Monday, 28 September 2009


KM failure stories number 5 - choosing the wrong tool



felt tools
Originally uploaded by CREEPETZ
This is the story of a medium sized company that wanted to start KM.

They looked around at what others were doing, read the books, bought the magazines, and decided that Shell were one of the leaders to emulate. One of the core components of Shell's KM model is it's communities of practice, which use online question and answer forums to share knowledge around the globe.

The company decided to copy this, and to introduce online question and answer forums. Now already you can see a few warning signs - you cannot assume that communities of practice alone will deliver KM (Shell has many more tools in its KM toolbox*), and secondly you cannot assume that the technology alone will deliver the communities. So perhaps it was unsurprising that the community forums remained almost completely unused.

But there were other issues as well. Shell's communities are spread around the globe; this company had all its staff in a single office. Shell's community staff could only interact virtually; in this company they could talk, they could visit each others offices, and they could talk to their colleagues if they had a problem. Shell is a multilingual organisation, and an English Language forum made sense; in this company, although their forum was in English, the staff all spoke their native language, making it far easier to talk verbally in their native language, than communicate through the forum in written English.

I am pleased to say that this company very quickly realised that they had made a false start, and rethought their strategy, deciding instead to implement a full set of KM processes, tailored to their own context. But it's a lesson worth learning - there is no one-size KM solution. Although there are a set of universal principles, the solution you create and the toolset you adopt must be designed around your own needs.

1 comment:

fionamacd said...

Good post - I face the same issue too. Started online forum for customer input, but everyone complains that the customers aren't using it. I have tried to push the idea that 'we' need to start the discussions going and that will engage the customers. Kind of like starting a support group with everyone sitting around looking at one another - the leader has to instigate discussion by creating an environment where people can feel included and safe.

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