Lucidea’s Lens: Knowledge Management Thought Leaders Part 49 – Melissie Rumizen

Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

November 30, 2023

Melissie Rumizen was an accomplished and highly respected leader in the field of knowledge management, and her memory is cherished by those who knew her. She began her career as a linguist in the United States Army. After completing ten years of active duty, she spent several years as an education and training specialist at the United States Army Intelligence School at Fort Devens, MA. In 1988, she joined the National Security Agency as part of the language test development section.

As an adjunct to her regular duties, she provided technical expertise in testing, research methodology and data analysis to numerous total quality efforts. This led to an interest in benchmarking, and she became NSA’s first benchmarking manager. Her interest in learning and sharing knowledge across an organization broadened her scope to include knowledge management. After NSA, Melissie worked for Buckman Laboratories. Her final role was senior knowledge strategist at SAIC.


  • Regents College, BS in General Studies
  • Boston College, MEd in Educational Research, Measurement and Evaluation
  • Catholic University of America, PhD in Educational Psychology



The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Knowledge Management

Marketing of High-technology Products and Innovations by Jakki J. Mohr, Sanjit Sengupta, and Stanley Slater – Chapter 4: Market Orientation at Buckman Labs

Next Generation Knowledge Management, Volume 3 by Jerry Ash – Chapter 5: Low tech, high touch knowledge management – with Gary Cullen


Dave Snowden

  • 1 – Friend to many, passionate advocate of the human dimension of knowledge management.
  • 2 – One of the larger-than-life figures in Knowledge Management. Early practitioner and all round one of the best networked people in the movement.
  • 3 – This morning at KMWorld 2007 in San Jose we started off with a memorial to Melissie Rumizen. Steve Barth, Verna Allee and I read our own and other tributes to the background of photographs collected from her friends. Many people in that audience knew her directly or through her work so it was a sympathetic audience and a moving experience.

Steve Barth – Community was everything to Melissie. It was the thing I loved most about her; not just what a good friend she could be, but how fiercely loyal she was about her friendships. She didn’t just expect her friends to be loyal to her in return. She expected them to be loyal to each other. If she deemed someone worthy to be her friend, she held them to a very high standard forever. If someone in her circle needed a job, a plug or a hug, Melissie made it happen.

Alice MacGillivray – Melissie Rumizen was a friend, a colleague, and an international consultant in knowledge management. This was a small celebration of the life of an amazing woman. Thank you for your support for cancer research. Yes, I completed the 60km walk in Vancouver! Lots of people stopped to read the official and unofficial biographies of Melissie, which she had shared when she was a special online guest in one of our MA in Knowledge Management courses at Royal Roads University.

Eric Mack – This year saw the passing of a well-respected and well-loved KM professional, Melissie Rumizen. This morning, before the keynote, Verna Allee, Steve Barth, David Snowden gathered to honor Melissie Rumizen, a KM Pioneer, Author, and respected KM Practitioner. I have Melissie’s book and even my KM professors refer to quotes in it. I’m sorry I did not have the opportunity to meet Melissie.

Bill Kaplan – I worked closely with Melissie Rumizen while she was with the KM consulting team led by Kent Greenes at the original SAIC. One key learning for me from Melissie was her perspective that there is no “perfect KM Strategy” for an organization. The idea that the strategy should and will develop through practical application and “performing and learning” in the job and on the job is a fundamental that anchors much of my current approach to KM consulting. I still refer to my copy of the book with her inscription to me on a regular basis. I visited with her in her home in Fairfax, VA shortly before she passed away…she gave me some advice and it is in this inscription. Melissie told me KM was not an easy discipline with which to work…and if I was to stay with it, I needed to be always a “source of learning” for my colleagues and my clients. Melissie was and remains, through her thinking and writing, a real practitioner in the field.


Expertise Location: Low tech, high touch by Jerry Ash

Garry Cullen was taking a break from his job as matchmaker for knowledge seekers and sharers in the Australia office of Lend Lease Corporation when he checked into the Association of Knowledgework’s K-Net discussion group. There he spotted another knowledge seeker, KM maven Melissie Rumizen, saying: “I’ve benchmarked expertise locators such as BP Connect and others. I’ve heard presentations from software vendors such as Tacit. What I’ve never heard is anyone who can tell me what value they have delivered. Is there anybody out there with experience with either an in-house expertise locator or one generated by software?”

Naturally Cullen responded, because that’s the way collaboration begins via ikonnect, the knowledge-sharing system available to nearly 10,000 Lend Lease employees and the employees of countless clients located across six continents. It is probably the most unique and effective system of its kind in the world, and it is not database driven.

Its fundamental principles are based on Lend Lease experience and objectives:

  • Databases fail to get knowledge moving
  • There is substantially more knowledge inside heads than databases
  • Customer service is best achieved through the best available knowledge
  • Conversations are the best way to transfer knowledge
  • Knowledge transfer begins with a question

Cullen didn’t need to contact a third party to match Rumizen to the expert. He was the expert and – in Rumizen’s own words – he “bowled her over”.

Rumizen, who recently moved from Buckman Labs to SAIC, is an expertise-locator skeptic. She voices the following complaints.

  • Databases look internally. “Expertise locators, as with other databases, are too often based on the assumption that all knowledge or experience needed can be found internally,” she says. “That claim is impossible to prove or disprove, but we do know that most people rely on their own personal experiences in searching for people with answers, experience that often reaches beyond the bounds of the organization.”
  • Databases are limited in scope. “Databases generally provide structured information such as names, photos, titles, brief job descriptions, previous work experience and contact information,” says Rumizen. “Unstructured information can include a person’s likes and dislikes or anything else a person feels relevant. However, the data is · limited due to the time it takes an employee to enter the information; and, at best an employee profile cannot cover the sum total of someone’s experience and expertise or match it to the unknown problems that may drive a future question. Compounding the problem, keeping such an inadequate database up to date is near impossible.”
  • Databases are supply driven. “While stories that illustrate miraculous connections abound,” Rumizen says, “I’d prefer to focus on the types of knowledge needed and how best to provide it. For example, in a consulting firm, knowledge, documentation and contacts for previous projects are critical. What knowledge is needed on a routine basis? What knowledge would provide a high payoff? What knowledge is most critical to the organization’s key capabilities and strategy? Perhaps the best way to provide that knowledge is through multiple strategies to include communities of practice, project databases and other ways to link expertise.”
  • People prefer networks. While an expertise locator may point to a given person’s experience or knowledge dreaded salesman’s cold call to someone they do not know”. People prefer to contact people they know or who are known to be approachable.


11 Myths of Knowledge Management

  1. There is a perfect knowledge management strategy for every organization.
  2. Having the CEO as a sponsor guarantees success.
  3. Organizational culture must be changed.
  4. Knowledge management results cannot be measured.
  5. Information Technology is Knowledge Management.
  6. People want to share knowledge and collaborate.
  7. Tacit knowledge must be made explicit.
  8. Knowledge does not change.
  9. Requiring everyone to speak English solves language and cultural barriers.
  10. Knowledge multiplies when shared.
  11. One cannot manage knowledge.

12 Lessons Learned


  1. If you don’t have a passion for KM, get out of the field. There are easier ways to make a living and/or drive yourself crazy.
  2. Keep learning. Regardless of whether someone is a novice or an old hand, there is always plenty to learn. I particularly like to scoop up ideas and processes to stick on a back shelf, hoping for a day when I can use them. In the meantime, I concentrate on continuing to learn.
  3. We are not as interesting as we think we are. People respond to action. It’s concrete; it’s real. Folks who sleep through your dazzling explanation of theory will come to life once you talk about how you plan to do something and the potential ROI. Much fascinates us as knowledge geeks but it often bores others to tears. Likewise, ditch the jargon. We don’t talk about KM at Buckman Laboratories. We do things that make sense for our business.
  4. Knowledge management is not a fad. To quote Verna Allee, “It is a business fundamental.” Smile sweetly at those who tell you that KM is outdated. Until something replaces knowledge as the means of production, KM in some fashion is going to matter.
  5. Communities of practice are simply another way of doing collaborative work. Success factors for a team, and a work group are the same as those for a community of practice. The catch is they way you do them is different.
  6. Simple is good. One of the most effective KM strategies implemented at Buckman Laboratories has been the after action review. Those short and sweet five questions have helped a non-reflective culture to become continuous learners. Granted, the underlying thought is sophisticated. But there’s no point in bringing that up (see point above).


  1. Copy the strategic planning experts. They do SWOT analyses (Situation, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). They think through the context of their organization their environment, competitors, etc. They think about the future. We have the same requirement for developing KM strategies as well as looking at the overall strategic plan for our organization.
  2. There is no perfect KM strategy for your organization. All too often we hold out for the Holy Grail of the perfect strategy. In any organization there are undoubtedly a number of potential strategies. You will not have the resources for all of them, so pick the ones that make the most sense, the ones you most likely can implement, the ones that will have a good ROI, etc.
  3. Once we get down to a specific KM strategy, however, we have two primary choices. As Ross Dawson says in Living Networks, “People’s knowledge can be embedded into documents, models, and software so that others can use it. People can be connected to others with relevant experience so that they can apply their knowledge to a specific issue. These two strategies, sometimes called connection and collection, are relevant to every business.”
  4. Self-interest is good. I’ve heard too many complaints about WIIFM, what’s in it for me. I adore WIIFM. If I can’t show why it is to someone’s benefit to do something, I encourage him or her to show me the door. Knowledge workers need to see a benefit for making a change. More power to them.


  1. Plan on making mistakes. Implementing a new strategy, approach, tool, or process is an innovation. We need to allow ourselves room for a little judicious failure. Otherwise, we are not taking enough risks. We also need to analyze and learn from our mistakes.
  2. Culture can be a showstopper; get over it. I challenge anyone: for every barrier you find in a culture, you also can find an enabler. Look for the positive and build on it. You will never change the monolith of culture. The best you can do is target specific behaviors and help change them. Not only will you be more successful, you won’t antagonize people by talking about how bad your organization is.

Leader of the pack

Despite changes in leadership and corporate strategy at Buckman Laboratories, the reliance on knowledge management as a key competitive advantage has remained constant. Recently named as a MAKE winner in North America, Melissie Rumizen says that the keys to success have been the value given to knowledge within the corporate culture, and how the company has developed and used knowledge throughout its history

Creativity for our customers

“Sustained creative work together is the basis of the success we have enjoyed and the key to our future.” – Stanley J. Buckman, founder of Buckman Laboratories.

At the end of World War II, Stanley J. Buckman left his position as president of Central Laboratories and started Buckman Laboratories. He chose the city of Memphis not only because it is on a great American highway, the Mississippi River, but because it is also near many pulp and paper mills – our target customers. Our first facility in Memphis was an old, remodeled duplex home. As one entered the building there were two laboratories on the left and four small rooms on the right, which served as offices and a library. The back porch had a stairway leading to the basement, the home’s manufacturing plant, and a small garage provided a storeroom. Buckman himself had a small office in a wing off the rear part of the building.

Despite the small building, the new company started with a strategic advantage. Prior to founding the company, a disturbing problem began to manifest itself in many paper mills in the US during the 1930s. The introduction of the recirculation of white water during pulp and paper processing produced significant economies. However, it also introduced a new challenge: the growth of micro-organisms in the water systems. The more efficient the water-recirculating systems became, the more suitable they were for the growth of micro-organisms that hampered production. Buckman Laboratories pioneered the use of biocides to control micro-organisms in this processing. This breakthrough gave the young company its impetus.

Within the organization, our research and development department was the backbone of the company. A standard joke was that it took a PhD just to sweep the floors at Buckman. The R&D; department provided the engine, technical expertise and innovation for our business strategy of product leadership. Our goal was to develop the finest, most innovative products that would bring in customers.

In contrast, however, we had a relatively small sales force. But as with our R&D; department, our first sales representatives held PhDs (with the exception of one with a Master’s degree). Buckman, himself a PhD chemist, felt PhDs had the best knowledge and expertise to present and explain our chemistry and its applications. Later we provided our sales representatives with mobile laboratories so that they could perform various tests right at the mill, rather than back at the home office. We also shared our technical expertise with our customers, often through seminars.

Dr B, as Buckman was known, is best described as an entrepreneur. In the words of John Pera, former VP of research and development, he had intelligence, creativity, a great scientific background, stamina, personality and business acumen. In addition to building the business, Dr B also stamped his values on the corporate culture. As author Edgar Schein noted, young organizations are, “the creation of founders and founding families. The personal beliefs, assumptions and values of the entrepreneur or founder are imposed on the people he or she hires, and – if the organization is successful – they come to be shared, seen as correct and eventually taken for granted.”

Dr B valued people with qualities similar to his – creativity, stamina and the ability to work as part of a team – who could do whatever was needed. One example in the early years was the designing and building of a new manufacturing facility to mercurate benzene in less than six weeks. A former VP, James Grannen, summed it up by saying, “If you needed extra effort, [Buckman associates] gave it willingly. If new ideas were important, they came up with them. If we needed to change directions, they got it done. Things got done, and they got done the right way.”

Across time and space

Sadly, in 1978, Buckman died, and his son, Bob, took over Buckman Laboratories. At the time the company was rigidly hierarchical with numerous heads reporting directly to Bob, necessitating much CEO attention. He made a decision to decrease the number of levels reporting to him and decentralize the company. He also recognized that although we had started to expand globally, relatively speaking we had yet to tap potential markets in many countries.

Bob instituted yet another key change in overall strategy: the dramatic increase of the sales force. The overall target initially was that the sales force would form 30-35 per cent of total employees. However, Bob understood that such a change had to be implemented gradually. Corporate sales in 1983 were $55.3m, by 2002 they were $335m; today our sales force and associated technical support personnel account for about 50 per cent of our workforce.

As we expanded globally into over 90 countries, the need to communicate and collaborate grew proportionally. Before the days of the internet and e-mail we sent our travelling PhDs to acquire and share quality practices. However, traversing the globe simply took too long. By the time the PhDs made it back to Memphis, some practices were outdated, or they might have learned other practices towards the end of the trip that they hadn’t shared with the first companies visited. There was also the wear and tear on the PhDs to consider. On one such trip to South Africa, Bob and Dick Ross, former VP of marketing, were sitting in the hot sun when Ross said wearily to Bob, “There has got to be a better way.”

So, in search of the better way and to enable us to communicate more efficiently, we started implementing global e-mail in 1984. We did not succeed until 1988. The IBM global network we used was cumbersome; the laptop computers we gave our associates weighed about eight kilograms. However, we finally had global e-mail.

In 1988 we formed the Knowledge Transfer Task Force, whose goals were to identify knowledge requirements for our business goals, translate these requirements into IT projects, and evaluate the global opportunities and implications of these projects. In 1992, we decided to use Compuserve, which was then a service for private users, for our corporate e-mail. Finally, we launched what became our knowledge-management system, K’netix.

With Compuserve came several additional capabilities. One was instant messaging. No matter where they were in the world, we could see which other associates were online. This started to create a sense that we were one global organization.

Forums, a bulletin-board application, were another bonus. If you posted a message on the bulletin board, everyone could see it, not just a few limited to receiving an e-mail. At that time Compuserve paid people to moderate discussion areas, but we decided that we would rather have our own employees moderate discussions about our business issues. We appointed section leaders for various primary industries, such as pulp and paper, leather, agriculture, industrial water treatment, and R&D.

Section leaders, mostly drawn from the then relatively few computer literate, met online at the end of every week. Their role was to create discussions in the forums, find answers to questions within 24 hours, check the daily activity and produce a summary of the weekly activity.

The head of our R&D; department at the time, Wally Puckett, mandated participation by R&D.; He made it clear that he expected everyone to contribute and that he knew the contribution of each person. This made R&D; visible to our far-flung sales representatives and to our customers, as well as raising the visibility of our product evaluations at individual customer sites.

The results were more than just having access to global e-mail. Over time, the social networks in the company grew and increased in density. As people learned who other people were and what they knew, direct contact via phone and e-mail skyrocketed. We began to not only have more face-to-face meetings, but also leverage the opportunities to meet in person. Our percentage of sales from new products, which we consider a measure of innovation, began to double. Other results included a 51 per cent increase in sales per sales associate and an increase of 93 per cent in operating profit per associate.

At the same time, in 1992, we realized that our strategy of product leadership was no longer viable. Much larger competitors were, as Bob puts it, eating our lunch. To survive and prosper we had to change. Consequently, we adopted the business strategy of customer intimacy. While we would maintain efforts in innovation, we decided to focus on providing customer-specific solutions that were the best solution for a reasonable price.

Improving output and quality

“We understand that no matter how well trained our associates are on an individual basis, they are not able to provide all of the solutions needed by our customers. However, these solutions either already exist somewhere within Buckman or the individual who can develop the solution is somewhere in our worldwide organization. We can therefore link all associates together through a knowledge-sharing system and work to maintain a culture where the sharing of knowledge is encouraged and recognized.” Steve Buckman, CEO.

In 1996 Steve Buckman took over the day-to-day running of the company as CEO, and in 2000 Kathy Buckman Davis became chairman of the board. While they honored and built on the past, they also had a new direction for our future. They brought a new emphasis on business processes that were simple, easy to learn and easy to do. They clarified links to business strategy, and how our strategy and processes produced an ROI. They also insisted on the critical need for systematic approaches across the corporation to provide a uniform level of services to our customers.

As we applied our strategy of customer intimacy, we realized that we needed a new mission statement to reflect it. While working together in our forums, our global associates discussed (at times hotly) what the mission statement should be. The results were:

“We, the associates of Buckman Laboratories, will excel in providing measurable, cost-effective improvements in output and quality for our customers by delivering customer-specific services and products, and the creative application of knowledge.”

We also refined our purpose, stating that it is to foster customer loyalty, attaining and maintaining long-term, loyal customers for mutual profitability and growth. Doing this requires us to link our success with our customers, demanding deeper relationships. It also reaffirms the importance of having skilled, knowledgeable associates.

In 1997 we began developing a suite of knowledge-based business processes to deliver customer-specific services that meet common customer needs. These processes have become a critical competitive advantage. As a key decision maker at a large global customer said recently, “I want to work with Buckman so that we can work with your processes.” In essence we now have two types of products: physical or chemical products, and people products focusing on business processes. Doug Linn, current VP of marketing, says, “The emphasis at Buckman Laboratories is on the process and the results. This is the difference our own customers are seeing. We have become good at differentiating by delivering customer-specific results.”

These processes, also applied internally, are now part of everything we do. Over the years they have become an integral suite that we have developed as a learning path and a complete course for our associates, primarily our sales representatives. However, we are developing an approach to give integrated training of the entire suite to all of our associates, which we are piloting with our US customer-service group.

In 1997 we also started the Buckman Learning Center, headed by VP Sheldon Ellis. At first the emphasis was on training, with a particular focus on distance learning. The same circumstances that necessitate global collaboration also make traditional classroom training both expensive and usually impractical. We were one of the first to venture into e-learning. Over time, however, our role expanded to provide broader support. “The Learning Center will serve as a change agent within Buckman: it will drive change or facilitate a complete transformation process. This can be a transitory role as a company embarks on a new strategy or is in the process of making an acquisition,” says Ellis. To carry out this goal, we home in on initiative-driven programs. We define these as public activities that drive a corporate-wide initiative, business plan or project. This is often an initiative that the CEO or senior management is passionate about and is being cascaded throughout the company. The Learning Center supports and drives these activities.

One example of such an initiative is our TeamToolz process. Several years ago we realized that our aptitude with communities of practice had not transferred with similar ease and success to employing teams. In fact, our track record with formal teams was lackluster at best. In 2000 we formed a team to develop a process, TeamToolz and we trained our first group of team facilitators to support it. An initial success in 2001 was our first global, coordinated launch of a new product line. The process this team established for new product launches has become the company standard.

The Learning Center is the process owner for TeamToolz. This autumn we will lead an evaluation of the first three years of TeamToolz and prepare to train even more facilitators around the world next year.

As more companies adopt knowledge management and distance learning, our customers have asked us to assist them in their KM and learning programs. We view this as an ideal fit with our overall strategy of customer intimacy, as it deepens and strengthens our partnership with them. It is also a superb avenue for learning what really matters to our customers, both strategically and tactically. In 2001 we formed a consulting arm within the Learning Center that works with our customer representatives to support our clients. As we are a business, we also work with external clients such as Johns Hopkins University and Samsung.

Lessons learned

Being a pioneer means we also have made our fair share of mistakes. It is part of our culture to be open about them so we will do better in the future. In line with that spirit, we can offer some lessons learned about knowledge management and learning:

  • Connecting people is more effective than building databases – Every paper machine in the world is different. Operating conditions at our individual customer sites vary enormously. We cannot rely on standard customer solutions. By connecting people, we can provide customized, expert solutions that tap our collective knowledge and do so quickly;
  • Leadership is necessary but not sufficient – KM is a participative sport; everyone needs to play. However, Buckman Laboratories has been blessed with multiple generations of gifted leaders who have understood the value of knowledge and walked their talk; 
  • Training must support change – Our associates need training in how to carry out their new requirements. We deliver such training worldwide and in multiple languages; 
  • Discipline often trumps brilliance – Our methods and approaches are mostly absurdly simple and we rely on the most basic of information technology. What makes it work for Buckman Laboratories is our discipline of carrying out implementations across the corporation and our insistence on following our own methods. As we expanded globally, we learned that what we provide for a customer in one location must be available in other locations. An extraordinary process that, if localized, hurts us unless we are able to transfer it globally; 
  • Plan on serendipity – A truism is that you will always have unanticipated results; but you may or may not have anticipated results. Just as important is that you capitalize on the positive unanticipated results. Some of our most effective practices were serendipitous, but we had the insight to capitalize on them;
  • Forget the jargon – If asked, most Buckman associates could not define knowledge management. We do not use the term or any other jargon within the company. Instead, we talk about business strategy, drivers and results, and how we accomplish those. It is better to live it than to talk it;
  • The new becomes the old – What was once innovative becomes antiquated, entrenched way of doing things. If you implement a change that is adopted and becomes part of the corporate culture, it becomes part of the establishment. If you want to change that, you are back to square one of change management. One solution is to stop after a pilot, evaluate and make changes while things are still new enough to be relatively fluid; 
  • Significant change surfaces renewed resistance – Even your early adopters may regress to old behaviors if there is considerable change in the system. Significant change requires change management so plan for disruption;
  • Never celebrate success; celebrate accomplishments – Celebrating success can signal that you are finished. KM, like continuous improvement and six sigma, requires ongoing attention. If you rest on your laurels, they wither;
  • People will reward you – With the right tools, a supportive culture and freedom, good people will accomplish more than you had dreamed. Hire them, cherish them and give them the environment they need. They will repay you infinitely.
Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

Enjoy Stan’s blog posts offering advice and insights drawn from many years as a KM practitioner. You may also want to download a free copy of his latest book for Lucidea Press: Knowledge Nuggets: 100 KM Infographics.  Learn about Lucidea’s Presto, SydneyEnterprise, and GeniePlus software with unrivaled KM capabilities that enable successful knowledge curation and sharing.

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