8 Steps to Implementing a Knowledge Management Program at Your Organization

7 minute read

A winning knowledge management program increases staff productivity, product and service quality, and deliverable consistency by capitalizing on intellectual and knowledge-based assets.

Many organizations leap into a knowledge management solution (e.g. document management, data mining, blogging, and community forums) without first considering the purpose or objectives they wish to fulfill or how the organization will adopt and follow best practices for managing its knowledge assets long term.

A successful knowledge management program will consider more than just technology. An organization should also consider:

  • People. They represent how you increase the ability of individuals within the organization to influence others with their knowledge.

  • Processes. They involve how you establish best practices and governance for the efficient and accurate identification, management, and dissemination of knowledge.

  • Technology. It addresses how you choose, configure, and utilize tools and automation to enable knowledge management.

  • Structure. It directs how you transform organizational structures to facilitate and encourage cross-discipline awareness and expertise.

  • Culture. It embodies how you establish and cultivate a knowledge-sharing, knowledge-driven culture. 

8 Steps to Implementation

Implementing a knowledge management program is no easy feat. You will encounter many challenges along the way including many of the following:

  • Inability to recognize or articulate knowledge; turning tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge.

  • Geographical distance and/or language barriers in an international company.

  • Limitations of information and communication technologies.

  • Loosely defined areas of expertise.

  • Internal conflicts (e.g. professional territoriality).

  • Lack of incentives or performance management goals.

  • Poor training or mentoring programs.

  • Cultural barriers (e.g. “this is how we've always done it” mentality).

The following eight-step approach will enable you to identify these challenges so you can plan for them, thus minimizing the risks and maximizing the rewards. This approach was developed based on logical, tried-and-true activities for implementing any new organizational program. The early steps involve strategy, planning, and requirements gathering while the later steps focus on execution and continual improvement.

Step 1: Establish Knowledge Management Program Objectives

Before selecting a tool, defining a process, and developing workflows, you should envision and articulate the end state. In order to establish the appropriate program objectives, identify and document the business problems that need resolution and the business drivers that will provide momentum and justification for the endeavor.

Provide both short-term and long-term objectives that address the business problems and support the business drivers. Short-term objectives should seek to provide validation that the program is on the right path while long-term objectives will help to create and communicate the big picture.

Step 2: Prepare for Change

Knowledge management is more than just an application of technology. It involves cultural changes in the way employees perceive and share knowledge they develop or possess. One common cultural hurdle to increasing the sharing of knowledge is that companies primarily reward individual performance. This practice promotes a "knowledge is power" behavior that contradicts the desired knowledge-sharing, knowledge-driven culture end state you are after.

Successfully implementing a new knowledge management program may require changes within the organization's norms and shared values; changes that some people might resist or even attempt to quash. To minimize the negative impact of such changes, it's wise to follow an established approach for managing cultural change.

Step 3: Define High-Level Process

To facilitate the effective management of your organization's knowledge assets, you should begin by laying out a high-level knowledge management process. The process can be progressively developed with detailed procedures and work instructions throughout steps four, five, and six. However, it should be finalized and approved prior to step seven (implementation).

Organizations that overlook or loosely define the knowledge management process will not realize the full potential of their knowledge management objectives. How knowledge is identified, captured, categorized, and disseminated will be ad hoc at best. There are a number of knowledge management best practices, all of which comprise similar activities. In general, these activities include knowledge strategy, creation, identification, classification, capture, validation, transfer, maintenance, archival, measurement, and reporting.

Step 4: Determine and Prioritize Technology Needs

Depending on the program objectives established in step one and the process controls and criteria defined in step three, you can begin to determine and prioritize your knowledge management technology needs. With such a variety of knowledge management solutions, it is imperative to understand the cost and benefit of each type of technology and the primary technology providers in the marketplace. Don't be too quick to purchase a new technology without first determining if your existing technologies can meet your needs. You can also wait to make costly technology decisions after the knowledge management program is well underway if there is broad support and a need for enhanced computing and automation.

Step 5: Assess Current State

Now that you've established your program objectives to solve your business problem, prepared for change to address cultural issues, defined a high-level process to enable the effective management of your knowledge assets, and determined and prioritized your technology needs that will enhance and automate knowledge management related activities, you are in a position to assess the current state of knowledge management within your organization.

The knowledge management assessment should cover all five core knowledge management components: people, processes, technology, structure, and culture. A typical assessment should provide an overview of the assessment, the gaps between current and desired states, and the recommendations for attenuating identified gaps. The recommendations will become the foundation for the roadmap in step six.

Step 6: Build a Knowledge Management Implementation Roadmap

With the current-state assessment in hand, it is time to build the implementation roadmap for your knowledge management program. But before going too far, you should re-confirm senior leadership's support and commitment, as well as the funding to implement and maintain the knowledge management program. Without these prerequisites, your efforts will be futile. Having solid evidence of your organization’s shortcomings, via the assessment, should drive the urgency rate up.

Having a strategy on how to overcome the shortcomings will be critical in gaining leadership's support and getting the funding you will need. This strategy can be presented as a roadmap of related projects, each addressing specific gaps identified by the assessment. The roadmap can span months and years and illustrate key milestones and dependencies. A good roadmap will yield some short-term wins in the first step of projects, which will bolster support for subsequent steps.

As time progresses, continue to review and evolve the roadmap based upon the changing economic conditions and business drivers. You will undoubtedly gain additional insight through the lessons learned from earlier projects that can be applied to future projects as well.

Step 7: Implementation

Implementing a knowledge management program and maturing the overall effectiveness of your organization will require significant personnel resources and funding.  Be prepared for the long haul, but at the same time, ensure that incremental advances are made and publicized. As long as there are recognized value and benefits, especially in light of ongoing successes, there should be little resistance to continued knowledge management investments.

With that said, it's time for the rubber to meet the road. You know what the objectives are. You have properly mitigated all cultural issues. You’ve got the processes and technologies that will enable and launch your knowledge management program. You know what the gaps are and have a roadmap to tell you how to address them.

As you advance through each step of the roadmap, make sure you are realizing your short-term wins. Without them, your program may lose momentum and the support of key stakeholders.

Step 8: Measure and Improve the Knowledge Management Program

How will you know your knowledge management investments are working? You will need a way of measuring your actual effectiveness and comparing that to anticipated results. If possible, establish some baseline measurements in order to capture the before shot of the organization’s performance prior to implementing the knowledge management program. Then, after implementation, trend and compare the new results to the old results to see how performance has improved.

Don’t be disillusioned if the delta is not as large as you would have anticipated. It will take time for the organization to become proficient with the new processes and improvements. Over time, the results should follow suit.

When deciding upon the appropriate metrics to measure your organization’s progress, establish a balanced scorecard that provides metrics in the areas of performance, quality, compliance, and value. The key point behind establishing a knowledge management balanced scorecard is that it provides valuable insight into what's working and what's not. You can then take the necessary actions to mitigate compliance, performance, quality, and value gaps, thus improving overall efficacy of the knowledge management program.

The Power of Knowledge Management

Implementing a complete knowledge management takes time and money, however, the results can be impressive and risks can be minimized by taking a phased approach that gives beneficial returns at each step. Organizations that have made this kind of investment in knowledge management realize tangible results quickly. They add to their top and bottom lines through faster cycle times, enhanced efficiency, better decision making and greater use of tested solutions across the enterprise.

An earlier version of this article was published in CIO Update

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