An analogy to help you understand a Knowledge Management Framework

We know that Knowledge Management requires a management framework, rather than a silver bullet technology. But how do we explain what a management framework is?

We know that KM requires a framework of roles, processes, technologies and governance, but how do we explain this to our managers; especially the ones that think that buying new technology will solve the issue?   ISO 30401 calls the framework a “knowledge management system”, but many people hear the word “System” and interpret this to mean a technology system, which is why I personally prefer the term framework.

The best way to explain the concept of a management framework is to use an analogy.

The analogy I commonly use is to compare the Knowledge Management Framework with other management frameworks, showing that these are also an interconnecting framework of people, processes, technologies and governance, which cannot work if there are holes in the framework.

One of the easiest to understand, because everyone has some involvement with it, is financial management. I know knowledge and money are not the same, but both require a company-wide management framework if they are to flow round the company in an effective and systematic way.

If you Google “Financial Management Framework”, this will give you many examples, most of which contain common elements, and most of which contain a mix of people, process, and governance (strangely technology is often missing from these frameworks, presumably either because financial technology is pervasive and taken for granted, or because the framework should be technology-independent).

Let’s look at some of those common elements, and then let’s ask what happens if some of these are missing.

Financial Management frameworks all contain defined roles and responsibilities, such as:

  • Budget holders – the people accountable for money within projects and operations;
  • Accountants and Cost engineers – the people doing the nuts and bolts of money-tracking;
  • Central finance team – the people who shuffle money between the projects and operations;
  • CFOs and Finance Directors – the people accountable for the financial management system itself
Financial Management frameworks all contain certain processes, such as:
  • Financial planning and forecasting;
  • Budgeting;
  • Invoicing;
  • Expenditure management;
  • Cost tracking;
  • Timewriting;
  • Reporting.
All Financial Management frameworks mention governance, which typically includes:
  • Financial policies;
  • Monitoring;
  • Auditing;
  • Training and support.
If there were mention of technology, this would include
  • Technology for logging and tracking transactions, such as SAP;
  • Technology for reporting of figures, such as Excel;
  • Technology for counting, such as a calculator or cash register.
All of these fit together into a financial management framework, and the complexity and completeness of that framework needs to fit the scale of the operation. The framework listed above has 18 elements; large companies can easily have more elements. My small company has fewer. If you were selling tickets for a village fete, you framework would be simpler still – a treasurer, a money pot, a book of tickets, a bank deposit account, and a report to the organising committee.

What would happen if there were holes in the Financial Management framework? 

Let’s pick a few items from the framework listed above, remove them, and imagine what would happen.

  • If there were no budget holders there would be no attention paid to financial management within the projects and operations, because it’s nobody’s job.
  • If there was no process of financial reporting then financial management would fall apart, because the company would have no record of money gained or spent during operations.
  • If there was no consistent technology, there would be no way of comparing and compiling financial figures from across the organisation.
  • If there was no auditing, there would be no way of knowing if people were doing proper financial management, people would cut corners, fudge figures and put money into their own pockets, and pretty soon a consistent approach to financial management would disappear.
So there’s our analogy. Financial management needs a minimum framework consistent with the scale of the business, and if there are holes in that framework, financial management becomes impossible.

It is the same for knowledge management

Knowledge management needs a minimum framework, and if there are holes in that framework, knowledge management becomes impossible. Here are some equivalents to the holes mentioned above

  • If were no people accountable for KM within projects and operations, then KM just would not get done. There would be no attention paid to knowledge management within the projects and operations, because it’s nobody’s job.
  • If there were no process of knowledge reporting (knowledge capture) – then knowledge management would fall apart, because the company would have no record of new knowledge gained during operations.
  • If there were no consistent technology for knowledge management, knowledge management would be a mess, as there would be no way of comparing and compiling and communicating knowledge from across the organisation.
  • Imagine there was no equivalent of auditing there would be no way of knowing if people were doing proper knowledge management, people would cut corners and fudge figures and keep knowledge in their own heads, and pretty soon a consistent approach to knowledge management would disappear.
So if your managers question the need for a KM Framework, and ask (for example) “do we really need defined roles for KM?”, then ask them to imagine a financial management framework without defined roles.

The Financial Management framework is one of your better analogues for explaining the Knowledge Management framework.

Contact Knoco for help in designing your Knowledge Management Framework

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Shared by: Nick Milton

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