Tuesday, 24 March 2015

A haystack is no place to store your needles (findability in KM)

If you want people to find your needle, don't put it in a haystack. And if you want people to reuse your knowledge, but it somewhere where it can easily be found.


One of the companies we work with collects knowledge as "case studies". Currently there are over 20,000 case studies in their case study library, and finding a relevant study has been described as like finding a needle in a haystack.

My point, however, is that the needle should not have been put in the haystack in the first place.

One of the key issues in KM is findability.  People will not use knowledge if they cannot find it, and re-use is the end-game and the primary goal for KM.

A massive monolithic database of 20,000 cases is a haystack, and knowledge within it is very hard to find. So where would you put your knowledge, if you want it to be found?

To answer this, think about where you would put a needle, if you want others to find it.

For home use, you would put your needles into a sewing kit.


The sewing kit is a collection of tools to do a job. The kit is where you will find needles, pins, thread, safety pins, buttons and scissors. It provides you with the resources to do repair jobs on garments, all collected in one place.  The domestic sewing kit is a shared resource for all the needle-workers in the household. My wife uses it, as do her daughters, as do I when I need to sew on a button.

That's also how we need to package our knowledge.

We need to package our knowledge around the jobs that need to be done. Knowledge should be stored based on activity, rather than the type of knowledge. So knowledge on preventative maintenance - to take an example at random - needs to be stored in one place; case studies, lessons, guidance and standards should all be co-located, not hidden away in individual haystacks.  We call these collections of knowledge "knowledge assets" - a collection of the knowledge tools needed to do a job.

We need our knowledge to be a shared resource for the relevant community of practice - the maintenance community, in my example above. The knowledge asset is owned by the community, managed by the community, updated as a result of community discussion and knowledge sharing, and re-used by the community.

Keep your valuable knowledge in shared knowledge resources, whether you call them knowledge kits or knowledge assets.

Never hide knowledge in a haystack.

2 comments:

Cicilia Haryani said...

Greatly thanks for the idea that we should stored the knowledge based on activity, it is awesome! My question is how do you classified the knowledge based on the activity? Do you need some taxonomy, may be some Technology support for these classification? kindly suggest, thank you

Nick Milton said...

Yes, you need an activity-based taxonomy. You don't need any special technology for this.

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