Designing a Successful KM Strategy - Book review
1 March 2022
Dr. Moria Levy
"Designing a Successful KM Strategy: A Guide for Knowledge Management Professionals" is a book by Stephanie Barnes and Nick Milton in 2015.
The book delves into developing a comprehensive knowledge management strategy, covering all aspects from inception, planning, and pilot implementation to the final launch. Rather than prescribing a specific strategy for each organization, it equips readers with the necessary tools to develop their own well-structured and all-encompassing strategy.
The book covers the following topics:
10 Points for a Good Knowledge Management Strategy
2. Strategy chapters:
Vision and Scope
Strategic Knowledge Topics
Evaluation of the Existing Situation
3. Special cases:
Knowledge Retention Strategy
4. Termination - Managing the Activities of the Knowledge Management Team
I highly recommend this book to anyone involved in knowledge management. It helps make sense of existing knowledge, provides a structured approach, and offers innovative proposals for improvement.
In their book, the authors refrain from providing a specific definition of knowledge management. Instead, they present the diverse areas that fall under its purview, which can vary depending on organizational boundaries. These areas encompass:
Managing data relationships, as commonly observed in business intelligence and data mining.
Handling information through labeling, structuring, organizing, sharing, and presenting.
Cultivating organizational knowledge.
Retaining valuable knowledge.
Facilitating knowledge transfer among individuals.
Fostering collaboration and sharing.
Effectively managing expertise and experience.
Promoting innovation, including open innovation, creativity, and more.
Addressing cognition aspects such as epistemology, sense-making, complexity theory, and decision-making.
Personal knowledge management.
To classify these areas, the authors identify two main axes:
1. People/Computer (collect/connect): This axis distinguishes between knowledge management processes facilitated by human interaction and those supported by computer systems.
2. Pull/Push: This axis captures the methods employed in knowledge management, differentiating between approaches that involve proactively pulling knowledge when needed and pushing knowledge to individuals or groups.
By exploring these dimensions, the book lays the foundation for understanding the multifaceted nature of knowledge management and its potential applications in various contexts.
Knowledge management in any organization should encompass all four combinations and not settle for just a few. In an era characterized by information overload and uncertainty, knowledge management is key to making knowledge accessible to organizations, locally and globally, which is crucial in navigating these dynamic times.
While the specific roles of a knowledge manager may differ from one organization to another, certain components are integral to every job description. These include:
Development of Knowledge Management Strategy: The knowledge manager is responsible for formulating an effective strategy for knowledge management within the organization.
Management of the Knowledge Management Activity Framework: This involves overseeing the implementation and coordination of knowledge management activities and initiatives.
Cultivating a Culture of Knowledge Management: Knowledge management plays a vital role in fostering a culture and behaviors that promote knowledge sharing, collaboration, and learning within the organization.
Measurement and Reporting: The knowledge manager must establish mechanisms for measuring and reporting on the effectiveness of knowledge management efforts.
The knowledge manager collaborates with and relies on partners, as outlined below. They should possess a passion for the field and exhibit visionary qualities that can inspire, focus, and encourage creative thinking. Additionally, a knowledge management team may be established, potentially at a later stage, consisting of individuals with a deep understanding of and the ability to act within the context of people, processes, and technology. Like the knowledge manager, the support team should share a passion for the field.
Regarding the organizational affiliation of the knowledge manager and the knowledge management team, several options are apparent:
Human Resources (People)
Information Technology (Technologies)
Executive Leadership (Governance)
Each affiliation carries its risks, prompting the book's authors to recommend an approach where the knowledge management activity is associated with a cross-organizational body distinct from these four departments. Instead, the authors propose adding the knowledge management function to the steering committee, an important component consisting of the heads of the aforementioned units.
The knowledge manager collaborates with several partners who play crucial roles in the successful implementation of knowledge management. These partners can be categorized as follows:
Knowledge Management Team: This team works closely with the knowledge manager to support knowledge management initiatives and activities.
Activity Sponsor - Senior Manager: The activity sponsor, typically a senior manager, approves the knowledge management strategy, provides necessary resources for implementation, represents the management of knowledge to the organization, and helps overcome barriers to implementation.
Steering Committee: The steering committee guides and directs the knowledge management activity. It provides valuable input, challenges existing practices, and serves as a supportive coalition for leading change and implementing knowledge management throughout the organization. The committee includes the activity sponsor, IT manager (technology), operations manager (processes), human resources manager (people), strategy manager (governance), and managers responsible for key activities.
Additional Organizational Partners:
CEO: The chief executive officer plays a critical role in supporting and driving knowledge management initiatives within the organization.
Management of the Organization: The overall management team, including department heads and key decision-makers, contributes to the successful implementation of knowledge management.
Officials in HR, IT, Operations, and Governance Departments: These officials, representing the human resources, information technology, operations, and governance departments, respectively, are important partners in implementing knowledge management practices within their areas of expertise.
Sponsors of Pilot Projects: Individuals sponsoring pilot projects within the organization provide support and resources for testing and implementing knowledge management initiatives.
Knowledge Workers: The knowledge workers themselves, who possess valuable expertise and insights, are essential partners in knowledge management efforts.
Skeptical Senior Managers and Knowledge Management Enthusiasts: Both skeptical senior managers and enthusiastic members of the knowledge management community within the organization should be acknowledged as important partners. Their perspectives and engagement can significantly influence the success of knowledge management initiatives.
External Entities: Relevant external entities, such as industry experts or consultants, may also serve as partners depending on their relevance to the organization's knowledge management goals.
To effectively engage organizational partners, it is crucial to understand their specific business aspects and how knowledge management can support and benefit them. In addition, various roles related to activities should be recognized and considered within the strategy. These include:
Knowledge Communities: Leaders, coordinators, and sponsors who facilitate knowledge sharing and collaboration within specific communities of practice.
Knowledge Extraction: Coordinators, documenters, and project managers who capture and document valuable knowledge from projects and experiences.
Knowledgeable Employees: Employees with specialized knowledge and expertise in various content fields.
Experts: Individuals who are recognized experts in specific areas and can provide valuable insights and guidance.
Lessons Learned Production Team: A dedicated team responsible for identifying and capturing lessons learned from past projects and experiences.
It is essential to acknowledge and plan for the involvement of all these roles and partners as part of the overall knowledge management strategy.
Ten Principles for a Good Strategy:
A strong strategy is the foundation for effective knowledge management and demonstrates the value of investing in knowledge management within an organization. To ensure success, the authors outline the following ten principles:
The organization will lead the implementation of knowledge management, aligning it with the organizational strategy and addressing relevant organizational issues. It is crucial to link knowledge management efforts with organizational outcomes, preferably economic ones.
Knowledge management will prioritize critical knowledge within the organization and focus on areas where high-value decisions are made. Managing critical knowledge should be a concern at the executive level, not just at the technical level.
Implementing knowledge management should be treated as a change management plan. This plan should be presented to management in that context.
The strategy concludes by presenting a comprehensive framework for knowledge management activities. It is important to understand that no single knowledge management tool or solution can fulfill all organizational needs. The program should encompass processes, roles, and governance aspects alongside the tools.
The framework of the knowledge management program should be integrated into the organizational structure. It must be seamlessly integrated into existing mechanisms and processes to ensure the program's success.
Governance components should be included within the activity framework to ensure continuity over time. This clearly defines what needs to be done, provides people with tools and guidance for implementation, and verifies that people are effectively carrying out the required tasks.
The activity framework should be well-structured to provide certainty. People must always know where to find the information they need.
The implementation of knowledge management should be gradual and incorporate fixed decision points along the way. This approach facilitates management's ability to embrace knowledge management, as committing to full implementation from the start can be challenging.
Knowledge management implementation should include a pilot phase. Starting with a specific part of the organization and gradually expanding to additional groups and, ultimately, covering the entire organization. Even within the activity framework, beginning with a focused pilot initiative is advisable.
A dedicated team, reporting to a lateral and organization-wide steering committee, should oversee the implementation of knowledge management. This team should have a budget, work plan, defined goals, and milestones. The strategy should also consider vision, critical knowledge, action principles, stakeholders, information management, change management, business justification, recommended pilots, and future steps.
By adhering to these principles, organizations can establish a solid foundation for effective knowledge management and maximize its benefits.
The strategy chapters provide a comprehensive framework for formulating an effective knowledge management strategy based on information collected from the organization through interviews and workshops. The following chapters outline the key components of the strategy:
1. Identification of Business Needs and Motives:
The knowledge management strategy should align with and support the organization's business needs. It is important to describe these needs in business terms within the strategy rather than focusing solely on knowledge management terminology. Four main strategic areas can potentially shape the specific focus of knowledge management activities:
Operational Excellence: This involves improving internal work processes to enhance efficiency and effectiveness.
Example knowledge management solutions: developing best practices, process innovation, and knowledge communities.
Customer-Related Knowledge: The strategy should address the need to enhance understanding of customer needs and how to meet them effectively.
Example knowledge management solutions: integrated customer support knowledge (CRM), marketing knowledge, and product knowledge.
Innovation: The strategy should highlight the importance of fostering innovation and creating new and improved products. Example knowledge management solutions: knowledge acquisition, knowledge development, and reducing product development time.
Growth and Change: The strategy should address the organization's goals of expanding into new markets or adapting to change. Example knowledge management solutions: defining and implementing best practices, shortening staff training time.
When formulating the knowledge management strategy, it is important to consider the following recommendations:
Avoid trying to pursue all directions simultaneously. Instead, prioritize the most important motive and invest in establishing supportive knowledge management solutions for that area.
Take into account the nature of the organization, such as whether it is military, industrial, or sales-oriented, to determine which direction of action is most relevant and aligned with its goals.
Consider the average age of employees within the organization. Knowledge preservation may be a priority if there is a significant number of older employees. In contrast, organizations with a mixed-age workforce should emphasize knowledge development and utilization. Organizations with a young and dynamic workforce may focus on rapid professional absorption.
When identifying the business needs and motives that will drive knowledge management activity, it is crucial to recognize the value gained through increased business efficiency and usefulness.
Vision and Demarcation:
A clear and concise vision for knowledge management is crucial for effectively communicating the project's purpose. The book provides several examples of visions from different organizations:
British Petroleum: Continuously improving activities and tasks that are performed repeatedly.
Accenture: Creating a global culture of knowledge sharing and fostering an environment that supports Accenture's overall success.
Federal Transit Administration (Ohio): Bridging knowledge gaps through innovative approaches to achieve long-term goals and enhance day-to-day operations.
Israel Aerospace Industries: Sharing and reusing new knowledge as part of regular practices to align with IAI's vision and goals.
A well-crafted vision enables individuals to envision the potential benefits that knowledge management can bring and justifies the investment in implementing it. It should be concise and focused. One approach is to ask teams to individually and collectively envision what optimal knowledge management would look like in five years and the added value it would bring, and then condense their thoughts into 2-3 sentences.
In addition to the vision, demarcation is defined, clearly specifying which areas will be addressed by knowledge management and which areas will not. This involves identifying relevant organizational units, such as geographical or other divisions, with the knowledge management activity.
Strategic Knowledge Topics:
To effectively guide knowledge management within the organization, focusing on areas that provide the highest business value is crucial. The implemented solutions should not only be easy to implement but also beneficial. These areas, known as strategic knowledge topics, hold primary importance for the organization and align with the organization-wide strategy, encompassing valuable knowledge and practices.
There are two approaches to identifying strategic knowledge, which can be combined and is often referred to as "critical" knowledge:
1. Top-Down Approach:
Process: Engage senior managers to gain insights into the business strategy, supporting business activities, and critical knowledge requirements.
What is the strategic core of your business activity?
What abilities are necessary to accomplish this?
What knowledge is required to achieve these abilities?
2. Bottom-Up Approach:
Process: Conduct surveys among knowledge workers to gather insights on critical knowledge needed for their work.
What critical knowledge would enhance your work if you had access to it?
Once critical knowledge is identified, it is essential to clarify its nature through supporting questions, such as:
How much would the business situation change if we had this knowledge?
Is the knowledge currently available within the organization, or does it need to be acquired?
How familiar is the knowledge across the organization, and how crucial is it to increase familiarity?
Does the knowledge pertain to a new/innovative field or a well-established one?
After understanding the critical knowledge, it is important to rank the topics based on their importance and urgency. The authors suggest creating a strategic knowledge map, which includes the organization's vision, strategic components, economic goals, customer perspective goals, internal objectives, and knowledge management support.
The strategy should encompass critical knowledge topics for the upcoming years. It is also worth considering including information and content management within the demarcation, as recommended by the authors. This can be presented as an integrated part of an independent chapter within the strategy, covering supporting technologies, taxonomy and metadata, and the documented knowledge lifecycle.
Evaluation of the Existing Situation:
Once the strategic knowledge topics have been identified, conducting a comprehensive assessment of the current situation is essential. The purpose of this assessment is to understand:
Why is critical knowledge not currently managed?
What obstacles hinder the flow of knowledge between knowledgeable individuals and those in need of it?
To evaluate the knowledge flow, testing it against the stages of Nonaka & Takeuchi's SECI model is beneficial. This evaluation will provide insights into the barriers that need to be addressed and the actions required to enable the smooth flow of knowledge. The assessment will consider key areas such as people, processes, technologies, and organizational governance.
The authors propose a set of 16 supporting questions to facilitate this assessment, covering all combinations of the identified sections. Depending on the preferred approach, this assessment can be conducted through workshops or individual interviews.
The assessment results should be well-organized, either aligned with the proposed activity framework or presented as an independent analysis, such as a SWOT analysis. This will help identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to knowledge management in the organization.
Overall, evaluating the existing situation plays a crucial role in understanding the current state of knowledge management and identifying the necessary steps to overcome barriers and enhance the flow of knowledge within the organization.
The Knowledge Management Activity Framework (KM Framework) is a crucial concept in the knowledge management strategy. It provides a cohesive structure that connects various activities along the business axis and the people-processes-technologies-governance axis, presenting a comprehensive set of proposed actions. The decision on where to focus these activities is primarily based on the outcomes of earlier stages, which involved analyzing strategic knowledge issues and evaluating the existing situation.
Furthermore, conducting a comparative analysis of potential needs and solutions compared to other organizations is possible and recommended. This can be achieved through self-benchmarking or seeking external advice from experienced specialists. Engaging with internal stakeholders involved in the activities is also crucial to gather insights on suitable and supportive approaches likely to succeed.
The KM Framework
The KM Framework offers a structured approach to guide knowledge management activities, ensuring alignment with organizational objectives and addressing identified knowledge gaps. The framework facilitates effective decision-making and implementation of knowledge management initiatives by considering strategic priorities, evaluating the current state, and seeking input from both internal and external sources.
Technology support plays a vital role in fulfilling organizational needs, particularly in the context of knowledge management. It is advised to consider the following aspects:
Understand the business goals and objectives.
Identify user needs and requirements.
Explore how knowledge management technologies can be integrated into existing work processes.
Provide adequate training to employees on the use of these technologies.
Effectively manage the change process and encourage the development of habits that align with knowledge management practices.
Measure the usage and performance of the technologies concerning the knowledge management strategy.
Management support is essential, and cross-organizational participation is necessary for successful implementation. Allocating a budget is also crucial. However, it is important to remember that technology should always be viewed as a means to an end, not an end in itself. Defining the requirements for technology implementation addresses two key aspects: connecting and collecting content (people) and the push and pull of information.
Various technologies can be utilized based on these axes, including:
CONNECT-PULL: F&A FORUM
COLLECT-PULL: Search engine; archives and knowledge bases
CONNECT-PUSH: Blogs and microblogging
COLLECT-PUSH: Lessons Learned Management Systems; Wiki
The authors provide a comprehensive list of tool families that can be part of the technological system, depending on specific organizational needs. These include BI applications, expert finders, semantic search, CRM, records management, workflows, instant messaging, knowledge management for service, content management, eDiscovery, document sharing, call management, content extraction, lessons learned systems, blogs, microblogging, wikis, virtual meetings, crowdsourcing, discourse forums, social networks, surveys, and knowledge gathering.
By considering these technological options, organizations can effectively leverage the appropriate tools to support their knowledge management efforts.
Change management is a fundamental aspect of strategy, as mentioned in the previous sections. The authors present John Kotter's eight steps for effective change management and recommend adhering to them:
Creating a compelling case for change: Develop a sense of urgency and emphasize the importance of implementing the changes.
Forming a coalition for change: Engage influential senior leaders who can champion and drive the change efforts.
Establishing an appealing vision for change: Create a vision for change that aligns with the knowledge management vision discussed earlier.
Developing a clear channeling program: The detailed campaign will be developed later, and the strategy will guide its implementation.
Intensifying activity: Identify and empower activities demonstrating the relationship between knowledge management initiatives and the overall strategy.
Creating initial successes: Highlight the value and impact of new behaviors that support knowledge management. Evaluate the need for adjustments to the activity framework based on initial experiences.
Removing barriers: Identify barriers through discussions, interviews, observations, and surveys. Address them in response to the questions posed in the assessment.
Implementing change: Integrate the new processes into regular operational and organizational activities. Additional considerations include:
Addressing the organizational impact and involving stakeholders.
Managing effective communication to ensure stakeholders can understand and make informed decisions about the change. Emphasize the value and benefits.
Ensuring readiness for change among users.
Considering individual and subgroup investment beyond the overall channeling effort.
By following these steps and considering these additional factors, organizations can effectively manage change while implementing knowledge management initiatives.
A pilot application, as defined by the authors, refers to the implementation of the entire activity framework within a specific group or department. The authors discourage implementing only one activity as it may not provide sufficient insights into the overall framework and its adaptation to the organization's knowledge management strategy.
The objectives of a pilot application are as follows:
Demonstrating the value of knowledge management activities in general.
Establishing the business value for the group implementing the pilot.
Gaining insights into how knowledge management operates within the organization.
Generating success stories, both large and small, to support marketing, knowledge management, and change management within the organization.
When selecting pilot groups, several points should be considered, such as:
Areas of organizational pain or challenges.
Critical operational activities.
Repetitive or costly activities that can lead to continuous improvement.
Addressing employee retirements or frequent turnover.
Engaging leaders within the organization is essential for identifying the appropriate pilot group. While field personnel are often the focus, it is recommended to involve senior officials who can make important decisions and have a greater impact on the organization through knowledge management initiatives. This approach allows for greater influence and collaboration with key leaders.
To prioritize among potential pilot groups, the following criteria can be considered:
Enterprise support: The level of support from the organization's leadership and stakeholders.
Measurability: The ability to measure the impact and outcomes of the pilot.
Scalability: The potential for scaling the pilot to other areas or departments.
Applicability: The relevance and applicability of the pilot to the organization's overall knowledge management strategy.
By carefully selecting and prioritizing pilot groups based on these criteria, organizations can effectively demonstrate the value of knowledge management and gather valuable insights for future implementation and scaling efforts.
During the strategy development stage, measurable KPIs may not be available yet. However, certain measures can be considered:
Benefit assessment versus investment: This involves predicting the expected benefits and comparing them to the investment made in the knowledge management program.
Baseline statistics: Gather preliminary data to establish a baseline for future comparison and measurement.
Once the pilot phase is completed, the following measurements can be conducted to evaluate the success of the pilot:
1. Pilot success measurement: Assessing the outcomes and achievements of the pilot implementation.
Here are some typical metrics that can be used:
Market share: Evaluating factors such as increased win percentage, shortened time to market for products, and entry into new markets.
Margin improvement: Assessing the impact of cross-company utilization of best practices, shortening and improving the learning curve, risk reduction, and overhead reduction.
When calculating the return on investment (ROI), it is essential to consider the investments made in knowledge management. These investments may include:
Technology: Purchasing or developing software specifically for knowledge management purposes.
Staff: Accounting for internal staff hours dedicated to knowledge management, expenses related to hiring consultants, and travel expenses.
Note: In some cases, it may be possible to estimate the ROI by learning from publications or case studies of other organizations that have implemented similar knowledge management initiatives.
By measuring both the benefits and investments associated with knowledge management, organizations can assess the overall return on investment and make informed decisions about the effectiveness and value of their knowledge management efforts.
A guerrilla strategy is recommended when there is a lack of organizational support for the knowledge management process. This strategy should be implemented in the short term and, after initial success, integrated with the usual work methods described above. The following steps are involved:
Piloting: Begin with a pilot initiative to test the effectiveness of knowledge management practices.
Demonstrating success in business terms: Showcase the tangible benefits and outcomes of the pilot project in words that resonate with the organization's business goals.
Channeling: Channel the successful practices and experiences gained from the pilot into a broader knowledge management initiative.
Turning success into organization-wide support: Use the demonstrated success and positive outcomes to garner support and engagement from across the organization.
Here are some key considerations for implementing the guerrilla strategy:
Choosing the pilot: Select a supportive manager who recognizes the value of knowledge management and is willing to champion the initiative. Identify a pilot field or department where success can be demonstrated and measured in business terms, providing a foundation for expanding the initiative to additional groups.
Resources: It's important to note that this strategy still requires resources from the start. The allocation of appropriate resources is crucial for the success of the guerrilla strategy.
Boldness: Leading this non-standard strategy requires courage and the ability to highlight and emphasize the achieved successes.
By following this guerrilla strategy, organizations can overcome initial resistance or lack of support for knowledge management and gradually build momentum by showcasing the benefits and value it brings to the business.
Knowledge retention strategy
Despite the information provided earlier, organizations facing a significant challenge of an aging workforce, with many employees scheduled to retire in the coming years, should implement a knowledge retention strategy to preserve organizational knowledge. This strategy should prioritize preservation based on the following factors:
Risks: Identify the critical knowledge areas with the highest knowledge loss risks.
Urgency: Determine the level of urgency for addressing knowledge preservation in different areas.
The strategy should encompass all professions and occupations within the organization. Here is a suggested approach:
1. Map the size and urgency of knowledge preservation problems: Assess critical knowledge topics and identify gaps based on the current situation.
2. Identify critical knowledge topics and key personnel to focus on for knowledge preservation.
3. Develop an activity framework that considers the available time and the time required for preservation:
If time is limited and substantial time required, prioritize knowledge extraction.
If sufficient time is available but a substantial amount of time is still required, focus on knowledge transfer.
If time is limited and there is a scarcity, prioritize knowledge transfer.
If time is ample and required knowledge is scarce, implement an overall knowledge management strategy as described in the book.
Key considerations for implementing the strategy include:
Stakeholders: Involve unit managers affected by departing employees, successors, knowledge communities in relevant areas of expertise, and human resources.
Change management: Provide guidance and training to individuals involved in extracting and transferring knowledge to manage the change process effectively.
Governance: Establish a governance mechanism to monitor progress and ensure the successful execution of the knowledge retention strategy.
Termination – regulation of the activities of the knowledge management team
Upon completing the strategy phase, it is crucial to institutionalize and regulate the activities of the knowledge management team to ensure the ongoing implementation of knowledge management. This includes the following steps:
Appointment of a Knowledge Manager: Select a Knowledge Management Team leader.
Formation of a Supportive Team: Assemble a team that will assist the Knowledge Manager in executing knowledge management initiatives.
Determination of Organizational Affiliation: Decide on the appropriate organizational department or unit to which the Knowledge Management Team will be affiliated.
Appointment of a Steering Committee: Establish a committee providing guidance and oversight for knowledge management activities.
Implementation: Begin executing the action plan formulated by the Knowledge Manager.
Refer to the earlier chapter on the Knowledge Manager for more details about their role and responsibilities. Likewise, details about the partners involved can be found in the partners' section.
The Knowledge Manager must develop an implementation action plan that includes various activities, such as:
Guidance and support
Ongoing collaboration with partners
Conducting pilot projects and updating the knowledge management framework based on lessons learned
Measurement and monitoring activities, including defining metrics and establishing governance mechanisms
Determining requirements for supporting knowledge management software
Documenting information handling processes to capture documented knowledge
Establishing an organizational taxonomy
Defining job descriptions for knowledge leaders and initiating their roles
Defining work processes and conducting process verification tests
Updating existing organizational policies in light of knowledge management
Developing a roadmap for further implementation of the activity framework.
It is important to allocate a dedicated budget to support the operation of the knowledge management program.
The strategy serves as the foundation for effective knowledge management within the organization, ultimately leading to its advancement and reducing the occurrence of failed knowledge management projects. It represents a significant and critical stage in the journey toward successful knowledge management. Best of luck!