Wednesday 19 August 2015

6 lessons from KM implementation

In a trawl through the Knoco archives, I found a copy of the 6 lessons I wrote from my very first role in KM, as Knowledge Manager for BP in Norway in the mid 90s. 

The original text, and a description of the BP knowledge manager role, can be found in "Leading Knowledge Management and Learning" by Dede Bonner. The lessons below are still valid today.

First, the way you approach the introduction of a knowledge management system is important. If you try and forcibly impose a system, people are unlikely to be receptive. We did not try to impose our system on the office. In Norway we took the staff offsite so they could build a system themselves. That way they had already bought into it, because it was their own system. This is perhaps the most fundamental lesson.

However, as staff numbers turn over, the new people have to be allowed their own say in the process. We revisited our system at several offsite meetings, and adapted it to suit new needs. If you want people to adopt it, you have to let them adapt it.

Second, any knowledge management system in the business needs to be applied at high level as well as at low level. The top management of the business has to be seen as "walking the talk" in order to legitimize the time spent in the capture and transfer of knowledge. If the manager is introducing a KM system "for the benefits of the staff" but does not get involved in it himself or herself, then the system will have no credibility. In Norway, the business unit leader was involved in all the Retrospects for which he was the direct customer. He was a very visible user of the system. For the staff in the office, this was the highest endorsement that the system could have.

Thirdly, the knowledge management system has to have somebody with an overseer role.  As the Norway office was so small, I was playing all the KM roles at once, from CKO right the way down. I spent a lot of time making sure that the system was happening, especially prompting and badgering people to hold their Retrospects. If you don't badger people, people don't make the time, and the whole system breaks down.

Knowledge management is important -- everybody knows that -- but it’s often seen as non-urgent. The knowledge manager needs to add the urgency. The knowledge manager may also be the person with the journalistic skills of interviewing, summarizing, distilling and so forth; skills which the "workers" in the organization may find unfamiliar.

Fourth, you need to make the system visible. I made a lot of use of the main notice board, which was positioned immediately across the corridor from the coffee machine. People would collect their coffee in the morning and drift over to the board, where they would find a list of all the activity in the office, plus the posting of all the lessons learned from completed projects in the previous week or two.

Although these lessons were also available via the Intranet, their "week of fame" on the notice board prompted very many discussions and serendipitous learnings, as well as keeping the knowledge management system in the public eye. If we had kept the lessons solely on the Intranet, or in an electronic database, without posting them on the board, the system would have been largely invisible, and easily forgotten.

Fifth, you need to actively maintain the "bank of knowledge" (the database of lessons, or the website of collected knowledge). If your knowledge management system works, you'll find your collection of lessons grows very rapidly. After a while you will have so many lessons, nuggets, best practices, etc. that the sheer volume becomes daunting, and people won't take the time to sift through it. You need to commit resources to distilling out the knowledge and synthesising and packaging it in such a way that is useful for others.

This was a lesson I learned the hard way, as the database of lessons we had in Norway grew eventually to be so daunting that people would not use it. I had to act as a human interface to the system. I wished that I had invested time in weeding out the old lessons, combining the duplicates, and producing a compilation of extracted best practices.

My final piece of advice would be to make sure that you choose the right type of people to be your knowledge managers. Knowledge is not like information; it lives in people's heads and not in computers. People will only exchange knowledge in an atmosphere of trust and openness. Anyone working with knowledge needs to have good interpersonal skills, and needs to be comfortable operating through influence, respect, trust and friendship. Not all our staff your staff will be like this; many of them will be excellent technical contributors, but may lack the softer skills that make a good knowledge manager. The best knowledge managers are people who like people.


Unknown said...

thanks for lessons from KM implementation.
I have some question .
do you have any KPI for KM implementation?
"The top management of the business has to be seen as "walking the talk" in order to legitimize the time spent in the capture and transfer of knowledge".
If the top management don't "walking to talk",then Km implemention has lost?

Nick Milton said...

Hi - thanks for the comment

You can read about KPIs here

If top management do not fully support KM, then you have problems. Management support is the single most important enabler, where present, and the single biggest barrier, where absent.

Cindy McIntyre said...

This is a great summary of the challenges one faces.

It seems that while all understand the value of knowledge sharing too many believe that knowledge sharing will just happen and should be part of each individual’s daily activity. As a result it can be difficult to get the level of investment really needed to put the knowledge managers in those overseer roles. How were you able to justify that investment?

Lessons learned is often the Achilles heel - in many cases we end up not learning the lessons. Not because people are disinterested but because the work needed to manage the database and put LL into best practices is not adequately resourced. How have you managed to address that challenge?


Nick Milton said...

Thanks Cindy

The level of investment is justified by the level of value. The concept of "things just happening" is not a sustainable one - no management system relies on things happening by themselves. There needs to be some accountability , and there needs to be some investment in resource, which means you need to make the business case for KM. This is easier to do somewhere like the oil sector, where the "cost of non knowing" is so high. The investment in resources - for overseeing, for managing the lessons system - is 2 or 3 orders of magnitude less than the potential value, and the business case is trivial.

The business case may be tougher to make in other industries.

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