Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Who guards the memory?

Core Memory
Originally uploaded by jurvetson

In this post I made the case that organisational structures, operating procedures and processes form a core component of organisational memory.

Processes and procedures are built up over time, and they represent the company view of “how we do things”. Employees follow the processes, and repeat “how things are done”. The processes hold and propagate the patterns for behaviour, and for the way work is conducted. If the organisation is to learn, these processes must evolve over time.

Another key element here is that they must be owned. Someone or some group must be the custodian or custodians of the processes. We need clear process ownership.

Process ownership is a key component of many management approaches such as Business Process Improvement, Six Sigma, and Lean Manufacturing, and there are many definitions available in the literature. The definition below is a simplified version

A process owner can be defined as the person accountable for maintaining the definition, and the quality of a particular process. They don’t have to operate the process themselves, but they need to make sure that the people who do operate the process have access to the documentation they need to operate the process in the (currently identified) best possible way.

In KM terms, some of the specific responsibilities of the process owner are as follows-

• Monitoring the development of knowledge within their specific area of expertise
• Ensuring that new lessons are collected and shared from significant pieces of work,
• Promoting peer assists and personal connections between the projects to share tacit knowledge of the process,
• Developing and publicising process guidance documents relating to their specific process
• Developing, and agreeing with management, corporate standards for their specific process
• Updating guidance documents, Best Practices and standards for the process as required
• Ensuring that guidance documentation is made available to all users
• Publicising and rolling out new lessons, and updated process documentation
• Monitoring use of any relevant documentation, and acting on feedback to improve this.
• Liaising with the leader or coordinator of any community of practice which covers the process
• Monitoring the organizational performance in the application of the process

This is a role that can be done by Community coordinators, by Subject Matter Experts, or by Technical Authorities, depending on the maturity of the knowledge in question.

With no process owner, the processes fall out of date, and no longer become a reliable memory store. You end up with a sort of Corporate Alzheimers, where big holes develop in the long term memory of the company. We can't afford that to happen.

Make sure your core processes are owned, so that the corporate memory is guarded and continually refreshed.

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