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Successes and Failures of Knowledge Management - Book Review

1 September 2016

Dr. Moria Levy

The book "Successes and Failures of Knowledge Management," edited by Jay Liebowitz and published in 2016, stands out as a significant contribution to the field. In recent years, Liebowitz has dedicated his focus to editing books containing articles on various facets of knowledge management, bringing together a diverse array of academic writers and professionals from different organizations and countries.


This volume delves into analyzing the past two decades' successes and failures in knowledge management activities. The summary below presents positive recommendations derived from case studies and expert analyses of failures and successes. While some of these recommendations may seem straightforward, others offer deeper insights, rendering this collection of recommendations precious.


The book encompasses the following key topics:

  1. Organizational aspects

  2. Stages of knowledge management

  3. Components of knowledge management

  4. Recommendations for specific knowledge management solutions

  5. Learning and synergy within complementary fields

  6. A comprehensive list of articles and their respective authors


The book's richness, diversity, and the insights it provides through its wide-ranging content make it a highly recommended resource in the field of knowledge management.


Organizational aspects

  1. Placement within the Organizational Structure

    Knowledge management often finds its place within a specific department of the organization, where it primarily supports and relates to that department's functions. In contrast, other managers may perceive knowledge management as less integral to their roles. While it's true that knowledge management should ideally span across all departments and involve everyone, achieving this requires strong leadership to drive such a transformative change. Additionally, it necessitates a supportive framework of awareness and governance, including well-defined work procedures. Another noteworthy recommendation underscores the importance of securing departmental organizational sponsorship for knowledge management, emphasizing the need for an integrated organizational team to lead the process jointly.

  2. Investment in Organizational Personnel

    Executing a knowledge management project in which all personnel is external, with no contributions from within the organization, is never advisable.

  3. Gradual Project Growth

    Referring to knowledge management as an evolving project can be beneficial in various ways. This growth can manifest at the budgetary level (avoiding the request for a considerable budget initially), in terms of the investment in human resources, and at the enterprise level.

  4. Integration of Knowledge Management into Organizational Structure and Operations

    Changing an organization's culture and behavior can be challenging. The most effective way to drive change is by creating enabling conditions. This involves integrating knowledge management into the organization's structure, processes, and systems.

  5. Terminology for Enhanced Understanding

    People often need help to grasp the full scope of knowledge management. A minor adjustment in terminology, such as using "managing knowledge," can significantly improve comprehension.

  6. Leadership

    Leadership is indispensable and should be brief and dynamic. One recommendation emphasizes a "transference" leadership approach, where leaders inspire others to think critically, engage them in decision-making, and nurture their personal growth. In transference leadership, leaders empower individuals to become leaders themselves. This type of leadership is highly effective, and efforts should be dedicated to its ongoing evaluation. A visual model, the "Sand Cone Model," is proposed to help leaders identify where to invest effort at each stage, both in their leadership and in developing those under them.

  7. Lingering Obstacles

    Despite progress, certain obstacles related to knowledge sharing and utilization still need to be addressed. Some individuals still fear sharing knowledge and criticizing the work of others or subordinates. There is also apprehension about using shared content and assuming responsibility for any mistakes made by others. Language barriers persist in many global organizations, with employees needing help accessing and comprehending information in a common language. The recommendation calls for a thorough analysis of inhibiting factors and open, in-depth discussions addressing these challenges.


Stages of knowledge management

  1. Initiating Knowledge Management Projects

    When embarking on knowledge management activities within an organization, it's reasonable to assume that previous efforts to share knowledge, albeit under different names or perhaps even unsuccessful, exist in some form. As a starting point, it's worthwhile to sift through and leverage the assets already accumulated in prior knowledge-sharing endeavors.

  2. Strategic Integration

    Knowledge management is often seen as valuable but only sometimes critical. Integrating knowledge management into the overall organizational strategy is advisable, positioning it as an integral component supporting the overarching strategy. Caution should be exercised against implementing isolated knowledge management initiatives without precise alignment with business objectives. Another vital recommendation is to ensure that the knowledge management plan remains flexible, adapting to evolving organizational needs and circumstances.

  3. Facilitating Knowledge Flow

    Processes involving knowledge sharing, capture, preservation, creation, and utilization become apparent when addressing challenges or opportunities, managing organizational expectations, facilitating individual and group learning processes, and realizing project outcomes.

  4. Selection of Appropriate Approaches

    Many organizations use benchmarking to examine what others have achieved and emulate successful activities. However, context often plays a significant role. It is advisable to focus on learning from others rather than unthinkingly replicating their actions, a concept known as "bench-learning."

  5. Streamlining

    Knowledge management implementations can sometimes become needlessly complex. Simplification is recommended in various dimensions, including strategy, delineation, governance, priorities, partnerships, their roles, application technologies, information and knowledge management, and establishing transparent processes.

  6. Trust

    Trust forms a fundamental component of effective knowledge sharing and utilization.

  7. Patience

    Both knowledge management and organizational change require time. Patience becomes an essential virtue when factoring in trial and error while searching for the right path.

  8. Measuring Activities

    Knowledge management activities should be evaluated based on five key parameters that influence knowledge:

    - Knowledge acquisition

    - Knowledge assimilation

    - Selection of knowledge for use

    - Creation of new knowledge

    - Retiring existing knowledge and removing it from the system

    Additionally, four sub-parameters related to measurement, control, coordination, and leadership complement these primary parameters. This framework provides a model for assessing the relationship between activity and success. Each organization must identify the relevant and significant parameters to its context and conduct adequate assessments of knowledge management activities accordingly.

  9. Measuring Outcomes

    Directly measuring the benefits, return on investment, or value of knowledge management can be challenging for organizations. It is recommended to gauge organizational benefits and employ corporate indicators instead of attempting to measure knowledge management directly.

  10. Defining Long-Term Success

    For organizational knowledge management to succeed, it must achieve success during the initial launch and sustain effective knowledge management over time.

  11. Forgetting

    As part of knowledge management methodologies, organizations should adopt sub-methods for determining when and how to forget information and knowledge that have become deeply ingrained in the organization, whether in consciousness or work processes. Acknowledging the issue is the first step toward effectively managing it.

  12. Relearning

    Organizations should establish systematic methodologies for relearning topics they previously knew and now require again. It becomes apparent that these processes differ significantly from initial learning endeavors.


Knowledge Management Concepts

  1. People

    Leveraging the organizational human capital through knowledge communities, social networks, and other communication channels is contingent upon fostering a culture of openness that actively encourages sharing.

  2. Computing

    It's essential to approach knowledge management in the context of technology, including document management, with caution. Knowledge management should be viewed as both a managerial and techno-social concept.

  3. Shared Information Architecture

    Organizational knowledge management stands to gain significant advantages from an information architecture that facilitates seamless navigation across various knowledge management domains. This includes accessing all customer-related knowledge irrespective of departmental boundaries. A well-structured architecture, including taxonomy and patterns, can provide a solid foundation for achieving this goal. The recommendation is to treat this architecture as an independent project, complementary to decentralized efforts, with a delicate balance between the two. Such a project should not only define the core architecture but also address user experience and governance considerations. Highlighting the inherent benefits of such an endeavor can help justify its necessity within the organization. [Another recommendation discusses the Semantic Web as a framework for cross-organizational data representation understood by humans and machines.]

  4. Accessibility of Information

    Accessible information should be presented in a user-friendly and easily accessible manner.

  5. Processes

    Embracing a process-based knowledge management approach can be a pivotal factor for success. In this approach, work tasks across different functions are clearly defined, along with expectations from individuals. Roles and processes that involve knowledge acquisition are also well-defined. For procedures requiring knowledge, consensus is established regarding the support processes needed and the responsible parties. Adequate time should be allocated for this purpose to ensure practical applicability.


Recommendations for specific knowledge management solutions

  1. Solution - Search Web 2.0 Service

    Recommendation - When individuals struggle to find information through typical knowledge management systems, investing in a search project and fine-tuning the existing search engine is crucial. Consider initiating investments in WIKI and RSS when organizations are venturing into the world of WEB 2.0 and are still determining how to begin. To enhance knowledge management systems effectively, it is advisable to establish a level of engagement that encourages ongoing content sharing with customers. Furthermore, consider allowing customers to contribute their knowledge.

  2. Solution - Social

    Social knowledge management systems distinguish themselves from traditional content-based knowledge management systems and offer significant organizational value. These systems thrive when they encompass four key components: high interactivity, knowledge-based functionality, content-sharing capabilities, and multiple layers of expertise and knowledge.

  3. Solution - Chatbot

    Testimonials - Chatbot systems are designed to interact with customers in an automated manner, assisting them. At the same time, they navigate websites or other knowledge management systems, ultimately aiding in knowledge utilization or promoting purchases. Such systems require continuous learning and improvement. As evidenced by research, automatic analysis of system logs serves as a valuable tool for pinpointing areas where knowledge enhancement is needed. Concrete recommendations are provided for exploring blogs. However, it's crucial to understand that this process is iterative, and improvements may only occur sometimes or after the initial implementation.

  4. Solution - Knowledge Retention

    - Knowledge retention processes alone do not guarantee knowledge utilization and contribution to organizational improvement.

    - Knowledge can be lost during preservation processes.

    - Even when knowledge is stored within knowledge management systems, structured retention processes may inadvertently accelerate knowledge loss.

    - It is strongly recommended that as part of a knowledge retention strategy, organizations should examine how knowledge is acquired and transformed into organizational knowledge and how easily others can access it in the future.


Learning and synergy within complementary fields

  1. Knowledge Management and Project Management

    The business landscape is increasingly project-oriented. To advance knowledge management within the organization, it's advisable to implement project management methodologies across all knowledge management activities. However, an additional recommendation, which may seem contradictory but is complementary, is to view knowledge management as something other than a standalone project with a defined beginning, middle, and end. Instead, consider it as an ongoing journey.

  2. Knowledge Management and Digital Asset Management

    Digital asset management offers well-established methodologies for handling the influx of information, such as assessing the validity of content items. Incorporating these methodologies into organizational knowledge management is highly advisable to enhance its value and utility.

  3. Knowledge Management and Competitive Intelligence

    While knowledge management predominantly focuses on preserving, sharing, and facilitating access to knowledge, knowledge development and innovation sometimes need more attention. One practical approach to foster gradual and revolutionary knowledge development is to collectively formulate rules for knowledge assets at all levels, from data to structured information, open knowledge, tacit knowledge, and intuition. This approach involves integrating the various knowledge management components into a unified repository. Addressing organizational knowledge within the Competitive Intelligence (CI) framework, which encompasses these integrations and other tools, can significantly boost knowledge development effectiveness. Viewing these two worlds as cohesive can create substantial synergy for both. [Consider the incorporation of analytics/Big Data into this amalgamation as a further advancement.]


A comprehensive list of articles and their respective authors

  1. Parameters of Knowledge Management Success, C.W. Holsapple, S.-H Hsiao, J.-Y. Oh

  2. Why are companies still Struggling to Implement Knowledge Management? Answers from 34 Experts in the Field V. Ribiere, F.A. Calabrese

  3. REAL Knowledge and the James Webb Space Telescope: Success and Failure Coexisting in NASA E. Hoffman, J. Boyle, E. Rogers

  4. Processes: Still the Poor Relation in the Knowledge Management Family, J.S. Edwards

  5. KM Successes and Failures: Some Personal Reflections on Major Challenges, A.K.P. Wensley

  6. Lessons Learned from Nearly 200 Cases of KM Journeys by Hong Kong and Asian Enterprises, E. Tsui

  7. Knowledge Loss and Retention: The Paradoxical Role of IT, N. Levallet, Y.E. Chan

  8. Knowledge and Knowledge-Related Assets: Design for Optimal Application and Impact G.S. Erickson, H.N. Rothberg

  9. Knowledge Management Success and Failure: The Tale of Two Cases, S. Larson

  10. Social Knowledge: Organizational Currencies in the New Knowledge Economy, K.E. Russell, R. La Londe, F. Walters

  11. Knowledge Management and Analytical Modeling for Transformational Leadership Profiles in a Multinational Company, T. Ha-Vikstrom, J. Takala

  12. Successes and Failures in Improvement of Knowledge Delivery to Customers Using Chatbot- Result of a Case Study in a Polish SME, B. Filipczyk, J. Gotuchowski, J. Paliszkiewiez, A. Janas

  13. Don't Neglect the Foundation: How Organizations Can Build Their Knowledge Architecture and Processes for Long-Term Sustainability, S. Earley

  14. Semantic Technologies for Enhancing Knowledge Management Systems, V. Sugumaran


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