A winning knowledge management program increases staff productivity, product and service quality, and deliverable consistency by capitalizing on intellectual and knowledge-based assets. However, implementation can be a challenge.
Eager to reap the benefits, many organizations leap into a knowledge management solution (e.g. document management, data mining, blogging, and community forums) without first considering the objectives they wish to fulfill or how the organization will adopt and follow best practices for managing its knowledge assets long term.
The key to long-term success is a more measured and phased approach.
5 Core Considerations for a Knowledge Management Program
A successful knowledge management program will consider these five areas:
- People. Your program should increase the ability of individuals within the organization to influence others with their knowledge.
- Processes. The processes you establish should include best practices and governance for the efficient and accurate identification, management and dissemination of knowledge.
- Technology. The technology you choose should enhance how you configure and use tools and automation to enable knowledge management.
- Structure. Organizational structures should transform to facilitate and encourage cross-discipline awareness and expertise.
- Culture. Your organization should establish and cultivate a knowledge-sharing, knowledge-driven culture for long-term success.
Prepare for Implementation Challenges
Implementing a knowledge management program is no easy feat. Even with the best planning, prepare to encounter and work around obstacles.
Some common challenges you may want to prepare for include:
- 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
- Constantly changing business
- 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)
8 Steps to Knowledge Management Implementation
This eight-step approach will help you plan for common challenges, minimize the risks, and maximize the rewards.
This approach was developed based on tried-and-true activities for implementing any new organizational program. The early steps emphasize strategy, planning and requirements gathering; 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, envision and articulate the ideal end state. 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 implementation.
Document 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’s a culture change. Employees will likely have to rethink the way they share the knowledge they develop and possess.
One common hurdle to increasing knowledge sharing is that companies primarily reward individual performance. This practice promotes a “knowledge is power” behavior that contradicts a knowledge-sharing, knowledge-driven culture.
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, prepare to manage cultural change.
Recruit knowledge-management champions throughout the organization who will encourage knowledge sharing behaviors within their departments and provide valuable feedback to the implementation team.
Step 3: Define a High-Level Process as a Foundation
Laying out a high-level knowledge management process is a key step for effective implementation. Beginning with a high-level process will help you progressively develop and hone detailed procedures throughout steps four, five, and six. Keep in mind: the people who will be the users and contributors of knowledge should be part of this conversation. The fully developed process 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. Common knowledge management best practices to consider in your plan include: knowledge strategy, creation, identification, classification, capture, validation, transfer, maintenance, archival, measurement and reporting.
Step 4: Determine and Prioritize Technology Needs
It’s time to assess what kind of technology will enhance and automate your knowledge management related activities. You can determine and prioritize your knowledge management technology needs based on your program objectives established in step one and the process controls and criteria you defined in step three.
The marketplace for knowledge management solutions is vast and diverse; it is imperative to know the primary providers, understand the cost and benefit of each type of technology, and figure out how each solution could help—or hinder—you from reaching your objectives.
Gain an understanding of what employees use today and what is working and not working for them. Don’t be too quick to purchase a new technology without first determining if your existing technologies are already meeting 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
After you have established your program objectives, prepared for cultural changes, defined a high-level process, and determined and prioritized your technology needs, you can assess the current state of knowledge management within your organization.
The assessment should cover the five core knowledge management components: people, processes, technology, structure and culture. A typical assessment should provide an overview of the current state, the gaps between the current and desired states, and the recommendations for closing those gaps.
These recommendations will be 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 make sure that you’re making incremental advances and celebrate them. As long as there the value and benefits of the developing program are recognized, there should be little resistance to continue investing in knowledge management.
With that said, it’s time for the rubber to meet the road. You know what the objectives are. You have properly mitigated 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 to measure your effectiveness and compare 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 discouraged if the benefits are not as obvious 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 the overall efficacy of the knowledge management program.
The Power of Knowledge Management
Implementing a complete knowledge management program takes time and resources, however, the results can be impressive. You can also minimize risk 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.