Monday 20 February 2023

How the best KM approach changes as a knowledge topic matures

The way you manage knowledge that is very new and highly dynamic, is not the way you manage mature and static knowledge topics. 

Any single knowledge topiccpasses through a series of stages as it matures, as shown and described below, and you can argue that the task of Knowledge Management in each stage is to develop and improve the knowledge and to move as effectively as possible to the next stage. As the knowledge domain matures, so the management approach for that knowledge evolves.

The stages are shown in the plot below. The plot has two axes:

  • The maturity of the knowledge topic, defined as the rate at which that knowledge evolves and changes; and
  • The number of knowledge users. 
These two are generally linked. Older, more mature knowledge has more users. Brand new knowledge many be known to, and used by, only a few. Therefore a knowledge topic often takes a trajectory or journey through this space. We can recognise 6 stages in this maturity journey, illustrated below in the context of an organisation developing new products (other contexts are available).

Stage 0. Innovation, or Knowledge Creation.

This step is where ideas are made. Knowledge Management helps innovation by creating proactive processes for generating new ideas in the areas of greatest business need, often incorporating networked innovation (Deep Dive, for example,). There are relatively few people working on this knowledge, which may be held only within a single innovation teams. The knowledge is provisional - it may not have been tested yet.

Stage 1. Research

Research is Idea Testing - moving from an Idea to Knowledge through practical experimentation. Knowledge Management helps here by introducing roles, processes, technologies and governance for capturing that first knowledge, as well as by capturing what did NOT work (and why), and also the most promising research leads that there was no time to explore. The knowledge evolves rapidly, through the use of  techniques such as Action Learning, supported by blogs and wikis (see this example). There may be relatively little written about the knowledge at this stage; and as it is still developing rapidly, a wiki is a better solution that writing documents which will become outdated very rapidly.  Once the main theoretical problems are solved, the knowledge needs to be passed to the Development team, and also retained for future Research programs. 

Stage 2. Knowledge Development

The development stage involves taking the best research ideas and testing them further to develop a viable process or product which can be rolled out in the business, or delivered to a customer. Knowledge Management helps here by introducing a framework for learning during development, both to make the development process more effective and efficient, and to ensure the "knowledge workstream" is well managed (i.e. the creation of knowledge for the benefit of the users further along the value chain).  The techniques of After Action review, Retrospect, and Knowledge Asset development are important here. Once the main practical problems are solved, the knowledge is passed to a wider user base in sales, manufacturing or operations. There needs to be more focus on documentation, although all user documentation is provisional until the knowledge has been thoroughly tested in the user market.

Stage 3. Establishment of Best Practice

Even when the process or product is in use, the knowledge can be further perfected. The organisation can still improve the process or product, and can learn to improve its application. Because the product or process is now in use in many locations, Knowledge Management helps by introducing a framework of knowledge sharing and re-use, so that people all over the organisation can learn together, and all refinements of the knowledge can be collated and synthesised. The techniques of Communities of Practice, Lesson-Learning and development of Knowledge Bases become important, ensuring that these knowledge bases are dynamic enough to allow regular update. 

Stage 4. Standardisation

Once the knowledge has been perfected through use, the next step is to standardise the knowledge, as further experimentation would now be wasteful "reinvention of the wheel".  The knowledge becomes codified in manuals, reference materials and training. Knowledge Management helps now by ensuring these "knowledge assets" are well constructed and easy to find. This is an area where AI may help, and agents like ChatGPT, which develop answers based on a large and stable written body of knowledge, may become powerful tools for stage 4 if the user base is large enough to warrant the cost.

Stage 5. Reinvention.

However no knowledge lives for ever. There are often cycles of reinvention, where old knowledge is replaced by new ideas, and the cycle begins again with Innovation. Knowledge Management should promote constant challenge of the status quo, to test whether there could be a better way to do things, and to decide whether the maturity cycle needs to be restarted.

The need to accelerate this maturation journey

Business in a world of change is a learning race. The winner is the organisation that can develop and mature knowledge more quickly than the competition, bringing new and improved products and processes into the market first, and so gaining First Learner Advantage.

Therefore one way of viewing Knowledge Management is to see it as a strategic approach to maturing critical and competitive knowledge domains in the most rapid and effective way. 

The most successful organisations will be those who can run this maturity cycle at optimum speed, and so out-learn their competitors.  

No comments:

Blog Archive