Tuesday 24 January 2012

What is a Knowledge Asset?

Assets! There's some confusion and discussion around the term "knowledge asset"

Here's my take

A Knowledge Asset is a single set of documents, or a single document, containing compiled, structured and validated guidance on a specific area of practice.

·         The key aspects of K Assets are that they are
o   Validated (by a process owner, practice owner or CoP)
o   Collated (from may sources)
o   Structured (in the most useful way for the reader)
o    Contain Guidance – tells the reader how to perform a task or a practice. They are Know-How, rather than Know What. So Wikipedia, for me, is not really a Knowledge Asset.

·         Knowledge assets are likely to include
o   Process documents
o   Guidelines
o   Checklists
o   FAQs
o   Templates

·         Knowledge assets will not include
o   Project documents (unless they are selected by the practice owner as being a very good example that others should follow)
o   Contracts (unless they are selected by the practice owner as being a very good example that others should follow)
o   Cases (unless they are selected by the practice owner as being a very good example that others should follow)
o   Lessons learned
o   Job descriptions

Knowledge Assets
o   Could be on a wiki (supported by a folder where linked files can be kept)
o   Could be on a portal (with different parts of the asset being files in the portal eg guidleines, templates, examples)
o   Could be a document
o   Could be a book

Could be expressed as
o   Procedure
o   FAQ
o   Checklist

Could be structured by
o   Practice/topic taxonomy
o   Steps in a workflow

·         Knowledge assets may be linked to training material

Here's a fantastic Knowledge Asset for new soldiers deploying to Afghanistan - its a book, it's structured by topic, and it's written as checklists. It's validated by the Center for Army Lessons learned, it's collated from many sources, and structured so as to be of maximum help to the reader. If I was deploying to Afghanistan, I would read this cover to cover, several times.

Here's another great Knowledge Asset for small businesses in the US. It's a website, it's structured by topic, and it's written as guidance, with added tips and hints. It's validated by the Wall Street Journal. Again - very useful. If I were starting a small business, I would be very interested in guidance from the WSJ.

Now we all know that a Knowledge Asset on it's own is not a complete Knowledge Management solution. Far from it. The Knowledge Asset can codify, structure and store the core explicit guidance, but can never capture everything you need to know, at every level of detail. The soldier deploying to Afghanistan, and the entrepreneur in New York starting up this own small business, will also need to find other sources of guidance, and to ask forums, communities, experts and mentors for the next level of detail.

But the Knowledge Asset gives you a start, introduces you to the complexities of the topic, and may point out some of the things that you don't know that you don't know, and therefore might never think to ask.

So what knowledge assets would be avidly read by the people in your business? A guide to starting up a new project, perhaps? The "first 100 days" of new-country entry?


Anonymous said...

What is the difference between process and knowledge assets?

Chris Zhuo said...

what is the difference between process and knowledge assets

Nick Milton said...

A process description may be a type of knowledge asset, and definitely should be a ccomponent of a knowledge asset, but the knowledge asset does not just describe the process, but also how best to follow the process.

Anonymous said...

Why is Lessons Learned not a Knowledge Asset? We have several app development projects and in some of them we encounter of course new things and challenges. At the nd of the project the lessons learned is something all the other App Project managers can benefit from (so it can be applied for future projects, or act as guidance)

Nick Milton said...

Captured Lessons can increase your knowledge assets, much as pennies and pounds can increase your financial assets. However just as pennies and pounds need to be managed - not dropped behind the sofa or collected in a jar, so lessons add value when they are incorporated in the intellectual assets of the organisation, not collected in a single database or hidden somewhere in an end-of-project report.

Lessons are learned when they lead to change, an the change is often an update of a knowledge asset.

Also the wrong lesson given to the wrong person in the wrong context can be a liability rather than an asset!

Chris Collison said...

Hi Nick,
I like the back of the sofa analogy re managing lessons!

Going back to the initial point - whenever I explain and advise on knowledge assets, I also emphasise the importance of links to people (contributors, SMEs, community links and owners of any outstanding examples) as a vital integral part of a knowledge asset. Whilst you could argue that this part of the "how" or "next steps" for a knowledge asset rather than the "what", my own view is that knowledge assets are most sustainable when they are socially constructed, socially maintained and socially connective. They connect me with dialogue as well as providing with a distillation of answers - hence my take on your "what makes a good knowledge asset" would be very similar, but would also always include links to people.

So for me, even a brilliantly constructed book or well-researched but anonymous "how to" checklist website feel a bit static and impersonal - dare I say it, more like information assets. But if they also visibly and quickly lead me to a timely conversation or discussion - then the value increases along with the shelf-life of the content.

(I have distant memories of us discussing this in a team meeting about 20 years ago in BP - so this is probably just a case of us agreeing to disagree in our definitions of where we draw the boundary lines!).

Nick Milton said...

My answer to that, Chris, is "Yes, If"

Yes, if connection to people is available and timely.

There are cases where it isnt. For example, the most valuable knowledge asset for a 747 pilot is the pilot's checklist. If something goes wrong in flight, this may be his or her only available source of knowledge of what to do (see story below), and there is no time to canvas the community of pilots for advice.


There are cases where it is. The blog post below talks about when, in the first Apollo landing, the written knowledge asset was second best to the knowledge of Mission Control.


As with everything in Knowledge Management, context is all.

tonyjoyce said...


The Army website is a great example, not though because it leads to change. It might be useful to look behind the sofa again to see what has accumulated. I have found that lessons are learned where stories are told, and it is the telling and retelling of stories that is the context for KM. The Army's website is part of a communities' conversation, a "classic COP." IMHO the value of the site is it steers folks quickly to some small network or conversations.

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