Tuesday, 4 May 2021

How Covid has affected KM in organisations

A month ago, I opened a survey to investigate how KM has fared during the pandemic and associated recession. Here are the results.

We conducted the last of our three triennial Knoco Global Surveys of Knowledge Management in 2020, and these reflect the state of KM in organisations prior to the pandemic. So we decided to conduct an additional survey in April/May 2021 to investigate how the pandemic affected the state of KM in organisations, and also how KM supported these organisations.

The 2021 Covid Survey was released through Twitter, Linked-In, this blog, and also direct emails to respondents to the 2020 global survey. A total of 83 responses were received. 

Not all respondents answered every question, as respondents who reported that their KM program had been closed down were not required to go on to answer questions investigating changes to the KM program. Please note that no demographic data were recorded from respondents. However 59 responses were previous respondents to the 2020 survey, where we had already recorded a suite of demographics. This will allow some further analysis at a future date.

Continued existence of the KM program

The first survey question covered the continued existence of KM programs during the Covid period. 6 options were offered, and the proportion of responses to each option is shown below. 

In the vast majority of cases, the KM program either remained the same, or expanded. Only in 6% of cases had the KM program had been cancelled or put on hold, and 5% reported a contracted program. 

Despite all the difficulties Covid has brought to various industries, organisations and businesses, KM has largely survived as a function, and often increased in scope.

KM budget.

Although KM continues, has the level of investment remained the same? The responses are shown below.

In the majority of cases (58%), the KM budget remains unchanged. There are roughly equal segments where the budget has increased (16%) and decreased (19%). Given that, in the previous pie chart, only 5% of respondents reported a contraction in the KM program, then in some cases the KM program must have continued with less money. Also the 46% who reported an expansion of the KM program is not matched by an expansion in budget. So although KM continues, it seems KM professionals are often being asked to contribute more. 

 Continuity of KM roles.

Given the continuity of KM programs, it is no surprise to see continuity of KM roles. Very few respondents have left their KM programs, and only 3 people out of the 83 surveyed reported losing their KM job during the pandemic. Although the loss of these three jobs will have been a huge issue to the people involved, it seems in general as if there has been a reassuring level of role continuity during Covid.

However it must be acknowledged that the survey sample set is biased in favour of people who remain in KM employment, are still answering email addresses linked to the 2020 survey, and are still following KM blogs and twitter feeds. The true percentage of people who have lost a KM job due to the pandemic and associated recession may well be higher than the 6% recorded here. 

Whether KM was easier or harder during the pandemic.

For those respondents whose KM programs continued during the pandemic, the next series of questions looked at how the programs changed. The first of these questions addressed whether KM had been easier or harder during Covid-induced lockdowns and remote working. The pie chart below shows that respondents were roughly even split between those who found it harder, those who found it easier, and those for whom there was no difference.


We asked respondents what had made KM easier/harder. 

There was a wide range of responses from people who had answered that it was harder. The most common theme was the relative difficulty of remote KM interaction compared to face-to-face. Other themes included a reduction in ad-hoc knowledge sharing, the general overloading of staff during the pandemic, and the need to learn new skills. 

 There was a smaller range of responses from people who had answered that it was easier. The most common theme was the fact that remote working exposed a need for KM and that there was therefore a wider recognition of its value. Other common themes were improved (remote) access to people across the organisation, and easier collaboration. 

 Changes in focus for KM

Respondents were asked whether the focus of their KM program had changed. Answers are shown below. About half said there was a slight change in focus, a quarter said a significant change, and a quarter reported no change in focus.

Participants were asked what new work items had been added to the KM scope. 31% reported no new work items. The most commonly reported new work items were collaboration, digital transformation, expansion within the organisation, and delivery/facilitation of online events. Other than these, there was a very wide range of new items, each mentioned by very few people.

Participants were asked what old work items had been removed from the KM scope. 77% reported no removal of old work items, which perhaps continues the theme of KM programs expanding and doing more, albeit not always with more budget. The most commonly reported removed work item was the facilitation of face to face events.

How else has KM changed?

Again there was a range of responses to this question, and the free-text responses from the respondents were grouped into themes as shown in the pie chart below. As you might expect, the most common theme reflected the move to online/virtual working, but other responses include an increase in demand for KM, a contraction of KM in those organisations where the budget reduced, and a reorganisation of KM.

The final question asked how KM has supported the organisations during the pandemic. 

Again, free-text responses from the respondents were grouped into themes as shown in the pie chart below. 

The most common benefits KM has provided to their organisations have been the provision of knowledge to staff working remotely - both generic knowledge, and knowledge of the Covid response itself - and support for new ways of working - remote working, use of collaborative tools, and collaborative behaviours. 


I think that the responses to the survey, as shown in the graphs here, demonstrate that Knowledge Management has stepped up and played a significant and valuable supporting role to organisations during the Covid pandemic. 

This supporting role has generated an increased understanding and demand for KM, which meant that KM programs generally have not suffered significantly but have often expanded in reach and scope, if not always in budget. KM has had its challenges (new ways of working, the difficulties of remote knowledge sharing, a loss of the ad-hoc opportunities for knowledge exchange), but has also found some things easier, like better access to staff, easier virtual collaboration, and a greater level of organisational support. 

The pandemic has been KM's time to step forward, show its value, and support people and organisations through an astonishingly difficult time. Let's hope we can continue to build on this role as we move towards a post-Covid world. 

Friday, 30 April 2021

Should we treat KM implementation as a project?

Does KM have to be a project? We argue that it does.

Image from wikimedia commons
Implementing KM means building something new within your organisation. A new management framework, a new way of working, a new set of behaviours and attitudes. The work is not done when implementation is over - KM needs to be sustained, maintained and continually improved - but there will be a primary implementation phase.

To the extent that the implementation phase of Knowledge Management
  • needs a strategy and a plan
  • needs a team and budget
  • has a start and an end, and  
  • has objectives and deliverables

then it needs to be managed as a project.

Implementing KM is a special type of project - a change management project, planning to develop and implement a new management framework - but its still a project.  The Head of KM, or the CKO, or the Knowledge Manager for the organisation acts as the project leader, in order to

  • Develop, together with the leadership of the organization, the vision, objectives, metrics and deliverables of the knowledge management implementation project. The delvierables should include a definition of the end state - for example an embedded KM framework with rolesm, processes, technology and governance all in place and applied.
  • Deliver these objectives; accountable for delivery, for the budget, for managing the members of the knowledge management implementation team, for managing progress and activity; all of the standard accountabilities of a project manager. 
  • Define and test the knowledge management framework through the testing and piloting phase, and ensure that the KM framework operates effectively and efficiently.
  • Ensure that the KM framework delivers business value. 
  • Embed the KM framework within the structures, habits and rhythms of the organisation. 
  • Hand KM over to an operational KM team, to manage, maintain and continuously improve it. 

Whatever process you use internally for managing projects; apply it to your KM implementation.  

Stage gates, project plans, steering committees, Prince 2 - whatever your internal project management processes is; apply it, so that KM implementation is seen as, and treated with the same rigour as, a "proper project".

Whatever tools you use for project management, apply them to your KM project. 

SMART objectives, work breakdown, risk mapping, knowledge gap mapping, gantt  and pert charts, and project KM tools such as After Action Review and Retrospect.

Once the implementation is over, KM stops being a project, and starts being an operational management discipline, just like safety management, financial management, risk management or talent management. KM still needs to be a main focus of attention, and there needs to be an oversight and support team in place with a clear role to play, as well as KM roles throughout the business.

Until then, though, its a project.

Contact Knoco for help with your Knowledge Management Project

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

3 questions to test whether you need Knowledge Management

There are three question to answer, to know whether you need KM.

If you are considering whether to invest in Knowledge Management, there are three questions you need to ask. These are listed and explained below.

Is knowledge a key business issue for you?  

If knowledge is an importabnt asset to your organisation, or if knowledge is one of your key products, then knowledge management may well be important for you. Knowledge is defined by Peter Senge as “the ability to take effective action”, and knowledge is the basis both of judgment, and of good decision making.

  • If your organization requires good knowledge based decisions, then knowledge is one of your key assets. 
  • If you are a consulting firm, a contractor, or an educational or professional body that creates and deploys knowledge on behalf of customers and clients, then again knowledge is one of your key assets. 
  • Knowledge will also be a key business issue for you if your staff turnover is large, and you need to transfer knowledge into a new generation of workers. 
  • Or if much of your core operational knowledge is held by people approaching retirement age. 
  • Or if you are involved in repeat activity, where knowledge from the past can help improve future performance. 
  • Or if many dispersed parts of the business are performing the same process, with varying results. 
  • Or if your budget is being challenged and you are having to contemplate delivering ‘more for less’ 

Is there evidence that management of knowledge is currently sub-optimal in your organisation? 

There may be many warning signs that knowledge management needs to be improved in an organisation. Some of the common signs to listen out for are listed below

  • ‘Why do we keep having to re-learn this?’ 
  • ‘How do I know where to find this knowledge?’ 
  • ‘I’m sure I heard someone mention that to me the other day, now who was it?’ 
  • ‘Someone must have done this before - but who?’ 
  • 'When that guy left, he took all that knowledge with him.’ 
  • ‘It was pure luck that I met Freddy – he had just the answer I was looking for” 
  • ‘That went very well – can we make sure we can repeat this success?’ 
  • ‘We made this mistake in our other office too’ 

Comments like this are all warning signs. Others are

  • Repeated mistakes 
  • Wildly varying performance among different teams 
  • Poorly connected networks

You need to collect evidence, in the form of anecdotes, examples and social network plots, which show that knowledge management could be improved.

Is it likely that improved knowledge management will add real value? 

If you do improve knowledge management, is it likely that this would lead to better performance? Better performance could come through 
  • fewer (or no) repeat mistakes, 
  • more consistent performance with poor performing teams learning from high performing teams, 
  • faster transfer of knowledge to young staff, and from 
  • better retention of knowledge from departing staff. 

 You need to be able to make a good case that there is potential value here; enough value to investigate knowledge management further.

You are not making a full business case; this business case will be made in the next stage. You are however marshalling the anecdotal evidence that performance improvement is possible, and that this is potentially significant enough to take the next step. To make the case for further investment, it is good to have the following evidence.

  • A first-pass list of critical knowledge issues for the organisation 
  • Evidence, in the form of examples, case studies, anecdotes, Social Network Maps or other evidence, that there is a knowledge management problem, and 
  • A list of likely positive business outcomes from better knowledge management. 

Once the decision to invest in KM has been made, then you move on to the standard KM implementation steps of assessment, strategy, piloting, roll-out and embedding. 

If you are not sure whether to start with KM, these three questions may be very helpful.

Thursday, 15 April 2021

How the Asian Development Bank is moving towards a "knowledge demand" model

In this YouTube video, Vivek Raman describes how KM at the Asian Development Bank is moving from a Push model (driven by knowledge supply) to Pull model (driven by knowledge demand) for its knowledge products and solutions. 

As Vivek says -

"Our challenge was complex: One, we needed to design a new methodology to string together all of ADB’s complex knowledge products and services for a country. Two, we needed to make sure this was not seen as additional work or burdensome by resident mission staff and actually, added value to their work. Three, and most importantly we needed to change government’s viewpoint that ADB is an active knowledge partner. So, for the methodology we decided to go back to the basics and approach it like a child’s problem. Nothing we designed was rocket science".

Vivek goes on to describe the development of consultative country knowledge plans, as a way of achieving a more pull-driven approach.

Read more about knowledge push and pull here, here and here

See more videos about KM at ADB

Monday, 12 April 2021

Your business plan is wrong. That doesn't matter if you can learn fast enough.

The world is too complex for us to get things right first time. So what matters is the speed at which we adapt and learn.

Image from wikimedia commons

The British historian Michael Howard wrote, on the subject of military doctrine,
"I am tempted to say that whatever doctrine the armed forces are working on now, they have got it wrong. I am also tempted to declare that it does not matter. What does matter is their ability to get it right quickly, when the moment arrives......When everybody starts wrong, the advantage goes to the side which can most quickly adjust itself to the new and unfamiliar environment and learn from its mistakes."
In a complex and changing environment, it is the agile and the adaptive who survive. Everyone starts wrong, but the adaptive get righter quicker.

This is as true in the marketplace as it is on the battlefield. Planning is essential, but plans are not enough. No plan of battle ever survives contact with the enemy, and no commercial strategy or marketing plan survives contact with the market, the customer and the competition.

If Howard is right for business as well as for the Military, and that the advantage goes to the organisation that most quickly learns from its mistakes, then Knowledge Management and Organisational learning is a survival strategy.

An organisation must be confident enough to embark into the unknown, prepared to modify or even abandon processes, practices and plans, based on focused and high-quality learning. Knowledge Managers must attend to

An organisation can then learn its way forward in an agile way, learning from mistakes and successes, "sounding the way forward" to find the safe passage. This is as true in the post-Covid recovery world as it ever has been. 

Knowledge has a shrinking half-life, and where knowledge has a short half-life, Knowledge Management is not about documenting and protecting "what you know", it is about how fast you can know something new, and how easily you can let go of the old. That's what will win you the battle with the competition.

 Colonel Ed Guthrie of the US Army used to liken it to the aerial dogfights in world war 1.
"In those days" he used to say, "It was about getting inside the other guy's turning circle. That's what would win you the engagement. Now it's about getting inside the other guy's learning circle."

So whatever your business plan is, it's wrong, and it does not matter. What does matter is your organisations ability (enabled by Knowledge Management) to quickly adjust itself to the new and unfamiliar environment and learn from its mistakes and successes.

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

How to map the knowledge "sticking points"

Knowledge transfer often requires several steps, and knowledge can get stuck along the way. But where are those sticky points?

I have often used the analogy of a Supply Chain when looking at knowledge transfer, with knowledge as a resource to be supplied to the knowledge workers on whose decisions the firm depends, in order to support them in making the best available decisions.

That knowledge supply chain can be very simple, in the case (for example) of a supervisor coaching their staff.  Or it can be complex, as in the case of organisational lesson learning. Where the supply chain is complex, involving many steps. it can be all too easy for the knowledge to get stuck or to run into quicksand along the way; never to reach the knowledge worker.

If we can map out the supply chain, we can find the sticking points, and un-stick the knowledge.

The figure here is reproduced with permission from a thesis dissertation by Catherine Barney, entitled "Cross-project learning in project-based organizations", and Catherine did just this exercise of mapping the knowledge supply chain.

Catherine was studying knowledge management and lesson-learning in a major European engineering company. As part of her dissertation, Catherine surveyed the company to measure employees' satisfaction with various steps (or "aspects") in the lessons learned cycle (an important component of the knowledge supply chain for this global organisation).

She mapped the chain as having 6 components

  • Lesson identification through the lessons procedure
  • Lesson validation
  • Direct application of lessons
  • Future application of lessons
  • Lesson storage
  • Lesson retrieval

Her lower diagram (above) is interesting. Every step of the process seemed to need significant improvement, but this need was smallest with the first step - lesson identification - and indeed the content of captured lessons showed the highest level of satisfaction. With every step after that, dissatisfaction grows. This could either be because this company (like many others) thinks the job is done once the lesson is "captured", or because inefficiencies along the chain combine to make each step progressively less satisfactory (in other words, poor verification on top of poor capture leads to even less satisfaction with application).

By the time you get to the storage and retrieval steps, almost everyone says that a large improvement is necessary.

It looks like lessons are entering the chain, but getting lost or stuck as they go along. If this company wants to improve their lesson supply chain, they need to focus not so much on lesson capture and validation, but what happens to the lessons afterwards, and how they are re-used.

Contact us for help in mapping the sticking points in your lessons chain.

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Please take part in this new (short) survey - how Covid has affected KM

 Please take 5 minutes to reply to this short survey on how the Covid pandemic and accompanying recession has affected KM

Image from wikimedia commons

If you were involved in an organisational Knowledge Management program a year ago, at the start of the recession, please consider answering the short survey below, and let us know how things have changed in the interim.

  • Maybe KM found a stronger purpose during Covid, and has been busier than ever
  • Maybe the KM program was hit by the recession, and the budget was cut or completely eliminated
  • Maybe KM changed direction
  • Maybe you found things easier, or more difficult
It would be good to know!

The survey will take 5 or 6 minutes, it is between 4 and 11 questions depending on circumstance, and we will share the results in about  month time when we have collated all responses.

Your input would be very welcome.

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