Monday 29 August 2016

Three ages of KM thinking - tool, toolbox, framework

It's quite common to see blog posts on "the three ages of KM". In this blog, I look at three stages of development in my own thinking about Knowledge Management.

Three ages of man, from wikimedia commons
Stage 1 - focus on one or two tools

When I was working in Norway in the early to mid 90s, our KM approach was very simple. We were focusing on  one or two KM processes - the Retrospect, and a Lessons Database, under the care of a Knowledge Manager (me). In hindsight, this was a naive and rudimentary approach, and the lessons built up and up in the database until it became too full and too daunting for people to use as reference. We were focusing on two tools ane one role, and thereby missing large chunks of KM.

There are quite a few organisations still at this stage. They have bought SharePoint, and think that this will deliver KM. Or they embed lesson-learning in their process, and expect that this will deliver results. Or they have Communities of Practice. Or Wikis. Or blogs.

But one tool alone will not deliver Knowledge Management.

Stage 2 - build a toolbox.

When I left Norway in 1997 and joined the BP Knowledge Management team, we already realised that we needed more than one KM tool. This is when we discovered the Learning Before, During and After model, and when we started to put together a Knowledge Management Toolbox including After Action Reviews, Peer Assist, Knowledge Assets, as well as the tools mentioned above. Certainly that gave us a little more in the way of success, but the success was largely down to the intervention of the KM team, and when the KM team withdrew, knowledge-sharing died away. That's because a toolbox is not enough. The BP toolbox was not embedded into the work practices of the organisation, the roles were not in place, and there was no governance. The attitude to KM was "here are a bunch of tools - we invite you to use them to deliver value". And largely, the organisation declined the invitation.

There are many organisations at this stage. We meet many of them in our consultancy practice. They have defined a KM toolbox - in some cases a very extensive toolbox. But KM remains optional, and it remains separate form the normal work process.

A toolbox alone will not deliver sustainable KM.

Stage 3 - implement a Framework.

In 2004 I worked with BP again, as a consultant, to do a major review of Knowledge Management, and to look at where it was working and what was missing. That's where the concept was born of a Knowledge Management Framework - a small defined set of tools, embedded into business process, and a small defined set of roles embedded into the organisational structure, all under an umbrella of Governance. At last, Knowledge Management was beginning to take on the aspects of other management systems, and to build a framework of roles, processes, technologies and governance which could be made part of the business. Just as Financial Management is not a single tool - budgets for example, or invoicing - and is not a toolbox ("you can try writing budgets if you like - here's a guide"), but is a complete framework embedded into the business process, so Knowledge Management needs a framework.

Where you see KM working well - in the Military, for example - they have such a framework in place. Increasingly we are beginning to see this happening in industry, as organisations realise they have to evolve beyond steps 1 and 2, in order to build a robust sustainable approach Io KM which can be embedded into "business as usual".

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