Tuesday 19 August 2014

Knowledge of process, knowledge of product, knowledge of customer

Some companies make things, some do things, some maintain relationships. Process companies, Product companies, Client companies - different focus, different business, different approach to KM. 

OK, so that is an oversimplification - most companies are a mix of Doing, Making and Relationship Management; they have product departments where they Make things, and marketing departments where they Do things, and sales/service . However there are still three types of KM approaches; focusing on Product, Process and Client.  The figure attached here (from our global KM survey) shows how the balance between these approaches varies by industry sector.

Process-based KM.

A typical process-based organisation would be the Army. They don't make things, they do things, and their KM approach is all about the development and improvement of Practice. They develop their doctrines, they develop Communities of Practice, and they focus on continual practice improvement.

We see the same in the oil sector. The focus is on Practice Improvement. Communities of Practice, Best Practices (or whatever you prefer to call them), Practice Owners - the entire focus is on knowledge of Practice, Practice Improvement, and Doing Things Better.

Aid and Development, and Construction, are also strongly Process/Practice focused.

Product based KM

A typical product-based organisation would be an aircraft manufacturer or a car manufacturer. They exist to make things, and their KM approach is all about the development and improvement of Product. They develop product guidelines.

In DaimlerChrysler, their Electronic Book of Knowledge was about motorcar components, and their tech Clubs were more Communities of Product than Communities of Practice. The experts are more likely to be experts on a product, than experts on a practice area. With the more complex products, were design knowledge is critical, KM can become Knowledge Based Engineering, with design rationale embedded into CAD files and other design products.

The Air Force, in contrast to the Army, is focused primarily on Product learning - learning about the Plane itself, much of which learning is shared with the aircraft manufacturer. For a Product based organisation, the entire focus is on knowledge of Product, Product Improvement, and Making Better Things.

The KM focus in Legal firms is also Knowledge of Product; the product here being

The figure above shows that none of the sectors surveyed is purely focused on Product - there is always a mix of Product and Practice.

Customer based KM

A typical customer-based organisation would be a government department. They exist to  serve a customer base. They are not making anything (other than policy) and the KM focus is on the customer.

Customer focused Knowledge Management consists of developing and documenting a knowledge of the customer (through Customer-focused communities and through research), and may also involve the provision of knowledge to customers, and the involvement of Customers in discussion through communities and social media.

Balancing the types of knowledge 

The danger in KM comes when you try to impose a solution where it does't apply.

KM should be pragmatic, and consist of "horses for courses", rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. This is also true for divisions within large companies.

While the sales division, or the new business division, or the projects division may need Communities of Practice, perhaps the division that makes the products needs Communities of Product, so that Knowledge of Product can be transferred across company boundaries. Perhaps the traditional tools of Learning Before, During and After need to look at Product knowledge as well as Practice knowledge, and look for improvements in Product as well as improvements in Practice.

The idea of Communities of Product is an interesting one, as these Communities may extend beyond the designers and Developers, to include the Sales force and the Service Engineers, who also need product Knowledge, and can supply learning about the Product in Sales, and the Product in Use. Ultimately the Product Community can extend to the Users of the product - the customers themselves.

That's when it really gets interesting!

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