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Managing editor:
David J. Skyrme


Ten Topical Tips

David J. Skyrme

Knowledge Thought

"I not only use all of the brains I have, but all I can borrow."
(Woodrow Wilson)

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
2. Permeate Your Processes
3. Cultivate Your Communities
4. Know Your Know-How
5. Tap Your Tacit Knowledge
6. Proliferate PKM
7. Segment Your Solutions
8. CoCreate Collaborative Environments
9. Monitor Meaningful Measures
10. Sustain Your Successes


David Skyrme
Managing Editor

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)

  • Governance and ethics - taking responsibility for your knowledge assets and not misusing them to the detriment of others
  • Strategic integration - a strong linkage between KM and business value
  • KM with everything - applying a knowledge/KM lens to all key processes and decisions (e.g. quality, customer delight, risk management, innovation)
  • A knowledge-enriching culture - which encourages knowledge sharing with openness and trust, ongoing knowledge creation and development, continuous learning and innovation.

Levers (these work together in synergy to maximize outcomes)

  • Systematic processes for managing content - identification, classification, ownership, use, exploitation, protection etc.
  • Support for Communities - nurturing, but not over-managing, networks of competence
  • Embedding KM into knowledge work - so knowledge capture occurs easily and is there when needed
  • Know-who - tools and techniques for identifying and interacting with experts
  • Tapping tacit knowledge - before it leaves or is lost in the mists of time
  • Meaningful measures - giving as much attention to intellectual capital as is given to physical and financial resources
  • Workspaces that work - beyond caves and commons to a workplace that's invigorating
  • Commercialization - if your knowledge is a valuable asset, why not package some of it and sell it?

Foundations (these determine the ultimate KM capability of an enterprise)

  • Human-centric KM - giving due attention to a wide range of human factors; this encompasses KM roles and skills, change management, motivation, rewards and recognition, and applies an overriding social and behavioural dimension to the people-related challenges mentioned above.
  • A comprehensive ICT (Information and Communications Technology) infrastructure; particular aspects of which are:Br> - anywhere, anytime, any type of access (e.g. through hand-held devices)
    - collaborative technologies, supporting intensive knowledge work of virtual teams (beyond the portal)
    - tools that work the way people do (mapping, visualization, smart searching etc.).

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.

1. Smarten Your Strategy

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:

  • identify what knowledge is crucial to support your business objectives
  • assess what you have now: its availability, quality and uniqueness
  • delve deep to really understand how knowledge contributes to creating value for your customers
  • ensure that each business units functional plan has an explicit KM element and has identified KM people and resources
  • make explicit kinks between your KM strategy and your corporate strategy.

2. Permeate Your Processes

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:

  • identify your core processes (management as well as routine) and review the process maps if available (if they aren't, your job is harder)
  • through the individual concerned find what knowledge inputs they need to succeed in their part of the process
  • consider what KM practices, tools and techniques can enhance the gathering, processing and dissemination of this knowledge
  • identify potential users and uses of the new knowledge created and how it can be stored and/or packaged for re-use
  • is the process sufficiently generic or widespread that a community of practice could be a focus of excellence for knowledge about this process?

3. Cultivate Your Communities

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:

  • community guidelines: for creating, managing and sustaining communities
  • clarifying roles in a community, which includes sponsors (links to the formal organization) and facilitators
  • provide training and development in facilitation techniques, particularly for online communities
  • assessing the value of communities to the organization
  • hosting a KM community; also participating in external KM communities.

4. Know Your Know-Who

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:

  • review the format, usage and feedback of people's personal profiles
  • ensure that every document and every section of your website has an identified owner (who if not the expert, knows who the experts are)
  • implement (initially by piloting) an expertise system, perhaps as part of a portal initiative
  • put in place a system where each department's management team is asked to identify their 'star performers' whom they would be reluctant to lose
  • carry out a social network analysis (see for example InFlow),on two groups, one that is regarded as high achieving and one underachieving.

5. Tap Your Tacit Knowledge

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:

  • codify the essentials: for recurring needs, elicit knowledge and put it into an actionable user-friendly form; this may be a task for a journalist, a community of practice; for more repetitive tasks it may be created in the form of a semi-automated process
  • point to people: associating individuals with particular domains of knowledge as in tip 4 above
  • create mechanisms where tacit knowledge is more easily shared: think how we did it BC (before computers) - apprenticeships, on-the-job coaching; today we have mentoring, buddying; techniques like storytelling and sharefairs also play a role for high-level knowledge sharing
  • revisit organizational and HR structures to ensure that over time knowledge is more widely diffused: multi-function career paths, joint project teams, secondments, job swaps and colocation are all good practices that are often underutilized
  • exploit virtual collaborative environments to the full: discussion lists, project team rooms, instant messaging.

6. Proliferate PKM

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:

  • individual motivators: a recent survey revealed that over a half of younger professionals were not happy in thief jobs, felt undervalued, were not using their talents to the full, but were trapped by financial considerations. Recognition, challenge, appreciation and personal development opportunities score high as non-financial motivators.
  • personal development and performance appraisal plans: consciously put knowledge goals, measures and behaviours into these plans
  • personal coaching: help individuals understand their own work styles and how they perform best (know-yourself skills development is often overshadowed by job-specific training)
  • optimize information push vs. pull: rethink the role of email (OK one company has banned it for internal use, but you can put in clearer principles and guidelines for its use, and generally let the individual pull what they need when they need it by putting more generally communications onto the relevant portal pages)
  • provide a PKM toolkit: the non-technical part could start with a copy of Covey's book "Seven Effective Manager", but then a plan/check list for evaluating, managing and developing your personal intellectual capital (see I3 UPDATE No. 57); plus of course, a suitable - and stimulating - work environment; the technical part is the 'office/library in a PC' with a personal portal, mind-mapping, smart personal search/retrieval and guided navigation tools etc.; but make sure you ....

7. Segment Your Solutions

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:

  • understand the different characteristics of different types of knowledge work
  • take a group of people doing the same job and learn how their personal preferences affect the way they work
  • run focus group sessions with system users to learn limitation of current systems
  • provide a range of tools and give knowledge workers a high degree of control on how they set the systems up
  • use a prototyping vs. a formal requirements definition and functional specific approach

8. Cocreate Collaborative Workspaces

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:

  • same time / same place: Powerpoint, electronic whiteboards at the low-end and at the high-end fully-fledged group decision support systems to facilitate brainstorming, grouping, voting etc (such as Cognito Teamwork from Group Systems); however, good facilitation and manual aids (such as PostTM Notes) are often preferred
  • same time / different place: videoconferencing, instant messaging and more comprehensive facilities such as Lotus
  • different time / same place: low-tech solutions such as project team rooms with whiteboards are examples here
  • different time / different place: the most common, and essential for virtual teams; exemplified in the early days of KM by Lotus Notes, but today by a wide range of point solutions e.g. SiteScape for threaded discussion forums and more comprehensive collaborative environments such as eRoom.

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.

9. Monitor Meaningful Measures

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:

  • Asset based measures: value of information / knowledge measured by cost of replacement, market value etc.
  • Baseline measures: benchmarking KM activities as a basis for evaluating progressing KM initiatives
  • Benefits measures: the impact of knowledge and KM on business outcomes such as time-to-market, cost avoidance, increased revenues
  • Action measures: adding a knowledge perspective to performance models such as the balanced score-card and the EFQM Excellence Model.

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".

10. Sustain Your Successes

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:

  • have a vision: envisage the future "our KM is successful when...."
  • learn from the past and the present: after action reviews, ongoing reflection and other learning tools; but go back and re-read some of the KM classics, such as Nonaka's 1991 Harvard Business Review article on the Knowledge-Creating Company or that of John Seeley Brown and Paul Duguid on Communities of Practice
  • challenge yourself: set explicit personal goals that enhance your own knowledge and PKM capabilities
  • install an effective governance regime; make sure that your management team and board give as much attention to knowledge as a critical resource as they do to finance
  • apply high ethical standards: sharing and applying knowledge demands high levels of integrity, trust and mutual reconciliation of different value systems and perspectives; behave as you would expect others to behave towards you.


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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