Pendulum swings in KM, and how to avoid them

The problem with Dualism in KM is that it leads to pendulum swings in terms of focus. Here is how to avoid this.

Image form wikimedia commons

There can be quite a lot of Dualism in KM – seeing KM in terms of two mutually exclusive opposites which require a choice. Examples might be

  • A strategy of Connecting (connecting people) vs a Strategy of Collecting (collecting content)
  • KM introduction from the Top-down, or Bottom up
  • KM all about People, or KM is all about Technology
  • A focus on Conversation, or a focus on Content
  • Optimisation for for search or optimisation for browse?

Of course this Dualism is wrong, its always a case of “both/and” rather than “either/or”, and the trouble with Dualism is that when you choose one alternative you neglect the other. Over time, you realise you are missing something and switch your attention to the “opposite pole”.

As a result, KM can suffer from pendulum swings.

To give you an example, one company for many years had a KM approach focused almost entirely on Communities of Practice. After a series of project overruns, they  introduced a framework for project KM, which had a fantastic impact on results.

Over the subsequent years this approach became taken for granted – seen as “embedded”. The high level champion left, and was replaced by a lower level champion, who was replaced again by someone even lower, and gradually attention and governance slipped. The framework began to be ignored, new management came in, and said “project KM doesn’t work – lets put our attention on Communities of Practice instead”.

And so the pendulum swang, with a frequency of a decade.

Maybe in 5 more years there will be a series of project overspends, the spotlight will turn again onto project KM, and the pendulum will begin it’s back-stroke.

How do you guard against this? How do you ensure that KM is given an even-handed and consistent treatment?

A clue comes from a comment from John Donahue on one of my blog posts. John says

I’ve been working with US Army KM programs for some time and even with this structure (of strategic teams) there’s a tendency for KM to slip into IT/Portal management. Fortunately this strategic level guidance allows units to self-assess, and “adjust fire” as they’d say. I don’t believe Army KM would have been so successful without this formalized structure to keep the program on track.

The formalised  strategic guidance – KM Governance – stops the KM pendulum swinging towards IT and Portals. And certainly the company I mentioned above doesn’t have the strategic level guidance.

If you want to avoid the pendulum of fashion when it comes to KM, then you need to set up, and maintain, the strategic level governance that can keep it on the straight and narrow.

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"Just in time" knowledge, or "just in case" knowledge? Which works best?

There are two approaches you can use to KM – a supply-driven and a demand-driven approach, Which works best?

JIT clock from pixabay

“Just in time” knowledge transfer is transfer driven by Demand, and by Pull. Knowledge is transferred only when people need it, in response to an immediate demand (see this blog post for more exploration of this idea).

The advantages of Just-in-time knowledge are as follows:

  • People are only really receptive to knowledge,when they actually need it
  • Knowledge transfer works far more effectively through Pull (where people seek for knowledge when they need it) than Push (where people send out knowledge in the hope that someone might need it)
  • Knowledge transferred in response to a demand will be used immediately
  • Just in time knowledge cuts waste out of the system, and removes knowledge that is transferred in the absence of any demand

The disadvantages of Just-in-time knowledge are as follows:

  • When we are most in need of a decision, we are least discerning about the quality of the knowledge we receive
  • Just-in-time knowledge tends to draw on the tacit knowledge of communities of practice, which is biased by the unreliability of long term memory, and the “availability” bias (which gives undue weight to the recent and the memorable events)
  • You may therefore pick up on what is new and what is different and what is current, and miss out on what is old and what is established
  • Knowledge of infrequent activity becomes lost

As the post quoted above says, “The worst time to look for information is when we need it to make a decision. When we do that we’re more likely to see what’s unique and miss the historical context. We’re also more likely to be biased by what is available”.

Once we lose the long term written memory, and start relying on short term memory, we enter the world of Repeat Mistakes, where changes made to fix things, are unmade in future as the long term memory fades, as old staff move on, and as new people come in with bright ideas and no historical context.  So people change things, only to find that old problems re-emerge.

Therefore Just-in-time knowledge needs also to be accompanied by just-in-case knowledge. This is knowledge that is captured and shared as lessons at the end of a piece of work, “just in case” someone should want to use them again. This is classic “knowledge push”.

The advantages of Just-in-case knowledge are as follows:

  • Just-in-case documented knowledge has shelf-life way beyond the limits of human memory, and well- captured knowledge can last for a very long time
  • Documented knowledge in a knowledge store, if findable and well crafted, can be re-used by very many people
  • Knowledge can grow and improve over time as new experiences and details are added. It can create a balanced record of organisation learning
  • Just-in-case knowledge can reach people who did not even know they needed it
  • Knowledge of infrequent activity can be stored for when it is needed in future

The disadvantages of Just-in-case knowledge are as follows:

  • If Just-in-case knowledge is broadcast and shared at the time it is identified and documented, it adds noise into the system. This is knowledge which is being shared just in case someone needs it, and for everyone else, it is unnecessary noise
  • Just-in-case knowledge, unless well crafted, does not necessarily answer the questions of the user
  • Just-in-case knowledge can go out of date as circumstances change

Both of these approaches have their advantages and disadvantages, and both have their place in a KM Framework. Organisations and Communities of Practice need to focus on answering the immediate problems of the knowledge workers, and satisfying their knowledge needs and demands, at the same time as building up the long-term organisational memory.

It means that Communities of Practice can hold knowledge not just in their collective brains and consciousness, but in their collective history and collective Experience Base.

It means that we need to address both Connect and Collect – Connecting People and Collecting Knowledge – in order to give secure decision support to the Just In Time requests.

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Can you outsource KM support?

Are there any parts of KM support you can outsource? If so, which parts?

You have a successful Knowledge Management program under way. All is going well, but you are under increasing pressure with requests from the business, and you don’t have enough resources to respond to the demand.

You think “I must be able to outsource some of this work”.

But how much can you safely outsource, and what are the elements you need to keep in-house?

Read on, and find out!

What you can’t outsource

Ownership of the knowledge management framework. Knowledge Management needs to keep running, and the KM Framework of roles, processes, technologies and governance needs to be maintained, applied, monitored and continuously improved. Ownership of the Framework is an in-house responsibility, even though you may employ trusted KM consultants to support you.

Ownership of the knowledge management strategy. Although it a very good idea to get an  experienced Knowledge Management consulting company to help you to draft a strategy, the strategy needs to be owned and delivered from within your own company.

Delivery of knowledge management implementation. Although it is a very good idea to get a good experienced Knowledge Management consulting company to help you with implementation, the implementation project needs to be led and delivered from within the company.

Leadership of the communities of practice. The CoPs own your critical organisational knowledge, and this needs to be owned internally.  The CoP leaders should be in-house experts.

Knowledge ownership. The practice owners, the knowledge stewards, the subject matter experts, all need to come from within the company. If you start outsourcing knowledge ownership, then you have really outsourced that particular capability. And that’s fine; companies outsource things like financial management or catering, but you are outsourcing the entire capability and not just management for knowledge capability.

The ownership of content. The content owners need to come from within the organization, although you can bring in an experienced KM consultancy to help create some of the content in the first place.

The application of the knowledge. Applying knowledge is done by your teams, your departments and your individuals.

What you can outsource

Knowledge capture services, such as the capture of lessons learned from projects. This is an intermittent activity, and can sometimes be a high volume activity and sometimes not very much is going on, which makes it hard to resource internally. Knowledge capture requires specific skills, and you may not have a readily available pool of people with those skills in your organisation. This is an ideal service to outsource, and knowledge capture is a service we already provide to many clients.

Knowledge retention services, such as retention interviewing and the creation of knowledge assets from retiring staff. Like the example above, this is a specialized task requiring specialised skills, but one which is intermittent. Many companies outsource this service – Shell outsourced much of their ROCK interviewing for example, and Airbus outsources management of their ExTra program. If you have a sudden workload of retention work, then look to outsource the service.

The facilitation of knowledge management processes, such as peer assist, knowledge exchange, or community of practice launch can be outsourced to trained KM facilitators.

The administration of the online library or the online knowledge base. Shell, for example, outsourced much of the administration work related to their Wikis, such as building cross-links between articles.

Lessons management, and the administration of your lesson management system. You can bring in people to do the day to day work of quality control of lessons, tracking lessons and actions, following up on actions, and gathering and reporting metrics; also the work of lessons analysis.

The development and maintenance of taxonomy and ontology. These are specialist tasks, and you might as well bring in specialists to help with them.

Audit of your knowledge management framework and application. You can bring in an external objective company on a regular basis to check the health of your knowledge management program, and to audit the degree of management of your knowledge assets – ideally using ISO 30401:2018 as a benchmark.

Provision and maintenance of some of your knowledge management technologies. Technologies such as lessons management systems, customer-facing knowledge bases or collaboration tools can be hosted by the technology provider, rather than having to be hosted and maintained from within the organization.

Maintenance of the search technology. Maintaining and tuning the search engine, particularly AI-assisted or semantic search, can be outsourced to a specialist company.

So there are many things you need to do yourself, in-house, but there are a number of specialist services where it makes sense to set up a call-off contract, so you can respond to needs by pulling on a pool of external specialist resource.

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Knowledge Management – a wildflower meadow or a market garden?

In KM – do you “let a thousand flowers bloom”? Or is your garden more planned that that?

Image from wikimedia comons

One of my favourite sayings is that if knowledge is organic, KM is gardening.  And as all gardeners know, gardening is hard work!  Even within the topic of gardening, there is a range of approaches, and we can see that also in KM terms when it comes to how we work with communities of practice.

 There really are two approaches to “community gardening”, which we can call “select and support” and “seed and promote”.

 The first approach sets the conditions for community growth, lets communities emerge spontaneously, and then selects and supports the ones that are felt to be strategic. Its like preparing a patch of soil, allowing flowers (weeds) to appear, then thinning out the ones you don’t want and watering the ones you do want. You get a wildflower garden; unplanned, beautiful, but with many weeds

The second approach is to deliberately seed communities on key topics. Here you plant the things you want to grow – the gardenias and the hollyhocks, or the carrots and the pumpkins. You prepare the ground, plant the seed, and nurture the seedlings. You get a kitchen garden or a market garden.

Each approach has its merits and demerits The “select and support” approach makes use of existing networks and existing energy. As a manager or network champion, you will be “pushing on an open door”. Payback will be rapid, as there will be very little start-up time and cost. The communities will spring up.

However there may be no existing communities which cover the most crucial and strategic topics, and many of the communities that do emerge may have relatively limited business benefit.

 The “seed and promote” approach allows you to set up communities to cover the three areas of

  • Strategic Competencies (crucial to competitive success), 
  • New competencies (crucial to growth and new direction), and 
  • Core competencies (crucial to income and market share). 

The link between business results and the CoP will be more direct in this approach, and you will get greater traction with management.

However payback will take longer, as you need to climb the start-up curve, and it may initially be hard work generating enthusiasm and energy among prospective community members. These communities will take more work, just as creating a vegetable plot full of prize-winning vegetables takes more work.

But the results will almost certainly, in the long term, be more valuable.

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The organisations for which KM is not important

There are a few cases where Knowledge management is not needed in an organisation, and where the organisation need not bother with KM.

Image from

These are as follows.

  • When you have a monopoly, so that normal business pressures do not apply to you. You do not need to worry about growth, or efficiency, or cost control, because you have no worriers. You command the market, and people pay your price.
  • When you are in a business that does not change. Where there is no change, learning is not an issue. If your product does not change, and your processes do not change, and your customers and your competitors do not change, then KM could be a waste of time and money. Until things change, of course.
  • When you provide only labour, not knowledge. There may be some organisations where no knowledge work happens – companies mass-producing hand-made clothing, perhaps, or non-skilled contract employment. If knowledge is not what you sell, then knowledge management may not be of value. 
  • When you are a one-person business, trading on Skill. This is another situation where knowledge is not so important and where KM may be a waste of time. I am not sure that Knowledge Management would add much to the career of a concert violinist, for example, or a famous artist.
  • When there are even bigger problems. They need to be pretty big, but there would be cases where KM is nowhere near the top of the priority list. Lehman brothers in 2008, Union Carbide in 1984, Facebook at the time of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
For the rest of us – those of us who work with knowledge, in a changing world, subject to competition and to constant change but not facing outright disaster, Knowledge Management is something we cannot manage properly without. 

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3 steps to using knowledge management strategically, not tactically

Knowledge management can be a strategic tool, but too often is used tactically.

To add value, Knowledge Management must be strategic. However often its use is not strategic, but it seen as a low-level support activity; managing a generic resource, just as you might manage land or property or money.

See for example this blog post from 2011, by Max Boisot and colleagues, entitled “Are you wasting money on useless knowledge management“.

Most companies recognize the need for knowledge management, but often delegate it to the IT and HR departments without linking it to corporate strategy, often thereby wasting both resources and the strategic options their firm’s knowledge could generate. The problem is that most current knowledge management efforts merely inventory the company’s knowledge, without parsing out the knowledge that is strategically relevant. Strategic management of knowledge focuses only on those knowledge assets that are critical to your firm’s competitive performance — from the tacit expertise of key individuals right through to explicit company-wide general principles.

Boisot and colleagues point out that “most current KM efforts” are divorced from the strategy of the organisation, devolved to a support department (IT, HR), and are non-selective in looking at ALL of the knowledge assets, rather than focusing on those assets that are most relevant to the strategy of the firm. The focus is all too often on improvement of the management of knowledge, rather than improving the strategic delivery of the organisation through better management of knowledge; on KM tactics and not business strategy.

The distinction in the previous sentence may be a subtle one, but it is important.

You can often see it in the way an organisation develops its KM strategy.

  • When the KM strategy starts with a discussion of the types of knowledge (tacit, explicit) and goes on to list the tools that may help management of knowledge, and then the plan to introduce the tools, then you are treating KM tactically. I saw a strategy recently that was driven by cultural analysis. The argument seemed to be that if you address the culture, then people might start to share knowledge better, and that some of this knowledge might help people work better, and some of this working better might help the strategy. This is a strategy for the management of knowledge, rather than a knowledge-enabled business strategy.
  • When the KM strategy starts from the organisational strategy, then you are treating KM strategically. Here the argument is that the business strategy is supported by (a subset of) your knowledge, and if you manage this knowledge better, then it will help your business strategy. This is a much more direct link than that described in the previous paragraph, and you can demonstrate it through tools such as strategy maps.

You can also see it in the level at which KM is working.

When I started working on KM with the BP KM team in the 1990s, we began looking at the knowledge used by shift workers in refineries and on oil platforms, but within 2 years we were working with the knowledge of C-level staff, Regional Presidents, the Chief Counsel and strategic task forces. We began at tactical level, and quickly escalated to strategic level.

To add value, Knowledge Management must be strategic.  Here are three steps you can take to make it so.

  1. Build a good Knowledge management strategy, focused on the critical and strategic knowledge areas rather than on a generic approach for everyone, managing all knowledge.
  2. Engage the senior managers in a conversation about strategic opportunities, and ask them to help you prioritise the strategic knowledge. 
  3. Start to work with the generals, instead of the foot soldiers. The project managers, program managers, divisional heads and senior leaders are also knowledge workers. KM can also help them improve their decisions, and their decisions are often strategic rather than tactical.
Take these steps, and with any luck you will avoid the pitfall of winning the (tactical) battle, but losing the (strategic) war.

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How to identify your critical knowledge – look for the areas with greatest room for improvement

KM should prioritise critical knowledge, but how do you tell what knowledge is critical?

Any Knowledge Management strategy, system or approach should be based around, and focused on, the knowledge which is critical to an organisation.

At one level, we need to focus on critical knowledge when piloting and implementing Knowledge Management, so that we address the knowledge of greatest value first.

At a second level, we need to think about the type of knowledge which is most critical, when it comes to developing our communities of practice, and the structures and taxonomies that underlie our knowledge management framework.  Let me give you an example.

In the British Army, the primary structure of their lessons management system is a Practice based structure. They have broken down all the Army activities into a process map, and used this breakdown or processes and practices as the structure of their lessons system. This is because they want to use knowledge and learning to improve their processes and practices. 

In the British Air force, the primary structure of their lessons management system is an Equipment-based structure. They collect lessons on, and seek improvement of, the equipment they use. This is because they want to get improve their equipment, and the way they use and maintain it. 

Similarly an organisation that most wishes to improve its internal practices – a sales or services organisation, for example, – should use Practice as its knowledge dimension,  because practice improvement is important, so practice knowledge is critical. They should appoint practice owners, communities of practice, and use practice-based taxonomies. Within this structure, they should then focus on the practices that most need to be developed and improved. These could be practices that are historically problematical, or new practices that need to be developed; practices and processes with the greatest room for improvement and development.

Knowledge of how to best conduct these processes and practices is the critical knowledge on which the KM strategy should be based.

An organisation that most wishes to improve its products – an automotive or aerospace company, or a manufacturer of  mobile phones – should use Product as its knowledge dimension, because product improvement is important, and so product knowledge is critical. They should appoint product owners, communities of product, and use product-based taxonomies. Within this structure, they should then focus on the products and technologies that most need to be developed and improved. These could be  products that have been historically problematical, or new products and technologies that will open new markets; products with the greatest room for improvement and development.

Knowledge of how to best design, manufacture, sell and support these products is the critical knowledge on which the KM strategy should be based.

What does your organisation most need to improve? That tells you your organisation’s critical knowledge

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50 ways to wreck your KM strategy

Here’s another reprieve from the archives – 50 ways to wreck your KM strategy

When I wrote “Designing a successful KM strategy” with Stephanie Barnes, we originally included a final chapter on “how to wreck your strategy” – a list of 50 things not to do (similar to the chapter on “100 ways to wreck organisational learning” from my previous book). 
The publishers did not like the concept and found it too negative.  Here’s what we would have included. Please let us know if we have missed anything!

“In the previous chapters, we’ve looked at how you can write an effective Knowledge Management Strategy, which will provide context, direction and limits to your Knowledge Management implementation. We’ve looked at the success factors, the things you have to get right; the principles, the inputs, the approaches. In this penultimate chapter, we will turn it around, and look at how not to write a strategy. If you follow any of the advice in the list below, you will weaken your strategy. If you follow all of the advice, your job as a Knowledge Manager can be mercifully swift, and you can sabotage your company’s competitive future as well.

1. First of all, don’t even bother with a strategy. Tactics are so much more fun, and save you a lot of difficult thinking. 

2. Don’t try to understand the field of Knowledge Management before you start. I mean, how complicated can it be? Knowledge is pretty simple stuff, so this won’t need much research. You can make it up as you go along. 

3. Don’t check your understanding of KM with your manager. When he or she says “Knowledge Management”, it’s a safe bet that they mean exactly the same as you do, when you say “Knowledge Management”. The topic is not at all broad or fuzzy. 

4. There’s no need to limit the scope of your strategy. Knowledge Management is surely a small, well-constrained topic, isn’t it? There can’t be any room for scope creep in a Knowledge Management strategy? 

5. Also, there is no such thing as too narrow a scope either. If you narrow your scope far enough, for example to a single tool or a single approach, then you can be unencumbered by any embarrassing success. 

6. Don’t bother to define your own role. A touch of role-ambiguity makes corporate life so much more exciting, especially at performance-appraisal time (“You never told me you wanted me to do THAT!”) 

7. Don’t bother to define any other KM roles either. Let’s share the ambiguity and confusion. 

8. Principles? You don’t need any principles! Guide your KM strategy by imagination and whim, rather than a set of principles.

9. Avoid learning from past KM implementations. Your Knowledge Management implementation will be so unique that there’s no point in looking at success principles from other implementations. Just start from a clean sheet of paper. After all, what’s the point of a wheel if you can’t reinvent it. I am sure you will avoid all the pitfalls that others have found. 

10. You know that statistic about “80% of KM projects fail”? That won’t apply to you! Don’t worry! 

11. I would not bother trying to make the case for a KM strategy. It will be immediately obvious to the senior staff that a KM strategy is needed; you won’t need to collect any evidence. They will be bound to give you the go-ahead anyway. 

12. Similarly, there is no need to demonstrate that value is being lost through lack of KM. Everyone already fully accepts that KM is needed, and worthy of big investment, and they have a pot of money available for you somewhere, I am sure. 

13. Also, there’s no point in getting too clear about who the decisions-makers are for KM, or what you want them to decide. Your KM strategy and KM program will find support from somewhere, somehow, to do something-or-other. 

14. The best way to write the strategy is to shut yourself in a room and write it yourself. There’s no need to include input from anyone else. Interviews and workshops will be a waste of time. 

15. You don’t need your Knowledge Management program to be business-led. That would be such a hassle. Its far easier to be tool-led; to select a new shiny KM tool (or even several tools, if they are shiny enough) and just roll them out. Business value is bound to follow somehow. 

16. That means that there’s no point in trying to identify business drivers. Knowledge Management is bound to help with something, so there’s no point in trying to decide up front how KM supports the business. 

17. Demographics is a red herring. If your company is full of experts, or full of novices, surely the knowledge issues will be identical? 

18. Vision statements! Don’t make me laugh. Visions statements are a total waste of time, and clarity of vision never helped anyone. (Now, remind me of what we were trying to do again?) 

19. Oh yes – scope statements. That’s another total waste of time. Let’s just keep KM open ended – the strategy can cover anything, all staff, all topics, for as long as you like. If we set a scope, we would just be in danger of excluding things, like new shiny tools, or going off on tangents. 

20. If you DO have to write a vision and scope, then, again, there’s no point in involving anyone else in creating these statements. Just make them up yourself – they’ll all buy into it just fine. 

21. Avoid all temptation to focus on specific areas of knowledge. Far better to leave yourself free to address every knowledge topic, whether it is valuable to the business or not. Surely all knowledge is of equal value? 

22. Also its better if you free your KM strategy completely from the company strategy map. You don’t want KM to bear the burden of being seen as something strategic; that would be far too risky and high-profile. 

23. Start Knowledge Management from a completely clean sheet. There may be some aspects of KM in place already, but it’s better to demolish and reinvent these wherever possible, no matter how well they are currently working. 

24. This applies to technology as well. You really need the users to abandon all old habits, and start afresh. 

25. If you are forced to do an assessment of the current state, then do this yourself, rather than hiring an experienced consultant to help you. It doesn’t matter that you “don’t know what you don’t know”. 

26. You don’t need to treat Knowledge Management as a Management Framework – better to see it as a single tool, or perhaps an optional “pick-and-mix” toolbox. That’s how every other management system works, eh? 

27. Don’t seek to embed the framework in business activity. KM works better as an add-on to “real-work”, so that people can ignore it if they want to.

28. There’s no need for Governance within KM. Let’s keep KM low key, let’s leave it up to the individual, let’s keep it as an optional activity. Everyone has plenty of time for optional activity. 

29. There’s no need for Roles and Accountabilities within KM. Just present it as “everyone’s job” and everyone is bound to do it. 

30. If you want to save time and heartache, just ignore the issue of information architecture, and information lifecycle. Information can just look after itself – all you need nowadays is a search engine. 

31. Selecting Knowledge Management Technology is easy. Don’t bother with business requirements, don’t bother with user requirements, just listen to the vendors. They will let you know how valuable their own products are, and in fact you may be surprised to hear that (according to the vendors) there are many products that will just “do KM for you” with no effort from you at all. 

32. Once you have the technology, then there is no need for training or coaching. Roll it out and see what happens. 

33. KM technology, unlike any other technology, is an end in itself, and needs to business justification. All proper companies need a KM toolkit, even if it adds no value to the bottom line. 

34. There are very many types of KM technologies available nowadays. Just buy them all. 

35. OK, here we get to the core of the advice. Forget change management. All the books tell you that KM is a Change exercise, but change is hard, and takes time and effort. Just quietly ignore the Change issues. It will all sort itself out in time. 

36. Similarly stakeholders. Everyone has an equal interest in KM, everyone will naturally support what you are doing, so why bother to engage people – why bother to get powerful people on your side. 

37. Similarly communication planning. KM is common sense, and doesn’t need to be communicated. 

38. Again – piloting – total waste of time. Knowledge Management won’t need any adaptation for your own organisational context – it will work “right out of the box”. Just roll it out to everyone, all at once – you can’t fail. 

39. If you are forced to pilot, then pick the first pilot you think of. Any pilot is as good as any other pilot. Why bother to rank and select. 

40. You can’t make a business case for KM. Don’t even try. Who needs business cases anyway? Your managers will give you the money you need, without you having to explain about benefits, let alone attempt to estimate the scale of the benefits. KM will add value because it will allow people to share knowledge with each other – that’s all you need to say. 

41. If you have to do “KM by stealth”, then be as stealthy as possible. The ideal is for nobody to have any idea at all what you are doing. 

42. You don’t need a leader for the KM project – it will lead itself. 

43. If you do appoint one, make sure they are a KM geek, with no business experience (and especially no Change Management experience). 

44. Don’t appoint a team. 

45. If you do appoint one, ensure they are all from HR, or all from IT, or all librarians (diversity is over-rated). 

46. Avoid any people with passion for the topic. Passion is so exhausting. 

47. Avoid any clear reporting lines. 

48. Avoid using a steering team. Who needs managers meddling in KM, with their “business needs” this and their “operational priorities” that? 

49. Implementation planning is to be avoided at all costs. KM will just implement itself. 

50. You can estimate your budget as being the cost of the software alone. You can treat any other elements (current state assessment, requirements definition, roles, accountabilities, processes, governance, change management, communication, stakeholder management, training, coaching, roll-out) as essentially negligible.”

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The dangers of Neomania in KM

Why search for what’s new? Why not search for what we know works?

Image from wikimedia commons

Rolf Dobelli in his book “The Art of Thinking Clearly“, and Nassim Nicolas Taleb in “Antifragile“, refer to the term Neomania.

Taleb defines Neomania as follows

“The “love of the modern for its own sake. We are constantly in pursuit of the next big thing, but how can you know that something will last if it’s only been around for a year, offering no information on its future longevity?”

Dobelli says

“You’re sitting in a chair, an invention from ancient Egypt. You wear pants, developed about 5,000 years ago and adapted by Germanic tribes around 750 B.C. The idea behind your leather shoes comes from the last ice age. Your bookshelves are made of wood, one of the oldest building materials in the world. At dinnertime, you use a fork, a well-known “killer app” from Roman times, to shovel chunks of dead animals and plants into your mouths. We place far too much emphasis on flavour-of-the-month inventions while underestimating the role of traditional technology”.

I think of both these guys when I see the LinkedIn posts looking for the “Next New Thing in Knowledge Management”, or “What’s new in KM”. These discussions appear several times a year, and, to me are looking for the wrong thing.

To be honest, there has been very little new in KM for a long time. OK, there is a lot of social media technology around now, but companies have been using varieties of social technology (personal pages, threaded discussions, user-created content) for a very long time. The technology is commercially available now, but its not new. AI has been around in various incarnations for ages as well, and still suffers from the same problems now as it did then.

If we look at the organisations that still top the MAKE awards and have done for many years, the bulk of them are using the same Knowledge Management approaches that they did a decade or more ago. They may have perfected some of the details, they may have improved some of the technology or added extra governance, but they are using the same basic approaches that they have ever done – Communities of Practice, Collaboration, Learning from Experience, Knowledge Ownership, Learning Before, During and After (or Ask,Learn,Share).

New ideas and new technologies pop up all the time, and few last. Longevity is important. The key thing to understand as far as Knowledge Management is concerned, is not “What’s New”, but “What has been proven to work over the long term”.

If you have been tasked by your organisation with sorting out an approach to Knowledge Management, then don’t go for the new and untried – go for what has passed the test of time, and has proven its value.

Go for what we know works.

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The KM strategy map

In another reprise from the archives, here’s a post about that useful tool, the KM strategy map

You know I am a firm believer in business led Knowledge Management Strategy.  At a meeting yesterday, I saw this presented in a very striking and visual way, through the use of a Strategy Map.

 A strategy map is an established way of mapping out the strategy of a company in a visual way, The approach was invented by Robert S Kaplan, and is well described in this HBR article from which the example above – a strategy map of Volvo Dealership –  is taken. A strategy map can be linked to Balanced Scorecard, and can be used to explain why a company is choosing the initiatives that it has.

The standard Kaplan map starts from the vision, and works down, via elements of the strategy (in the example shown, growth and efficiency), then looks at the financial, customer, process and learning elements or objectives that support it.

Knowledge Management should be aligned with this strategy map.

As we know, Knowledge Management should be driven by the corporate vision and strategy, and should support the key activities that are needed to deliver that strategy. When Kaplan and Norton developed the ideas around strategy maps (later published in this book), KM was in its infancy and the “learning” elements were pretty generic (and to be honest, judging from examples, the learning elements are still pretty generic). What KM can do is make these less generic, more specific, and show how the elements of KM can directly support the business strategy.

As an example, I have added a Knowledge Management layer to the HBR “Volvo dealership” example. Sales and Marketing, for example, can be supported by more than generic “active participation, quality focused co-workers” etc, it can be supported by  a Sales and Marketing CoP, actively developing and sharing ideas, solutions, good practices, and so on. Similarly continued education of Volvo dealers can be supported by an online knowledge based, eLearning, and a dealers’ community of practice.

Each KM intervention supports a process, which supports a customer and financial objective.

The two advantages of this form of strategic map is that it helps the KM team top focus on those interventions that most directly support business strategy, and it makes it clear to the business how KM will help in delivering that strategy.

View Original Source ( Here.