Friday 19 June 2020

5 universal principles for Knowledge Management

There is no universal solution for Knowledge Management in an Organisation, but there is a set of universal principles.

A Management Framework for KM is bespoke - not off-the-peg. Each organisation must find its own solution , and must design its own Framework. There is no template, no universal solution, no single toolbox of KM technologies, no "KM Ultimate Swiss Army Knife", no one magic system that does it all, no single KM Process set, no a single design for set of KM roles, no universally applicable KM policy that all companies can adopt.

However I believe there IS a universal set of 5 Knowledge Management principles that every successful Knowledge Management application adopts, and which form the foundation for a successful KM framework. 4 of these principles are embedded within ISO 30401:2018, the ISO management systems standard for KM.

Please note, these are the principles behind KM framework design, not the principles for KM strategy [which are about the vision and direction for introducing KM], or the principles for KM implementation [which is how the framework will be developed and rolled out].

These Principles are as follows.

1. Aligned. The KM framework must align with the needs and strategy of the organisation.

Knowledge Management should not be introduced for its own sake; it should be introduced because it solves business problems and helps the organisation perform better. ISO 30401:2018 supports this by,  in the first two requirements, asking for an understanding of how KM supports the organisational context, and for a mapping of the stakeholders and their needs. These two tasks form the foundation for the Management Framework.

The primary value of knowledge is helping people make better decisions, and so perform work better, faster and/or cheaper. There are secondary values as well (helping people fell more engaged, more connected, more supported) but all of these are also in service of a better organisation.  Knowledge management for its own sake can often destroy value, as this example of misplaced collaboration shows.

Your knowledge management framework therefore needs to focus preferentially on the knowledge of highest organisational value (ISO clause 4.3), and of providing the highest value and highest utility knowledge to the knowledge workers and other stakeholders at the place and the time that they need it (hence the concept of KM as a Knowledge Supply Chain).

Unfortunately business alignment is the second weakest of all the elements in our free online self-assessment survey, which suggests that this principle is not always followed.

2.  Connect/Collect. The KM Framework must include Connect and Collect (aka Conversation and Content)

One of the earliest models in the history of Knowledge Management, and one that sometimes seems to get forgotten, is that there are two key dimensions in Knowledge Management, representing two routes between the knowledge suppler, and the knowledge user.

These are the Connect route, and the Collect route.

The Connect route supports knowledge transfer through connecting people and focuses on tacit knowledge.  The Collect route supports knowledge transfer through collecting knowledge into documents and focuses on codified knowledge.

Connect and Collect are not alternative strategies. They are two components of a single framework and a single strategy, which work in parallel.  Your organisation will contain critical knowledge of very many kinds; some of it managed as Content, and some as Conversations.  Conversations are a far richer medium than Content,  potentially 14 times richer, though Content can reach far more people, and has a longer life-span than a conversation.

Content and Conversation are the King and Queen of Knowledge Management - they rule together. Content is something to talk about, Conversation is where Content is born and where it is Tested.

In clause 4.3.3, the ISO standard requires organisations to address Connection through Human interation, and Collection through a) the representation of human knowledge in the form of documents, videos, and other artefacts: b) the combination and synthesis of documented knowledge, and c) the internalisation and reuse of knowledge.

3. Push and Pull. The framework must address Push and Pull (aka knowledge supply and knowledge demand)

I have blogged many times about push and pull in KM - push being the transfer of knowledge driven by supply (eg speculative publishing, or loading material to a database or wiki), and pull being the transfer of knowledge driven by demand (eg asking a question on a forum, or searching an Intranet).

 The ideal KM system runs push and pull in parallel - both supply and demand as valid ways of instigating the knowledge flow.

Push without pull (supply without demand) leads to knowledge over-supply and overload, and to ultimate destruction of knowledge value. Pull without push is better, but is ephemeral. Knowledge management, whether you view it as a market or as a supply chain, needs both supply and demand - both push and pull - if it is to function.

ISO 30401 does not address Supply and Demand, unfortunately.

4. The 4 legs. The KM framework must include Roles, Processes, Technologies and Governance

There are 4 enablers that support Knowledge Management, like 4 legs that support a table. These are

Like the 4 legs on a table, the 4 elements of KM are all equally important. No single element is dominant - they all support KM, and they support Knowledge Management in supporting the business.  Focus on all four enablers, to an equal extent, and your Knowledge Management table will stand firm and secure in support of the organisational strategy.

Clause 4.4.4 of ISO 30401:2018 contains the requirement to address these 4 enablers, plus the additional factor of culture. I do not include culture here, as I believe culture is an outcome of the management framework rather than part of the framework. The ISO standard goes on to include specific sections on three of these enablers:

  • 3 clauses addressing Roles (5.3, 7.1, 7.2)
  • 1 clause addressing Process (section 8)
  • 14 clauses on governance (5.1, 5.2, and all of sections 6, 7, 9 and 10)

5. Embedded. KM must be embedded into the structures of the organisation.

Lots of KM programs do not take root, because they have never been embedded in normal business. They are delivered by a strong team and a charismatic leader delivered as something separate - not fully rooted in the work structure and management framework of the company. They are like a tree in a pot - well tended, well watered, but separate - and when the tender care is removed, the organisation tips back. KM needs to be like a tree in a forest - rooted in the fabric of the business.

The goal is to embed a self-sustaining approach to KM in all elements of the business, with clear governance and good support, and clear evidence of sustainable culture change and sustainable business value.

Change the project requirements, to include KM. Change the minimum conditions of satisfaction for project delivery, to include effective lessons identification. Change the rules for project sanction, so a project gets no money if it hasn't done any learning. Change the job descriptions for the company experts, so that they are held acountable for stewardship of the company knowledge. Change the reporting requirements, the HR appraisal mechanism, change the incentive scheme to reward collaboration and discourage competition. Change the rules on timewriting. Notice the use of the word "change" there? Every such change is another KM root going down.

ISO 30401 requires these changes to be in place, and that top management ensures "the integration of the knowledge management system requirements into the organization’s business and project processes".

Using the 5 principles

Use these 5 principles to design your Knowledge Management Framework, with guidance from ISO 30401:2018. You will still need to decide

  • What the critical business knowledge is, that you need to align to
  • How to connect people and set up conversations
  • How to collect knowledge and manage content
  • How to create a demand for knowledge
  • How to create a supply of knowledge
  • Which roles to put in place
  • Which processes to adopt
  • Which technology to use
  • What governance to apply, and
  • How and where to embed the roles, processes, technology and governance.

However the principles will ensure that the framework you create works well, is stable, has no gaps, covers all relevant types of knowledge, and will not "tip back" to the previous pre-KM state.

Contact Knoco if you need any help in designing your KM framework.

No comments:

Blog Archive