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||I3 UPDATE Special Edition
a free monthly briefing on the knowledge agenda
Ten Topical Tips
"I not only use all of the brains I have, but all I can borrow."
This is one of our occasional editions of I3 UPDATE/ENTOVATION International News, bringing you information, ideas and insights on the evolving knowledge agenda.
This edition offers ten topical tips that our analysis shows as important for ongoing KM success. In summary they are:
1. Smarten Your Strategy
KM's Critical Challenges
For the last six months, I've been researching the current state of KM and the challenges faced in sustaining success and having a positive impact on business and societal outcomes. Inputs have been obtained from a broad base of thought leaders, practitioners and researchers alongside extensive desk research of key KM sources. The resulting analysis - KM Review 2004-5 - will be published shortly as a report in of the Knowledge Insight series, published jointly by David Skyrme Associates and Ark Group, publishers of Knowledge Management magazine.
What has come out of this analysis is that there are a number of challenges that must be satisfactorily addressed if knowledge management is to achieve its desired outcomes. Some of these, such as changing culture, have been with us since the early days of KM. Others, such as governance and sense-making, have come to the fore as a result of more recent events. Yet others, such as collaborative technologies (once called groupware, remember that?), PKM (personal knowledge management) and measurement have always been there, but their scope and types of solution have changed significantly through new understanding, new methods and updated technologies.
There are many ways of grouping these challenges. Various iterations I've tried come out with 5, 7, 10 or 12 challenges. Here, I have grouped them within a KM framework (see Knowledge Management: Making It Work) that builds on the critical success factors identified by Debra and myself in the 1997 report 'Creating the Knowledge-based Business':
Enablers (if not put in place, these are the show stoppers)
Levers (these work together in synergy to maximize outcomes)
Foundations (these determine the ultimate KM capability of an enterprise)
Whoops - by being reasonably comprehensive in coverage, this list has expanded to 14 challenges. However, in any given organization at any given time, only a few will be of major significance. Irrespective of which are important to you, I have picked out ten that seem to recur as problematic in recent conversations with KM practitioners. These are our topical tips.
Most organizations have a strategic plan. However is it a smart plan? Does it ooze knowledge and KM? Is it an actively used guide for decision making and day-to-day operations, or is it a once a year exercise that results in shelfware? To smarten your corporate strategy, it has to be integrated with your knowledge strategy. Your KM should support (and sometimes even drive) strategic objectives; your corporate strategy should explicitly address the contribution of knowledge and knowledge management. Some ways of smartening your strategy:
You have core business processes, many of which cut across departmental, or even organizational, boundaries. You also make important strategic decisions, such as which new markets to enter, where to invest in new technology. Many organizations have found new insights and have improved their performance as a result of applying a knowledge / KM lens to many of their internal processes. For example, quality initiatives at companies like Ford and Texas Instruments have generated methods to share best practice knowledge. Bristol Squibbs Myers has created IdeaCentral, a knowledge idea bank alongside knowledge sharing events, to improve its innovation capability. Apply a knowledge dimension to each of your core business and management processes by:
Communities of practice are a core knowledge management practice. They are generally nurtured around informal networks that already exist. Communities have more value when they are connected in some way into the formal organization. Hence companies like Daimler-Chrysler rely on communities to maintain their EBOK (engineering book of knowledge). A KM initiative, like that at Siemens, can enhance their effectiveness by providing a range of support tools and resources, such as:
Many organizations have, or have tried, expertise directories (Yellow Pages) that is a knowledge resource about your organization's experts. The best manual expertise systems are those that are voluntary, mix structured fields (e.g. contact details, department, current projects, qualifications, skills) with free-form text (in the participants' own words), and give employees their own 'home page' on the organization's intranet. However, maintenance is always a problem. Today's technology (such as AskMe) can infer people's expertise by the documents they write, the number of citations, and by peer review of their contributions. To know more about your know-how and how well it is connected:
Tacit knowledge is often the most valuable knowledge an organization has. Yet, managing tacit knowledge often takes backstage in KM programmes which give pride of place to portals and techno-wizardry. Even when knowledge is codified, people prefer (two thirds in one study) to talk to a colleague rather than read a document. Early approaches in KM (including the expert systems of the 1970s and 1980s) fell foul of the drive to "tap the experts brain and put their knowledge into the computer". On the other hand if it simply remains in people's heads and others are unaware of it, then it remains persona, not organizational knowledge. Sensible approaches use the following strategies:
One of the basics of knowledge management is getting the "right knowledge to the right people at the right time". This means a refocus on the individual, their tasks and their way of working. If every knowledge worker can be made more effective and efficient, the overall effectiveness of KM should improve. In the quest for enterprise approaches that cut across departmental boundaries, there has been a tendency to overlook the importance of the individual. PKM (Personal Knowledge Management), particularly because of growing pressures on individuals and information overload, is now firmly back on the corporate agenda. Key components of PKM:
One of the recurring problems with KM solutions is the adoption of a "one size fits all" approach. Knowledge work, in particular, is very varied, and recent research studies by people like Tom Davenport show that many practitioners have not fully understood or taken account of the nature of knowledge work. One popular framework maps knowledge work into four quadrants, depending on whether the task is routine and codifiable or unstructured, and whether the work is independent or inter-dependent. Each square of the quadrant calls for a different approach, e.g. rule-based system, process-based solution (these can be highly automated) and systems to support experts and collaboration. If users complain about a computer solution, although it may be inattention to computer fundamentals (such as interface design), it could well be that the wrong type of system is inappropriate for the work in hand. Therefore:
Although they have been around for some time, online collaborate workspaces are improving by leaps and bounds. Simply providing shared access to documents or to web pages provides the basic level of collaboration (people collaborating via content). For more direct people-to-people collaboration email with effective use of lists and agreed protocols, commenting capability in shared tools (e.g. Excel spreadsheets) moves collaboration up a notch. Full collaboration takes place when people are working more closely on some knowledge output. Technology solutions fall into four groups:
Typical functions for the more comprehensive collaborative solutions are project management, scheduling, document library, discussion, members profiles, personal and team workspaces. But, as with all technologies, their effectiveness depends largely on how well they are implemented, how individuals and teams select the most appropriate features to use for a given purpose, and how proficient they are using them (which may in turn depend on how user-friendly and intuitive the human-computer interface is). Coevolution of working methods and adapting the technology to suit is the way forward to create a really effective working environment.
Measuring knowledge is not easy. Many organizations fail to have metrics for the impact of their knowledge management activities. Our report, Measuring the Value of Knowledge, found four approaches in practice, going under the acronym ABBA:
Taking the specific field of IC (intellectual capital) measurement, there are now a number of well proven methods, including the very practical framework and guidelines of the Danish Ministry of Industry. This framework distinguishes What Is, What Is Done, What Happens (which I refer to as Resource, Recipes, Results) against human resources, customers, processes and technology. In short, there is no shortage of measures, and though there are many subjective aspects in evaluating such 'soft' measures when compared to financial accounting, it is, using the words of Leif Edvinsson, better to be "roughly right than precisely wrong".
Although we consultants are renowned for producing KM maturity curves, the reality is that knowledge management is an ongoing journey. When you reach one destination, new challenges to sustain you are ahead. These may be a result of changes in the environment, new developments in technology, refinements in management techniques and new insights gained through research and new perspectives. Some elements to sustain your success:
The ten tips highlight some core themes that underpin the success knowledge management its impact on organizational outcomes in today's environment. In a specific situation, typically only a handful will need attention. Like a well-endowed toolbox, you pick just the right tools to tackle the task in hand. Assess where you are (see for example the Know-10 assessment tool), prioritize your actions, and choose your approaches.
When you succeed, tell your story. When you don't, learn the lessons.
And in either case, we'd be delighted to hear your experiences to share with others, and how your top ten differs from ours.
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