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What They Didn't Tell You About Knowledge Management - Book Review

1 June 2009
Dr. Moria Levy
book cover

Published in 2006, "What They Didn't Tell You About Knowledge Management" was written by Jay Liebowitz, a professor of information science with a background in library and informatics and experience as a NASA knowledge manager. The book articulates his philosophy by combining a methodological perspective rooted in academic expertise with a practical vision derived from his role at NASA. This book is one of the 46 authored and published by Liebowitz, many related to knowledge management. It offers individuals seeking familiarity with knowledge management a broad yet straightforward overview, providing practical advice on initiating the process.

Throughout the book, readers are reminded of Liebowitz's background as a former librarian, and the connection between librarianship and knowledge management is frequently highlighted, facilitating cross-learning between the two fields. Instead of a typical comprehensive summary, the book presents a collection of main points.

Covering various aspects of knowledge management in organizations, the book delves into:
  • Knowledge management styles

  • Knowledge management solutions

  • Knowledge management officials

  • The organizational need for knowledge management

  • Tips for implementing knowledge management

  • Measurement

  • Future considerations

The summary excludes observations based on older surveys from the beginning of the decade, considering that we are nearing its end, and their validity may be diminishing. Undoubtedly, reading for beginners, individuals passionate about or professionally involved in book/information science, and anyone looking to enhance their knowledge in different aspects of experience is recommended.

Knowledge management styles

Knowledge management can be approached in diverse ways, and the method chosen can be distinguished along different axes of conduct. Leibowitz identifies a central axis guiding the planning of organizational knowledge management styles: personal knowledge management or documentation and construction.

In personal knowledge management, Leibovich emphasizes connections among individuals with knowledge, giving prominence to face-to-face interactions and less computerized means. On the other hand, documented and structured knowledge management relies on knowledge bases, lesson bases, expert systems, and processes involving the codification of knowledge into information.

The choice of knowledge management style depends on the nature of the organization. Based on his experience at NASA, Leibowitz recommends a knowledge management approach primarily centered around documentation and construction. This recommendation aligns with the fact that most users in such a setting, including engineers, technologists, and scientists, are accustomed to working with information systems and well-organized content.

It is crucial to avoid imposing a uniform solution on every organization. For those less at ease in the digital environment and with knowledge sharing through technology, there should be an emphasis on increasing the number of meetings and tools facilitating the human transmission of knowledge.

Knowledge management solutions

Various types of knowledge management solutions are gaining popularity in implementation today, including:

  • Document management – involves selecting technological infrastructure, creating content and taxonomy trees (in collaboration with organizational librarians), and making arrangements for conversions, training, and feedback.

  • Structured content management – primarily web-based systems for handling structured content. In recent years, these systems have integrated with traditional document management systems, forming a cohesive solution.

  • Search engines are tools facilitating searches at different levels (based on characteristics, text, etc.) and from diverse sources, making information and knowledge more accessible to employees.

  • Expert management – tools for managing lists of officials and experts, allowing them to be queried. Individuals are recognized as experts in some products based on observed behavior rather than predefined classifications.

  • Knowledge communities are virtual spaces for people to meet and exchange information and knowledge through various methods (documents, forums, etc.).

  • Lessons learned – management systems for lessons learned. The author notes that many of these systems failed due to a lack of push tools to integrate knowledge into the user's work environment.

  • Knowledge sharing sessions – face-to-face meetings like knowledge fairs, poster meetings, storytelling sessions, and sessions focused on lessons learned.

Portals, naturally, can encompass all these solutions, presenting them to the user from a unified platform.

Knowledge management officials

Various functionaries play critical roles in driving knowledge management activities within the organization. At the overarching level, there is a steering committee and users. In between, three main types of functionaries emerge: the manager, the professional, and the administrator. Librarians, with advantages in many knowledge management activities, are recommended to be involved in processes, even if not formally defined as part of the knowledge management team. The roles are delineated according to the knowledge therapy life cycle:

Knowledge Identification

  • Fundamentals

    - Identify critical areas of knowledge.

    - Identify knowledge components.

    - Identify important deliverables.

  • Getting Professional

    - Identify sources.

    - Identify fulfillment issues.

    - Control and warning.

Knowledge Capture

  • Fundamentals

    - Set policy.

    - Create a schedule.

    - Oversee contribution and quality control.

  • Getting Professional

    - Control processes.

    - Capture lessons learned.

    - Identify additional needs arising in the process.

    - Document and report.

    - Enter content into the portal.

Knowledge Sharing

  • Fundamentals

    - Facilitate open communication and knowledge sharing.

    - Update key stakeholders.

    - Ensure that those who need knowledge receive it.

  • Getting Professional

    - Regularly update stakeholders.

    - Ensure that those who need knowledge receive it.

    - Ensure that those who need knowledge receive it.

Fostering a Participatory Culture

  • Fundamentals

    - Manage cross-organizational projects.

    - Evaluate and reward.

    - Encourage on-the-job learning.

    - Promote and share overall knowledge.

  • Getting Professional

    - Establish knowledge communities.

    - Meet project needs.

    - Communicate knowledge sharing.

    - Respond to knowledge requests.

    - Update when knowledge is shared.

Application of Knowledge at the Organizational Level

  • Fundamentals

    - Adjust the organizational strategy.

    - Document decision-making.

    - Periodically review products, services, and solutions where knowledge can be integrated.

  • Getting Professional

    - Gather knowledge-related goals.

    - Find ways to incorporate knowledge into existing and new products, services, and programs.

    - Recommend updates to tasks and processes following evolving knowledge.

    - Suggest innovations and improvements.

Re-application of Knowledge

  • Fundamentals

    - Address organizational memory in decision-making processes.

  • Getting Professional

    - Advise websites and portals to make use of lessons learned from the past.

    - Use templates and other relevant information.

    - Use templates and other relevant information.

Developing New Knowledge

  • Fundamentals

    - Channel, enforce and link organizational activities related to developing the vision, mission, and objectives to add context to knowledge management.

    - Identify key dimensions and report them to management.

  • Getting Professional

    - Analyze captured knowledge and shared learning.

    - Build and refresh content and expertise.

    - Transfer new knowledge to existing databases.

The organizational need for knowledge management

While knowledge management may seem crucial for any organization, it is essential to recognize that not every organization requires it to the same extent. A brief questionnaire designed to assist an organization in determining its need for knowledge management includes the following questions:

  1. Are the employees in the organization relatively advanced in age?

  2. Is the level of documentation and knowledge capture in the organization low?

  3. Are the organization's competitors catching up with its knowledge management efforts?

  4. Does your organization have a structured plan for sharing and transferring knowledge between experts and younger personnel?

  5. Is the budget for training and developing employees in the organization limited?

  6. Does one side of the organization typically stay informed about activities on the other side, especially in similar areas?

  7. Do you spend much time each day searching for information you know exists?

  8. Do you need more time for informal conversations with colleagues in your organization?

  9. Do numerous employees leave the organization due to competitive offers, persuasion, or other reasons?

If the answer to questions 7-9 is yes, the need for knowledge management in the organization is critical. If the answer to 4-6 questions is yes, knowledge management can bring benefits. If the answer to questions 1 to 3 is yes, knowledge management can be helpful but may likely have a less significant impact than in other organizations.

Tips for implementing knowledge management

Drawing on his extensive experience, Leibovich imparts a set of tips for implementing knowledge management across its various stages:

Knowledge Management Development:

  • Start small; achieve quick successes.

  • Attend to organizational taxonomy.

  • Integrate knowledge management into ongoing work processes.

  • Initiate pilots before broadly rolling out knowledge management solutions.

  • Manage change effectively.

  • Tailor your knowledge management style to align with organizational culture.

Realization of Knowledge Management:

  • Clearly define roles and responsibilities in the realm of knowledge management.

  • Leverage insights from other groups within the organization and external entities.

  • Provide appropriate training and documentation for the job.

  • Conduct surveys post-knowledge management efforts to gauge progress.

Knowledge Management Strategy:

  • Align your knowledge management strategy with your organization's strategic mission and goals.

  • Acknowledge, value, and reward contributions.

  • Recognize that technology constitutes only 20%; 80% involves people, processes, and culture.

  • Combine top-down and bottom-up approaches for success.

Management of Knowledge Management Activities:

  • Effectively manage your projects.

  • Communicate and disseminate information widely.

  • Form cross-functional teams.

What Not to Do?

  • Avoid forcing the coordination of user requirements into the software system.

  • Refrain from labeling every technology as "technology that supports knowledge management."

  • Refrain from convincing people that all their needs will be met by knowledge management.

  • Steer clear of making exaggerated promises.

  • Prevent isolation of your organization's knowledge management efforts.

  • Refrain from claiming expertise in knowledge management without proper training and guidance.

  • Abstain from developing methods if appropriate metrics for evaluation cannot be identified.


Given the multidisciplinary nature of knowledge management, it is both possible and beneficial to assess it from various perspectives:

Financial and Accounting Aspect:

Citing various studies, Leibowitz highlights the limitations of classic financial and accounting metric systems in measuring intangible assets, value, and innovation. He references Baruch Lev's article proposing a measurement model for valuing value and Advinson's model for creating a balance sheet at Scandia (where he served as a knowledge manager) for evaluating intangible assets, particularly human capital. Other metrics include an activity-based costing approach.

Human Resources Aspect:

Several metrics within the HR community have been developed for assessing intangible assets. An example management development model involves defining services, determining the time applicability of employees in the organization, evaluating the likelihood of service use, and calculating the benefits.

Computational Aspect:

Several metrics, some incorporating Fuzzy logic concepts, have been defined. This method entails defining a goal being measured, metrics, and sentences examining the existence of each metric. Each sentence in the index is assigned an A-F score indicating the index's level of fact, with the sixth representing complete correlation and the first indicating no correlation. The combination of indices and their utilization suggests the level of goal achievement.

Perspective of Organizational Development:

Several indices exist in this realm, with key ones including:

  • Measuring "good" behaviors and their competitive value.

  • Assessing a defined component's performance and success among all components of the intangible asset.

  • Measuring the impact of knowledge on the value of a business process.

Knowledge Management Perspective:

Examining five main categories:

  1. Development/change agility.

  2. Creativity.

  3. Building organizational memory.

  4. Intra-organizational helpfulness.

  5. Extra-organizational helpfulness.

Macro-Knowledge Management Measurement:

Measuring human capital and the effects of knowledge management. An example model by Malhora includes:

  • Measuring learning and growth.

  • Measuring the development of business process improvement.

  • Measuring value and cost.

  • Measuring shareholder value.

  • Measuring vision and strategy at a national level.

Future considerations

While knowledge management is widely acknowledged as valuable, it may never evolve into an independent discipline. It has seamlessly integrated into human resources in numerous organizations, especially within the US government. Conversely, its association with information systems, mainly due to standard portal implementations, persists in some organizations.

Historically, organizations have heavily invested in document management systems, expert management, and communities, but these investments are expected to expand in the future. The evolving perceptions of information and related technologies among the younger generation, encompassing PDAs, iPods, computing, e-mail, virtual reality, online communities, e-learning, wireless networking, and more, will significantly impact knowledge management. These advancements facilitate easy knowledge sharing anytime and anywhere.

According to Leibovitz, technological proficiency and an advanced understanding of information are crucial for the future development of knowledge management within organizations. Knowledge management assumes a significant role in human resources; it is envisioned to be integrated with business and competitive intelligence, forming a unified profession known as strategic intelligence.

Librarians are also anticipated to play a pivotal role in the future of knowledge management. Their knowledge base is expected to expand to meet the growing demand for integrating knowledge and information into daily work processes. However, knowledge management should not be confined to the domain of librarians; instead, all relevant organizational channels must operate simultaneously. Librarians are encouraged to grow and develop into knowledge management specialists, ensuring they remain essential contributors in shaping the future.

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