Tuesday, 9 August 2016

What organisation do you need to handle the knowledge workstream?

I have blogged before about the two simultaneous and overlapping workstreams in an organisation - the product workstream, and the knowledge workstream. But what is the organisation that delivers the knowledge workstream?

Any organisation that makes product, also makes knowledge about that product. Products are made through projects, projects have beginnings and ends, but the knowledge needs to be collected from each project and passed from one to the other. It is this knowledge, passed from one project to another, that allows old products to be improved and new products to be developed. As Michael Kennedy says about Toyota

"Product development is not about developing cars, its about developing knowledge about cars. Great cars will emerge from the interaction". 

Now Toyota has a whole organisation dedicated to delivering products. In their case, they have car factories; other organisations have factories making cellphones, or shavers, or chocolate, or (to stretch the definition of "factory") making legal products, or training courses, or advice to clients.

All of these production organisations are well developed, and focused on delivering product.

But what and where is the organisation focused on delivering knowledge?

If there is a well-defined "factory" producing product, and accountable for the product workstream, then there where is the well-defined "factory" producing knowledge, and accountable for the knowledge workstream?

Toyota have such a knowledge factory, and so do many of the world's leading Knowledge Management organisations. These "knowledge factories" generally consist of a framework something like this:

  • Knowledge owners, accountable for specific areas of knowledge
  • Communities of practice, acting as contributors to, and co-creators and users of, the knowledge
  • A "Body of Knowledge" - accessible to all who need it; maintained, synthesised, collated and updated
  • Learning from Experience systems, where new knowledge can be harvested from projects and used to update the body of knowledge
  • Collaborative technologies which allow the body of knowledge to be maintained by the community
  • Discussion technologies for the community
  • Effective enterprise search
  • Clear governance.
The point is, though, that is you have two parallel workstreams, you need two parallel organisations. You need a matrix of intersecting organisations - with one axis of the matrix being the project dimension, and the other being the knowledge dimension. 

If you try to create a knowledge workstream using the same organisation that creates products, you will run into difficulty. You need a knowledge organisation as well. 

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