Tuesday, 16 August 2011


Knowledge Management evolution - tool, toolbox, framework


I had some interesting conversations in the last few weeks on the evolution of KM, especially given Nancy Dixon's evolution model.

It made me ponder on my own KM thinking over the past 19 years, and how that has evolved.

Stage 1 - focus on one or two tools

When I was working in Norway in the early to mid 90s, our KM approach was very simple. We were focusing on  one or two KM processes - the Retrospect, and a Lessons Database, under the care of a Knowledge Manager (me). In hindsight, this was a naive and rudimentary approach, and the lessons built up and up in the database until it became too full and too daunting for people to use as reference. We were focusing on one or two tools, and missing large chunks of KM.

There are quite a few organisations still at this stage. They have bought SharePoint, and think that this will deliver KM. Or they embed lesson-learning in their process, and expect that this will deliver results. Or they have Communities of Practice. Or Wikis. Or blogs.

But one tool alone will not deliver Knowledge Management.

Stage 2 - build a toolbox.

When I left Norway in 1997 and joined the BP Knowledge Management team, we already realised that we needed more than one KM tool. This is when we discovered the Learning Before, During and After model, and when we started to put together a Knowledge Management Toolbox including After Action Reviews, Peer Assist, Knowledge Assets, as well as the tools mentioned above. Certainly that gave us a little more in the way of success, but the success was largely down to the intervention of the KM team, and when the KM team withdrew, knowledge-sharing died away. That's because a toolbox is not enough. The BP toolbox was not embedded into the work practices of the organisation, the roles were not in place, and there was no governance. The attitude to KM was "here are a bunch of tools - we invite you to use them to deliver value". And largely, the organisation declined the invitation.

There are many organisations at this stage. We meet many of them in our consultancy practice. They have defined a KM toolbox - in some cases a very extensive toolbox. But KM remains optional, and it remains separate form the normal work process.

A toolbox alone will not deliver sustainable KM.

Stage 3 - implement a Framework.

When I let BP in 1999, Knowledge management was still at the Toolbox stage. Perhaps the Drillers had taken it further, but even they were struggling to make it work. In 2004 Tom and I worked with BP again to do a major review of Knowledge Management, and to look at where it was working, and what was missing. That's where the concept was born of a Knowledge Management Framework - a small defined set of tools, embedded into business process, and a small defined set of roles embedded into the organisational structure, all under an umbrella of Governance. At last, Knowledge Management was beginning to take on the aspects of other management systems, and to build a framework of roles, processes, technologies and governance which could be made part of the business. Just as Financial Management is not a single tool - budgets for example, or invoicing - and is not a toolbox ("you can try writing budgets if you like - here's a guide"), but is a complete framework embedded into the business process, so Knowledge Management needs a framework.

Where you see KM working well - in the Military, for example - they have such a framework in place. Increasingly we are beginning to see this happening in industry, as organisations realise they have to evolve beyond steps 1 and 2, in order to build a robust sustainable approach Io KM which can be embedded into "business as usual".

7 comments:

Gerald Meinert said...

Very nice outline of the evolution, and by no means a unique BP case (on the contrary it would be interesting, whether somewhere corporates did not follow this evolution path, why and how). In particular the comparison with Finance is great, as we are both ways talking company assets. And some people have the attitude not to use KM tools, because "they don't like the tool", such an attitude is never accepted in finance.
Step 3: embed KM into business - Step 4: build business on knowledge / knowledge management.

regards
gerald

sue waller said...

Hi Nick, I agree (working for a KM software company) all too often organisations are surprised that they may have to do some work / preparation prior to the deployment of our knowledge base. However, the best companies actually employ someone to look after the knowledge and can help staff to ensure they know what the capabilities of the organisation are and how the tools are there to help them...

liuxuehui said...

Great article, show very clear where the problem is for us.

Still, if there is a better analogy to show the value of a system not just part of it, that will be better. Especially those analogy that can demonstrate the fact that without the system, the knowledge will not be able to accumulate and be brought back to work.

Nick Milton said...

Hi Liu

one piece of evidence is from the Lessons Learned survey I ran, which shows that satisfaction with a lessons learning system increased with each element of the system, so the fewer elements, the least satisfaction. See here http://www.nickmilton.com/2009/09/more-detail-from-lessons-survey.html

Md Santo said...

Hi Nick,
An excellent step by step description of your version on KM evolution. BTW, I just posted also my work on brief description of the three versions of KM evolution. They are namely from Nick, Nancy and my self based on Human System Biology-based KM (HSBKM) model framework. Should you visit http://www.scribd.com/doc/62494410/Analysing-Three-Versions-of-Knowledge-Management-Evolution Any feed back will be appreciated. Thank you

Md Santo – http://mobeeknowledge.ning.com

liuxuehui said...

Well, what I need is a very simple and compelling analogy to show why parts is far less than the whole. I will continue to think about it:)

Just for communication to others.

Nick Milton said...

My favourite analogy is here http://www.nickmilton.com/2009/05/knowledge-management-and-central.html

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