Revolutionising the productivity of the knowledge worker – part 3, the knowledge supply chain

Over the last two days I have blogged about the challenge of revolutionising the productivity of the knowledge worker, which Peter Drucker set for us. We have looked at the division of knowledge labour, and the automation/augmentation of knowledge work. Today we look at the knowledge supply chain. 

Parts, by Andy Malmin, on Flickr
The productivity of the manual worker was revolutionised through the transformation from craftsman production to factory production. Work was divided and automated, and individuals took their part within a work chain, or production line. Partly finished work came to them automatically, together with the parts and tools they needed, they did their own tasks, added their own value, and passed the updated work on to the next person. 
This is the supply chain for manual workers, who make things; an organised mechanism for making sure that the components they need to do their job are ready at hand when needed. The supply chain can be an assembly line, or a more complex arrangement involving parts, suppliers and warehousing.
Knowledge workers, on the other hand, make decisions rather than things, and the raw material for knowledge workers is knowledge. 
Therefore in a world where knowledge work is divided (where we do not rely on experts who carry all the knowledge in their head) the knowledge worker needs partly finished knowledge to come to them automatically, together with the knowledge tools and additional knowledge they need, and when they have made their decisions and added their own value (often this is the innovation piece), then the updated work needs to be passed on to the next knowledge worker.
This is the vision of the organisation as a knowledge factory, or a knowledge assembly line, and for this to work, we need the knowledge supply chain.  Often the knowledge supply chain involves knowledge suppliers, and warehousing, just as a supply chain for parts. 
I have already blogged several times about the knowledge supply chain (see the relevant tab in the word cloud to the right). The knowledge supply chain is a new way of looking at an organisation of knowledge workers (predicted 20 years ago by Lord Browne of BP), and for ensuring that the correct knowledge reaches each knowledge worker, at the time and place they need it, to the required standard and quality, in a deliberate and systematic manner. Knowledge Management then becomes the supply chain for the knowledge worker; a parallel knowledge workstream that works alongside the project pr product workstream.

Few organisations have got this right. The service-desk sector, where providing correct knowledge (answers to customer questions) to the front line staff is a vital KM service, have models for providing knowledge to those who need it. Toyota have got it right (I believe). The Military, with its chains of accountability and with the supply of knowledge and information built into the Battle Rhythm, probably do it best. 

This vision of “Knowledge Management as a supply chain” requires a complete Knowledge Management Framework to be in place, with roles, processes, technologies and governance, with the sole purpose of supplying knowledge to the knowledge workers, to enable them to make the correct decisions.

In the next and final post of this series we look at the nature of this supply chain, and what it needs to become Lean.

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