Thursday 21 February 2019

"Just in time" knowledge, or "just in case" knowledge? Which works best?

There are two approaches you can use to KM - a supply-driven and a demand-driven approach, Which works best?

JIT clock from pixabay
"Just in time" knowledge transfer is transfer driven by Demand, and by Pull. Knowledge is transferred only when people need it, in response to an immediate demand (see this blog post for more exploration of this idea).

The advantages of Just-in-time knowledge are as follows:

  • People are only really receptive to knowledge,when they actually need it
  • Knowledge transfer works far more effectively through Pull (where people seek for knowledge when they need it) than Push (where people send out knowledge in the hope that someone might need it)
  • Knowledge transferred in response to a demand will be used immediately
  • Just in time knowledge cuts waste out of the system, and removes knowledge that is transferred in the absence of any demand

The disadvantages of Just-in-time knowledge are as follows:

  • When we are most in need of a decision, we are least discerning about the quality of the knowledge we receive
  • Just-in-time knowledge tends to draw on the tacit knowledge of communities of practice, which is biased by the unreliability of long term memory, and the "availability" bias (which gives undue weight to the recent and the memorable events)
  • You may therefore pick up on what is new and what is different and what is current, and miss out on what is old and what is established
  • Knowledge of infrequent activity becomes lost

As the post quoted above says, "The worst time to look for information is when we need it to make a decision. When we do that we’re more likely to see what’s unique and miss the historical context. We’re also more likely to be biased by what is available".

Once we lose the long term written memory, and start relying on short term memory, we enter the world of Repeat Mistakes, where changes made to fix things, are unmade in future as the long term memory fades, as old staff move on, and as new people come in with bright ideas and no historical context.  So people change things, only to find that old problems re-emerge.

Therefore Just-in-time knowledge needs also to be accompanied by just-in-case knowledge. This is knowledge that is captured and shared as lessons at the end of a piece of work, "just in case" someone should want to use them again. This is classic "knowledge push".

The advantages of Just-in-case knowledge are as follows:
  • Just-in-case documented knowledge has shelf-life way beyond the limits of human memory, and well- captured knowledge can last for a very long time
  • Documented knowledge in a knowledge store, if findable and well crafted, can be re-used by very many people
  • Knowledge can grow and improve over time as new experiences and details are added. It can create a balanced record of organisation learning
  • Just-in-case knowledge can reach people who did not even know they needed it
  • Knowledge of infrequent activity can be stored for when it is needed in future

The disadvantages of Just-in-case knowledge are as follows:
  • If Just-in-case knowledge is broadcast and shared at the time it is identified and documented, it adds noise into the system. This is knowledge which is being shared just in case someone needs it, and for everyone else, it is unnecessary noise
  • Just-in-case knowledge, unless well crafted, does not necessarily answer the questions of the user
  • Just-in-case knowledge can go out of date as circumstances change
Both of these approaches have their advantages and disadvantages, and both have their place in a KM Framework. Organisations and Communities of Practice need to focus on answering the immediate problems of the knowledge workers, and satisfying their knowledge needs and demands, at the same time as building up the long-term organisational memory.

It means that Communities of Practice can hold knowledge not just in their collective brains and consciousness, but in their collective history and collective Experience Base.

It means that we need to address both Connect and Collect - Connecting People and Collecting Knowledge - in order to give secure decision support to the Just In Time requests.

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