Revolutionising the productivity of the knowledge worker – 4, becoming lean and efficient

This week I have been blogging about the challenge of revolutionising the productivity of the knowledge worker; the challenge which Peter Drucker set for us.

The lean working environment for the manual
worker (image from greenhousecanada.com).
Does the working environment for the knowledge
worker look like this?

We have looked at the division of knowledge labour, the automation/augmentation of knowledge work, and the knowledge supply chain. Now we look at how to make the knowledge work-flow efficient.

When we look at how the productivity of the manual workers has been revolutionised, then the most recent advances come from lean production, lean working and the lean supply chain have all played their part. The Manufacturing Advisory Service (quoted here) claims a 25% increase in productivity through lean principles – a small increment compared to the difference made by division of labour, automation/augmentation and an effective supply chain, but still a significant factor in the continuous improvement of productivity. Lean is also a mindset – a relentless focus on adding value on behalf of the customer and removing waste effort and stock.
However a lean and efficient approach has not yet reached knowledge management. 
Certainly most organisations now apply a division of knowledge labour, all are applying automation/augmentation to knowledge work, and many have the concept of a knowledge supply chain, supplying knowledge (or insights, experiences etc) to the knowledge workers, at the time and place they need it, to the required standard and quality, in a deliberate and systematic manner.  
However our track record of delivering that knowledge in a lean and efficient way is poor, and there is little or no sign of a relentless focus on removing waste and adding value.  Metrics measure the completeness of the KM framework and its effectiveness, but rarely its efficiency. 
Knowledge bases are often full and clumsy to use, poorly structured and indexed, with duplicate, outdated or irrelevant material. Knowledge workers are often required to use multiple search engines or to visit multiple sites, social media streams are unfiltered and full of noise, knowledge is often synthesised, often unfindable, and usually is poorly tagged and labelled.
All of this makes knowledge seeking a massive chore, which it is easier to skip than undertake.
A lean approach to Knowledge Management would involve eliminating the 7 wastes, such as

  • Over-production of knowledge, which then becomes noise in the system
  • Waiting for knowledge, and a slow turnover speed of knowledge
  • Unnecessary hand-off of knowledge, with unnecessary steps in the chain between knowledge supplier and knowledge user  
  • Non-value added processing—doing more work than is necessary. We often see this in lesson-learning systems, where the work of sifting, sorting and synthesising multiple lessons or multiple search-hits has to be done by the knowledge user. 
  • Unnecessary “motion” – the need to visit multiple databases, multiple knowledge bases, a separate CoP system etc 
  • Excess knowledge inventory— frequently resulting from overproduction.
  • Defective knowledge.
Lean KM is the last of the four components to drive knowledge worker productivity. Together these 4 components can be revolutionary.

If we can have a lean and efficient knowledge supply chain, using automation and augmentation to deliver high quality knowledge to knowledge workers in a divided system of knowledge work, then we will approach Peter Drucker’s initial vision of a 50-fold increase in productivity of the knowledge workers.

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