Sunday 24 May 2009

Implementation of KM as a series of corporate decisions

On the topic of implementing KM, here's a section from an article I wrote a while back, on KM implementation as a staged change process. This assumes that if an organisation is going to change, then the senior leadership need to be bought into the change. Sure you can start KM lower down and demonstrate some success, but to really make the change stick, at some stage you need to engage leadership. This is where staged decision making comes in.

Implementing Knowledge Management into an organisation will not happen accidentally. It happens by a deliberate decision. Or rather, it happens by a series of decisions. Very few company presidents or CEOs will wake up one morning and “decide” to implement KM. Instead, like any other practice, implementation is a series of decisions, and each decision rests on a basis of necessary evidence.

The chain of decisions is as follows.

1. The decision to investigate what Knowledge Management would mean for us as an organisation, and whether we need to address it corporately. This is a decision to set up a task force, or to commission some studies to gain some idea of whether KM is something the company needs to invest in. The task force will assess the current state of KM in the organisation, and decide whether it is good enough, or whether improvement is needed.

2. The decision that the organization needs improved Knowledge Management, and to find out how much investment is required. If the task force and studies show that improvement in KM is needed, then further work is needed to scope out the scale of the implementation, to set strategic direction, and to do a first-pass costing of what the implementation exercise might cost. More assessment may be needed to fully map out the scale of the interventions needed.

3. The decision to set up a KM implementation program, with a full-time team and budget. Once the organisation understands the scope of the KM implementation exercise, they fund a team and get going. At this stage they will have a KM strategy and implementation plan, and can start work testing KM approaches and technologies in the organisation, to see if they deliver the expected benefit.

4. The decision to pilot KM in high profile areas. If the small scale trials are successful, and KM has not fallen flat on it’s face or run into political road blocks, then the company may decide to scale up, and run some full scale pilots to fully road-test an integrated KM system. By this time, KM is becoming quite high profile, and quite high cost.

5. The decision to roll out KM as a required discipline to the whole organisation. The pilots were successful, the value of KM to the business and to the employees is proven, and the integrated KM system is robust. Now is the decision – not to be taken lightly! – whether to roll out a KM system to the whole organisation, as a part of the company management framework. This is the point of no return.

6. Once KM is embedded, the decision to stand down the implementation team and hand over to management within the business. Once roll-out is over, the company has to decide when to stand down the implementation team, and hand responsibility for KM over to a steady state organisation

Staged investment and decision points

Treating KM as a series of incremental decisions has two main benefits. Firstly, it allows incremental investment rather than ‘trust me, it will work out ok’ management. This is sensible prudent decision-making. The figure above shows that the investment in each stage will be a little larger than the previous stage – a task force costs less than a team, which costs less than a series of pilots, which costs less than a roll-out campaign. Each incremental increase in cost is built on a decision, which depends on the results of the previous stage, and on how well KM has proven itself. And at any point up until decision 5, the company can change its mind, because it is not fully committed. Beyond step 5 the company is committed to roll-out.

And that’s the second advantage. If each decision is made by the right people, based on the right information and the right criteria, then you shouldn’t have to revisit the decisions later. Each decision should be documented, and should stand on its own merits; without assuming a benefit that hasn’t been delivered yet. You shouldn’t have to keep rejustifying, and remaking decisions. So who are the right people to make the decisions? They need to be senior, and they need to have authority to spend the money.

Decision number 5 – the decision to roll out KM – needs to be made at the highest level. You need the support of the CEO to make a company-wide change like this. But by the time it comes to decision 5, you will have a series of successful trials and pilots that demonstrate that KM works in your organisation, and delivers real value.

Even if it is the CEO who makes the decision to commit to KM roll-out, you need the other key senior managers to support the decision, which is why we always suggest that a KM implementation program sets up a senior steering team, to help guide the KM program to a point where the commitment decision can be made to everyone’s satisfaction. Buy-in is a group activity not a single person activity.

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