Q: What is Knowledge Management?
There are many definitions of Knowledge Management, but the one we prefer is the simplest - "Knowledge Management is the way you manage your organisation, when you understand the value of your knowledge".
In other words, it is the management framework (of Roles and Accountabilities, Processes, Technologies and Governance) that you put in place to maximize the value and application of your knowledge, and which provide a managed approach to building, developing and retaining know-how, in service of business goals.
Knowledge Management is about systematically making use of the knowledge in the organization, and applying it to YOUR business problem; tapping into 'What your company knows' to help you deliver your business results. It consists of never making the same mistake once (let along twice), and making every decision in the light of the full knowledge base of the company. The management of knowledge needs to be part of your business practices, just like the management of finance and the management of safety.
Q: What is Knowledge?
Knowledge is the ability to make effective decisions, and take effective action (based on a definition by Peter Senge).
Part of the confusion between Knowledge Management and Information Management is almost certainly the lack, in the English language, of any distinction between Know-How, and Know-What. We use the word "knowledge" for both of these forms of knowing.
However Knowledge management has always delivered its real value when applied to "Know-How" - to improving the competence of the organisation by giving people access to the knowledge they need to make the correct decisions.
The implication of this definition, is that it allows you to align Knowledge Management with Decision Support. At a recent KM planning workshop, for example, the project leader asked that the KM plan be focused entirely in the upcoming decision to select the project concept. We then had a great discussion as a team about "what do we need to know, to make an effective decision on concept selection?" The knowledge needs inventory that emerged from this discussion was then used to plan the project learning actions.
Q: Why should we implement KM?
Knowledge is one of your key assets. Like your staff, your money, your customers, your brand. It is one of your more valuable assets too - just imagine how your organisation would perform if you had no knowledge, and your staff had no knowledge! It is good practice to manage your valuable assets. You almost certainly have implemented financial management, people management, customer relationship management, brand management. So it makes sound business sense to implement knowledge management too; to derive maximum business benefit from the invisible asset which is the operational knowledge held in the heads of your employees.
Q: What are the benefits to my business?
In today's knowledge-intensive world, what matters is 'What you know, Using what you know, and How fast you can know something new'". There is no other sustainable business advantage, according to Larry Prusak of IBM. The value of Knowledge Management is delivered in three areas;
- Better and faster decisions; by tapping into the experience of your Peers around the globe, you can avoid their pitfalls, apply their solutions, and make the right decision first time
- A step change in productivity; by building a full knowledge of our own part of the business, we can reduce costs & minimize new resources to meet growth targets
- New Products & Services; re-use of knowledge fuels innovation Knowledge management will reduce costs and time in the short term, and at the same time provide an inventory of experience & expertise for the future, allowing a flexible, fast-paced response to access activities
Q: What is a Knowledge Management Framework?
A Knowledge Management framework is a complete system of People, Process, Technology and Governance, which ensures that Knowledge management is applied systematically and effectively to improve business results.
- People; knowledge management roles have to be established in the business, communities need to be set up to share and reuse tacit knowledge, behaviors such as seeking for and sharing knowledge need to be incentivised, and to become 'the way we work'
- KM Processes; there has to be a tried-and-tested process for capturing, distilling, validating, storing, applying and reusing knowledge, and also for innovating.
- KM Technologies; the people and the process need to be supported by enabling technology, which allows knowledge to be found and accessed wherever it resides (in databases, on the Intranet, in people's heads). IT plays an important role in KM, by providing the technology to allow people to communicate.
- KM Governance; without a governance system that promotes and recognizes sharing and the re-use of knowledge, any attempts to introduce KM are going to be a hard struggle.
Q: What are the biggest barriers to Knowledge Management?
- Knowledge is power. Too often people see knowledge hoarding as a way to personal power. However by the same argument, knowledge sharing is empowerment.
- People need to move from Building empires to building new relationships.
- The Individual work bias of the past ("I have to solve this all by myself") is shifting to a teamwork and a collaborative bias.
- Local focus is often a perceived barrier to knowledge management, which can be converted to a network focus by the establishment of communities of practice.
- "Not invented here" can be a real barrier to the import of knowledge, if the relationship of trust is missing. Trust will grow with face-to-face knowledge sharing, and few people resist a request for help.
- People are often afraid that Errors will be Penalized, and are therefore unwilling to share what they may see as failures. That is why techniques such as Retrospects accentuate learning from success
- People feel they are Not paid to share. Knowledge management is often seen as not part of normal business. Preserving the value of our knowledge assets is not seen as core business.
- People feel they have No time to share. This is a very real barrier; most people are 'maxed out' at the moment. So we need to make knowledge sharing as quick and efficient as we can, because really we have no time NOT to share.