The 4 things you need to know at the start of KM implementation

If you are a new Knowledge Manager, implementing KM for the first time in an organisation, there are 4 things to learn about before you start, and some of that learning may be closer to home than you realise.

One of the tenets of Knowledge Management is that if you face a new piece of work, then you need to gain knowledge before you make a start. You make a KM plan, you identify your knowledge needs, you identify the sources of the knowledge, and you set out on your learning journey.

You “learn before doing“, as this is the surest way to build on the successes of others, and to avoid their mistakes and pitfalls.

So what do you need to learn about?

For the knowledge manager, there are 4 main things you need to learn about:

  1. How knowledge management works, and the possible elements of the knowledge management framework in an organisation like yours;
  2. How your organisation works, and the role of knowledge within those workings;
  3. How knowledge management can be introduced to an organisation, including the elements of KM strategy and KM implementation;
  4. How Change Management works in your own organisation, and how a major change program should be run.
We see most Knowledge Managers focusing on number 1, and (to be honest) often getting very confused. KM is a complex field, with very many variants such as legal KM, practice-focused KM, product-focused KM, KM for customer service and R&D KM. There are also many variants that (in our experience) are suboptimal, such as KM only through social media push, or guerilla KM, or “KM as an IT system”. The Knowledge Manager who Googles “knowledge management” will be overwhelmed by variety, and the risk is that they choose an answer that fits their prejudice, rather than an answer based on solid experience.

Most Knowledge Managers are internal appointments, and so take number 2 for granted. However if you are to make KM a success, you need to do your internal market research. You need a very good understanding of the internal stakeholders and their needs before you can start to build your plan.

Fewer Knowledge Managers focus on the third point. Implementing KM is a long term and risky business – many knowledge management programs fail and many knowledge managers lose their job. It is harder to find advice on KM implementation, as few organisations have implemented KM really successfully, and fewer people have been involved in more than one KM implementation. This is an area where it pays to find good experienced consultants to help you.
Even fewer learn about the 4th topic, which is strange because here the knowledge is close to home and accessible. Implementing KM is a change program, it is probably not the first change program your organisation has attempted, and there will be others in-house with valuable experience and knowledge to share. Find them, speak with them, and learn their lessons. Find out the secrets of their success and how they dealt with the pitfalls they encountered. Ask them “if you were starting a new program of change in this organisation, then based on your experience, how would you do it?”
You could, as an alternative approach, consider addressing these three areas in the reverse order.
  • Firstly, learn about change in your organisation, and the secrets of successful change.
  • Secondly, learn from experienced guides about the mechanics of KM implementation, in the context of your own change.
  • Thirdly do your market research.
  • Finally learn about the details of KM, and how it works in your own organisation. 
Contact us if you need any help with your pre-learning

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Which comes first – Knowledge Management or culture change?

It’s the ultimate chicken and egg situation. KM requires a supportive culture, yet how do you develop the culture without doing KM?

Should you wait for the culture to change, and then start your KM initiative, or should you start your KM initiative knowing you have to battle against the culture?
The Knoco global surveys of KM tell us that Culture is the second biggest barrier to KM implementation, and the second most common reason for abandoning KM.  There is no doubt that the existing culture can strongly infuence your KM efforts, and ISO 30401:2018, the ISO management systems standard for KM, says that

“A culture where connections and knowledge activities are encouraged, and knowledge is valued and actively used, will support the establishment and application of the knowledge management system within the organization”.

However Knowledge Management is also a culture change agent. The graph below, also from the Knoco surveys shows how the number of cultural barriers decreases the more Knowledge Management becomes embedded.

So we have a “chicken and egg” situation. Culture is a barrier, culture can derail your KM initiative, but the more embedded KM becomes, the more the barriers come down. 

How then do we introduce KM? Do we start with the chicken, or wait for the egg?

The answer is that we introduce KM as a culture change exercise.

  • Then we look for small areas of the business where the cultural barriers are weakest and/or the need for knowledge and KM is strongest, so that the balance is tipped in our favour, and we make these our KM pilot areas. 
  • We introduce KM in the pilot areas, deliver success, deliver value, than use these success examples in our communication and change program as “social proof”. These pilots are our cultural “first followers” or “thin threads“; the equivalent of the first wave of penguins off the ice floe (see video here). 
  • Then you repeat the last step as many times as it takes for the new culture to catch hold, recruiting your second followers, third followers and so on.   
  • At the same time, you lobby your sponsor and steering team to begin to remove the institutional barriers to the new culture such as the recognition and reward scheme, the internal security barriers, and so on.
The answer to the “chicken and egg” is that you don’t wait for the culture to change. You make a start, and change the culture as you go. Buy a pair of chickens, lay some eggs, make more chickens, and before long you have a whole chicken farm.

Use the power of KM to change the culture, and use the culture change to deliver KM.

Contact Knoco if you need help with your KM culture change

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KM implementation case history – the BBC

Here are 9 lessons from a KM implementation at the BBC.

Image from wikimedia commons

A great case history of Knowledge Management Implementation at the British Broadcasting Corporation can be found in Tom Young’s book “Knowledge Management for Services, Operations and Manufacturing“.  The case history is written by Claire Garwood, now Claire Chaundy, currently at the lawfirm Macfarlanes.

Claire describes the history of the development of the “Sport” community of practice within the BBC Nations & Regions in the early 2000s (a community designed to share and co-create knowledge between Sport camera crews and program makers) and concludes with the following 9 lessons:

Don’t be pushy; Use Schein’s process consultation principles.

This means being opportunistic and ensuring that every interaction is helpful. In Nations and Regions, this involved not being proud about the type of support the KM team provided; typing flip chart pads of knowledge exchange events for busy community hosts was just as important as facilitation and event design. Loaning out KM team members is also a great way to build relationships and foster knowledge flow. 

Use organisational culture to its advantage. 

Select approaches that enable people to stay within (or to step just outside of) their cultural comfort zone. BBC staff are naturally excellent networkers. This meant they would foster excellent CoPs provided they had the focus and support from dedicated community hosts. 

Use local language, not ‘KM speak’. 

This case study [in Tom’s book]  was written using KM terminology as it has an informed readership. In contrast the BBC’s N&R Sport champions simply saw themselves as people who wanted to improve their story telling by meeting more regularly to discuss their output. The KM team did not therefore talk about “strategic CoPs with hosts promoting knowledge sharing” as this would have not have meant anything to them at a personal, local level. 

Capture and publish learning about knowledge sharing as it happens. 

This is particularly important – but difficult – when your help is no longer required with ongoing activities, and when those involved become self sufficient. You can’t foist yourself onto people, so an easier inroad to maintaining contact is to ask if you can learn from the great work they are doing. People always appreciate recognition of their efforts. Further, profiling their activities via e-bulletins draws in people who aren’t yet interested in knowledge sharing but want to keep up to date with what’s going on. 

Don’t be afraid of focusing efforts on CoPs that are already taking off. 

The most successful CoPs are usually those who receive some KM team support and who nominate and train community hosts. Some people argue that the best groups “just evolve”. This is true in some cases, but it is a high risk option for business critical knowledge sharing. It’s fine to have a little formal behind the scenes effort to enable the informal contact to flourish. We call this being “formally informal”. It is no different to splitting up groups onto different tables at events! 

Make knowledge sharing part of the role

 The GPLs and Sport champions were successful because they had knowledge sharing performance objectives, budget and a percentage of their time to devote to the role. Why leave something of strategic importance to the chance that people might have time to focus on it? 

 What we’d do differently-  Use insiders. 

The KM team were careful about the language used but still had some credibility-busting moments (including an appearance in Private Eye magazine). Only two KM team members had programme-making experience but they were focused on developing social tools and did not work directly with the team members who provided internal consultancy. This hampered the consultancy side, who were criticised for marketing services and producing training materials that were “not for” programme makers. Seconding staff members from the areas you are supporting to help translate into their local language is a much better approach. It also builds well-trained KM ambassadors in the business when their secondment ends. 

 Use a robust contact and stakeholder management plan. 

 This ensures you maximise all interactions with staff potentially interested in knowledge sharing. In-house KM teams should think like an external consultancy group. The BBC’s KM team didn’t do this until the end. As they became overloaded with work they found that knowledge sharing between team members became difficult and opportunities were lost. 

Up-skill your KM team at the outset. 

 Analyse what is likely to be the predominant knowledge sharing solution used in your business, and provide KM team members time and resources to up-skill. The BBC’s KM team needed to be well versed in CoPs from the outset. Whilst their learning grew over time, it meant the early adopters such as N&R Sport didn’t benefit from some key learning. For example, the KM team discovered late on a key CoP statistic which is that only around 15-20% of your community will be regularly active at any one time. This is critical because, when trying to secure funding for community activities, many hosts set unrealistic expectations with their senior sponsors that large numbers of people will be active. If you set a target of, say, 50% of your invite list attending every community event over six months then you will fail as that is not statistically likely. This could have meant some CoPs failed at the first hurdle.

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9 influencing tactics to use when promoting KM

The Farnham Street blog (reporting on the book Mind Gym) describes nine tactics you can use to influence others, while making the point that ““it is essential that you understand the other person’s reasons so you can use tactics that will work to persuade them, as opposed to tactics that would work on you.”

Let’s see how these nine tactics can be used when promoting Knowledge Management

1. Reasoning  –  the process of using facts, logic, and argument to make a case. You would use this to make a business case for Knowledge Management, but need good evidence to back it up. “Knowledge Management, if applied to the bidding process, should improve our bid conversion rate by 20%, which would be worth $5 million in new business. We calculated this by looking at the bid losses over the last 3 years that would have been avoided through re-use of knowledge and best practices”.  Reasoning will almost certainly be necessary to support your case, but it is likely that other influencing techniques will create the “sell”.

2. Inspiring  –  focusing on the heart rather than the head, appealing to emotions and creating the vision. You would use this when your Knowledge Management business case is weak or unclear and you want a high level of emotional commitment. The inspiring tactic demands conviction, energy, and passion. “Imagine what it would be like to have knowledge at our fingertips – to know, at every decision point, what we have tried in the past, what works and what doesn’t work. We hold 5,000 years of experience in the heads of our staff – imagine what would be possible if that resource was available to everyone in the building”. Inspiring works well as a sell in the early stages of KM implementation, especially when backed up by a business case. See a list of KM visions here – some more inspiring than others!

3. Asking Questions – leading the other person to make their own discovery of the value of Knowledge Management. See the example here –   “When do your people use knowledge? Tell me about some of the important decisions, where knowledge is critical? If we had a situation where every person facing such a decision had complete access to the knowledge they needed, how much more business do you think we could win?  And how certain are you that people in this situation are currently handling this vital knowledge in a rigorous, systematic managed way?”  This is one of the more difficult tactics to use because it is impossible to know how the other person will respond and you have to be able to think on your feet, but is one of the most powerful approaches to use when talking to senior staff.

4. Cosying Up You almost always feel positive toward someone who makes you feel good about yourself. This is the cosying up tactic. “Dan, you are the smartest and most progressive leader in the whole management layer, and I know you are always looking for the next way to really improve your department. Let me tell you about this new thing called Knowledge Management”. Don’t use this approach when talking to people who are much more senior than you, when cosying up can look like sucking up.

5. Deal Making  – when you give another person something in return for their agreement with you. “Susie, if you agree to host a Community of Practice pilot, then in return I will support your expansion proposal in the next seniors meeting”  or, in an even braver approach (where you need a good reasoning argument to back it up), “Susie, I would like to make a deal with you. Let me set up a Knowledge Management pilot in your part of the business, and I guarantee you a 10% improvement in your results within 3 months.”  See for example the “KM deal with senior management”. Your ability to use this approach depends very much on your ability to offer something in return.

6. Favour Asking – simply asking for something because you want or need it.  “Davide, I really need a favour. I need an area of the business to set up a trial Lesson Learning System, and your department would be perfect. Can you help me?” This tactic works well only when the other person cares about you or their relationship with you. If used sparingly, it is hard to resist, but be aware you may have to pay back the favour at some time.

7. Using Silent Allies (aka social proof – using the fact that others use KM as an argument in its favour. This involves showing or telling stories of other people, as similar as possible to the person you want to influence, gaining value from Knowledge Management. This may be people from other organisations – “Did you know all our competitors are doing KM already? Let me tell you what the head of Acme said about it last week“, or people from your own organisation – “Here is one of our engineers talking about how the CoP helped him deliver his project ahead of time“. Beware of the “Yes, but we are different” response, and also of the CEO that says “We don’t want to copy the competition”.  Also for this technique to work, you need a success case somewhere you can draw from. However social proof is the most powerful convincing mechanism for most people, especially the knowledge workers and users of the framework.

8. Invoking Authority –  appealing to a rule or principle. “You have to hold your lessons learned meeting – it says so in the project procedure“. It doesn’t matter whether the authority invoked is formal or implicit, so long as it is recognized by the person you are trying to influence. This technique is one you use once you have the support of senior management, when the Knowledge Management policy (or equivalent) is in place, and when KM has become a clear expectation.  The downside is that it is more likely to lead to compliance than commitment, but well facilitated compliance can still deliver excellent results.  This is a technique to use once KM has been implemented, and you need to drive it’s application.

 9. Forcing “Do it or else.” The best example of the use of this tactic in KM comes from Bob Buckman, CEO of Buckman Labs, and his memo that says “if you are unwilling to contribute (your knowledge), the many opportunities open to you in the past will no longer be available”.  Or as Melissie Rumizen said about the same organisation, “In Buckman labs we reward knowledge sharing. If you do it, we reward you by letting you keep your job”. This is a technique that senior management can use on your behalf, and which may need to be used to remove the past few vestiges of non-compliance with KM expectations. This can only be used after KM implementation is complete, and you are looking to

People change their minds for their own reasons, not for your reasons. If you are using only one tactic to promote KM (Reasoning is the most commonly used tactic, even though it is largely ineffective), and its not working, then try something else. Also be prepared to change your tactic as your Knowledge Management implementation program progresses.

Learn these 9 techniques – you will need them to market and sell KM within your organisation.

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How to sell KM – what we can learn from the Wolf of Wall Street

The knowledge manager, seeking to lead the change to a Knowledge Management culture in their own organisation, needs to know how to sell their product. 

Image from wikimedia commons

As a Knowledge Manager, you are asking people to pay attention to something (knowledge) which previously has been ignored. You are asking them to reprioritise, and you are “selling” the need to do something different. Like it or not, you are in the sales business, selling KM.

How then can we sell? What are the selling skills that a Knowledge manager needs?

We can pick up one or two tips from the classic film “the Wolf of Wall Street,” which is all about selling. It tells the story of an unscrupulous stockbroker who makes a fortune in New York through a combination of outrageous selling techniques and fraud. One of the themes of the film is “sell me this pen“.

In one scene the stockbroker is testing the selling skills of his team. “Sell me this pen” he says, handing them an ordinary ball-point.

One by one they make the same mistake. “This is a great pen” they say; “easy to use, convenient, cheap ….”.   “I don’t want it” he replies.

Eventually one of his friends gives the right answer. “Write your name down for me” he says. And of course, the stockbroker needs a pen to do this, and he has just given his pen away!  He needs to do something (write his name) but can’t. The pen seller can satisfy the need, remove the “pain point”.

What the friend had done, was to create the need for a pen. If someone does not believe they need a pen, they are not in the market to buy one, no matter how much you talk it up. The same is true for Knowledge Management – if the person talking to you does not think they need Knowledge Management, they won’t buy it, no matter how much you talk it up.

Taking it further

The “sell me this pen” question used to come up in interviews for sales staff in the 80s and 90s, and there are some sophisticated ways to answer this question. The text below comes from this LinkedIn article and is is a suggested “best way” to answer the question. This involves finding out how the customer uses the product, establishing the importance of the product, selling something wider than the product (such as status, or reassurance), and then asking for the buy. Remember – you cant sell something until you understand the buyer and their needs.

CEO: Do me a favor, sell me this pen.
Salesperson: Let me ask you, when was the last time you used a pen?
CEO: This morning.
Salesperson:  Do you remember what kind of pen that was?
CEO: No.
Salesperson:  Do you remember why you were using it to write?
CEO: Signing a few new customer contracts.
Salesperson: Well I’d say that’s the best use for a pen (we have a subtle laugh). Wouldn’t you say signing those new customer contracts is an important event for the business? (nods head) Then shouldn’t it be treated like one? 

What I mean by that is, here you are signing new customer contracts, an important and memorable event. All while using a very unmemorable pen. We grew up, our entire lives, using cheap disposable pens because they get the job done for grocery lists and directions. But we never gave it much thought to learn what’s best for more important events.  

This is the pen for more important events. This is the tool you use to get deals done. Think of it as a symbol for taking your company to the next level. Because when you begin using the right tool, you are in a more productive state of mind, and you begin to sign more new customer contracts.  

Actually. You know what? Just this week I shipped ten new boxes of these pens to Elon Musk’s office. Unfortunately, this is my last pen today (reach across to hand pen back to CEO). So, I suggest you get this one.  

Try it out. If you’re not happy with it, I will personally come back next week to pick it up. And it won’t cost you a dime. What do you say? 

The Knowledge Management equivalent

So let’s try the same conversation in KM terms, again finding out how the customers organisation uses the product (or uses Knowledge, in this case), establishing the importance of the knowledge, selling something wider than KM (such as success or reassurance), and then asking for the buy.

CEO: Sell knowledge management to me
KMer: When do your people use knowledge?
CEO: Every day, when making decisions.
KMer:  Tell me about some of the important decisions, where knowledge is critical
CEO: Umm, maybe the bidding process. The bid teams need knowledge of how to craft a bid, how to price it, and how to set the margin so that we win the work and also bring in a good income stream.
KMer:  I can see that bidding knowledge would be absolutely vital. If we had a situation where every bid team had complete access to the knowledge they needed, how much more business do you think we could win?
CEO: I don’t know, but the next two bids are billion-dollar bids which are crucial to the company future.
KMer:  And how certain are you that your bidding group are currently handling this vital billion-dollar knowledge – knowledge of how to craft the bid, how to price it, and how to set the margin-  in a rigorous, systematic managed way? How do you know they are learning from every bid this company has made, rather than the ones they personally have been involved in?
CEO: To be honest, I could not tell you. I assume they are, but I don’t know.
KMer: Well, there you go. That bidding knowledge is potentially a billion dollar asset for the organisation. If the bid teams have the knowledge, we win those bids. If they don’t, we lose. And if something is as valuable as that, then as CEO it’s not right that you should have to just assume. You deserve to be fully assured that this asset – this knowledge – is being properly managed, because the future of the company may depend on it.  

There are things we can do to manage that knowledge better, and to make it available to key staff such as the bid teams, who make the decisions on which the future of the company depends. This is what we call Knowledge Management, and this approach is used by many of the Fortune 500s who need the reassurance that their critical knowledge is well managed. 

I am not asking you to buy Knowledge Management right now, I am asking you to try it out; perhaps in the bidding area, or perhaps another part of the business where knowledge is critical to success. We will see what value it delivers, and if you’re not happy with it, then we progress no further. If it works, and helps deliver value, then we take it further. What do you say?

If you are a knowledge manager responsible for KM implementation, then learn how to sell. See if you can become the Wolf of KM Street!  Don’t start by extolling the virtues of KM, or the ROI you might expect; start by asking questions and understanding the buyer. Find how your customer uses knowledge, how valuable that knowledge is and where their knowledge hotspots  or pain points are, and then sell into that need.  Find that “something wider” that you can sell – reassurance, or pride, or the opportunity to beat the competition.

Learn to sell KM, as if you were learning to sell a pen

Contact us if you need any help in building your argument.

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You cannot expect your KM plan to change the organisation, if the organisation doesn’t change the KM plan

“No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force” (von Moltke). “A comedy routine is not finished until it has been performed in front of a crowd” (Dara O Briain). And a KM Implementation plan cannot be fully determined in advance – it needs to be adapted on contact with the organisation.

Picture from with creative commons licence

Implementing Knowledge Management is a change management process, and change is two way.

You are trying to effect a change in attitude and behaviour in your target population through implementing a Knowledge Management program, but at the same time, you must allow the target population to change your KM program in return. To paraphrase von Moltke, no KM implementation plan survives first contact with the organisation. It 
Does this mean that planning is a waste of time? No – far from it.  Even if your plan needs to be adapted on contact with the organisation, you still need to do the following preparation work before implementation starts.

  • You need a Knowledge Management Strategy. The purpose of the strategy is to provide principles, priorities, scope and constraints to your Knowledge Management implementation. It is as much about defining what not to do as it is about defining what to do. It also defines the WHY of KM – why you are doing KM in the first place. The KM strategy also may change over tine, but nowhere near as fast as your Implementation Plan will change. 

  • You need a first-pass Knowledge Management Framework.  This defines the elements of KM which need to be tested and introduced – the roles, the processes, the technologies and the governance. You build this first-pass framework based on an  understanding of what already works well in the organisation in KM terms (most organisations are doing elements of KM already), plus an enlightened estimate of how to fill in the gaps and the missing elements, based on effective practice in similar organisations.

  • You need an initial Knowledge Management Implementation plan. Although this will need to be adapted, it gives you a place to start, and allows you to estimate your resources and timings. It is a beginning point. Even von Moltke started with a plan; even Dara o’Briain starts with an outline of a comedy routine.
Then what do you need, on order to be able to adapt as you go?

Firstly you need to start with a period of experimentation.  Much as a comedian will practice a new routine in the back rooms of pubs and in small comedy houses before going on a nationwide tour, so you need to begin implementation with some proof of concept exercises and some Knowledge Management Pilots, to see what works in your own organisational context.
Secondly you need to “learn while doing”. As Knowledge Managers, you need to manage your own knowledge. You need to conduct After Action Reviews after stakeholder engagements, and Retrospects after KM pilots. You need to ask
  • What did we set out to achieve?
  • What did we actually achieve?
  • What were the root causes behind success and failure?
  • What have we learned about implementing Knowledge Management in our own organisation?
  • What do we need to either sustain or change going forward, in our KM plan, KM framework or even KM strategy?

By applying Knowledge Management principles to your own Knowledge Management implementation program, you can learn your way to Knowledge Management success.

Contact Knoco for help with your own KM implementation program. 

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What KM can learn from start-ups – 4, ensure the flow of funds.

Last week I started a set of blog posts likening KM implementation to a business start-up. Here is number 4 in the series. 

Image from wikimedia commons

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.

Managing the flow of funds so you don’t run out of cash

A fourth major reason that start-ups fail is because they ran out of cash before they reach the next refinancing milestone or achieve positive cash flow.

The same is true for KM. A KM implementation budget may be needed for over a decade, and the annual budget will usually increase during that time. It will be very difficult to secure the totality of such a budget in advance. Instead the KM team can learn from business start-ups and seek funding only as far as the next investment milestone.

 There are 5 main milestones or decision points in a KM implementation project which can be linked to the assignment of additional funds. At each of these milestones the budget is likely to increase.

1. The initial funding milestone is a decision to fund a temporary task force to determine whether KM is of sufficient potential interest that a KM team should be formed.

 2. The second milestone is a decision to fund a KM team to conduct the Assessment phase. The team will investigate the potential value to be gained through KM, the market for KM within the organisation, the needs of the stakeholders, the size of the potential prize, the current state of KM in the organisation, and how much investment is required. They will output a KM business case, strategy and implementation plan, and will make the case that the potential value in KM merits further funding.

3. If the KM team has made the case for investment in KM implementation, they will request a budget to fund the piloting stage. This decision allows the team to start testing and piloting initial KM approaches and prototype versions of the Framework within the organisation, focusing on solving business problems. Part of the purpose of the piloting stage is to gather data to show that KM delivers more value than it costs, and to justify the next decision.

4. The fourth decision comes at the end of the piloting stage, in order to fund the roll-out stage. If the pilots were successful, the value of KM to the business and to the employees has been proven, and the integrated KM framework has been tested in the business and shown to be robust. Now the organisation needs to fund roll-out of the Framework to the whole organisation.

 5. Once KM is embedded, the fifth milestone involves standing down the implementation team and handing KM over to a management team. At this stage funding will be operational funding rather than project funding. This phased approach, where investment for each phase is justified by the work of the previous phase, allows for an escalating set of evidence-based financing decisions and should ensure the KM budget does not run dry.

An alternative approach is to fund the program on an annual basis. This is what Mars did, according to Linda Davies, quoted in The Knowledge Manager’s Handbook.

“From the beginning, KM was run as a separate division with its own business plan, detailing how and why KM was to be implemented. The business plan followed standard business planning practice, with a broad three year time horizon and a detailed one year plan submitted annually as part of the regular business planning cycle. This detailed the overall objectives for the following year, the timescale for the planned activities plus the costs and resource requirements…. 

The power of focusing on two or three challenges in any one year became apparent, resulting in rapid progress and big wins and proving the concept of the value that KM can bring to the business. This led to a regular increase in KM budget and resource which enabled subsequent initiatives”

Think through how you will ensure you have the funds flow you need for KM implementation, and use successes to prove the concept and access the next stage of funding.

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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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What KM can learn from business start-ups 3 – appoint the right team

Last week I started a set of blog posts likening KM implementation to a business start-up. Here is number 3 in the series. 

Picture from Needpix, author geralt (

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.

Poor start-up management team

According to Skok’s article,

“An incredibly common problem that causes startups to fail is a weak management team. A good management team will be smart enough to avoid Reasons 2, 4, and 5. Weak management teams make mistakes in multiple areas: They are often weak on strategy, building a product that no-one wants to buy as they failed to do enough work to validate the ideas before and during development. They are usually poor at execution, which leads to issues with the product not getting built correctly or on time, and the go-to market execution will be poorly implemented. They will build weak teams below them. There is the well proven saying: A players hire A players, and B players only get to hire C players (because B players don’t want to work for other B players)”

The choice of the KM Implementation leader, and the KM team, is crucial. We have also seen that a poor KM team is a common cause of KM implementation failure. The team leader should be:

  • A Change Agent, with  a history of delivering organizational change
  • Familiar with the risks involved in change programs (and business start-ups)
  • A respected senior member of the organization
  • Charismatic, engaging and influential
  • A confident and effective communicator, with excellent leadership skills 
  • Not afraid to take risks 
  • Diplomatic
  • Familiar with the technology and the human/cultural issues involved in KM
  • Very familiar with the organizational structure, vision and strategy
  • Well networked within the company
If we look at the work of the KM team during KM implementation, we can see the following stages:

  • An analysis or “market research” phase, some of the activities of which are described in the first post in this sequence. During this stage the KM team will create the KM strategy, survey the internal “market”, determine the stakeholders and their value propositions, create the business case for KM, and plan the next stages of the implementation program. The team in this phase needs to be strong in strategic thinking and understanding stakeholder needs. 
  • A piloting phase, during which a simplified prototype KM Framework is progressively tested with the business, improved and elaborated, as we will discuss later this week. The team in this phase needs to be strong in the mechanics of KM (e.g. the facilitation of KM processes, KM technology and Information Management), as well as working with business customers and leaders, and communication and marketing. 
  • A roll-out phase, during which the final KM Framework is deployed across the organisation through engagement, training and coaching. The team in this phase needs to be strong in influencing, selling and marketing. 
  • A operation phase, during which the use of the KM Framework is supported monitored and measured across the organisation. The team needs to be strong in the mechanics of KM, and in analysis of the value delivered and the opportunities for further improvement of the Framework.

A strong leader such as described above can build a strong and balanced team, which needs the following skills mix:

  • Facilitation skills. 
  • Coaching and training skills. 
  • Marketing/influencing/selling skills 
  • Writing skills. 
  • Technology skills. 
  • Information management skills

There seems a tendency, which we have seen many times, to appoint teams made up entirely of information managers and librarians. The thought process seems to be

  • “Knowledge is a little bit like Information” (wrong assumption number 1 – knowledge is not at all like information, although there is a small area of overlap)
  • “If the KM team is managing knowledge, then they need information management skills” (wrong assumption number s 2 and 3 – the team is not managing knowledge, they are influencing the organisation to management knowledge, and  the primary skills they need are influencing skills, not IM skills, although you need some IM skills to cover the area of overlap).

Think like a start-up. Your KM Implementation leader should be a Jobs rather than a Wozniak, and the team should be selected as if they were trying to introduce a new product into a market (which is actually what they are doing).

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What KM can learn from business start-ups 2 – an effective business model

Yesterday I started a set of blog posts likening KM implementation to a business start-up. Here is number 2 in the series. 

Picture by Tumisu ( on Needpix

In many ways, the initial implementation of Knowledge Management within an organisation is like the launch of a new product into a market by a start-up organisation, and there are many lessons KM can learn from start-ups; their failures and their successes.

(If you want to make a bad pun, you could call KM implementation a “Smart-up”).

This blog series uses this analogy to inform KM implementation by reviewing 5 common reasons for start-up failure and suggesting 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.

Failure of the business model

The business model for a start-up fails if the cost of acquiring new customers exceeds the value each customer brings. If this happens, the start-up will lose more and more money until the investors remove their support.

As David Skok says, “One of the most common causes of failure in the startup world is that entrepreneurs are too optimistic about how easy it will be to acquire customers. They assume that because they will build an interesting web site, product, or service, that customers will beat a path to their door. That may happen with the first few customers, but after that, it rapidly becomes an expensive task to attract and win customers, and in many cases the cost of acquiring the customer (CAC) is actually higher than the lifetime value of that customer (LTV)”.

KM also has a business model. KM receives funding from senior managers, who are  the investors in the “KM start-up”. Those investors want a return on their investment, in whatever way they define “return”. The KM Implementation must deliver more value to the business than it costs (e.g. deliver a positive ROI), and those costs include the costs of the KM team, KM software, and the costs of implementation, roll-out and support (“acquiring the KM customers”).  This positive return must be documented and justified in order that senior management do not remove their support and their money.

In addition, KM is a long term commitment; survey data shows that it takes over a decade before KM is fully integrated in the majority of companies. This is a long time to take KM value on faith, and the viability of the business model needs to demonstrated on a regular basis throughout that decade if funding is to be secured.

Also, during that time there may well be a change in senior management, and the new bosses may need convincing that KM has a positive business model for the organisation. You need to have your evidence ready that KM is a wise investment. Internal reorganisation, and a change in investor, is one of the most common reasons for KM failure, and you need to protect against this.

In order to demonstrate a positive return on investment, the KM implementation team needs to:

  • Understand the metrics that will convince senior management that KM is delivering a return on investment. Know what they want to see from KM, and know how this will be demonstrated or measured 
  • Conduct short term pilot projects throughout the implementation that deliver demonstrable value, as proofs of concept that KM has a positive business model. These pilot projects should solve business problems, and ideally should impact business metrics. Early in KM implementation the KM Framework will still be in process of development, so use a Minimum Viable Framework – one that does just enough to deliver real value. The pilot will also deliver practical lessons that allow you to elaborate the framework.
  • Collect and regularly report all examples of value delivered through KM, in the form of success stories and/or metrics. These will not only allow you to demonstrate a positive business model to your sponsors, showing that KM delivers more value than it costs; it will also provide valuable marketing collateral for further KM roll-out. 

Bear in mind the business model for KM, and how you will demonstrate that it is viable. Without this demonstration, you are vulnerable to losing your funding. 

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