Thursday, 28 November 2019

How should you arrange your knowledge store - by topic, by type, or by organisational unit?

How do you structure your knowledge store? There are 3 options, but one is far better than the other two in meeting the needs of the knowledge seeker. 


Image from Robins.af.mil
There are three ways to organise your knowledge store. You can organise it by operational units, so that each unit has control of their local knowledge.  That way you have a European Division knowledge base,  a Pittsburgh Plant portal, etc. Or you can organize it by the type of knowledge, so you have a website for lessons, another for videos, another for training material. Or you organise it by topic, so there is a store for knowledge about preventative maintenance, another for knowledge about project management, and so on.

I don't have any statistics to prove which of these works better, but for me it is option 3 every time. I always recommend storing knowledge based on the topic. The knowledge may come from many operational units, and it may be of many types; lessons, good practices, training materials etc, but it is all about the same knowledge topic or knowledge domain.

I recommend this approach for 6 main reasons;

 1. Part of the value of Knowledge Management is enabling knowledge to be shared across organisational units. Imagine a manufacturing function divided into regional units. What is the point of organising knowledge by the regional units? Teams within the regions have a closer working relationship already than teams in different units. Far more value is to be gained by exchanging knowledge between units but within the same function. 
2 . Organisational structure changes on a far more frequent basis than topics and subjects.  Maybe one day, instead of a functional organisation, the company reformats into a regional structure, and the manufacturing function becomes split between European manufacturing, US manufacturing etc. Should the old manufacturing knowledge base be divided up between the regions? No. Manufacturing remains a core knowledge topic, and the manufacturing knowledge base should remain, covering all regions. 
3. The real value of knowledge management comes when discussing know-how. A subject equates to a practice area, which equates to know-how. Hence the value of developing Communities of Practice, which create, share, apply and steward the development of practice know-how. Communities of Practice are a fundamental of KM; communities of organisational unit are not. The top level taxonomy of your knowledge base should equate to your CoP structure, which should equate to your list of strategic knowledge topics, and all the knowledge associated with that topic should be owned and managed by the community, in one single knowledge store. In our case above, the manufacturing community of practice manages the manufacturing knowledge base. 
4. Arranging the content by Subject will make it easier to demonstrate compliance with ISO 9001 
5. People seeking for knowledge on a topic will not necessarily know which organisational unit has sourced the knowledge, and will not necessarily care. So long as it helps with their manufacturing issues, they don't care where it comes from.
6. People seeking for knowledge on a topic don't really care which format it comes in - whether it is text, or pictures, or audio or video, or powerpoints, or lessons learned, or training material. To be honest, they want to find all the knowledge, no matter the format, and if its Multimedia - so much the better! They don't want to have to look for video in one place, powerpoints in another.
Imagine looking through a library reference section, where instead of organising the reference books by topic, they organised them by the author's home town! Anyone browsing a library for reference on a topic knows that this is the best way to organise; a section on gardening, one on cooking, one on sport. They organize the library for the knowledge-seeker, and you should do the same.


Having said that
 a) your knowledge base should be arranged by Subject but also tagged by operational unit (and by contributor) to allow search by whichever method is needed, 
 b) your larger knowledge management framework needs elements that apply within the organisational unit (AARs, KM plans, lessons capture, KM champions) and elements that apply across units (CoPs, Lesson-sharing, knowledge bases, SMEs, Practice Owners), so even though the knowledge store is organised by topic, there will be activities which are organised by unit
 c) there are organisations where the Subjects should be organised by Practice topics, others where the Subjects should be organised by Product topics, and some where the Subjects should be organised by Customer topics (see here). 

Arrange your knowledge store by topic, so the seeker can find all the knowledge on the topic in one place, regardless of origin or format.

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