Friday, 27 September 2013


The knowledge supply chain; lessons as "the car parts of knowledge"


This post is a combination of three ideas, to see if they come up with something new.
Idea number 1 - the idea of an organisation as a knowledge factory, sparked by Lord Browne's quote - "anyone in the organization who is not directly accountable for making a profit should be involved in creating and distributing knowledge that the company can use to make a profit" 
Idea number 2 - the idea that corporate process is a compilation or synthesis of all the lessons learned over time 
Idea number 3 - the idea that we can treat knowledge management as a supply chain, designed to get the right knowledge to the right people at the time they need to make decisions.

So the combination idea looks like this (based on an image from here).


This is a supply chain where components are manufactured, and assembled into products (like a car plant, or a construction site).

In our analogy, we have lessons from experience being assembled into continuously improving corporate processes, rather like car parts are assembled into cars.  The links within this chain are as follows

  1. The raw materials for the supply chain are the experiences of the individuals in the workplace, who are trying to apply the processes in different contexts, in a changing world.
  2. The supplier of the raw materials therefore are the individuals themselves.
  3. Experiences are manufactured into lessons through processes of analysis and discussion - team meetings such as Retrospects, and After Action Reviews. Through discussion and analysis, individual unconscious knowledge is made conscious, and the experiences of many individuals are combined into the lessons of the team or the lessons from an event. These lessons are the components - the car parts within the supply chain. 
  4. Now we get into the Distribution part of the supply chain. We need to get those parts to the assembly plant. This is a part where many Lessons learned systems break down, They leave those parts (lessons) in the warehouse (database), and expect people to come and find them (remember that scene from raiders of the Lost Ark?). We need instead to have active lessons management, to push the lessons to those who need them.
  5. Those who need them are (primarily) the people in charge of corporate process, who need to keep those processes fresh and updated as new learning comes in. The Process owners, or SMEs.
  6. However that is not the end of the story. The assembled knowledge needs to get to the consumer - though the equivalent of car showrooms (community portals), or supermarkets (Intranets) or street markets (wikis).
  7. The consumer is the knowledge worker. They apply the new knowledge, and in doing so, gain new experience. 
And so the cycle begins again.



4 comments:

radialsoft said...

I think your metaphor is excellent. Supply chain was the very optimisation of taylorism in its late majority for large scale consumerism. Everyone doing his job only, as specialized as possible. This is now outdated, companies are now more toward goals like agile, customized, substainable, lean and continuous innovation. So what would be the parallel in KM for this revolution ?

Nick Milton said...

Thanks radialsoft. The agile, customised and sustainable element of KM lies in the communities of practice - the lessons supply chain above is just one component of the whole KM system; there are other more agile components. The lessons cycle is explicit push, the CoP component is tacit pull. But I don't see it as an either-or, I see it as a both-and.

Bruno Winck, Kneaver said...

Hi Nick, sorry for dated blogger profile above.

While I agree that you describe a state of affairs, I don't think this is how it should be. We have now options to put the people in step 2 in contact with pple in step 5 synchronously. Push, pull are old limitations due to technology and how companies were based on command and control. May be what we need now to overcome such rigid mono directional processes.

Nick Milton said...

You are right, Bruno, and people in stages 2 and 5 SHOULD be in direct contact, thus allowing direct push and pull. However this is still a "both/and". There are logistical reasons why the explicit push lop still has a place - issues of heirarchy, issues of time and timezones, issues of "being able to find each other when needed". I don't think we need to "overcome" such a "rigid" process, I think we need to recognise where formality works and where informality works.

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