Tuesday 3 September 2019

Seven potential building blocks of a KM framework

Knowledge management is a large and complex field, covering many elements, and applied in many different ways (see my blog post on 50 shades of KM for example). However there are a small number of Knowledge Management sub-components or modules which come up time and time again, and probably represent the main building blocks for KM.

These modules are applied in different ways in different organisations, and use different processes, technologies and roles. Each of them delivers a certain amount of value; combined, they can create a complete Knowledge Management framework. Any one of them might be favoured in any particular industry.

The seven main KM modules are listed below.

1. Connecting people, through Communities and Networks.

Connecting people through Communities of Practice and Networks is the most popular module within Knowledge Management, applied (according to our global KM surveys) in three quarters of KM programs; Legal KM programs being the main exception. This module requires an effective set of Community software, but more that this, it requires governance, leadership roles, and community processes (see the ten success factors for Communities of Practice).  Through connecting people in this way, knowledge can flow from person to person, across silos and organisational boundaries.  Questions can be asked and answered, and individuals can collaborate on solutions.

2. Learning from Experience.

About two-thirds of KM approaches include some form of learning from experience, or lesson-learning (again, Legal KM programs often proving an exception).  Learning from experience can be applied at many levels; to teams, to projects, to products or to programs. It may involve After Action Reviews, Design improvements, Toyota A3s, Retrospects, and other techniques. But however it is applied, and however it is supported by technology and roles, the same principles of systematic gathering and re-use of new knowledge are needed if learning from experience is to be successful.

3. Creation of "Best Practices".

The third most common KM module is the creation of some form of compiled and documented knowledge base. Whether you call it "Best Practices" or not, 60% of KM approaches address this issue of "gathering and synthesising what we know". The home for this synthesised knowledge may be a Wiki, a Knowledge Asset, a Checklist, or even an Expert System. I am not talking about libraries here - the key to a Best Practice approach is developing and making available the Current Best Way to do something, and then continuously improving that "Best way" to make it even better.

4. Provision of Knowledge to external Customers

This is a version of number 3, which focuses on providing knowledge to external parties. This can be done through Knowledge Centred Support (customer support staff working with the help of a knowledge base), through chatbots, or through customer self-service (publishing knowledge on a site for customer use). 

5. Better access to knowledge documents.

"Better access to knowledge documents" is a very common area of focus of Knowledge Management programs, although this verges into the adjacent fields of ECM and information management. Portals and Enterprise Search (even Semantic Search) are the key tools here for ensuring findability of documented knowledge.

6. Knowledge Retention.

Knowledge retention is a strategic approach to protecting against knowledge loss as experienced staff leave an organisation, and a whole variety of KM interventions can be applied to both retain and transfer the knowledge.

7. Innovation.

Innovation as a separate KM module deals with Knowledge Creation, often through development of innovation teams, creation of breakthrough innovation projects, and use of structured innovation processes.

Business sectors and the seven building blocks

As already hinted above, different business sectors tend to have a focus on different KM modules. Some of the main differences are as follows (and please bear in mind that most organisations address the first 4 modules, and many address all seven to varying extents).

  • Connecting People is a core focus for multinational organisations, where knowledge is spread over many sites and many countries. Aid and Development organisations, for example, focus on Connecting People, as do the multinational oil companies.
  • Learning from Experience is a core focus for Project organizations, such as Construction, Engineering and Aerospace.
  • Best Practice is a core focus for service organisations, and for Manufacturing.
  • Provision of knowledge to customers is a focus for Finance, Insurance, Retail and Educational organisations, as well as the development banks.
  • Better access to knowledge documents is the core focus in the Legal sector, but is part of the KM Framework for almost every organisation.
  • Knowledge Retention is a core area of focus for many organisations; typically Western Engineering and manufacturing companies concerned about reliability (Nuclear, Aerospace, Utilities etc) or growing organisations relying on the knowledge of a few experts. 
  • Innovation is a focus for any competitive organisation, be it product innovation or process innovation, but is seldom the core focus for a KM program. 

However whichever building blocks you choose, the key is to link them up into your final framework, as no block stands alone.

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