Friday 6 May 2011

How do you structure your knowledge?

Structure 1Sooner or later you are going to have to think how you structure your knowledge in your organisation.

This is for two reasons - for findability, and for ownership.

You structure your knowledge so that people can find what they need in a single place, and you structure your knowledge so that you can ensure that the key areas of knowledge are owned and maintained and connected to communities of practice.  Yes, you can also have ontologies, taxonomies, folksonomy, etc etc - you can index and tag your knowledge in many ways - and structure is valuable also; if for no other reason than to give people access to the things they never thought to search for.

The choice of your overarching primary structure - the highest level of your taxonomy, and the way in which you divide ownership -  depends on your organisation, and you have many options.

You can structure according to process, if you are a process-driven organisation or department. Knowledge is about process - how to do stuff - and is owned by process owners. Many of the oil companies, such as ConocoPhillips, use this structure.

You can structure according to equipment, if your role is to maintain and operate a piece of plant such as a nuclear power plant. Sellafield uses this structure for their configuration management knowledge.

You can structure around clients, or industry segments, if you are a sales organisation. Buckman labs use this structure for their Communities of Practice, as does Aon.

You can structure according to product or client offer, if you are a consulting or service organisation. we structure the knowledge in our Knoco knowledge base this way, as do the Big 5, as do oil sector service companies such as Schlumberger or Halliburton.

The key is to see which structure most fits your key knowledge, then ensure the knowledge base, the knowledge owners and the communities of practice are aligned with this.


gerald said...

Hi, Nick,
easily agree, I would say: find the structure that creates most value out of your knowledge.
Taking this post, and adding your recent contribution on the human memory storage accuracy, what does this mean for Social Media?
Do we have to just take it as rather structureless and almost without memory depth? How do see the linkage between the Social Media and sustainable Knowledge Structures?

Nick Milton said...

Social Media is a technology, Gerald. It doesn't have to be structureless. There is no reason why you can't, for example, have communities of practice set up on structured lines, using social media to communicate within the community (and you could argue that communites have been working this way since the days of Lotus Notes).

Secondly, many organisations have a transition and validation point between "knowledge in the making" (ongoing community discussions, lessons in the database, etc) and "Knowledge in the knowledge base". So the social media are the short-term memory, and the knowledge base is the long term memory.

Kerrie Anne Christian said...

another great post - we've just been in the process of reviving our COP's when we've moved them into Sharepoint - and I've included some links to a couple of your blog posts in some introductory lines

I like the balance of loose structure in COP's & Wikis - to respond to issues as they arise - however tagging / metadata enables future findability in 6 or 26 months time

and in the past when it came to archiving engineering industrial CSI reports in EMC Documentum - folders & structure were the go

anyway as I set up Document libraries - lists etc in Sharepoint I make a point of setting up categories / tagging

thanks for sharing your insights

Pancho said...

Good post Nick. I'd add that the possible structures are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they shouldn't be. The best way to have knowledge available at points of use is to have multiple structures intertwined with indexes, tocs, and contextual linking into a scale-free network.

Nick Milton said...

Sure, you can have multiple descriptive structures. What you CAN'T have, Pancho, is multiple ownership structures, and still satisfy single-point accountability.

Jean-Louis Lieutenant said...

Good post indeed Nick, very pragmatic and well mentioning the 2 fundamentals: ownership and retrievability.

In our company, we have chosen and recommended a structure since a few years (through processes for the Business Units and through functions for the services entities) and it is reasonably well implemented across the company in the Sharepoint platform.

Nevertheless, we could go in the future to a more collaborative infrastructure more oriented to an "individual/document" model than the the former classical model "entity/repository".

In such a "individual/document" platform, it seems to me more complicated to enforce the principle of SINGLE OWNERSHIP that you mention in both your post and the here above comment.

If you already have some thoughts or cross-checking information from some companies already involved in such a new model, it would be interesting to share with the community. Perhaps something based on the steps distinction that you are making in another comment between "Knowledge in the making" and "Knowledge in the Knowledge base" ?

Nick Milton said...

No, I am sorry, i don't have any experience with this model.

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