What KM can learn from start-ups – 5, build a good product

Last week I started a set of blog posts likening KM implementation to a business start-up. Here is number 5 in the series. 

The Lean Startup Methodology
Lean Start-up methodology, by Rebeca Zuniga on Flickr

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.

Ensuring the Product meets the market need

The final reason that start-ups fail is because they develop a product that doesn’t meet the market need. In our case, the KM product is the management framework we introduce to the business, comprised of roles and accountabilities, processes, technology tools, and governance.

This failure mode often happens when the product is developed in isolation from the users, and turns out to be not what the market wants. An approach commonly used to avoid this pitfall is the Lean Start-up or Agile approach, where products are developed through an iterative series of prototypes. “Minimum viable products” are released to early adopters in cycles of Deploy, Measure, Learn, and the learning from each cycle is used to improve the product for the next cycle.

A minimum viable product is the simplest version of a product that will still add value to the customer, and the design team then use customer feedback to elaborate the product further. The piloting phase of KM implementation can use a similar approach.

KM Piloting has 4 objectives:

  1. To gain learning about the application of the KM framework, which can be used to improve the framework and so develop it into a product that fits the market need; 
  2. To test the market; 
  3. To demonstrate value through KM in order to justify further investment, and 
  4. To create success stories and user testimonials for marketing purposes. 

 In order to satisfy the first of these objectives, it makes sense to pilot, as early as possible, a minimum viable KM framework. This will not be a single KM tool, as one tool is not a framework. Instead it will be a complete but bare-bones management framework. And in order to satisfy objective 3, the bare-bones Framework should be applied to solve a real business problem. 

 For example, one organisation set up a simple KM framework to address problems in Production Engineering. A volunteer community coordinator set up monthly discussions using dial-in conference calls among a dozen enthusiasts around the globe, to discuss an identified agenda of critical knowledge issues. This minimum system added real value and solved several problems, and over time was extended to become a community of practice of several hundred people with a dedicated portal, software, meetings, roles and governance.

 Starting small and growing allowed the KM Framework to be tested at every step, and ensured that the final version of the Framework was exactly what the users needed in order to add value. The product grew to match the market need.

Use an Agile piloting approach to ensure your KM Product is tailored to the market

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