Wednesday 11 December 2019

7 ways to speed up your KM

Just doing KM well is not enough, you have to do KM at the required speed. 

Public domain image from Pixnio
The world is changing, and organisations need to learn faster than the speed of change if they are to survive. According to Erick Thompson, assistant VP for knowledge exchange, the St Paul companies, "KM initiatives should also focus on the speed factor. Companies have to learn how to learn faster" (quote taken from Mahadmohan Rao's book ""Leading with Knowledge"). 

The world is increasingly a competitive learning field. In the past, when progress was slower and the rate of change was lower, an organisation could compete on its products, its patents, its reputation and on its people. However the rate of change is increasing, and companies need to adapt.  Markets are changing, customers are changing, expectations are changing, regulations are changing, the world is changing, and it is changing faster and faster. If companies are to adapt, they need to unlearn old habits and learn new ones. And in a competitive world, the fastest learner wins.

The British Army takes a similar view: you have to try to get inside the enemy's OODA (observe, orientate, decide, act) loop. If you generate and use knowledge at a faster tempo than your competitor (a faster rate of learning than the enemy), you will win.

So how do you increase the speed of your internal Knowledge Management cycle? Here are 7 ways.

1. Set targets
How long should it take to be able to find basic knowledge on your Intranet? How long should it take to receive an answer from a CoP? How long should it take before a new lesson is embedded into business process? Set some aggressive targets, like the senior manager at McKinsey who declared that all CoP questions should find an answer within a day, or the "three ones" target set by a Chinese knowledge manager ("a search for job-related knowledge should be successful within 1 minute, a question to a CoP should be answered within one day, and lessons from a closed project should be available to the organisation within one month").

2. Build your Communities of Practice
Any knowledge that is less mature, more complex or more context-dependent may not be documented. Ensure you create the networks of people through which this knowledge can be transferred. Focus the CoP on problem solving and on answering questions if you want it to perform rapidly. Focus on Pull, not Push. Ensure the community facilitator helps ensure questions are answered promptly.

3. Build the knowledge bases that cover routine activity
Any knowledge that is sufficiently mature, simple, and context-independent should be documented online in an easily findable location. All of your process documentation, manuals, training material should be put onto a wiki or similar knowledge base so people have it at their fingertips.

4. Ensure active lessons management
In a previous blog post I described two lessons learned systems - one which takes 2 years to make changes based on new lessons, and one which takes a couple of weeks. The second system is obviously far more efficient. You cannot afford to wait years for lessons to be embedded. Each unembedded lesson is a lesson currently unlearned, and an unlearned lesson carries the risk of reinvented wheels and repeat mistakes. Ensure you have an effective Lessons Management system, with a person or team in charge of making sure it is working well and quickly.

5. Update your knowledge bases as soon as new knowledge becomes available
There is no point in updating the knowledge bases annually, if the organisation needs to learn more rapidly. Lessons from the lesson management system, or answered questions from the CoPs, or results of trials and prototypes, should find their way into the knowledge base as quickly as possible. I was with a client last month, and they were feeding lessons into standards documents which they could only update annually, but they could at least collect new knowledge in a "pending updates" annex to the standard.

6. Measure against the targets you set.
Collect, and report, "speed of learning" metrics. Your dashboard should include online search time, the time to reply to CoP questions, and the time it takes to a) document and b) embed lessons. These are measures of your learning clock-speed. Seek to keep these times as low as possible, and continuously decreasing.

7. Fix any problems you see.
The measures that you collect will show you where there are delays and bottlenecks in your KM framework or workflow. Make sure you act on these to remove the bottlenecks.

Once the KM framework is in place, use these 7 methods to optimise your learning speed.

Effective learning is good, speedy and effective learning is even better.

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