Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Heirarchies of Knowledge

Originally uploaded by tandemracer

When you are building your store of explicit knowledge for the organisation, you need to make it clear how much validity your documentation has. Knowledge comes in different levels of trust, and you need to make it clear to the reader what level applies to all documentation. There are three main levels

1. Mandatory, or “Must Do”. This is the level of company standards, and everybody reading this particular process documentation needs to be very clear that they need to follow exactly what’s written. If there is a major problem, they need to get in touch with the process owner and discuss it with them, but that the default should be to follow this documentation exactly.

2. Advisory, or “Should Do”. This is the level of best practices, and everybody reading this particular process documentation needs to be clear that this is the best way to approach this particular process, based on current company knowledge. However there is always the possibility to improve on best practice, and if somebody can find an even better way, then that’s great. So Advisory process is advised, but not compulsory. However if people ignore advisory knowledge and things go wrong, some awkward questions may be asked.

3. Suggested, or “Could Do”. This is the level of good ideas or good practices that others in the organisation have used, which the reader should feel free to reuse or re-adapt to his or her own context. These good ideas can still save the reader a lot of time and effort, but there is no real requirement to copy them.

In BP drilling in the late 1990s, corporate process documentation was divided into these three levels of validity, and these were labelled Principles, Processes and Practices. This labelling made it very clear to the reader how much scope they had to vary the process from what was in the documentation.

My colleague Tom, in his book Knowledge Management for Operations and Manufacturing, tells about the BP Operations Exzcellence toolkit, which illustrates this well.

The BP Operations Excellence toolkit is structured around the level of
validation that has been applied to the knowledge. At one level there is the
highly vetted, approved knowledge in the form of corporate standards and
required practices, which are referenced under the heading ‘The BP Way’. At the
opposite end of the spectrum is the knowledge in the Question and Response
system, eCLIPS, which is totally unvetted. BP went a step further and provided a
'health guide' to the advice you were receiving.

Captured knowledge is
presented in a hierarchy, as follows;

The "BP Way" These tools describe
the way BP does business (ie BP policy). This should be the first place to look
when identifying ways (the "what" and "how").

Good Practices These
describe good practices identified for the relevant elements by either
experience from operating assets (eg from OVP assessments, eCLIPS etc) or
subject matter experts.

People These are people you can contact for help
with closing your OVP score gaps for the relevant elements.

These are communities of practice skilled in the relevant element.

Community discussion forum This section links you to any questions (and
responses) that have been asked about the relevant OVP element and allows you to
ask the Community if you have been unable to find an answer in the toolkit. All
entries in eCLIPS are purely voluntary and are not validated by Subject Matter

This hierarchy is very important as it gives the reader a sense
of how reliable the knowledge might be. Thus if the advice provided is in the
form of The "BP Way" then the reader knows that this is a fully validated and
approved policy or procedure and can be followed with confidence. At the bottom
end of the scale, advice provided via the eCLIPS system, which is not validated,
needs to be treated with a lot more caution.

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