Monday 10 August 2009

Business-driven knowledge management

Meeting Outside
Originally uploaded by Office Now
I blogged yesterday about three modes of knowledge transfer, and how the business context behind the characteristics of the knowledge transfer will dictate the means, the technology and the processes you use for the transfer. I was thinking about this more over the weekend, and I've realized that the model I shared with you on Saturday is based on my fundamental approach to knowledge management, which can be summarised as follows

Knowledge management solutions should follow business need.

Let me explain what I mean. I think we can break this down into three steps.

Firstly, the business strategy should set the key knowledge which should be the focus of your knowledge management efforts. I have already blogged about the need for business focus, and I firmly believe that one of the first questions the knowledge management professional needs to ask his management is "What knowledge? What knowledge is important? What knowledge needs to be managed? What knowledge should be the focus of our KM activity". This critical knowledge will be knowledge which is crucial to the strategy of the organisation, and which therefore needs to drive your knowledge management strategy.

Secondly, you need to look at the specifics of the knowledge transfer which is needed, to make sure that this business-critical knowledge is getting to the right people at the right time in the right state. You need to ask the questions -

Who needs the knowledge?
Who has the knowledge?
Where are they located?
How do they work?
What artifacts do they use, and what frameworks frame their activity?
How can they work better?

Once you have fully worked through these specific questions, then you can start to tailor a solution. You can decide whether it's possible to get these people together face to face and transfer knowledge through tacit interchange and rich dialogue, or whether they should collaborate online, or whether you need a more sophisticated process of capture and documentation. This is where the three modes of knowledge transfer discussed on Saturday come in. You can see whether the transfer is serial, or synchronous, or distant, and then tailor your knowledge management solution to the specific case.

The process above is the thought process I prefer to use when putting in place knowledge management solutions. You can see that if you work this way, then your solutions are specific to a business knowledge need, and they are tailored to the specific context. I would far far rather approach knowledge management in this way than to introduce some tool or technology, and expect this to address business needs.

Black &Decker used to say "our customers don't want a power drill, they want holes in the wall".

Similarly in knowledge management, our customers don't want a "knowledge management system", they don't want "Enterprise 2.0", they don't want "asynchronous web-hosted online collaboration portals" - they want to make sure that the decision makers in the company have access to the knowledge they need, that will help them to make the best decisions. It's up to us to choose and design the tools, processes and roles that will enable this.

And if we are going to do our job properly, we need to do it from the bottom up, starting from the business strategy, looking at the specifics of the transfer needed, and then choosing the knowledge management approach that fits those specifics. We need to make sure that our knowledge management solutions follow the business need.

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