The Road to Award-Winning KCS: A Case Study from Lowe's

Headquartered in Mooresville, NC, Lowe’s is a Fortune 50 company with more than 2,355 retail stores, distribution facilities, and corporate offices located in the US, Canada, and Mexico. The home improvement company employs nearly 285,000 full- and part-time employees, and serves approximately 17 million retail and professional customers each week.

The Lowe’s IT Service Desk comprises more than 250 staff across multiple campuses, organized into five unique teams that support twenty-one ACD skillsets and 672 known applications. The teams field more than 1.6 million calls annually from retail stores, distribution centers, and corporate offices, in addition to the more than 900,000 incidents processed through the IT Service Desk self-help site annually.


What was the situation before the launch of the knowledge management initiative?

The Lowe’s IT Service Desk had been struggling for years with its knowledge management efforts. With few guidelines and no prescribed best practices, knowledge was difficult to locate, which led to outdated articles and disgruntled users by the thousands. Analysts relied on multiple disjointed knowledge islands, such as personal notes and files, sticky notes on cube walls, walking to other analysts for assistance, or searching the Internet for help. Information consistency and accuracy, average call time, and average handle time suffered. Unnecessary rework was the norm, as knowledge wasn’t being captured during the support process. Knowledge wasn’t being treated like an asset. Furthermore, ownership of the knowledge management process was undefined—in no way was knowledge management aligned with either department strategy or even standard ITSM processes, like incident and problem management.

What was the knowledge management strategy?

Our overall strategy was to adopt KCS by following the process prescribed by the Consortium for Service Innovation. Seven unique teams, with different cultures and leadership styles, were to adopt KCS, so our goal was to establish a repeatable model of adoption that could accommodate the cultural nuances of each respective team. With this goal in mind, we started small, focusing on one team and cascading to additional teams once the first team was progressing on track.

Additionally, we wanted to be able to scale KCS and implement it outside the IT Service Desk as needed. The 250 members of the IT Service Desk team represents 15-20% of the IT department as a whole (approximately 1,500 staff). To disseminate our program, we knew we would need to establish knowledge collaboration partnerships with key IT and business support teams, and we drafted our program material, permissions, and messaging with those partnerships in mind.

Which processes and tools had to be implemented, modified, or leveraged to support the knowledge management strategy?

Processes

For our analysts to successfully execute UFFA, we had to reverse several ingrained behaviors, including:

  1. Getting off the knowledge island: We anticipated that analysts would have a hard time letting go of their personal knowledge repositories, so we encouraged them to draft candidate knowledge. We emphasized the importance of citation and accreditation to the individual and the organization as a whole. We also implemented a grace period during launch, to mitigate any fears about knowledge quality that might discourage analysts from drafting knowledge. We also encouraged them to work closely with their KCS coaches.
  2. Capturing knowledge after the fact: We knew that capturing knowledge after the fact was unproductive. Real-time knowledge creation is essential, as it enables the analyst to capture the customer context.

We also introduced new roles and processes for measuring collaboration and the use, sharing, and improvement of collective knowledge:

  • We built knowledge contribution (fix it, flag it, and add it) and quality (article quality index, AQI) into the analysts’ individual scorecards to emphasize the importance of contributing to collective knowledge as opposed to simply consuming it.
  • We developed participation, citation, and AQI metrics (among others) to drive positive knowledge management behaviors and support the coaching process.

Tools

Our legacy knowledge base was already antiquated when we began our KCS journey. We decided to replace our legacy system with InQuira, an enterprise knowledge management system that would better meet our KCS requirements. However, we didn’t want to simply dump old, outdated knowledge into the new system; we wanted a blank slate. So, we set a sunset date for our legacy system. Analysts were instructed to use this period to add knowledge to InQuira (following the “Add It” process) if/when they found themselves referencing information in the old knowledge base.

We also knew that an effective integration between our incident management system, BMC Remedy 7, and InQuira was going to be key—when taking 1.6 million calls a year, every second of efficiency counts. Integrating Remedy with InQuira required several months of research, design, and modifications to bring the two applications together in a way that enabled our analysts to search, find, review, and link knowledge to their incidents seamlessly. After the integration, analysts could easily search for knowledge, use the knowledge (and link that article to the incident with a single click), flag the article if a change was required, and add new knowledge to the knowledge base.

Though it may seem counterintuitive, having completed this integration successfully, our long-term goal is actually to move off of InQuira. The Lowe’s KCS project helped influence BMC’s decision to build the KCS workflow into Remedy 9.1, which will enable us to leverage knowledge across other service management processes, like problem and change management.

What organizational changes (cultural, structural, or political) had to be implemented or modified to support the knowledge management strategy?

Culturally, our organization—especially our leadership—had to become more recognition-focused, to ensure we were making a conscious effort to recognize those individuals who were adding value through knowledge contributions. Prior to this project, we weren’t in the habit of calling out individual accomplishments, laboring under the misconception that “IT people don’t like that kind of thing.”

In addition to recognizing their achievements, we also wanted to address our analysts’ potential fears and anxieties up front. We developed our communication plan to address a range of concerns, including:

  • “They want to replace me me with a less-seasoned employee…”
  • “I’m no tech writer…”
  • “If I give up the knowledge, I’ll lose my SME status…”
  • “You’re trying to dumb down my job…”

Tailoring our communications was just one part of the strategy. We also needed our frontline leaders (managers, team leads) to be highly engaged, visible proponents of the KCS program and knowledge management in general. Although all frontline leaders were verbally committed to the project, some needed coaching on actions they could take to reinforce that commitment. Fortunately, we were able to identify many of these needs in the first wave of adoption, which enabled us to enhance and improve our approach with each successive adoption.

How did your organization define success for this initiative?

We have a couple of sayings at Lowe’s that speak to our critical success factors:

  1. “Communication is KING!”: Leadership and communication is the last item on the KCS double-loop model, but it’s certainly not the least. KCS champions never stop evangelizing. The audience may change, the message may need to adjusted, but consistent, thorough, and diverse messaging is crucial.
  2. “Go to the Guide!”: Do your homework. The Consortium members who authored the KCS Practices and Adoption Guide have shared their lessons learned, and heeding these lessons can help you avoid some of the obstacles and challenges that can threaten your program. Consult with folks who’ve “been there and done that,” and whenever you can, consult with other organizations who’ve adopted KCS to gain additional insight.
  3. “KCS isn’t a Chia Pet!”: You can’t just plant a few seeds, change the water a few times, check on it occasionally, and think KCS is going to flourish on its own. KCS requires consistent attention, cultivation, grooming, coaching, and feedback to ensure growth. KCS is a journey not a destination; it’s an adoption, not an implementation.

What were some of the lessons learned?

  • Start with a clean slate: Starting with a clean slate allowed us to mature faster. By clearly defining our “content seeding” approach during the planning and design phase, we ensured that only useful, “correct” legacy knowledge was updated to align with KCS content standards and uploaded to the new knowledge base.
  • Identify cultural norms: We can’t emphasize enough the value of understanding the “cultural baseline” and nuances of departments and teams. Identifying ways for KCS to work within those cultural norms is key. Some behaviors may need to completely change; others may simply need to be modified so that KCS is included. The key is flexibility without compromising on the basic KCS practices that are required for success and avoiding the “ditch” of the cookie cutter approach.
  • Don’t overlook problem management: The maturity of problem management is directly related to knowledge use. When we began our KCS journey, Lowe’s had identified more than 3,000 known problems. Capturing the workarounds and ensuring their availability within our knowledge base was key. This drove us to ensure that prepopulated incident templates related to problems also included prepopulated references to articles with known workarounds, which improved efficiency for new and seasoned analysts.