Tuesday, 10 March 2009

5 Myths of Knowledge Management - a critique

On another forum, someone posted "5 myths of KM", reportedly from Eric Rogers of NASA. They are taken from this Top 10 list

I find myself in mixed agreement/disagreement with each one. My worry is that his "Facts" sometimes go so fat in avoiding the "Myths" that they could become Countermyths. Generally the truth lies in some middle ground, hence my Caveats below (Eric's myths and facts are in italics, my commentary in plain text)

KM can be independent of the business process.
Myth: KM can be delegated to support people outside of the business process who will “do KM” for us.
Fact: KM only works when it's part of the business process, not an afterthought or “only of value to others or in the future.”
Caveat: However without support people outside the business, Knowledge Management will wither and die. The role of the support people is not to DO Knowledge Management , but to ensure Knowledge Management is done, through measuring, monitoring, maintaining, training, coaching, and improving the Knowledge Management system. I can give you a long and depressing list of Knowledge Management programs that died once the central support was removed

Communities of practice can be established by the top.
Myth: CoPs can be established and their benefits obtained by simply assigning people to CoPs and telling them to share and function as a community.
Fact: People join groups they establish an affinity with. CoP efforts recognize where the groups are forming and facilitate their formation, growth and sustainability.
Caveat: However a company can, in key topic areas with real strategic value, seed and support communities. They do not assign people to the communities, but they create the correct environment and then invite people to join. You cannot write off top-down community sponsorship, just because some companies do this badly. In fact "the top" would be remiss if they did not sponsor and encourage communities in all strategic knowledge areas. I have seen spectacular billion-dollar success of some top-down sponsored communities of practice, and spectacular billion-dollar success of some bottom-up communities of practice.

KM is about centralizing knowledge content to use it more efficiently
Myth: Eliminating local databases, unifying datasets and centralizing knowledge will cause more efficient use of knowledge.
Fact: Centralized knowledge is no one’s knowledge. Locally owned knowledge is cared for, validated and used more effectively than centralized lessons-learned systems.

Caveat: You DO need centralised content, but only for centralised knowledge. The issue is not one of centralisation, it is one of unnecessary centralisation. If knowledge is needed across all part of the business (knowledge of how to operate your corporate processes, for example), then it needs to be centralised, and it needs to be owned by someone in the centre.
I really disagree with his "Fact" this time. My Fact is as follows

Nick's Fact: Local knowledge needs to be owned and managed locally. Federal knowledge (used across all divisions or sectors of the business) needs to be owned and managed federally. Ownership is the key on both scales - unless someone has the job of looking after that knowledge, it will soon become uncared for and unvalidated.

Again, I can give you an excellent example where global knowledge sharing was sadly curtailed when the centralised lessons database was removed to make way for purely local databases. (It is now being restored in a different form)

KM is really about databases
Myth: Getting information into databases means that knowledge will be used because the problem is a lack of knowledge capture.
Fact: A database supposes that someone has a question worth answering. Good KM results in more good questions not simple answers.
Caveat: however databases have a part to play. Knowledge Management is about an integrated system for ensuring supply of quality, up to date and relevant knowledge to those who need it, and databases are in there somewhere. Sometimes there are simple questions and simple answers, and the simple questions need to be answered.

KM is an IT function and should be given to the chief information officer
Myth: Building fancy web portals will attract people to use them and they will be tricked into doing KM without realizing it.
Fact: IT people provide IT solutions. KM is not an IT problem. Perhaps 90 percent of IT money spent on KM is wasted on things not needed.

Caveat: I agree with his "Myth" but his "Fact" goes too far. My FACT is "Knowledge Management is not SOLELY an IT problem. Money should be spent where the Knowledge Management problems lie, and much of the time, a minority of these problems are IT related".The Knowledge Management system will include people, process and technology (see here for details). IT provides the technology.

Before starting on Knowledge Management , you need to map out where the gaps are, and invest accordingly. Most companies are pretty well supplied with the technology they need, but there still may be some IT gaps. The mistake is spending money ONLY on the IT gaps, when generally the gaps are far greater in the application of Knowledge Management processes within the business, and the assignment of Knowledge Management roles and accountabilities.Even if the gaps were evenly spread between people, process and technology, you would still need to invest equal amounts of time, money and attention on the three. The mistake is spending the money ONLY on the IT

So, out of 5 myths and "facts", I partially agree with most of them, but worry that he is going so far to avoid some of the pitfalls, that he is in danger of falling off the other side of the road.

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