Friday, 24 March 2017

When you need more than one KM solution

The goal of Knowledge Management is to embed an effecting Knowledge Management Framework, that enables a thriving KM culture and impacts organisational outcomes. But sometimes one Framework is not enough.


I have blogged before about the different sorts of Knowledge which need to be managed, and suggested that Knowledge Management may look very different if it is Process-focused, Product-focused or Customer-focused.

A process-focused organisation will set up communities of practice who develop Best Practices, while a product-focused organisation will set up product-based communities focused on Best Designs.  The solutions will be similar in outline, but different in detail.

However there are many organisations which have more than one focus, as shown in the Ternary diagram here showing results from the Knoco 2014 Knowledge Management survey.  Manufacturing organisations, for example (the red square in the diagram) are equally focused on Process and Product. Info and Media companies (blue star) are equally focused on Product and Customer. Professional services (yellow circle) are concerned with all three.

These organisations may actually need to set up more than one Knowledge Management Framework.

An example

For example, we are working right now with a manufacturing company, looking at the way it manages knowledge.  We have found that they are not doing too badly in terms of product knowledge, but really need to sharpen their process knowledge. To this end, we are recommending two KM Frameworks, which we can summarise as follows:

A Product KM framework including

  • Knowledge Gap Analysis
  • Toyota A3 process
  • A set of Subject-matter-responsible engineers
  • Development of engineering checksheets
  • Linkage between the issues list, the checksheets and the failure-mode analysis
A Process KM framework including
If and when this company starts to look at Customer-focused Knowledge as well, we might recommend a third framework for their contact centre, including
  • Creation of knowledge articles based on consumer contacts
  • Contact centre coaches
  • Knowledge base software
What we find is that its mainly the bigger organisations that need more than one framework, but even for the medium sized organisations it's worth asking whether one framework will fit all needs.

We often hear there is no "one size fits all" for KM, and sometimes there is no one KM solution that fits all parts of the organisation either. 

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Knowledge workers - suppliers as well as consumers of knowledge

Here's another characteristic of Knowledge workers - they supply as well as consume knowledge.


I blogged recently about what makes a Knowledge Worker, and suggested that a Knowledge Worker is someone who knows more about their job that their boss or client, and so is hired for what they know as well as what they do.  Also that the role of Knowledge Management is to give the Knowledge Worker access to the knowledge they need to perform their role.

However this flow of knowledge is not one-way. The KM framework should not only give the knowledge workers access to knowledge, it should also provide a means for the share their knowledge as well. The flow of knowledge is multi-way.

That's what distinguishes KM from Learning and Development. In L&D the workers are seen as consumers of knowledge, whereas in KM, the knowledge workers are both consumers and suppliers.  KM should allow the knowledge workers to share access to knowledge; both the knowledge that has been documented and collected, and the knowledge that the other knowledge workers still hold in their heads.

If the knowledge workers both supply and consume, then knowledge becomes collective property, with each knowledge worker both contributing and benefiting to the collective commons. This is both the outcome that KM looks to deliver, and the value proposition that you present to the knowledge workers. It is like a deal that you, as Knowledge Manager, strike with the knowledge workers 

"We will give you access to all the knowledge of your co-workers, to make your job easier and to save you time. All we need in return is for you to also share what you know".

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Risk, Knowledge and unknowns

Risk management and knowledge management both deal with the issues of unknowns, and are therefore closely linked.


In this blog post, Don McAlister reflects upon risk management in projects, and concludes that
"If the Project Plan represents the knowledge that must be applied to achieve the project objectives…and if risk is the uncertainty that matters in the knowledge that makes up the Project Plan,…then project and risk management work must be knowledge management activities"

Don shows this diagram, to explain how risk management maps onto the four risk domains
Picture from Don McAlister - reproduced with permission
Knowledge Management allows us to address these four domains one by one, and we can map the application of KM tools and techniques into a project as we seek to address the knowns and the unknowns, as I show in the picture below

In column one, a project maps out (perhaps as part of Knowledge Management Planning) the important knowledge needed for the safe and effective delivery of the project objectives. There are known knowns, known unknowns etc etc, and we have shown these as equal in extent.

The first area they address is the known unknowns – the things they know they don’t know, and know that they need to know. They put a set of learning activities (such as Peer Assists  of reviews of Lessons) in place to fill the knowledge gap. As a result, in column two, they eliminate this area, and increase the known knowns by “learning before doing”.

Then during the project they will encounter some of the unknown unknowns, which become apparent as nasty surprises. The fix these through learning from their own experience (eg using After Action reviews) or pulling in extra knowledge from the Communities of Practice.  As a result, in column three, they reduce this area, and increase the known knowns by “learning during”.

At the end of the project they do some reflection, go through a facilitated lesson-learning exercise, and may discuss their learning with other projects. Through discussion and dialogue, they become aware of some of the other things they have learned. As a result, in column three, they reduce the area of unknown knowns, and increase the known knowns by “learning after”.

Risk management can help identify the knowledge gaps and plan with them in mind, while Knowledge Management can close the gaps.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

How to introduce a KM culture? Just the same as any other culture.

There is a lot written about KM culture and how to implement it, but most organisations already know how to build and sustain a culture. 



Introducing a Knowledge Management culture is not easy and many people are looking for the secret of how to do this, but my view is quite straightforward.  You foster a KM culture in just the same way as you foster any of the other cultures you already have in your organisation.

Knowledge Management isn't anything really special or unique; it's one of a number of management disciplines, and it's the one focused on knowledge and organisational learning.  Almost certainly you have already introduced, and continue to maintain, a series of cultures related to other disciplines. You might already have, for example, one of the following:




One of the tenets of Knowledge Management is that we should learn as much as possible from others. If we are to practice what we preach, then we should learn how these other cultures have been built and sustained. They are your sources of knowledge, and what works for them, is likely to work for for the knowledge management culture as well..

So if you are interested in fostering a knowledge culture, then look at what culture your organisation is already successfully fostering, and look at how that is done.  Try the following approaches:


  • Find the people who were involved in introducing these cultures, and interview them to find out their lessons: what they did what was successful, and what they would have done differently with hindsight;
  • Find the people who are responsible for these cultures, and set up a peer assist so they can share their knowledge with you;
  • Talk to the staff within the organisation and find out why they comply with the culture. What are the things that influence their behaviour?


Look at how the existing cultures are expressed, look at the messages given from leadership, look at how the culture is rewarded and reinforced and communicated, look at how it is embedded into processes and roles.

Then do the same for knowledge management.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Tacit Knowledge and cognitive bias

Is that really Tacit Knowledge in your head, or is it just the Stories you like to tell yourself?


IMAGINATION by archanN on wikimedia commons
All Knowledge Managers know about the difference between tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge, and the difference between the undocumented knowledge you hold in your head, and documented knowledge which can be shared.  We often assume that the "head knowledge" (whether tacit or explicit) is the Holy Grail of KM; richer, more nuanced, more contextual and more actionable than the documented knowledge.

However the more I read about (and experience) cognitive bias and the failures of memory, the more suspicious I become of what we hold in our heads.

These biases and failures are tendencies to think in certain ways that can lead to systematic deviations from good judgement, and to remember (and forget) selectively and not always in accordance with reality. We all create, to a greater or lesser extent, our own internal "subjective social reality" from our selective and flawed perception and memory.

Cognitive and memory biases include

  • Confirmation bias, which leads us to take on new "knowledge" only when it confirms what we already think
  • Gamblers fallacy, which leads us to think that the most recent events are the more important 
  • Post-investment rationalisation, which leads us to think that any costly decisions we made in the past must have been correct
  • Sunk-cost fallacy, which makes us more willing to pour money into failed big projects than into failed small projects
  • Observational selection bias, which leads us to think that things we notice are more common that they are (like when you buy a yellow car, and suddenly notice how common yellow cars are)
  • Attention bias, where there are some things we just don't notice (see the Gorilla Illusions)
  • Memory transience, which is the way we forget details very quickly, and then "fill them in" based on what we think should have happened
  • Misattribution, where we remember things that are wrong
  • Suggestibility, which is where we create false memories

So some of those things in your head that you "Know" may not be knowledge at all. Some may be opinions which you have reinforced selectively, or memories you have re-adjusted to fit what you would have liked to happen, or suggestions from elsewhere that feel like memories. Some of them may be more like a story you tell yourself, and less like knowledge.

Do these biases really affect tacit knowledge? 

Yes they really do, and they can affect the decisions we make on the basis of that knowledge.  Chapter 10 of the 2015 World development Report, for example, looks at cognitive biases among development professionals, and makes for interesting reading.

While you would expect experts in the World Bank to hold a reliable store of tacit knowledge about investment to alleviate poverty, in fact these experts are as prone to cognitive bias as the rest of us. Particularly telling, for me, was the graph that compared what the experts predicted poor people would think, against the actual views of the poor themselves. 

The report identifies and examines 4 "decision traps" that affect the development professionals and influence the judgements that they make:

  • the use of shortcuts (heuristics) in the face of complexity; 
  • confirmation bias and motivated reasoning; 
  • sunk cost bias; and 
  • the effects of context and the social environment on group decision making.

And if the professionals of the World Bank are subject to such traps and biases, then there is no guarantee that the rest of us are any different.

So what is the implication?

The implication of this study, and many others, is that one person's "tacit knowledge" may be unreliable, or at best a mish-mash of knowledge, opinion, bias and falsehood. As Knowledge Managers, there are a number of things we can do to counter this risk.

  1. We can test Individual Knowledge against the knowledge of the Community of Practice. The World Bank chapter suggests that "group deliberation among people who disagree but who have a common interest in the truth can harness confirmation bias to create “an efficient division of cognitive labor”. In these settings, people are motivated to produce the best argument for their own positions, as well as to critically evaluate the views of others. There is substantial laboratory evidence that groups make more consistent and rational decisions than individuals and are less “likely to be influenced by biases, cognitive limitations, and social considerations”. When asked to solve complex reasoning tasks, groups succeed 80 percent of the time, compared to 10 percent when individuals are asked to solve those tasks on their own. By contrast, efforts to debias people on an individual basis run up against several obstacles (and) when individuals are asked to read studies whose conclusions go against their own views, they find so many flaws and counterarguments that their initial attitudes are sometimes strengthened, not weakened". Therefore community processes such as Knowledge Exchange and Peer Assist can be ideal ways to counter individual biases.
  2. We can routinely test community knowledge against reality. Routine application of reflection processes such as After Action review and Retrospect require an organisation to continually ask the questions "What was expected to happen" vs "What actually happened".  With good enough facilitation, and then careful management of the lessons, reality can be a constant self-correction mechanism against group and individual bias.
  3. We can bring in other viewpoints. Peer Assist, for example, can be an excellent corrective to group-think in project teams, bringing in others with potentially very different views. 
  4. We can combine individual memory to create team memory. Term reflection such as Retrospect is more powerful than individual reflection, as the team notices and remembers more things than any individual can.
  5. We can codify knowledge. Poor as codified knowledge is, it acts as an aide memoire, and counteracts the effects of transience, misattribution and suggestibility. 
But maybe the primary thing we can do is to stop seeing individual tacit knowledge as being safe and reliable, and instead start to concentrate on the shared knowledge held within communities of practice.  

Think of knowledge as Collective rather than Individual, and you will be on teh right track.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Designing the Knowledge Management organisation

Introducing KM into an organisation is not just a case of new technology or new processes - it involves organisational redesign as well.


You can look at Knowledge Management Implementation through many lenses.  The most common are the cultural and technological lenses, which ask "What culture do we need to develop?" and "What technologies do we need?"

However one of the more powerful lenses is the People lens, that leads you to ask questions about the organisational structure you will need after KM implementation. Questions like

  • What KM roles and accountabilities need to be in place? 
  • How many of them? 
  • Where should they be located? 
  • Who should they report to? 
  • Are there any new organisational bodies that are needed?  

For many of our clients,understanding the organisational design is an important early step in understanding the KM framework.

Let us take an analogy. Imagine you were introducing Financial Management. You might decide you need
  • A certain number of Budget holders - the people accountable for money within projects and operations. Probably one per project, and a cascade of budget holders within the operational departments
  • A certain number of Accountants and Cost engineers, doing the nuts and bolts of financial transactions. Some of these would be in the projects, or you might set up an Accounts department.
  • A central Finance team - the people who shuffle money between the projects and operations, with responsibility for auditing and process
  •  CFOs and Finance Directors - the people accountable for the financial management system itself

Similarly if you are introducing Knowledge Management you might decide you  need


  • A certain number of people accountable for knowledge within projects and operations. Probably one per project, maybe one per department
  • A certain number of knowledge managers and knowledge engineers doing the nuts and bolts of knowledge transactions. Some of these would be in the projects, or you might set up a KM support department, or put people in the PMOs
  • You might need a Lessons Management function, again perhaps in the PMO
  • A set of expertise-focused roles, in the supporting functions – knowledge owners, SMEs and community facilitators  - the people who ensure the flow of knowledge between the projects and operations
  • A central KM team, with responsibility for auditing and process
  • A CKO, accountable for the knowledge management system itself

Sounds like a lot of roles, eh? But that’s what you find in any company that is successful in this area.

  • In Shell you find the network leaders, the network focal points, the SMEs, the Wiki team, the KM support units
  • In ConocoPhilips, the 120 Network leaders, the support team
  • In Wipro, the functional team of 43, the KM support team of 15-20, and the 400 “KM Primes” embedded in the business
  • In McKinsey, the 1800 Knowledge Professional roles
  • And so on
All successful KM companies have modified their organisational design to accomodate KM roles and responsibilities. Don’t neglect this issue.

If Knowledge Management is to become an embedded part of the way you work, you will need an embedded KM organisational structure of roles and accountabilities to make it happen. 

Thursday, 16 March 2017

"Knowledge Worker" - an illustration and definition

Peter Drucker introduced the term "Knowledge Worker" - but what exactly IS a Knowledge Worker?


Image from Wikimedia Commons
When Drucker introduced the term in 1959, in his book "Landmarks of Tomorrow", he was primarily writing about people working in IT - the programmers, systems analysts, academics and researchers.  However this was before the field of Knowledge Management was developed, and as Knowledge managers we often see the Knowledge Workers as one of our primary stakeholder groupings.

So we need to know who the knowledge workers are, and how they differ from other workers.

Here is an illustration that might help.

When my wife and I first moved into our current house, we employed a local gardener. He was a very nice fellow, very happy and cheerful, but he knew nothing about gardening.  
 He was very good if you gave him detailed instructions, and would work hard mowing the lawn or trimming the hedge. However anything that required decision or judgement, was risky. There was the day that he weeded out all of the newly-planted border plants. There was the day my wife left some house plants by the car to take into school, and an hour later found them all planted out in the garden. There were many other examples of small scale garden disasters, and eventually we realised that we would have to replace him, as both of us work full time and are not able to supervise a gardener to the level that this guy required.   
Now we have a new team of gardeners. They are highly knowledgeable. We can give them a broad direction, such as “tidy up this border” or “prepare this area for soft fruit”, and they will do it, often adding bits that we had never considered, or giving us useful advice along the way. Sometimes they will even say “No, we shouldn’t be doing that, that’s not going to work; we should do this instead”.
The new team costs more than twice as much, on an hourly basis, as the first guy. That’s because they are knowledge workers, and he effectively was a manual worker. 

The simplest definition of a knowledge worker is “somebody who knows more about their job than their supervisor/client does”. (Or perhaps I should have said "Knows, or can find out,").

 So instead of the client or manager providing the knowledge and the worker providing the labour (gardener number one), the client/managers provide the direction and they provide both the knowledge and the labour (gardening team number two).  The Knowledge Worker takes over much of the task-related decision making from the manager/client, applying their knowledge to make correct decisions.

Because a Knowledge Worker uses knowledge as a core resource for doing their job, Knowledge Management can increase the productivity of the Knowledge Workers by providing them better access to the knowledge resource.

So in our story, the first guy was not a knowledge worker, and we had to tell him in detail what to do, and sometimes how to do it. The current guys sometimes tell us what they should be doing, and always know better than us how it should be done. Also in this we can see the value of the knowledge, represented by the difference in the two hourly rates. The asset that the new guys bring is their knowledge, and we need to pay double the base rate in order to get access to it.

Being a Knowledge Worker is no longer the preserve of the IT staff. Anyone who makes decisions and judgments for a living can be a Knowledge Worker - an engineer, a doctor, an architect, an oil driller, or a consultant.

In fact, even a gardener can be a knowledge worker.

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