Monday 15 November 2021

There is no "silver bullet" for knowledge management. Here's why

There is no silver bullet for Knowledge Management, because KM is a management system with many component parts, all of which need to be in place. 

We often hear vendors promising us a KM silver bullet - usually some sort of technology. "Buy our search engine/Collaboration software/enterprise social app/remote working platform and your KM problems will be solved".

But it doesn't work like that I am afraid.

Knowledge Management requires more than technology, it needs a management system. And as ISO 30401 reminds us, this system has many elements. For example it should cover the four enablers of
ISO 30401 adds the 5th enabler of KM culture - which ensures that when the management system is in place, it is applied, supported and sustained.

All of these elements are mutually supportive. There is no point in introducing one of them (collaboration tools, for example) without addressing the others as well.

Also many of the promised solver bullets cover only one aspect of Knowledge Management, such as searching, or allowing conversation. However there is no point in searching for knowledge, without addressing the possibility that the knowledge is still tacit and can only be accessed through conversation. Also there is no point in conversation if the knowledge needed lies beyond the memories of individuals, and is documented somewhere, waiting to be found.

ISO 30401 also tells us that the roles, processes, technologies and governance need to address:

Knowledge Management is therefore a management system, with a framework of components which need to be interlinked in order to deliver a functioning knowledge workstream within the organisation. 

  • Search technology is therefore not a silver bullet, as without processes, roles, governance and culture there will be no documented, synthesised and maintained body of knowledge to search, and no behaviours of seeking or of applying any knowledge which is found.
  • After Action Reviews are not a silver bullet. Although they can be very useful in helping teams improve their internal process, any knowledge generated is unlikely (without the existence of a management system) to find its way to other teams which need it, nor to update the body of knowledge. 
  • Communities of practice are not a silver bullet (though they come close) as they address only the functional axis of organisational matrices, and not the project axis.
  • Even Peer Assist (though it also comes close) is not a silver bullet, as it covers only the element of tacit knowledge seeking; one of the generic 4 dimensions for KM.

In most organisations therefore, introducing Knowledge Management is not a case of introducing one component - one silver bullet.  It is a case of introducing a system - a new way of working, and a new way of thinking.

Think System, not Bullet. 

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