Monday 6 December 2021

The top 7 types of plan you may need as part of KM in the new normal

 Introducing KM means also introducing plans for KM, at different levels in the organisation. Here are a few of the plans you may need, depending on your context. 

Compo, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Any management discipline involves plans, and KM is no different. You could not have project management without project plans, you could not have financial management without financial planning, and you could not have HR management without manpower planning. KM is no different.

This is particularly true in the new normal, when much work is still being done remotely. Studies such as the recent Microsoft study show that hybrid working can deliver excellent communication within the team, but that cross-team collaboration such as sharing of lessons and knowledge can suffer if you are not careful. 

Those ad-hoc chance unplanned conversations in the corridor, the canteen or around the water cooler, where crucial knowledge may be shared from one team to another, just will not happen in a hybrid world. Instead, these conversations much be planned if they are to happen at all. Now is therefore the time to introduce a planned element to KM, if you have not done it already. 

Look at the plans below, and decide which of these may be relevant to you.

The KM implementation/improvement plan

Almost certainly, if you have KM in place or are actively implementing it now, you will have a plan for KM itself. You will have assessed the current state of the KM management framework within your organisation, and you will have identified gaps, areas for improvement, and areas for further deployment. Then you will have a plan for filling the gaps and/or delivering the improvements and uptake. This is your basic KM implementation/improvement plan, owned by the KM team and funded by the KM sponsor. 

Part of this plan will almost certainly be a cultural improvement plan. KM involves culture change, so you will have a good idea of the culture, attitudes and behaviours you would like to promote, you will have analysed the current culture and the drivers behind it, and you will have a plan for removing the negative drivers and promoting (through stories, recognition and other means) the culture you need to sustain KM. 

A subset of the implementation plan is the plan for a KM pilot project. KM pilots are projects focused on applying a simple form of KM to a business issue, as a component of agile implementation. These pilot projects need to be scoped carefully, and need a charter, a terms of reference, and a plan. The plan will include some or all of the following:
  • Objectives of the pilot
  • Key stakeholders
  • Metrics (to measure success)
  • Scope
  • Approach
  • KM framework to be applied
  • Activities and milestones
  • Risks and opportunities.

Knowledge domain plans

Each individual knowledge domain (sales knowledge, for example, or systems engineering knowledge, or product manufacturing knowledge) may need it's own plan. You should have clear owners for each knowledge domains, and also ideally have performed some sort of domain audit which allows you to see how well that knowledge is managed at the moment, and highlights the risks and opportunities. 

  • Perhaps the knowledge is held by only a few people at risk of loss, and these people need to be high-graded for knowledge retention and transfer. 
  • Perhaps the knowledge is mostly tacit, and some of it needs to be documented for the sake of a wider user community. 
  • Maybe the user community is scattered (potentially many of them working from home) and a community of practice needs to be set up to allow people to ask questions of each other. 
  • Maybe there are gaps in your in-house knowledge, and key components of that knowledge need to be developed or acquired. 
  • Maybe activity on the knowledge domain is ceasing, and the knowledge needs to be archived in case is needs to be resurrected in the future. 
The domain audit should identify issues such as these, and the knowledge domain owner should therefore create a knowledge domain plan, with actions to cover the risks and seize the opportunities. This should be closely allied to competency and skills planning, which will make sure that enough skilled people are on-board in order to apply the knowledge.

Components of the knowledge domain plan may be delegated, in the form of the next three types of plan.

Knowledge development plans

Imagine the knowledge domain owner recognises a knowledge gap in the organisation. They may say "we need to know more about technology X, or customer Y". Filling the gap can be delegated downwards to the relevant person; maybe to the R&D department, or maybe to the relevant customer relationship manager. They then can then put together their own knowledge development plan. (I have called these "knowledge development plans" rather than "knowledge acquisition plans" as the latter are a technical term used in building and populating expert systems).

Knowledge retention and transfer/archival plans

The knowledge domain plan will have identified areas where knowledge needs to be retained, either for immediate use or for potential future use. This may be related either to the risk of loss of key experts due to retirement or other factors, or to closure of a major program. Some sort of knowledge retention plan will be needed. This can either be at an individual level, where planned knowledge capture and/or transfer activities are timetabled over the last year or so of a retirees life (see for example the knowledge retention plan template provided by the International Atomic Energy Authority), or it may be an end project exercise (see the NASA Ares report for an example, or the example on Nancy Dixon's blog on the Constellation knowledge capture planning).

Community of Practice plans

Elements of knowledge domain plans can also be delegated down to individual communities of practice, or communities can develop their own plans. For example the World Bank Group "Gardeners guide to communities of practice" recommends developing Connectivity plans and action plans for communities of practice. Given that communities of practice are as much bottom-up structures as they are top-down, member involvement in these plans will be essential. 

Community plans may cover the start-up and development of the community, or may (in fully operational communities) determine particular areas of focus for community members, and/or set the timetable for community events. If the community is financed by a sponsor, the sponsor will almost certainly want to see a plan to describe how, and on what the money will be spent.

Departmental or regional KM plans

Individual departments may need to develop their KM plan. Where a department covers a single knowledge domain (for example the sales department covering the sales knowledge domain, the engineering department covering the engineering knowledge domain) these plans will be the same as the corresponding knowledge domain plans. In other cases, they cover knowledge related to the operations of the department. This knowledge may be identified during the operational planning and reporting cycle, or through other means. For example, the regional departments in the Asian Development Bank develop "Country Knowledge plans" on a regular basis to coordinate their knowledge support to the developing countries. 

Project KM plans

Finally, and this is a topic we have covered many times, each project may need a project KM plan, particularly the big, pioneering and important project. Contact us if you want a copy of a template suitable for developing a project KM plan. These plans generally list the project knowledge deliverables, the key project knowledge inputs, and the KM activities to be carried out during the life of the project.

ISO 30401, the management systems standard for KM, requires that KM accountabilities be cascaded within the organisation, KM objectives set and KM plans created at all relevant levels. This is because ISO recognises that planning is a crucial component of good management discipline. So to comply with the standard, you will need to decide which of the above plans you need, and put them in place.

KM can no longer be left to chance unplanned encounters. You need to get serious about KM plans at multiple levels.

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