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The Knowledge Management Handbook - Book Review

1 August 2016

Dr. Moria Levy

"The Knowledge Management Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Embedding Effective Knowledge Management in Your Organization," authored by Nick Milton and Patrick Lambe, renowned knowledge management leaders hailing from England and the East, was published in 2016. This is a comprehensive and practical knowledge management guide. It adeptly encompasses explicit knowledge, offering guidance on what to do, and the often intricate tacit knowledge, providing insights on implementing these concepts.


The book doesn't prescribe a singular approach but presents multiple acceptable courses of action, drawing from literature and experiential knowledge. It encourages readers to select the approach that best suits their organization, acknowledging the diversity of contexts.



The book delves into various crucial topics, including:

1. Definition of Knowledge Management

2. Initiating the Knowledge Management Process within an Organization

3. Knowledge Management Infrastructure - A Supportive Framework for Activities

4. Types of Knowledge Management Solutions

5. Establishment Process

6. The Post-Implementation Phase

7. Challenges


This summary only scratches the surface, as the book is replete with in-depth information, practical tips, and illustrative examples integrated into the narrative and as standalone chapters.  


Definition of Knowledge Management

The beginning of the book evokes the style of a typical Jewish joke, setting a humorous tone.

 When you gather five knowledge management experts in a room, you'll inevitably encounter seven definitions of what knowledge management entails. Nevertheless, Milton and Lambe provide a clear purpose: Knowledge management is an emerging discipline focused on knowledge. It represents an approach to overseeing work that emphasizes recognizing the value and impact of knowledge, a vital intangible asset within an organization.


The critical elements of knowledge management that enjoy widespread acceptance include:

1. Facilitating connections among individuals.

2. Drawing insights from past experiences.

3. Enhancing access to documents.

4. Preserving knowledge within the organization.

5. Cultivating insights such as best practices.

6. Fostering innovation.



Initiating the Knowledge Management Process within an Organization

Numerous approaches exist for initiating knowledge management activities within an organization. The authors recommend a dual-strategy course: a long-term commitment to experimentation, piloting, and seizing immediate opportunities to achieve quick wins.


A comprehensive knowledge management strategy comprises the following components:

1. Vision: A concise statement that aligns employees with the subject matter.


2. Demarcation: Clearly defining the boundaries and scope of knowledge management.


3. Guiding Principles: Suggested examples include:

-   Knowledge management is organization-led and aligns with the organization's strategy.

-   Knowledge management prioritizes critical knowledge and impactful decisions.

-   Implementing knowledge management is akin to a behavioral change management program and will be phased in gradually as a project.

-   The knowledge management plan incorporates the necessary infrastructure (detailed in the subsequent chapter).


4. Assessment of Current Knowledge State: This involves:

-   Analyzing knowledge assets, including documented knowledge, trainable skills, practices, connections, experience, and natural talents.

-   Mapping potential benefits stemming from knowledge management.

-   Analyzing challenges, including current risks, access to knowledge assets, and identified gaps.


5. Change Management Plan: Determining how to navigate the change management process.


6. Business Case: Although only sometimes mandatory, it is advisable to include a proof of concept exemplifying the benefits of knowledge management through a one-time event. Proof of concept examples encompass:

-   Learning from Project Summary (Retrospect).

-   Peer Assist.


7. Culture: Addressing culture involves several stages, including:

-   Mapping the existing knowledge management culture (with two possible models proposed).

-   Understanding the underlying factors driving cultural behaviors.

-   Formulating and communicating a change management plan to cultivate a supportive culture for knowledge management.


Knowledge Management Infrastructure - A Supportive Framework for Activities

The knowledge management infrastructure, which serves as the framework facilitating and sustaining long-term activities, comprises four primary components:

1. Role Holders

2. Processes

3. Technology

4. Governance


Indeed, all these components necessitate adequate budgets, primarily for staffing but not exclusively so.


Further Details on Key Functionaries Include:

-   Sponsor of Knowledge Management: This individual holds a senior position and is pivotal as the primary change agent. They lead the knowledge management program at the highest level, challenging the status quo, allocating necessary resources, emphasizing the business aspects, monitoring progress, removing obstacles, and representing the management of knowledge to the executive team.


-   Knowledge Manager (Lead): This individual heads the Knowledge Management Team (described below) and is ideally a senior figure from within the organization.


-   Knowledge Management Team: This team scales per the organization's size and possesses a diverse skill set, including business acumen, coordination and planning abilities, deep organizational knowledge, change management skills, writing proficiency, technical prowess, and project management proficiency. Team members are passionate about knowledge management and adept at implementing tools and techniques. In larger teams, roles such as project manager and communication manager may exist. The knowledge management team can be situated in various organizational areas, each offering distinct advantages.


-   Knowledge Management Steering Committee: This coalition drives change by providing guidance, allocating resources, and wielding decision-making authority. It comprises representatives from key departments (e.g., human resources, information technology, quality) and fosters collaboration, as only some entities can effectively lead knowledge management in isolation.


-   Knowledge Management Leaders in Units: These individuals act as advocates for knowledge management, representing the Knowledge Management Implementation Unit and bridging the gap between employees and external sources of knowledge beyond the usual context. Investing in training and support for these leaders, which can encompass resources, community-building, events, and more, is advisable. (The book offers comprehensive insights into each of these roles.)


Note: Investment efforts should commence with stakeholder recruitment, beginning with awareness, progressing through engagement, and culminating in cultural and institutional adoption and assimilation.


Regarding Processes:

-   These are defined in the chapters and pertain to knowledge management solutions, the establishment process, and post-implementation considerations.


Concerning Technology:

-   This aspect is elucidated within the context of knowledge management solutions.


In Governance:

-   Systematic definition of solutions.

-   Supporting documentation (e.g., Business Case, Strategy, Appointment Letters).

-   Clear articulation of expectations from employees/units (e.g., Charter/Ethics Rules, Manuals).

-   Provision of tutorials.

-   Dissemination of usage guides.

-   Establish procedures and guidelines.

-   Documentation and celebration of success stories.

-   Implementation of performance measurement.


Types of Knowledge Management Solutions

Knowledge management solutions can be categorized into four groups, closely aligned with NONAKA's SECI model, represented along two axes – human (Connect) and content (Collect).

Connect- These solutions focus on connecting people to foster dialogue and interaction. Equivalent to SECI, Socialize

Collect- These solutions revolve around capturing and documenting knowledge, including oral proficiency, and processing and integrating it effectively.



Emphasis within Discourse:

It is advisable to prioritize dialogue types that encourage exploring different perspectives and attaining mutual understanding. These dialogues necessitate structure and regulation.


Typical processes include:

-   Knowledge community meetings (both face-to-face and virtual)

-   Discourse on social networks

-   Building expert maps and facilitating knowledge transfer

-   Peer assistance


Supporting technologies:

-   Discussion forums and Q&A platforms

-   Enterprise social networks

-   People Locator Systems


Emphasis within Capture and Record Knowledge:

Four distinct types of information and knowledge are involved, with a focus on capturing and documenting these resources:


Typical processes encompass:

-   Interviews

-   Lessons Learned sessions (After Action Reviews - AAR)

-   A3 Reports (borrowed from Toyota's methodology)

-   Retrospectives


Supporting technologies:

-   Recording technologies, including video

-   Knowledge management systems

-   Lessons repositories

-   Blogs


Emphasis within Processing:

Structured and validated content is at the heart of processing knowledge, involving various processes and sample content like procedures, working methods, checklists, templates, FAQs, and tips. Processing activities can be individual, collaborative between teams, or even part of a wiki marathon.


Supporting technologies:

-   Wiki platforms

-   Portals

-   Specialized knowledge bases


Emphasis within Detection:

Encouraging people to search for knowledge is paramount in this category, making learning more accessible and traceable. Implementing proactive methods, such as BAR (Best Available Resource), is crucial.


Typical processes:

-   Proactive search strategies


Supporting technologies:

-   Search applications

-   Tag clouds

-   Automatic tagging tools

-   Taxonomy systems

-   Catalogs


The book describes the various functionaries and the processes for establishing these solutions and provides governance examples for each.


The authors also recommend creating a summary table that outlines individual solutions concerning the four types mentioned above, as well as the associated activities related to people (roles), processes, technology, and governance.


Establishment Process

The construction process comprises several distinct stages. Below, you will find a suggested outline of the typical components of such a program:

1. Formation and Training of a Knowledge Management Team

2. Cultural Analysis

3. Stakeholder Engagement

4. Training and Guidance for Knowledge Workers in Knowledge Management Practices

5. Establishment of a Supportive Framework for Activities encompassing the above four aspects

6. Development of a Technological Infrastructure

7. Implementation of an Enterprise Taxonomy Infrastructure

8. Capability for Proof of Concept (PoC)

9. Execution of Pilot Projects: These projects draw from experience and are designed to illuminate the correct course of action, a supportive framework, and, of course, to generate successful outcomes, providing evidence of the feasibility of knowledge management.

10. Iterative Improvement and Adjustments to the Activity Support Framework

11. Launch of Full-Scale Activities

12. Development of Governance Processes to Fully Integrate Knowledge Management within the Organization

13. Reporting and Future Planning


Each of these sections entails numerous sub-steps. We recommend a meticulous approach to planning and resource management, encompassing time, personnel, and investment, to ensure the successful execution of this comprehensive plan.


The Post-Implementation Phase

The success of knowledge management relies on integrating knowledge management activities into the organization's everyday operations. It's crucial not to consider these activities separate endeavors once established. To achieve this, the organization should take the following steps at the organizational level:

1. Assimilate Knowledge Management Functionaries into the Organizational Structure: Incorporate individuals responsible for knowledge management as integral parts of the organizational framework.


2. Make Comprehensive Adjustments to the Supportive Framework for Knowledge Management Activities: Ensure that the support systems and structures align seamlessly with knowledge management initiatives.


3. Establish Governance for Knowledge Management: Implement governance mechanisms encompassing guidelines, performance measurement, and training.


Regarding measurement, there are four distinct categories of metrics in knowledge management:

1. Activity Measurement

2. Performance Measurement: Evaluating knowledge management activities against the planned policy.

3. Impact Measurement: Assessing the positive changes attributable to knowledge management.

4. Maturity Measurement of Knowledge Management: This pertains to the enterprise's overall maturity of knowledge management.


The first three metrics are applied to each project, while the maturity measurement is implemented at an enterprise-wide level. These measurements can serve as a basis for recognizing and rewarding success.


Concerning the future, after completing the entire program and successfully embedding knowledge management as an integral part of normative organizational activity, knowledge management must continue to thrive on two fronts:

1. Current Level: This involves ongoing support, monitoring, control, and a commitment to continuous improvement.


2. Refresh and Update: As organizations evolve, knowledge management should adapt accordingly. It's crucial to periodically refresh and update the framework and initiate new pilots and projects to ensure that knowledge management remains aligned with the organization's changing needs and goals.


In closing, it's important to remember that every ending marks the beginning of a new phase. As the saying goes: "And every end is a new beginning." (M.L.)



Below are the primary lessons learned from real-world experience in the field, representing the most common challenges encountered along the way:


1. Lack of Business Focus: Failing to present knowledge management with a clear business focus.


2. Insufficient Integration with Business Processes: Integrating knowledge management into core business processes.


3. Failure to Secure Management Support and Stakeholder Engagement: Inability to garner support from management and effectively engage stakeholders.


4. Lack of Focus on High-Value Knowledge: Neglecting to prioritize knowledge of significant value.


5. Inability to Demonstrate Measurable Benefits: Need to demonstrate tangible benefits that align with stakeholder and user expectations.


6. Unequal Emphasis on Infrastructure Components: Giving disproportionate weight to certain aspects of the knowledge management infrastructure, often at the expense of functionaries and governance.


7. Partial Implementation of Knowledge Management Solutions: Implementing only a portion of a comprehensive knowledge management solution.


8. Overly Complex Solutions: Designing knowledge management solutions that prove excessively complex for users, emphasizing simplicity and integration with existing tools.


9. Lack of Change Management Approach: Need to implement knowledge management as a change management program.


10. Limited Outreach: Restrict knowledge management initiatives to those already convinced of their value.


11. Resistance from Uncooperative Employees: Facing opposition and uncooperative behavior from employees.


12. Staffing Challenges: Dealing with frequent staff changes and turnover can disrupt knowledge management efforts.


13. Inadequate Knowledge Management Team: Struggling with a knowledge management team that may need the necessary skills and capabilities.


As highlighted, knowledge management is undoubtedly a challenging endeavor. However, its significance undeniably compels organizations to invest the effort required to succeed. The rewards make it a worthwhile pursuit. (M.L.)


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