How to select a successful KM pilot project

Knowledge Management pilot projects are a crucial part of any KM implementation. But how do you select a good pilot?                                                   

A KM pilot project is an opportunity to test KM in a small part of the business; to see if it works, to use it as a testbed to adapt and improve your KM framework, and to deliver success stories to use in the roll-out phase.

But what makes a good pilot?

First of all, a pilot project needs to use KM to solve a business problem.  The pilot must be problem-led, not solution-led.

  • So “testing a Sales portal” is not an effective pilot, but “using KM to improve our sales figures in Germany” is.
  • “Testing a better search engine” is not an effective pilot, but “using KM to reduce costs in our new product production line” is.
  • “Setting up a Geologists community of practice” is not an effective pilot, but “using KM to improve our geological predictions” is.

The focus of the pilot is on business issues, as the purpose of Knowledge Management is to solve business problems, and the purpose of the pilot is to test and demonstrate that KM can do what it is supposed to do. In most cases, your pilot will cover multiple divisions, or multiple projects, and will look at ways of developing, sharing, transferring and re-using knowledge to solve business issues.

Please note that you do not need to use a very sophisticated KM Framework to solve the pilot. Maybe you can use simple approaches and build a “minimum viable” version of the framework which you can use for testing purposes, and then improve and enhance the framework using experience from the pilot.

How do you find a suitable business problem to solve? The problem must somehow be knowledge-related, if KM is going to help, and there are four

  • Where there is a business critical activity which is new to one part of the organisation, where rapid learning will deliver business benefits. If it is new to only one part of the organisation, then transferring learning from where it has been done before, will give huge benefits.
  • Where there is repetitive activity, and where continuous improvement is needed, in which case knowledge management can help drive down the learning curve.
  • Where there is activity which is carried out in several locations, and where performance level varies, in which case knowledge management can help exchange knowledge from the good performers, to improve the poor performers.
  • Finally where there is an area of the business which is stuck due to lack of knowledge, in which case knowledge management can help develop the knowledge needed to get unstuck.

When you start looking around, you will find very many business opportunities for KM piloting. Your “opportunity jar” will soon be full to overflowing, and you will need to find a way to compare and rank these piloting opportunities. We have a set of ranking criteria we have been using for about 15 years now, which includes looking at the following questions;

  • If the project is successful, can we measure the value, and so demonstrate that the pilot has “worked”? 
  • Is there is strong management support for the pilot, and for knowledge management, within the potential pilot area?
  • If we create knowledge, is it purely for the pilot team or can others use it across the business, allowing us to leverage the results and spread the benefits? 
  •  Finally, can we practically complete the pilot in the required timeframe and with the resources available (money, staff, KM support resource etc)? 

Any pilot where you can answer a strong YES to all of these questions, will be a top-ranking pilot, suitable for selection as part of your KM program.

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