Some companies make things, some do things, some maintain relationships. Process companies, Product companies, Client companies – different focus, different business, different approach to KM.
OK, so that is an oversimplification – most companies are a mix of Doing, Making and Relationship Management; they have product departments where they Make things, and marketing departments where they Do things, and sales/service . However there are still three types of KM approaches; focusing primarily on Product, Process and Client.
The Ternary attached here (from our global KM surveys) shows how the balance between these approaches varies by industry sector.
For those of you for whom ternary plots are unfamiliar, the closeness of a datapoint to each of the three corners represents the degree of importance of that element.
A typical process-based organisation would be the oil sector, near the bottom right of the plot. They don’t make things, they do things, and their KM approach is all about the development and improvement of Practice. The focus is on Practice Improvement. Communities of Practice, Best Practices (or whatever you prefer to call them), Practice Owners – the entire focus is on knowledge of Practice, Practice Improvement, and Doing Things Better.
Utilities and some of the non-profits are similar, as are the military.
Product based KM
A typical product-based organisation would be an aircraft manufacturer or a car manufacturer. They exist to make things, and their KM approach is all about the development and improvement of Product. They develop product guidelines.
In DaimlerChrysler, their Electronic Book of Knowledge was about motorcar components, and their tech Clubs were more Communities of Product than Communities of Practice. The experts are more likely to be experts on a product, than experts on a practice area. With the more complex products, were design knowledge is critical, KM can become Knowledge Based Engineering, with design rationale embedded into CAD files and other design products.
The KM focus in Legal firms is also Knowledge of Product; the product here being legal advice.
The figure above shows that none of the sectors surveyed is purely focused on Product – there is always a mix of Product and Practice, but the closest points to the top corner are Legal Services and Manufacturing
Customer based KM
A typical customer-based organisation would be a government department. They exist to serve a customer base. They are not making anything (other than policy) and the KM focus is on the customer.
Customer focused Knowledge Management consists of developing and documenting a knowledge of the customer (through Customer-focused communities and through research), and may also involve the provision of knowledge to customers, and the involvement of Customers in discussion through communities and social media.
The plot above does not show any sectors to be dominated by customer knowledge, but the points closest to the bottom left are Government Admin, and Aid and Development.
Balancing the types of knowledge
The danger in KM comes when you try to impose a solution where it does’t apply.
KM should be pragmatic, and consist of “horses for courses”, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. This is also true for divisions within large companies.
While the projects division may need Communities of Practice, perhaps the division that makes the products needs Communities of Product, so that Knowledge of Product can be transferred across company boundaries. Perhaps the traditional tools of Learning Before, During and After need to look at Product knowledge as well as Practice knowledge, and look for improvements in Product as well as improvements in Practice.
Then the Marketing division or sales division might need Communities of Customer, so that knowledge of different customer groups can be developed, shared and re-used.
Know the type of knowledge that’s important, and set up a KM framework that suits.