The Essence of KM

As is often pointed out:

"Much of knowledge management is common sense, but not common practice."

To achieve the potential benefits of KM, a systematic approach is needed. We outline below the essentials of such an approach. You will find more detailed descriptions of the various elements of a KM programme on our KM Roadmap pages.

Knowing What You Know (and Don't Know)

Referring back to our definition: What is the vital knowledge you need to achieve your personal and organizational objectives?

Often it is assumed that this is well understood, but to verify assumptions, conducting a knowledge audit is generally a good starting place to validate the sources and uses of knowledge. It should:

  • Identify key areas of knowledge that need managing effectively and provides an assessment of information quality
  • Highlight gaps in knowledge provision and unearth duplication
  • Identify key knowledge holders and expose areas of vulnerability
  • Pinpoint blockages in knowledge flows across the organization
  • Provide a benchmark for prioritizing actions and assessing progress in a KM initiative

For more on knowledge auditing, refer to the knowledge audit page of the KM Roadmap.

Two Thrusts, Seven Strategic Levers

Many programmes start by focusing on the thrust of better sharing of existing knowledge e.g. sharing best practices. However, our research indicates that it is the second thrust - the creation and conversion of new knowledge through the processes of innovation (archive website) that gives the best long-term pay-off.

Most programmes will leverage value through knowledge by concentrating on just a few of these seven levers:

  • Customer Knowledge - the most vital knowledge in most organizations
  • Knowledge in Processes - applying the best know-how while performing core tasks
  • Knowledge in Products (and Services) - smarter solutions, customized to users' needs
  • Knowledge in People - nurturing and harnessing brainpower, your most precious asset
  • Organizational Memory - drawing on lessons from the past or elsewhere in the organization
  • Knowledge in Relationships - deep personal knowledge that underpins successful collaboration
  • Knowledge Assets - measuring and managing your intellectual capital.


A wide variety of practices and processes are used in knowledge management. They are variously involved in encouraging creativity and knowledge sharing in people (the source of tacit knowledge), organizing and managing explicit knowledge (information) or conversion from one form to the other - mostly tacit-to-explicit. Some of the more common practices are shown below:

  • Intranets or Corporate Portals
  • Sharing Best Practice
  • After Action Reviews
  • Expertise Directories ('Yellow Pages')
  • Knowledge Mapping
  • Communities of Practice

A more comprehensive list, aligned with phases of the knowledge life cycle will be found in the KM Roadmap section. Altogether our work has identified over 100 techniques that contribute to better management of organizational knowledge. So there are plenty of options!


A large number of computer-based tools are integral to or used to augment human-based techniques. Some of the many tools include:

  • Infrastructure: collaborative software, intranets, document management, KM suites
  • Thinking: concept mapping, creativity tools
  • Gathering, discovering: search engines, alerting, push, data mining, intelligent agents
  • Organizing, storing:data warehousing, OLAP, metadata, XML
  • Knowledge worker support: case based reasoning, decision support, workflow, community support, simulation
  • Application specific: CRM, expertise profiling, competitive intelligence

Critical Success Factors

Our report Creating the Knowledge-based Business highlighted several recurring critical success factors:

  • Knowledge Leadership - a compelling vision actively promoted by senior management
  • Clear Business Benefits - tracking success and developing new measures
  • Systematic Processes - including knowledge mapping and IRM (Information Resources Management)
  • A Knowledge Sharing Culture - teams that work across boundaries
  • Continuous Learning - though pilots and learning networks
  • An effective information and communications infrastructure - groupware and other collaborative technologies, such as an intranet

Although written in 1997, our analysis of surveys and other research since has not caused us to change this list. We might group the factors slightly differently and perhaps adjust the lables, e.g. calling the second factor 'measuring the benefits'.

Our report also summarized the differences between leaders and laggards.

As this website evolves, we update and republish material that covers the topics mentioned in further detail.

Last updated: 19th February 2011


and in our archive..

"Good knowledge management is common sense but not common practice."
(Leif Edvinsson, former VP of Intellectual Capital, Skandia)

i3 update

Our I3 Update archive has many articles on knowledge management that we published between 1995 and 2004. Most of the approaches and lessons from practice are as valid today as when first published.

View the contents list of the I3 Update archive


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