Wednesday, 21 August 2013


Knowledge Management and Safety Management - an analogue that works (up to a point)


In many ways, Safety Management is a good analogue to Knowledge management.
  • Both are management systems for dealing with intangibles.
  • Both are leaps in thinking from treating safety/knowledge as something personal, to treating it as something of company priority
  • Both require introduction of a framework, including roles, processes, governance, and technology support
  • Both need to be introduced as change programs.
  • Both deliver step changes in performance.
This is good news for the Knowledge Manager, as Safety Management has been successfully introduced in many industries, and therefore is a source of learning for KM implementation, One of the early exercises for the knowledge manager is to look at how safety management was implemented; what succeeded, what failed, what needed to be in place, and therefore what the lessons are for KM. Culture change is possible, implementation of a new intangible-management system is possible, and KM can be informed by that.

However all analogies break down somewhere, and one of the major differences between KM and Safety Management is that a safety incident is very visible; as lost time, or as an injury. A lost time incident is far more visible than a lost knowledge incident.  Therefore safety management is easier to implement, because the outcomes are so visible, and performance metrics can easily be captured and shared.

However, intangible metrics are used in Safety are only recorded because people take time to record them, and one of the things they record are the near misses and the "high potential events" (times when things COULD have gone horribly wrong. These events and near misses themselves don't result in accidents or injury, but are a leading indicator, and show that safety processes are not being applied. An equivalent leading indicator in KM would be the number of lessons with closed-out actions in a learning system, or the number of questions answered in a community forum - indicators that knowledge processes are or are not being applied. So although we cannot capture a "lost knowledge incident" we can at least record whether the right questions are being asked, or the right observations and insights shared.

Indirect outcome-based metrics can be applied to knowledge management, the ultimate output being continuous business performance improvement. This does not directly measure knowledge, but indicates the effect of the application of knowledge. See my blog post on learning curves, and our website page on valuation of KM.

3 comments:

sjponeill said...

I this this as well, especially in aviation, where the driver is 'what went wrong?' as opposed to 'whose fault was it?'. But not all safety incidents are as visible as you might think and part oft he rationale of all that record-keeping is to identify when the holes in the Swiss Cheese (Reason model)are starting to align before they actually do i.e. a safety incident can as easily be a near-miss as it can a head-on...

Stephen Duffield said...

Gents, very much like the connection, attached is a paper on ‘A systemic lessons learned and captured knowledge (SLLCK) model for project organizations’ based on the Swiss cheese model for safety and systemic failure that you may find an interesting read.

A key focus here is Just Culture, as we typically find this culture in High Reliability Organizations.

http://www.invictaprojects.com.au/pmlessonslearnedblog/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/duffield_whitty_2012_A-systemic-lessons-learned-and-captured-knowledge-SLLCKmodel-for-project-organizations1.pdf

http://www.pmlessonslearned.info/

Regards, Stephen

Stephen Duffield said...

Gents, very much like the connection, attached is a paper on ‘A systemic lessons learned and captured knowledge (SLLCK) model for project organizations’ based on the Swiss cheese model for safety and systemic failure that you may find an interesting read. We typically find a just culture the key feature in High Reliability Organizations. I have just completed another paper under peer review on this very topic.

http://www.invictaprojects.com.au/pmlessonslearnedblog/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/duffield_whitty_2012_A-systemic-lessons-learned-and-captured-knowledge-SLLCKmodel-for-project-organizations1.pdf

Regards, Stephen
http://www.pmlessonslearned.info

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