Thursday, 27 March 2014

KM and the pendulum of fashion

Pendulum by John-Morgan
Pendulum, a photo by John-Morgan on Flickr.
Within any organisation, KM can suffer from pendulum swings.

As an example, one company for many years had a KM approach focused almost entirely on Communities of Practice. After a series of project overruns, they  introduced a framework for project KM, which had a fantastic impact on results.

Over the subsequent years this approach became taken for granted - seen as "embedded". The high level champion left, and was replaced by a lower level champion, who was replaced again by someone even lower, and gradually attention and governance slipped. The framework began to be ignored, new management came in, and said "project KM doesn't work - lets put our attention on Communities of Practice instead".

And so the pendulum swung, with a frequency of a decade.

Maybe in 5 more years there will be a series of project overspends, the spotlight will turn again onto project KM, and the pendulum will begin it's back-stroke.

How do you guard against this? How do you ensure that KM is given an even-handed and consistent treatment?

A clue comes from a comment from John Donahue on my recent post on Army KM Roles. John says
I've been working with US Army KM programs for some time and even with this structure (of strategic teams) there's a tendency for KM to slip into IT/Portal management. Fortunately this strategic level guidance allows units to self-assess, and "adjust fire" as they'd say. I don't believe Army KM would have been so successful without this formalized structure to keep the program on track.
The formalised  strategic guidance - KM Governance - stops the KM pendulum swinging towards IT and Portals. And certainly the company I mentioned above doesn't have the strategic level guidance.

If you want to avoid the pendulum of fashion when it comes to KM, then you need to set up, and maintain, the strategic level organisation that can keep it on the straight and narrow.

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