Monday 27 January 2020

What KM can learn from business start-ups 3 - appoint the right team

Last week I started a set of blog posts likening KM implementation to a business start-up. Here is number 3 in the series. 

Picture from Needpix, author geralt (

This blog series uses this analogy of a start-up to inform KM implementation. It reviews 5 common reasons for start-up failure and suggests ways in which KM programs can avoid these failure modes. These common reasons are taken from  a great article by David Skok , and are as follows:

  1. Little or no market for the product; 
  2. The business model fails; 
  3. Poor start-up management team; 
  4. Running out of cash; 
  5. Product problems.

Poor start-up management team

According to Skok's article,

"An incredibly common problem that causes startups to fail is a weak management team. A good management team will be smart enough to avoid Reasons 2, 4, and 5. Weak management teams make mistakes in multiple areas: They are often weak on strategy, building a product that no-one wants to buy as they failed to do enough work to validate the ideas before and during development. They are usually poor at execution, which leads to issues with the product not getting built correctly or on time, and the go-to market execution will be poorly implemented. They will build weak teams below them. There is the well proven saying: A players hire A players, and B players only get to hire C players (because B players don’t want to work for other B players)"

The choice of the KM Implementation leader, and the KM team, is crucial. We have also seen that a poor KM team is a common cause of KM implementation failure. The team leader should be:

  • A Change Agent, with  a history of delivering organizational change
  • Familiar with the risks involved in change programs (and business start-ups)
  • A respected senior member of the organization
  • Charismatic, engaging and influential
  • A confident and effective communicator, with excellent leadership skills 
  • Not afraid to take risks 
  • Diplomatic
  • Familiar with the technology and the human/cultural issues involved in KM
  • Very familiar with the organizational structure, vision and strategy
  • Well networked within the company
If we look at the work of the KM team during KM implementation, we can see the following stages:

  • An analysis or "market research" phase, some of the activities of which are described in the first post in this sequence. During this stage the KM team will create the KM strategy, survey the internal “market”, determine the stakeholders and their value propositions, create the business case for KM, and plan the next stages of the implementation program. The team in this phase needs to be strong in strategic thinking and understanding stakeholder needs. 
  • A piloting phase, during which a simplified prototype KM Framework is progressively tested with the business, improved and elaborated, as we will discuss later this week. The team in this phase needs to be strong in the mechanics of KM (e.g. the facilitation of KM processes, KM technology and Information Management), as well as working with business customers and leaders, and communication and marketing. 
  • A roll-out phase, during which the final KM Framework is deployed across the organisation through engagement, training and coaching. The team in this phase needs to be strong in influencing, selling and marketing. 
  • A operation phase, during which the use of the KM Framework is supported monitored and measured across the organisation. The team needs to be strong in the mechanics of KM, and in analysis of the value delivered and the opportunities for further improvement of the Framework.

A strong leader such as described above can build a strong and balanced team, which needs the following skills mix:

  • Facilitation skills. 
  • Coaching and training skills. 
  • Marketing/influencing/selling skills 
  • Writing skills. 
  • Technology skills. 
  • Information management skills

There seems a tendency, which we have seen many times, to appoint teams made up entirely of information managers and librarians. The thought process seems to be

  • "Knowledge is a little bit like Information" (wrong assumption number 1 - knowledge is not at all like information, although there is a small area of overlap)
  • "If the KM team is managing knowledge, then they need information management skills" (wrong assumption number s 2 and 3 - the team is not managing knowledge, they are influencing the organisation to management knowledge, and  the primary skills they need are influencing skills, not IM skills, although you need some IM skills to cover the area of overlap).

Think like a start-up. Your KM Implementation leader should be a Jobs rather than a Wozniak, and the team should be selected as if they were trying to introduce a new product into a market (which is actually what they are doing).

No comments:

Blog Archive