Saturday, August 19, 2006

In an earlier post, Stan Garfield answered the call for a "Top 10" KM do's and don'ts. Number 2 on his list is: Balance people, process, and technology, with a project leader for each category. It seems to me that Stan's thoughts here line up with my experience---to a point. That is, a comprehensive KM strategy that includes a balance between the elements is essential. All too often organizations implement an IT solution that they think will lead the way to a culture of knowledge sharing only to be disappointed in the lack of results. Paying attention to the processes required---creatintg and publishing knowledge, assuring its quality and maintaining content relevancy, and continually innovating from the shared knowledge base---can't simply be left to chance. Similarly, the change management piece---the people element---is something that must be fully strategized and deliberately implemented.

What I think are missing from Stan's list though, are content and measurement. In order to share, people have to have something worth sharing. What will bring people back to a repository but content that is meaningful to them? Like a little maintained website, lack of content will surely mean a quick death to any knowledge sharing effort. KM can, and should be measured as well. Just as any other improvement initiative, KM should be held accountable to its results. Measuring KM however, doesn't mean just measuring its activity level. Measurements that mean something to the business that are impacted by KM activity are the things that matter.


Christian Young said...

Hmmm, a couple of observations on "valuable content"...I think its important when attempting to promote knowledge sharing activity that people are given a certain amount of latitude in what they share - many people don't immediately recognize the value in their contributions and often wait to share something "special" (and end up not sharing anything at all); I tend to favor encouraging sharing even when it's not particularly valuable just to get people in the habit of sharing.

In terms of identifying value in knowledge, in my opinion, that's part of the role that the knowledge manager plays - identifying areas for further/deeper exploration and becoming involved in the process of building the value of the knowledge base/repository. For all knowledge content, you have to read between the lines and ask "what value does this information have?", "how can this information help the organization achieve it's goals?" - and whether you yourself have a response or not, put it back out there to the masses and invite them to answer those questions.

Too many organizations just expect that people know (1) the value of the knowledge they possess and (2) how to communicate that knowledge. This is another important role for knowledge managers - educating people on how to share, in addition to why, what, when, and where.

It's interesting here to note that blogging truly reflects people's willingness to share the contents of their head and have a voice, yet so many organizations are afraid of encouraging the practice internally, because they don't know what they'll get (or, more precisely, they know exactly what they'll get and they don't want to deal with it).

Something to think about: the more you attempt to control the process (and content) of knowledge sharing, the less sharing you're likely to have; and while the narrow focus may have its benefits, are you getting all the knowledge you need/want? I say worry about implementing "controls" after you've created some solid momentum.

As for measurement, I don't know if Stan intentionally or unintentionally left measurement off of his list, but I think it is a topic that gets too much attention. I absolutely see the value in incorporating measurement protocols into your KM strategy, but too much time is expended on trying to quantify the value and the benefit and to what end? Is it helping to get KM up and running? For most organizations, the inability to adequately develop measurement standards prevents KM from even getting out of the gate. I'm not saying it should be a free for all (you can have basic metrics tied to your overall goals), but perhaps organizations should try a more faith-based approach to KM and just go with it until there's actually something to measure.

Sometimes you've just gotta believe.

Jim Lee, PMP said...

“Sometimes you've just gotta believe.” That’s Christian Young’s encouragement to us when considering the formalization of KM. I personally believe that as well, but…. The but is, those who don’t understand the value of KM as well as we do rarely buy it on faith. On what do I base this? Mostly on the fact that when I’m approached to conduct an assessment or a consulting engagement to help an organization develop or implement a holistic knowledge management strategy, it rarely comes from the highest levels of the organization. Those requests typically come from somewhere in the middle of the organization, in an area that hopes to convince the senior management of engaging in KM as a pilot of sorts. Moreover, measurement of “what am I getting for my money?” always seems to be a sticking point.

For those of us actively working in KM, measurement is truly, “been there, done that” and we’ve moved on to activities that result in real KM value. In fact, I’ve observed that for those that do “get it,” communicating to them about KM is as easy as talking about our favorite hobbies—we’re knowledgeable and passionate about it! For those who don’t have the faith yet? It’s like speaking in a foreign language to them. Maybe the trick is, how do we get them to understand that they’ve “just gotta believe?” Without that silver bullet, I’m afraid we often have to default back to a more universal argument—measurement of some kind. Certainly business people understand measurement, and more and more I’m finding the public sector demanding results oriented measures as well.

If anyone’s got some ideas regarding, “to measure, or not to measure,” I’d love to hear them. Thanks to Christian for providing some thought provoking commentary. Next time, I think I’ll ask more about this business of blogging.