Free access to knowledge, or structured access to knowledge?

Here is another excellent article from Tom Davenport, one of the clearest writers on the topic of Knowledge Management, making the case for a structured “just-in-time” approach to the supply of knowledge. 

Tom starts his article as follows:

In the half-century since Peter Drucker coined the term “knowledge workers,” their share of the workforce has steadily grown—and so has the range of technology tools aimed at boosting their productivity. Yet there’s little evidence that massive spending on personal computing, productivity software, knowledge-management systems, and much else has moved the needle. What’s more, a wide variety of recent research has begun suggesting that always-on, multitasking work environments are so distracting that they are sapping productivity.

He goes on to contrast two approaches to the provision of knowledge

  • A “free access” approach where the organization provides free access to a wide variety of tools and information resources, assuming that the individual employees will do the selecting, prioritising and filtering and find the knowledge they need to conduct their work. 
  • A “structured” approach where knowledge is delivered in the context of tasks and delivereables, providing just in time knowledge at the point of need. In this case the prioritising has been done before the knowledge reaches the knowledge worker. 
Long-term readers of this blog will recognise these options as the “knowledge firehose and the knowledge faucet“, or will recognise the second as the lean knowledge supply chain. The first rapidly overwhelms the knowledge worker, the second efficiently provides the knowledge they need with no additional waste. 
However Davenport adds a nuance. He suggests that the free access approach may be valid among the autonomous knowledge workers with high levels of expertise, who can invest the time and energy needed to filter the firehose and draw out the selected nuggets which may make a subtle difference. 
The problem with providing free and unstructured knowledge to all knowledge workers is the associated productivity loss. Here are some of Davenport’ statistics.
  • One survey revealed that over a quarter of a typical knowledge worker’s time is spent searching for information.
  • Another found that only 16 percent of the content within typical businesses is posted to locations where other workers can access it.
  • Average knowledge workers access their e-mail more than 50 times, use instant messaging 77 times, and visit more than 40 Web sites a day.
  • A UK study suggests that social-media use by knowledge workers costs British companies £6.5 billion a year in lost productivity.
Davenport contrasts this with the structured supply of knowledge using workflow technologies. Here productivity is the major gain – by providing people with the knowledge they need without them even having to look for it, task-based productivity can rise by 50%. The downside of these systems is the lack of a personal touch – the lack of the social component. 
However there is always a combined approach. Through Connect and Collect we can provide a push-based supply chain of explicit knowledge to the knowledge workers, linked to their task workflow (or prompt them to pull structured knowledge from a structured knowledge base) and in parallel allow them to pull unstructured tacit knowledge from a community of practice.  A Knowledge Management Strategy can be used to determine the balance between these two approaches for different knowledge topics. 
 Davenport concludes his article as follows:

It’s time to think about how to make [the knowledge workers] more productive by imposing a bit more structure. This combination of technology and structure, along with a bit of managerial discretion in applying them to knowledge work, may well produce a revolution in the jobs that cost and matter the most to contemporary organizations

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The 10 principles behind successful KM strategies

I blogged last week about the 5 basic principles behind successful Knowledge Management. Let’s take that one step further, into the principles behind a KM Strategy.

When Stephanie Barnes and I wrote our book “Designing a successful KM Strategy” we included a chapter on the ten principles behind KM strategies.  These are not just principles about KM, they are principles about how KM should be introduced, so they go beyond the 5 principles in last week’s blog post.

Here are our 10 principles.

1. KM implementation needs to be organisation-led; tied to organisation strategy and to specific organisation issues. This is the fundamental behind KM implementation – the number one success factor (if present) and  a common reason for failure (if absent). 

2. KM needs to be delivered where the critical knowledge lies, and where the high value decisions are made. Knowledge Management needs to focus, and to focus on business-critical or business-strategic knowledge. This might be at operator level (the operator of a plant, the driller of a deepwater well, the pilot of a passenger aircraft) or it might be at senior management level.

3. KM implementation needs to be treated as a behaviour change program. Failure to
realise this is failure reason number one for KM programs.  

4. The endgame will be to introduce a complete management framework for KM. Unlike a KM toolbox, a Knowledge Management framework is a joined-up system of roles, technologies, processes and governance. The ISO standard for KM, ISO 30401:2018, describes the framework as a “Management System”.

5. This framework will need to be embedded into the organisation structures. If you don’t embed it in the business, KM wont survive. KM roles need to be embedded into the organigram, processes into the high level working process, technologies into the core technology set, and governance into the organisational governance structure. Without this, Km remains separate and optional. Many of the high profile failures of KM are due to a failure to embed.

6. The framework will need to include governance if it is to be sustainable. Governance is the combination of structure, expectation, support and monitoring that any management discipline requires if it is to be applied systematically.

7. The framework will be structured, rather than emergent. I explain this here.

8. A KM implementation should be a staged process, with regular decision points. Don’t rush in and try to implement KM in one go. Take your time, stage the process, and learn as you go. Treat implementation as if you were launching a start-up, and make sure you have a viable business model.

9. A KM implementation should contain a piloting stage. This is crucial both to test the framework, and to create the social proof you will need for the culture change program. This also allows agile development of the KM framework, informed throughout by user feedback.

10. A KM implementation should be run by an implementation team, reporting to a cross-organisational steering group.  In other words, just like any other change program or project!  Choose the team wisely – they have a difficult job to do.

These are our 10 principles. Many of these are embedded within ISO 30401:2018; the ISO management systems standard for KM. Numbers 1 through 7 will be satisfied if you follow the guidance within the standard. 8, 9 and 10 address the structure of the implementation rocess itself which is outside the scope of the standard. 

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Balancing long term and short term benefits in KM

The short-term/long-term balance is critical in KM. The business of KM is long term culture and behaviour change, but the company will have no patience for the long term, if you do not deliver benefits in the short term. 

The balance between short term and long term is tied to the balance between Push and Pull (where Push is the publication of knowledge, or knowledge sharing, while Pull is seeking for knowledge).

Many companies seem to start instinctively with Push. “Let’s share our Best Practices” they think. “Let’s find what we are doing well, and then look for opportunities to replicate this elsewhere in the company”.

Knowledge push is “a solution looking for a problem”.  Seductive though this idea is, it is a long-term game and won’t deliver the quick wins,.

Let’s imagine you capture some best practices on mergers, or on outsourcing, or on implementing ISO. It may be a long time before another merger, or another outsourcing, or another ISO implementation. Maybe nobody is ready to adopt these Best Practices right now. The gains will come at some point in the future, when the next merger or the next acquisition or next ISO implementation is on the cards.

Pull, on the other had, delivers quick wins. Knowledge Pull is “a problem seeking a solution”.
Start with a problem, and seek for the knowledge to solve the problem.

Take, for example, Peer Assist; a meeting held by a project team with a problem, who are seeking knowledge from others to solve the problem. The knowledge shared through the Peer Assist will find an instant application and a willing audience. There should be little or no “Not Invented Here”.

Knowledge Pull delivers the short term wins, Knowledge Push delivers the longer term.

Some time in the future, there will be another merger, or another outsourcing, or another ISO implementation, and then the knowledge will come in really handy. And then later there may be another another merger, outsourcing, ISO implementation. Then another. Push reaps benefits over the long term. Capture knowledge once, re-use it twenty times. Pull, on the other hand, reaps instant benefit, but maybe only once. It solves an instant problem, but leaves no trace.

Any well-balanced KM strategy requires Push and Pull, but don’t count on Push for quick wins, or Pull for long term benefit.

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Why "Finding Better Knowledge" is 100 x more valuable than "Finding Knowledge Better"

2 years ago I posted an article where I suggested that a KM strategy based on “finding better knowledge” was more valuable than a strategy based on “better ability to find knowledge”. Now we have a figure for how much more valuable. 

In the 2018 post I suggested that there are two basic ways in which Knowledge Management can add value to an organisation:

  1. Finding Knowledge Better;
  2. Finding Better Knowledge.
The first approach focuses on better search, better content management, tagging, taxonomy, portal structure, and so on. The intent is to have “documented knowledge at your fingertips”, and the result is faster and better access to documents and documented knowledge.  The value of this approach is that it saves people time in searching for relevant material, and so drives operational efficiency.

The second approach focuses on learning from experience, on capturing lessons, on connecting people into networks and communities of practice, on collaboration, and on synthesising knowledge into current “best” practices. The intent is to create learning loops and channels in the organisation, for improvement of practice, so that knowledge is continually improved. The value of the second approach is in delivering better decisions, and delivering better results, not just faster decisions. The value comes through improved operational effectiveness.
Often the choice between these two is a clear choice, and the two options are mutually exclusive. To get good knowledge requires time and conversation; good knowledge is rarely fast, and fast knowledge is rarely good.

In my 2018 article I suggested that the value of the second approach, is at least an order of magnitude greater than the first; maybe 2 orders of magnitude. I did not have the statistics to test this estimate at the time.

Now I do.

In the three Knoco KM surveys in 2014, 2017 and 2020 we asked people to tell us (among other things) their business drivers for KM, in order of priority. Business drivers included operational efficiency and operational effectiveness, as discussed above. We also asked them, where they could, to tell us how much value in $USD their KM program has delivered. So we now have the data to test the value of these two approaches.

The graph below shows the average value for the organisations grouped by their priority business driver.

  • Organisations whose primary driver was to increase organisational efficiency, delivered on average $1 million from KM. For these organisations, the most common KM strategy was to improve access to documents.
  • Organisations whose primary driver was to increase organisational effectiveness, delivered on average $106 million. For these organisations, the primary KM strategy was divided between improved access to documents, connecting people through communities and networks, and better lesson learning.
  • The business driver of “providing a better service to customers and clients” is also a type of operational effectiveness driver.
So we can see that in this dataset, operational effectiveness, which comes from finding better knowledge, is actually 100 times more valuable than operational efficiency, which comes from finding knowledge better/more easily. Thats 2 orders of magnitude better.
Bear this in mind when you set out your KM strategy and business case. If the business case is based on saving people time through better access to knowledge, you may be underselling the value by a factor of 100. 

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What are the most popular strategic elements of KM?

What do companies around the world identify as their primary KM strategic approaches?  This was another area we wanted to explore in our two global surveys of Knowledge Management.

One of the questions in our surveys therefore covered the topic of strategic focus areas for KM, and we asked the participants to prioritise, from a list of 11 potential approaches, those most important to them.

The pie chart below shows the frequency of each of these approaches as “first choice.”  The approaches are of course not exclusive, and most respondents applied many of these. However

  • 19% of respondents said their highest priority within their Knowledge Management strategy was to connect people through communities of practice or networks;
  • 17% chose “better access to documents”as their highest strategy. This is the average of the two surveys, and if you look at the 2017 survey alone, this was the most popular choice. However the 2017 had a much higher percentage of contributors from the legal sector, where this is their default approach;
  • 13% saw Knowledge Retention as their highest priority approach;
  • For 12%, Learning from experience was the most important;
  • 10% chose “Creating and providing access to best practices”
  • For another 6%, Innovation was the most important;
  • Provision of knowledge to customer facing staff was also the primary strategy for 6%
The remaining options all received small percentages of the votes.
Some of our respondents pointed out that there were maybe 3 or 4 strategic options on the list with more or less equal priority – Communities of Practice plus Learning from Experience was the most common combination.
The choice of primary strategy varied to some extent with the industry – 
  • “Connecting people” was most popular in Aid & development, Construction,and Oil and Gas
  • “Learning from Experience” was most common in the military and emergency services
  • “Development of best practice” was the preferred focus for the military
  • “Better access to documents” was the area prioritised by the legal firms, the public sector and the financial sector.

What does this mean?

I think we can take the results of this question and assert that it shows what the world of KM practitioners tends to choose as primary KM strategies.

On the whole, Knowledge Management seems to be recognised as a combination of Connecting People, Learning from Experience, provision of access to documents, retention of knowledge, creation of best practices, and innovation.  Individual industries favour one of these six over the others, but in combination they seem to pretty much map out the mainstream field of KM as it is currently understood.

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Knowledge of product, knowledge of process, knowledge of customer

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.

Process-based KM.

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. 

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A twin-strategy approach to implementing KM

Implementing Knowledge Management requires two parallel strategies, like the two prongs of a fork.

There was a very interesting article by Ron Bascue in the 2011 Fall edition of the US Army KM newsletter (now no longer available online), about a twin-strategy approach to delivering a Knowledge Management strategy.

Ron makes the point that Knowledge Management needs to be a strategic long term program of change, based on thorough assessment and analysis,  while at the same time people need to be able to see short term progress, see KM in action, and understand the value it brings. As Ron says;

“Getting to a fully developed KM strategy takes significant time. And while the assessment and strategy development process is going on, the parent organization is moving forward while the clock is ticking on the KM organisation to show its value.”

So Ron recommends a two-pronged strategy to address this issue.

“Our approach incorporates two lines of effort; one a strategic development effort and the other focused on providing immediate tangible results – a series of quick wins”.

Ron recommends Kaizen events as a way to deliver the quick wins, each of which should solve a business problem or improve an internal process. However a number of Knowledge Management processes could be used, depending on the nature of the problem to be solved;

Ron’s two-pronged approach is also what Knoco recommends.

We refer to the Quick Wins as “Proof of concept” events; small interventions with a Knowledge Management tool or process during the Strategy Creation phase, just so that people can see KM in action, and realise that “Yes, it can work here. No, it’s not all smoke and mirrors. Now I understand”.

However even after the strategy is complete, the KM team needs to continue to solve business problems. However rather than small proof of concept exercises, you move on to larger scale Pilot Projects as part of the Implementation program.

By solving business problems, the KM team continue to show the value, and engage people in the process without requiring them to buy in at strategic level.

Follow Ron’s advice (and ours) – make pilots and “proofs of concept” part of your twin-strategy Knowledge Management implementation.

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Analysis of a strategic KM role description

This post is an analysis of a KM role description, taken from a recent job vacancy, identifying the core elements of a strategic KM leadership role.

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA-NC

The job vacancy appeared last week on LinkedIn, and is for a Knowledge Management Manager at Shell, in the Hague.

The full vacancy note appears at the end of this blog post, and I would like this as an example of a high level KM leadership role, driving KM in full  support of business priorities. I point out a number of elements in this role description which combine to make this an excellent example of a strategic role KM. I have marked these elements *1* etc, and discuss them below.

Key elements (my analysis)

  1. The first point is that this role starts from a clear Vision for KM; to become a learning organisation where ideas insights, lessons and best practices are shared and applied for business benefit (“leveraged”). This is good – clarity of vision leads to clarity of role. 
  2. This role builds on a solid foundation – Shell have been a leader in the KM field for decades; winners of the global MAKE awards from 2009 through 2016, and have all of the basics of KM in place. This role is not about introduction or implementation of KM, it is about application.
  3. For Shell, the focus of KM is on delivering value, measured in monetary savings through efficiency improvements. The Vision mentioned above translates into profit.  There is absolute clarity on this. 
  4. This role is part of a strategic plan, with defined strategic priorities. The strategic priorities are to strengthen and extend what already exists (with a main focus on communities of practice), to bring in new areas of technology where these may extend KM capability, and to strengthen existing internal linkages.
  5. Number one accountability is value delivery. The job holder will be measured against the value delivered, with a $1 billion target. This is not a support role where the role-holder can work in the shadows; this role is about serious enabling of the business through KM, with a big-money target at stake in the very short term.
  6. But there is a longer term aspect to the role – to shape KM for the future
  7. And to continue to evolve Shell’s KM Framework.
  8. The last three requirements really speak to the nature of this role in using KM to deliver value to the business. First the holder must be able to translate business needs into KM solutions. They need to be versed in Applied KM.
  9. Secondly they need change management experience. This is one of the main competencies of a KM leader
  10. Thirdly they need excellent diplomacy, negotiation, communication and stakeholder management skills. This person will not deliver $1 billion in value on their own – they will do it in partnership with the business. 

Role description follows; my notes above are indicated by the asterisk-bracketed numbers.

Knowledge Management Manager

The only sustainable competitive advantage is an organization’s ability to learn faster than the competition – Peter Senge. *1 * We want to make Shell a learning organization. Where people can leverage all the lessons and best practices learned in one asset or project and leverage those in another asset or project. Where we have vibrant communities that share ideas and insights across the world. 

We have taken the first steps 

*2*Over the past 6 years, we have built a comprehensive set of structures, processes and applications supported by Working Out Loud behaviors, and implemented this Solution across Shell’s Technical Functions and C&P. This program has touched approximately 43,000 Shell staff in Technical Functions. *3*A total value of over US$480 mln has been delivered through application of key practices in Shell’s business activities. Our ambition is to achieve US$ 1 bln by the end of 2020. 

We need your help to take the next steps.  

In Shell’s Projects & Technology (P&T) business, we are looking for a Knowledge Management manager to help us achieve our ambition, building on the foundations and taking the next step in the journey (4)which consists of 5 key priorities for 2019-2020 

  • Sustain KM in Technical Functions, Strengthen and continuously improve the completed KM implementations in the Technical Functions and C&P 
  • Leverage the communities to improve asset & project performance in close co-operation with the project excellence organization and the production excellence organization
  • Support new and emerging communities including in digital, new energies, etc.
  • Further develop KM solution accelerated application of new digital technologies that, by building on the established infrastructure, will make access to Shell’s knowledge even easier. This includes more focus on mobile technology, further integration and leveraging of data sources, and using advanced analytics and visualisation methods to support the creation of insights from knowledge, with the goal of pro-actively making critical knowledge available to those who need it at the time they need it
  • Strengthen the KM foundation for RDS further integration of KM into Shell’s Organization Development & Learning (OD&L) portfolio, ensuring that a wide range of possible interventions is being considered when addressing business challenges.

The main purpose of this role is to lead Shell’s KM journey to deliver the priorities summarized above and to define and deliver what the journey should look like after 2020. 


  • *5*Deliver the KM plan for 2019-2020, with an aim of delivering US$ 1bln of success stories by the end of 2020. 
  • *6*Shape and drive Shell’s KM journey beyond 2020. 
  • Lead and coach a team of professionals. 
  • Manage several key cross-functional and cross-business communities in order to deliver the overall KM plan. 
  • Drive stronger collaboration with the OD& Learning Managers/Advisors to build integrated solutions leveraging the best of what OD&L has to offer (Knowledge Management, Learning, Change Management, Continuous Improvement, etc.). 
  • *7*Accountable for further defining and delivering the development of Shell’s broader KM solution (in terms of processes, behaviours, tools, ways of working, etc.). 
  • Deliver key metrics, champion success stories and use cases where KM has created and enhanced value for the company. 


  • Drive an RDS wide agenda experience in delivering a cross-functional / cross-business KM Agenda
  • Team leadership Leading a virtual team experience of working within a global team in a virtual and high-ambiguity work environment.
  • Business acumen and understanding of all Shell’s businesses, organizational issues, challenges and needs would be beneficial.
  • *8*Performance consulting experience in diagnosing the root causes of business and functional challenges and translating those into possible relevant KM Solutions
  • *9*Change management experience experience in driving change journeys.
  • *10*Stakeholder management ability to build confidence and manage stakeholders across the organization and at all levels and build effective working relationships/networks.

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But what knowledge do you need to manage?

When beginning with KM, don’t start with the How; start with the What.

We frequently find that when people start thinking about Knowledge Management implementation, they start thinking about the solution first. They may research technology, they may seek out some excellent processes, they may (if they are smart) think about the roles and accountabilities the company will need, and they may contemplate the use of communities of practice, global task forces, virtual teams, blogs, wikis, and any other of the trendy solutions that are popular in the market place.

This is all great thinking, and if they have done well, they may come up with a holistic solution, of Processes, Accountabilities and Technologies, which provides an excellent framework through which Knowledge will flow around the organisation. They have sorted out the How question.
However the question that is often not asked, is the What question.

“What knowledge do we need to manage?” 

This is one of the fundamental questions to get right in your Knowledge Management strategy (this blog post is not about the Why question, which of course is the other fundamental question, and even more important). 
As consultants, one of the greatest Knowledge Management insights we bring to client organisations is that you don’t have to manage it all; just manage the 20% that makes 80% of the difference.

Find out;

  • Exactly what knowledge do we need to flow around the organisation? 
  • What’s the high value stuff? 
  • What’s the knowledge that will give us a competitive edge? 
  • What is the knowledge that will give us “first learner advantage?
  • What knowledge do our people need, to help them make teh decisions that will drive growth, prosperity and customer satisfaction?

If you focus your effort proactively on the knowledge of highest business value – the business-critical knowledge areas –  then your KM efforts will not only be easier, they will deliver far higher benefit.

Focused KM systems add maximum value. By focusing on the 20% of the knowledge that delivers the 80% of the value, it maximises the rate of return on your KM investment. People are busy, time is precious, and so it makes sense to focus your precious time on the highest-value knowledge.

So before you get too far with your KM implementation, ask yourself two questions –

  • Why do we need to manage knowledge better?
  • What knowledge do we actually need to manage?”

The ISO KM standard (ISO 30401:2018) requires you to ask these two questions, plus a third one about stakeholders (the Who question) before you get anywhere near the question of How.

If you want to know how to determine what this critical knowledge is, read this newsletter and see this blog post for advice, also this one. Start with the strategy of the organisation, ask what do we need to do to deliver that strategy, then ask what do we need to know, to be able to do these things. And once you understand the critical knowledge, find out where it lies and who currently holds it, and then determine what tools, processes and roles you need to make it more widely available to the people who need it.

Generally you find the What by starting from the Why. That leads you to the How. Don’t start from the How – that is the wrong end of the chain.

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Is your KM progam reactive, or proactive?

Is your Knowledge Management framework reactive, or proactive? And what’s the difference?

Let’s look at two ways in which you can develop a KM approach of KM Framework. Let’s call them reactive, and proactive.

Reactive KM

A reactive KM framework reacts to events.

  • You may react to the threat of knowledge loss, for example putting in place retention interviewing when a key person is about to retire from the organisation. 
  • You may react to knowledge gain, by capturing and documenting lessons from a project, ensuring that knowledge captured from success or failure is documented for future use.
  • You may collecting best practices from people when they have delivered a great piece of work. 
  • You may react in communities of practice, where people ask for help in solving the problems they have just encountered. 

Proactive KM

A proactive KM framework anticipates events.

  • You may ask, “what is the strategic knowledge the company will need going forward? How will we create it; where will it come from”?  Then you put in place activities and accountabilities to develop that knowledge.
  • You may ask “what is our core knowledge we need to retain and deepen? Where is it, and how do we protect and improve it”. You identify where the knowledge is held by only one person, for example, and make sure that knowledge becomes spread among the community, and documented where possible. You protect the knowledge well before there is any risk of loss. 
  • You may take a proactive view of knowledge in a project, developing a Knowledge Management plan to ensure the project has the knowledge it needs at the start, and identifies the knowledge it should create for others.
  • You may take a proactive view in a community of practice, and ask “What are our key community topics? Lets get our heads together and see if we can combien our knowledge of these topics, and find better ways to work”.
  • Or questions in communities of practice may be more like “How do I avoid problems in my upcoming project”.

A proactive KM approach identifies the key knowledge or knowledge gaps in advance, and puts in place strategies to manage this, whereas in a reactive approach, knowledge management is always “after the event”. As one person described a lesson management system – a typical reactive approach when used in isolation  – as “a thousand locked stable doors after a thousand bolted horses“.

You need both reactive and proactive of course; Knowledge Management is always more “both/and” than “either/or”, and reactive knowledge capture from a “bolted horse” can lead to all the other stables proactively locking their doors (if I may be allowed to extend a metaphor). 

You need both, and if you omit the proactive side, your KM will always be playing catch-up.

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