Monday 27 October 2014

KM Change model vs KM Maturity model

Earlier this week I took part in a telephone discussion about Knowledge Management maturity models, set up by Stan Garfield.  I know Stan asked me to take part because of my contrarian views (such as my post on why KM Maturity models can be dangerous), as he was looking for some debate on the topic. 

Here is the basis behind my thinking.

The use of a maturity model allows an organization to have its methods and processes assessed according to management best practice, against a clear set of external benchmarks. Maturity is indicated by the award of a particular "Maturity Level". The majority of KM maturity models (and ours is no exception) have a series of descriptors of various levels of KM maturity, and the implication is than an organisation can progress from one level to the next in a smooth maturation process.

The analogy, if you like, is that of a tree. As a tree matures, it passes from a seedling to a sapling to a mature tree, but this is a continuous progression. You can describe, using metrics such as the number of branches, size of trunk, number of fruit, where the tree is on its maturation journey. If you won an orchard, you can describe the average maturation level of the trees as (for example) 2.5 on the maturation scale.

Knowledge Management is more like a Butterfly than a tree.

A butterfly does not mature slowly, it goes through discrete changes. It goes through three main stages - several months (sometimes years) as a caterpillar, a few days or weeks as a pupa (unless it overwinters) then emerges as a butterfly. You would be better off describing a butterfly with a change model than with a maturation model. If you own a butterfly farm, you measure the maturity of butterflies not on a maturity scale, but on a percentage change basis. You say "none of them are butterflies", "20% have hatched as butterflies" and so on.

Knowledge Management is a butterfly rather than a tree, because implementing KM is a culture change process. It involves changing hearts and minds, and hearts and minds, like butterflies, are changed one at a time. We have all seen the moment when a heart/mind changes and someone "gets lit". It's that lightbulb moment, like "catching fire". (There's another metaphor for KM in an organisation - a bonfire. Either it's caught fire, or it hasn't. Once it has, the question becomes "how much is burning").

I describe here a change model for hearts and minds which you can apply to your key stakeholders, that takes them up to a commitment threshold, beyond which KM can be adopted. Below this threshold they are KM caterpillars; afterwards they are KM butterflies.

KM then works only if all the conditions are sufficiently right to change the hearts and minds.

What's the problem with maturity models?

I see two problems. The first is the idea that progression up the levels equals progress.

Take Leadership, for example.

Senior management support is the biggest enabler (and lack of senior management support is the biggest barrier) to KM. Leadership is vital. Imagine a leadership scale from 0 to 4, like the maturity model Stan Garfield shows. Imagine you have moved leadership from level 1 to level 2. Is this progress?

If level 4 is "whole--hearted support from senior management", what is level 2? Half-hearted support? That's as bad as no support at all. Until you get to level 4, you don't have what you need for sustained KM.

Rather then trying to move the whole organisation to level 2, why not find the one leader who you can help reach level 4? Leave  the rest at level 1 for the moment, and find the early adopter. Gain his whole-hearted support to pilot Knowledge Management in his part of the business, deliver success, and use this to change the next Heart and the next Mind.

Secondly there is the idea that different enablers can "mature" at different rates. This ignores the fact that Knowledge Management is a system, with all parts working together. For another analogy, think of KM as a central heating system. Here you need many elements to make the system work - boiler, radiators, pipes, pump, thermostats, fuel supply, electricity supply - in order to move heat through your house. Similarly you need many elements to move knowledge through your organisation.

Better to build a small complete system somewhere as a prototype or proof of concept, than try and perfect individual elements everywhere.

What is the alternative?

In Knoco, we actually do offer a maturity model, which we give away for free, or provide as an online survey. It is of some use, but treat it with caution for all the reasons mentioned above.

Instead we suggest you measure a number of other things

The real message behind all of this is that KM is a change program, and needs to be measured using change models.

It does not mature like a tree; it changes like a butterfly and catches hold like a flame, and that is how it should be measured.

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