KCS). This is a KM approach applied to customer support knowledge bases, which is very powerful and robust.

An increased understanding of, and set of models for, Lesson Management. These address what happens to Lessons after they have been identified, and before they become Lessons Learned. This work is best developed in the emergency services and military.

A plethora of software tools which we did not have 20 years ago. In-house wikis for example. Unfortunately the KM software space is dominated by SharePoint, which is an IM tool rather than a KM tool. At last, an international standard for KM, which should help avoid many of the misconceptions listed above.

You write multiple articles on KM. How do you select the topics for your blog?
I have been blogging for over 10 years now, with a new blog post each weekday, so have written over 2500 posts at www.nickmilton.com. I get inspiration in many ways: from articles I read online and in the press. I have a daily Google Alert for the term “knowledge management” and this often brings me new ideas. Also from questions people (and clients) ask me. When I present a training course, I often fill a whole page of blog post ideas just from the questions I get asked.

I often up cycle previous blog posts, but only if they are at least 5 years old and therefore in need of modernizing. If I get really stuck I open a random PowerPoint, choose a random slide, and write a blog post about that slide

What are key skills or training a person in the KM field should have?
The core skills are people skills. KM is “all about people,” and KMers need to be People people first and foremost. If I were given a KM team, I would train all of them in facilitation skills, and change management skills. The team would than need other skillsets within it: someone with IT skills, someone with IM or library skills, someone with communication skills, and then a whole bunch of people skilled in the business of the organization (lawyers in a law firm, engineers in a construction firm, geologists in an oil company). You don’t need everyone to have all these skills, but you need someone in the team to cover each skillset.

Based on your experience with multiple customers, is there an industry that really “gets” KM?
The ones that “get” KM are the ones which cannot afford to fail – where failure is serious, costly, or endangers life – and therefore where the value of learning and of knowledge is obvious. Therefore you see KM very well developed in the military (as you know from your own experience, Yadira), the emergency services, aviation, Oil and Gas, and (to a lesser extent) construction.

Then there are the big consulting firms, whose only product is knowledge, and who compete on knowledge. Companies such as McKinsey are leading the way with KM. There are probably more KM roles in legal firms than there are in other industries, but legal KM is an unusual variant which has more in common with content management than other variants do. And the development sector also has embraced KM, partly because knowledge has higher relative value in a cash-poor industry.

You’ve mentioned new technology (i.e. Artificial Intelligence) will not eliminate KM. Do you see any major changes in the field?
AI will not eliminate KM but it may eliminate some drudgery for knowledge workers. I think better search will always help – semantic search, natural language search, intelligent search. Also AI will help in uncovering patterns and insights from huge databases, which intelligent people can then turn into knowledge. These will be the power tools for the knowledge worker, helping them to work faster and smarter. But no matter what the toolset may be, its only 1/4 of the solution. We also need the roles and accountabilities, the KM processes, and the KM governance suite if our KM frameworks are to be complete.

AI will not eliminate KM but it may eliminate some drudgery for knowledge workers.

Is there a particular project in your career you are most proud of? Why?
I loved the work we did with Mars in the early 2000s. It was simple stuff, but it made an impressive impact to the business. Also some of the work we did with De Beers at the same time. I really enjoyed working with Nancy Dixon at Huawei, in China. This was a chance to try western style KM and adapt it to Chinese business, and again it succeeded beyond expectations. Also I am really enjoying the work I am doing now with the European Space Agency. Again just good standard KM, but in such an exciting setting.

What three resources (podcasts, books, websites) you recommend which have helped you in your career?
I will go for books: Davenport and Prusak Working Knowledge, Nancy Dixon Common Knowledge, Hansen Collaboration, Wenger and Synder Cultivating Communities of Practice. Also if I can include my own book, written with Patrick Lambe, The Knowledge Manager’s Handbook. Nothing helps you understand a field more than writing a book about it. You don’t realize what you know, until you try to put it into print!

Do you have questions, feedback or suggestions of people to interview?

Contact me!

How to Pass the PMP on the First Try

By: Yadira Y. Caro

Having a Project Management Professional Certification is an achievement many of us working in technology and management want to attain. It is globally recognized as a standard to demonstrate knowledge of best practices to manage any project. In other practical terms, it gives us competitive advantage to get better positions and thus, better salaries. According to studies, those managers who have it earn up to 22% more than those who don’t.

Taking the PMP is an investment. I’m not only referring to the money spent in preparatory courses, but also on time spent getting ready to fulfill educational and work requirements. However, after spending multiple hours to lead to this certificate, I noticed how many of us simply delay taking test.

Perhaps this is due to fear of failure. Only 40-50% pass of the PMP test takers pass it on the first try. This fear of never feeling prepared makes us think ‘I need to study a bit more’ and keep delaying the test even further. Participating in a PMP bootcamp – and taking the test immediately after of course- helps increase your chance of passing on the first try. Some of us however, are not able to attend one due to time (requires a full week out of your job), money or simply no bootcamps taking place nearby.

After fulfilling all my educational requirements in 2015, a year and a half later I finally took the PMP. I took the test and passed it on the first try. Here are some tips which might help you too!

Set a deadline and stick with it
You have all the requirement to take the PMP test. Now pick a date and schedule it at a testing center near you. Test centers are everywhere: I took mine here in Germany, and while a test center was not available in my city, I was happy to drive to 1.5 hours to Frankfurt.

Set your studying schedule as well, a realistic one. Do not plan your test for a month from now if you know you will barely have time to study. I scheduled my test four months prior with the commitment of studying an hour per day. It is what I had available as I had a full time job, a toddler and a baby on the way (morning sickness is a pain!).

Create your own cheat sheet
As you being to study, start drafting your study cheat sheet. Many books may come with one, but drafting your own helps reinforce the material as you are learning. In mine, I included the names of processes, formulas and terms I knew I needed to remember. Also, keep your cheat sheet short as you’ll look at it often to help remember what you study. It is called a “sheet” after all.

Review the PMBOK, but don’t use it as your study guide
The Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) provides all the foundational information, about project management, but the test focuses on practical questions which are not covered on this book. While I looked at the PMBOK to remember information about each standard and process, the real meat of the test is offered in many other books. I focused on books written by these two authors:


• Roji Abraham: His 300 Practice Questions for the PMP Exam and Be a PMP Ace in 30 days offer great tips and plenty of questions to study on.
• Aileen Ellis: Any of the books written by her, based on the area you want to focus on, were extremely useful. One I realized which areas I was consistently getting lower scores on, I bought (for a very low price) her e-books which have numerous questions and explanations. Although the test did not have as many formula questions as I expected, I truly believe constant practice made a difference.

Practice questions every day
This is the key to pass the PMP. Practice questions often, but make sure you are focusing on the right ones. Some apps offer PMP practice questions, but these are often in a short trivia format. Questions on the PMP are quite long, so focus on those apps and books with longer questions which require greater analysis. The more you practice, the more you get used to this format.

On test day, relax and use all the time you have
I took my test while I was on the first trimester of my pregnancy. I wanted to take the test in the morning as it is my peak time for concentration, but my test was two hours away from home. Instead of waking up at an ungodly hour to deal with morning sickness and drive to take the test, I booked a hotel nearby the test center. It made all the difference as I had a good night sleep knowing I would not have to battle traffic.


On test hour, I proceeded to write down all the formulas and key words I had studied, so I could refer back as needed. I took my time with each question and answered each one; but I marked those I was uncertain of. Once I finished, I revised the marked questions. Then, with some extra time, I went back to review each unmarked question briefly just to make sure I did not miss anything and was consistent with the answers. The test is four hours long, so make sure you use up to your last minute. A single question can make all the difference.

Good luck on your test! Pass this along to your friend or coworker who is still procrastinating on taking the PMP.

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Leading Others to Lead: Mary Gillam

By: Yadira Y. Caro

The journey of Mary Gillam to become an Air Force Colonel and a leader was not exempt of multiple challenges. However, Mary, who also holds a PhD in Management of Information Systems Technology, enjoys sharing her story, challenges and lessons she has learned to help others become leaders as well.

Dr. Gillam was raised by her paternal grandmother alongside her brothers and sister. But her academic skills enable her to get a scholarship from Dow Chemical to study Chemistry. However, Mary was also interested in joining the Air Force. She would later join the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). After college, she was commissioned into the Air Force as a Second Lieutenant. Through tenacity and hard work, she forged a career of over 20 years where she rose through the ranks to become a Colonel, something only a small percentage of officers achieve. The percentage is even smaller for women and people of color.

After a career spent in the world of Telecommunications and Information Systems Technology, she shifted her focus to teaching leadership, management and organizational development. She became an Amazon bestsellingauthor, a host and producer of the TV show Leadership Table Talk, and even designed a board game on the topic. In this interview, she discussed her career journey, her challenges in the military, and gives advice on what it takes to become a leader.

As you described in your book Gifted to Lead you came from a household where you seem to have had a lot of challenges along the way. What made you join the military?

I love to share this story because I was raised by my paternal grandmother who married at age 14. She had 17 children, and then she was widowed at age 48. Afterwards, she was later given sole responsibility for my three siblings and myself.  It was my grandmother who taught me what it means to strive to be the best that you can be regardless of your circumstances.

Having graduated with honors from high school, I went off to college. I got a scholarship in Chemistry from Dow Chemical, and then I picked up a scholarship from the Air Force. But how I joined the Air Force is really interesting. One day, some ROTC students were out recruiting and invited me to speak to the professor of Aerospace Studies. Because I was already committed to going to work for Dow Chemical, I was facing a dilemma. The end result is that the professor of Aerospace Studies met with the Chairman of the Chemistry Department, and the Dow Chemical representative to discuss my situation. After the discussion, I was allowed to keep both scholarships and pursue my dream of joining the Air Force. I often say that Dow Chemical values military service.

How many years were you serving in the military?

Twenty eight and a half.

Can you describe some of the challenges that you’ve had throughout your career in the military?

I really hate to say this, but a lot had to do with my ethnicity and my gender and I wasn’t about to change either one of them (laughs). Sometimes you just have to really buckle down and say, ‘Okay, regardless of the challenge here, I’m going to work hard.’ Given my faith in God, and hard work, I was able to succeed.

And you made it through the rank of Colonel. Not a lot in the military get to that rank. How was that journey for you?

It was very interesting, I would say, because you’re right, not a lot of people make it to the rank of Colonel. Although you have General that comes after that number is even smaller. But when you make it to the rank of Colonel, especially as a female, you have done very, very well in the military. And so I just said ‘I’m going give it everything I’ve got, to become the best military leader.’ Because you have to have the right jobs, and be wiling to work hard. But, then you really have to have people willing to give you an opportunity. If you don’t get the opportunity, I don’t care how hard you’ve worked, you still have to have the opportunity to show what you can do. I really thank all the mentors along the way that I’ve had who encouraged me to just continue to work hard.

You’ve got to get past the fear element and really put yourself out there.

Mary Gillam

From those experiences, do you have any particular example that you remember of any deployment or leading a group of people that you consider successful?

As a military officer, I had the opportunity to deploy to many locations. As a telecommunications and information systems technology officer, I was responsible for ensuring that our forces had the capability to operate in a mobile environment as if they were at home. However, one of my greatest experiences was when I served as the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Director of IT for a very large organization. I had the opportunity to build a team, deliver IT services, and create a win-win situation for all of the stakeholders. My goal was to deliver value to the organizations and customers that we served, and we were very successful.

Was your track primarily Information Technology? Why Information Technology?

When I was commissioned in the US Air Force, there was a shortage of communications-electronics officers. This career field was the equivalent of the telecommunications and information technology career field in the civilian sector. Although my undergraduate degree was in chemistry, I had the math and science necessary to serve in this career field. I would later earn a Masters Degree in Computers and Information Systems Management. Although the career field would undergo numerous name changes over the years, it was the equivalent of the information technology field today.

How long ago did you leave the military?

I retired in 2010.

How was that transition from the military career? Did you decide to continue with the IT field?

When I first retired from the Air Force, I continued working in the IT career field. I worked as a government contractor for a major consulting firm supporting the Air Force CIO. I later returned to the government as a Senior Executive serving as the Director of Technology, Innovation, and Engineering.

You have a lot of different publications in IT and also on the topic of leadership. What made you decide to focus on leadership?

As an officer, you were constantly receiving a lot of training in the leadership space. When I was a teenager and when I was in college, I led a lot of organizations. I guess you could say that leadership was in my DNA. It is a given for me to continue learning and studying in the areas of leadership, management, team-building, and organizational development. As a result, when I found myself wanting to transition from the IT field, I looked at potentially providing training, coaching, and consulting services in the leadership space. So I went to Georgetown and got a Masters in Executive Leadership, even though I had all kinds of leadership experience. I just wanted to ensure that I had the latest information on the topic. I’m very passionate about it.

I host a local cable TV show called Leadership Table Talk. I invented a game (The Leadership Build Zone) in the area of leadership development, so I’m finding myself really enjoying helping people to grow and develop their leadership skills and talents.

What do you think is one of the main factors that prevent people from exploring more of their leadership skills?

What I’ve found in my research, working with people for so many years, and leading organizations, unfortunately is fear. A lot of people are afraid of failure. I remember a young lady who I wanted her to lead a project for our organization and the first thing that she said was ‘Dr Gillam, I am just afraid that I might fail.’ And I said ‘well, you might succeed (laughs) How about looking at it from that respect, because I know you can do it and I’m not going take no for an answer.’ She ended up doing the project, and did an exceptional job. So I would tell people, you’ve got to get past the fear element and really put yourself out there. If there is a skill that you are lacking, then you can learn that skill set. But, don’t just refuse to lead because you are afraid. Who knows, you might just succeed (laughs).

Do you have three resources you recommend that have helped you either in your career or that help others in either the areas of leadership or in the areas of IT?

I would say The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by Dr. John Maxwell, in the leadership space, has always been a good staple for me. I use a lot of his materials. The book that I really like from an IT perspective is People Centric Security: Transforming Your Enterprise Security Culture. It’s an easy read but at the same time it really does address how we can help to change the dynamics of what’s going on in the cyber security space. It’s just a book that I use a lot as a reference guide today and I really enjoy.

A third one that I use in my executive coaching is Crucial Conversations. I love that book because it really does get people focused on how to conduct those crucial conversations. You may not want to have them, but you need to have them especially if you are a leader. You need to know how to talk to people, and in ways that will build your team and not destroy it.

You mentioned that you’ve had a lot of challenges in the military, primarily based on gender and race. What advice would you give to any woman particularly, who wants to start a military career or who is in her military career right now?

That is a great question. I would tell ladies that if they have an issue, there are a lot of resources available. Don’t be afraid to speak up and speak out. I believe that the #metoo movement has brought to light a lot of things that have happened that should not have occurred. In the military, sometimes people will not speak up because they don’t want to be labeled as complaining. Yet, if people don’t speak up, things will not change
So, don’t be afraid to speak up and speak out because you have earned the right to serve in the military like anyone else.

Do you have questions, feedback or suggestions of people to interview? Contact me!h