Monday, 29 June 2009
This post expands on some of the points made in this video.
When you say the word "system" to a group of people, a good proportion of them will interpret the word as meaning an IT system. But a knowledge management system is far more than an IT solution. It is about a way of working; a way of working systematically, to deliver the value tied up in the knowledge of your staff, your teams, your suppliers and your customers. It’s also a way of being, it’s the core of your belief system.
Let's take an analogy for working systematically to deliver value, by looking at the management of one of your other assets. Lets look at money. Now I know money is not a strong analogy for knowledge. It is a lot more tangible for a start, and a lot more measurable, and everyone relates to it. But let's ignore for a moment the differences between the two, and instead compare the management systems that businesses apply. One reason that I pick money for the analogy is that you don’t mess about with it. My HR colleagues tell me money doesn’t motivate, but people still don’t take chances with it.
The systematic management of money requires a combination of people, processes, technology and culture (reinforced by governance). You will need people such as accountants, financial planners, commercial managers. You have a whole range of business processes like budgeting, financial tracking, auditing of accounts. No doubt you have software technology you use; from base-level spreadsheets to more elaborate enterprise-wide accounting solutions. You may be moving into ecommerce, and investing in technology to move money electronically. You need a money-savvy culture. Your people understand that "money counts", they "watch the bottom line", they look for "bang for the buck". They know the value of a dollar, and if times are tight, they watch what they spend. And that culture needs to be backed by governance. you don't get project approval unless you demonstrate you have budgeted correctly. Your managers want to see the way money is being spent against the plan. And every so often they will audit you, to see if you are in compliance. Your money management system works, because it is a holistic integration of people, process, technology and culture, backed up by governance. These things have been about for so long we sometimes don’t recognise them as being components in a Money Management System.
What about your knowledge management system? Do you have the people? Do you have knowledge accountants, knowledge planners, knowledge managers? Do you have processes for knowledge tracking, or knowledge auditing? Do you budget for knowledge at the start of a project, in the same way you budget for money? Do you have the technologies you need at a local and enterprise-wide scale? What about your culture? Do people keep as close an eye on knowledge as they do on money? They may know what they earn, but do they know what they learn? And finally, what about governance? Do people get project approval without demonstrating "learning before"? Do managers ask to see how you are managing your learning? Does anyone ever get audited for KM compliance?
Analogies can be pushed too far, but I think in this case a comparison of the two shows that a Knowledge Management system, if it is to succeed, needs to look at the holistic integration of people, process, technology and culture issues, backed up by governance. Part of the success of the BP KM program was the close attention we paid to this integration. We created knowledge roles, we introduced knowledge processes, and we brought in knowledge technology, and now (at least in drilling and in projects) there is governance as well. The result has been a deep and lasting change in the culture, and the delivery of real tangible business benefit. It didn’t happen by accident, but as a result of creating a system to manage our knowledge, in the same systematic fashion that we manage our money.