Thursday 26 April 2018

7 reasons for KM failure in a Pharma company

An interesting study on a failed Knowledge Management project highlights 7 reasons for failure

Here is an interesting study of a failed KM approach in a Pharma organisation, by Ashley Braganza1 and Gerald Mollenkramer. It starts with the following vignette.

On a sunny morning in July 1999, Samuel Parsons, Head of Knowledge Management at PharmaCorp, convened his regular Monday team meeting. ‘Last Friday evening I was informed that Wilco Smith, Head of Pharma Global Order Handling Services, no longer wants KM. His only question now is how to off-board the KM staff.’ Thus came to an end a three-year initiative that at the outset was considered to be ‘the KM showcase for the firm’.
This has happened to too many organisations. We need to learn from failures such as this, and luckily that's what the authors of the study try to do.  The authors draw 5 conclusions from the study - these largely echo my 7 reasons for KM failure. The 5 conclusions are as follows;

  1. Avoid defining knowledge within functions or silo-oriented communities of practice; instead define knowledge at the level of business processes. Within the study Project, KM was operationalized through the functions, and each function would have its own IT interface to the knowledge repository. As a result the relevance stored content to others was not addressed, and also the technology infrastructure became too fragmented and complex for the IT domain to deliver.
  1. Remember that knowledge is operationalized by people; hence, a knowledge management initiative must relate knowledge to people’s day jobs.  People lacked a clear context for specifying what knowledge was business-critical, so each knowledge-element was assigned implicitly equal weighting, and specific elements that are business critical got insufficient attention
  1. Tacit knowledge resides within people and their behaviours; hence attempting to apply Information Technology to tacit knowledge is fraught with difficulty. Instead, it is explicit knowledge that is most susceptible to the application of Information Technology.  Pharma focused primarily upon explicit knowledge. This is a common feature of many knowledge management projects that yield poor results.
  1. Knowledge is context-specific. It should be owned and maintained by people within the organization. Hence, external input to knowledge management initiatives must be carefully managed to ensure people within the organization are in control of the initiative at all times. Three different consulting firms were involved at different times, and the external consultants held key roles. This placed team members at a disadvantage when the consultants left.
  1. Implementing knowledge management involves change in the organization. Understand the organization’s willingness to change and manage people’s expectations appropriately.People at all levels of the organization must feel part of the knowledge management initiative, and senior managers must create a space within which people from different functions can come together to forge knowledge across each business process

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