Thursday 13 October 2016

In KM, more is worse

In Knowledge Management, less is more. It's better to focus on providing fewer examples of top quality knowledge than a lot of mediocre content.

Image from wikimedia commons
In their excellent book "Working knowledge", Davenport and Prusak point out that "Volume may be the friend of data management, but it is the enemy of knowledge management; simply because humans have to sift through the volume to find the desired knowledge".

The ancient Greek poet, Aeschylus knew this when he wrote "A wise person knows the right things, not many things"

I blogged a while ago about applying Lean principles to Knowledge Management, and removing waste from the Knowledge Management supply chain. Too much volume, too much waste, in the supply chain is counterproductive, and can destroy a KM initiative. Again - here is Davenport and Prusak with an example.

"Knowledge can also move down the value chain, returning to information and data. The most common reason for what we call "deknowledging" is too much volume. As one Andersen Consulting knowledge manager told us - "We've got so much knowledge (not to mention a lot of information and data too) in our Knowledge Xchange repository that our consultants can no longer make sense of it, For many of them, it has become data".

We can see the deknowledging effects of volume in many settings:

  • Lessons learned databases that become cluttered with minor, duplicated or out of date lessons
  • Social media streams that are clogged with trivia, and with people reporting activity (maybe led by that brainless Yammer pront "What are you working on") rather than discussing knowledge
  • Knowledge published in multiple places (see the extreme example in this blog post, under "When WOL goes horribly wrong")
  • Knowledge bases which are bursting with work products, rather than containing synthesised knowledge

These examples of de-knowledging are driven by a few common factors:
  • Emphasising (and often incentivising) knowledge production and sharing rather than knowledge seeking and application, for example the companies who say "We want to promote Knowledge sharing", even going so far as to set each individual a target of "sharing X items very year"
  • Capturing knowledge "just in case" rather than for a purpose
  • A lack of resources for sorting, compiling, curating and synthesising knowledge into guidance documents (and then archiving the lessons and work products once they have been synthesised)

All of these are counterproductive. Instead you should do the following

Cut the volume. Go for the faucet and not the firehose; quality over quantity.  Aim for a small number of documents of concentrated, high quality knowledge, not a large number which people will need to sift through and sort for themselves. 

Because, as the Andersen example shows, if there is too much volume they just won't bother. 

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