Monday 18 August 2014

The main cornerstones of a KM approach

Knowledge management is a large and complex field, covering many elements, and applied in many different ways (see my blog post on 50 shades of KM). However there are a small number of Knowledge Management components or modules which come up time and time again, and probably represent the cornerstone modules for KM.

These modules are applied in different ways in different organisations, and use different processes, technologies and roles. Each of them delivers a certain amount of value; combined, they create a complete Knowledge Management framework.

There are four main elements, and two more additional elements; listed below.

1. Connecting people, through Communities and Networks.

Connecting people through Communities and Networks is the most popular module within Knowledge Management, applied in three quarters of KM programs (Legal KM programs being the main exception). This module requires an effective set of Community software, but more that this, it requires governance, leadership roles, and community processes (see the ten success factors for Communities of Practice).  Through connecting people in this way, knowledge can flow from person to person, across silos and organisational boundaries.  Questions can be asked and answered, and individuals can collaborate on solutions.

2. Learning from Experience.

About two-thirds of KM approaches include some form of learning from experience, or lesson-learning (again, Legal KM programs often proving an exception).  Learning from experience can be applied at many levels; to teams, to projects, to products or to programs. It may involve After Action Reviews, Design improvements, Toyota A3s, Retrospects, and other techniques. But however it is applied, and however it is supported by technology and roles, the same principles are needed if learning from experience is to be successful.

3. Creation of "Best Practices".

The third most common KM module if the creation of some form of compiled and documented knowledge base. Whether you call it "Best Practices" or not, 60% of KM approaches address this issue of "gathering and synthesising what we know". The home for this synthesised knowledge may be a Wiki, a Knowledge Asset, a Checklist, Knowledge products in an internally-facing or externally-facing Knowledge Centre, or even an Expert System. I am not talking about libraries here - the key to a Best Practice approach is developing and making available the Current Best Way to do something, and then continuously improving that "Best way" to make it even better.

4. Better access to documents.

"Better access to documents" is a very common area of focus of Knowledge Management programs, although this verges into the adjacent field of ECM. Portals and Enterprise Search (even Semantic Search) form part of the basis for most KM programs

5. Knowledge Retention.

Although Knowledge retention is number 5 on the overall list of KM components, it is top of the list for many organisations; typically Western Engineering and manufacturing companies concerned about reliability (Nuclear, Aerospace, Utilities etc) or growing organisations relying in a few experts. Knowledge retention is a strategic approach to protecting against knowledge loss as experienced staff leave an organisation, and a whole variety of KM interventions can be applied to both retain and transfer the knowledge.

6. Innovation.

Again Innovation is not high on the overall priority list of KM components, it is top of the list for a few.  Innovation as a separate KM module deals with Knowledge Creation, often through development of innovation teams, creation of breakthrough innovation projects, and use of structured innovation processes.

Business sectors and the six cornerstones.

As already hinted above, different business sectors tend to have a focus on different KM modules. Some of the main differences are as follows (and please bear in mind that most organisations address the first 4 modules, and many address all six).

  • Oil and Gas address the first 4 (and often all 6) but with a slight leaning towards Learning from experience
  • The Military address the first 4 but with a slight leaning towards Best Practice (which they call Doctrine)
  • Aid and Development emphasise Connecting People, 
  • The Construction and Manufacturing industries commonly include Best Practice in their KM programs, and also focus on Connecting People
  • The Professional Services firms (the big consultancies) spread their efforts between the first four modules, emphasising People Connection
  • The Legal firms focus on Access to Documents and (secondarily) the development of Best Practice.

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