3 questions to test whether you need Knowledge Management

There are three question to answer, to know whether you need KM.

If you are considering whether to invest in Knowledge Management, there are three questions you need to ask. These are listed and explained below.

Is knowledge a key business issue for you?  

If knowledge is an importabnt asset to your organisation, or if knowledge is one of your key products, then knowledge management may well be important for you. Knowledge is defined by Peter Senge as “the ability to take effective action”, and knowledge is the basis both of judgment, and of good decision making.

  • If your organization requires good knowledge based decisions, then knowledge is one of your key assets. 
  • If you are a consulting firm, a contractor, or an educational or professional body that creates and deploys knowledge on behalf of customers and clients, then again knowledge is one of your key assets. 
  • Knowledge will also be a key business issue for you if your staff turnover is large, and you need to transfer knowledge into a new generation of workers. 
  • Or if much of your core operational knowledge is held by people approaching retirement age. 
  • Or if you are involved in repeat activity, where knowledge from the past can help improve future performance. 
  • Or if many dispersed parts of the business are performing the same process, with varying results. 
  • Or if your budget is being challenged and you are having to contemplate delivering ‘more for less’ 

Is there evidence that management of knowledge is currently sub-optimal in your organisation? 

There may be many warning signs that knowledge management needs to be improved in an organisation. Some of the common signs to listen out for are listed below

  • ‘Why do we keep having to re-learn this?’ 
  • ‘How do I know where to find this knowledge?’ 
  • ‘I’m sure I heard someone mention that to me the other day, now who was it?’ 
  • ‘Someone must have done this before – but who?’ 
  • ‘When that guy left, he took all that knowledge with him.’ 
  • ‘It was pure luck that I met Freddy – he had just the answer I was looking for” 
  • ‘That went very well – can we make sure we can repeat this success?’ 
  • ‘We made this mistake in our other office too’ 

Comments like this are all warning signs. Others are

  • Repeated mistakes 
  • Wildly varying performance among different teams 
  • Poorly connected networks

You need to collect evidence, in the form of anecdotes, examples and social network plots, which show that knowledge management could be improved.

Is it likely that improved knowledge management will add real value? 

If you do improve knowledge management, is it likely that this would lead to better performance? Better performance could come through 

  • fewer (or no) repeat mistakes, 
  • more consistent performance with poor performing teams learning from high performing teams, 
  • faster transfer of knowledge to young staff, and from 
  • better retention of knowledge from departing staff. 
 You need to be able to make a good case that there is potential value here; enough value to investigate knowledge management further.

You are not making a full business case; this business case will be made in the next stage. You are however marshalling the anecdotal evidence that performance improvement is possible, and that this is potentially significant enough to take the next step. To make the case for further investment, it is good to have the following evidence.

  • A first-pass list of critical knowledge issues for the organisation 
  • Evidence, in the form of examples, case studies, anecdotes, Social Network Maps or other evidence, that there is a knowledge management problem, and 
  • A list of likely positive business outcomes from better knowledge management. 

Once the decision to invest in KM has been made, then you move on to the standard KM implementation steps of assessment, strategy, piloting, roll-out and embedding. 

If you are not sure whether to start with KM, these three questions may be very helpful.

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