6 Steps to Build a Knowledge Management Culture


by Paul Dooley
12/15/2016

Knowledge management (KM) is now one of the key processes in ITIL®, and the payoff of an effective KM process is huge. When fully implemented, a common KM system that is available to all stages in the services lifecycle improves decision making; reduces duplication of effort and rediscovery of knowledge; reduces costs; and empowers customers, users, and all of IT.

So why have so few IT service organizations been able to implement KM successfully? They lack a successful strategy to overcome the cultural barriers that stand in their way. A knowledge-driven culture is possible. With the right vision, strategies, and tactics, behavior can change and with it, the culture of a services organization. Let’s consider how six steps can help your organization overcome barriers to successful KM implementation.

Why have so few IT service organizations been able to implement KM successfully?
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Step 1: Recognize that Implementing KM Must be a Strategic Initiative

Taking a tactical or operational approach, and not recognizing that implementing effective KM must be a strategic initiative, ignores the need for behavioral change. Implementing KM is one of those big changes that requires a well-thought-out organizational change plan, to change the organization’s culture over time as you implement the process.

To realize effective KM throughout an organization, all support groups should feel they have a “piece of the action.” All IT support managers and practitioners, from the frontline service desk to executive management, should feel as though they are contributors to, and beneficiaries of, the KM process. Use an organizational change model, such as Kotter’s 8-Step Process of organizational change, to guide and facilitate the shift to a knowledge-centered services organization over time. Follow these steps to guide your initiative to success:  

  • Establish a sense of urgency to move to KM. Start with your team! Let them know that a move to a KM culture is strategically important to your organization. 
  • Form a powerful guiding coalition to lead the effort. Getting the right people on your KM planning and implementation project team, with the right skills and talent, is critical. Include members from various IT teams—technical management, applications support, operations, and the service desk—to get participation and “buy-in” across the organization.
  • Create a compelling vision for transitioning to knowledge management. Your vision and mission statements for realizing a new, knowledge-driven service and support organization are fundamental cornerstones to your strategic plan.
  • Create a compelling vision for transitioning to knowledge management. Your vision and mission statements for realizing a new, knowledge-driven service and support organization are fundamental cornerstones to your strategic plan.
  • Communicate the vision—initially and continually. Having a well-thought-out communications plan is fundamental to the success of this major organizational change effort. It’s important that you tailor your message to each of your target audiences—support staff, technical and application teams, customers, and users.
  • Empower others to act on the vision. Make it easy for contributors, reviewers, and consumers to participate. When your implementation requires practitioners and managers to take several extra steps to submit a knowledge article, or to retrieve information from the knowledge base, you are creating roadblocks to adoption and usage. Remove the roadblocks.
  • Plan for and create short-term wins! One of the challenges to overcome when launching a major initiative such as the adoption of KM is the initial resistance and ongoing doubt about the likelihood of success. Plan for early, visible improvements that will create enthusiasm and a sense that the initiative will indeed succeed as it moves forward.
  • Consolidate improvements, and produce still more change! Once you have been able to demonstrate these quick wins, your KM initiative will begin to pick up momentum. People will realize their jobs are actually easier and they are becoming more productive. Use this increased credibility to change and improve other supporting systems, tools, and processes.
  • Finally, institutionalize the new approach! The goal is to make knowledge sharing and re-use “just the way you work.” In order for this to happen, you must build it into everything that people do as a part of their daily tasks For example, include it in your core values; embed knowledge contribution and re-use in core procedures; include contributing in your job descriptions; make KM part of monthly reporting, and recognize regular contributors.

Step 2: Take a Lifecycle Approach to Implementation

Trying to implement KM as a short-term, tactical project would be a mistake. Instead, consider KM as an organization-wide process, requiring a service lifecycle approach to implementation. View KM as a process, not a tool or system—one that must be strategically initiated and adopted across teams in a cultural sense—so that sharing knowledge becomes an integral part of the work culture. KM becomes a way of working, but one that uses a tool and/or systems to capture, store, and effectively share knowledge. Follow the ITIL Service Lifecycle approach:

IT Service Lifecycle  

  • Start with a Service Strategy: Establish your compelling vision for transforming your organization to a knowledge-centered service provider, along with a supporting mission, goals, and objectives. Include “knowledge” in your strategy statements. Add “sharing knowledge” to your list of core values, underscoring its importance to the organization.
  • Develop a holistic approach to implementation with Service Design: Design your KM process, along with supporting systems, tools, metrics, and other elements, and produce a master plan for KM.
  • Implement KM using a Service Transition approach: Using your master plan as input, begin implementing the various components over time—people, process, and supporting technology (it will take all three, plus your organizational change plan). And don’t neglect to communicate the “quick wins” and the success of your KM initiative repeatedly to all stakeholders as it moves forward!
  • Your design should be to embed it within your Service Operation processes: Make knowledge capture and reuse an integral part of every production support process—for example, during the monitoring of events, while resolving an incident, and when troubleshooting a problem. The idea is to either access and put captured knowledge to work, or capture knowledge while in the workflow.
  • Keep it going with Continual Improvement: Having designed metrics and reporting for your KM process, make the monitoring and reporting on KM performance and value part of your monthly IT management meeting. Assess performance to goals, and look for ways to improve the KM process, people aspects, and supporting tools and systems.

Step 3: Realize that There Are Silos to Overcome

Traditional IT organizations are organized along technology lines. For example, there will generally be a set of technical management teams that provide planning, transition, and operation support for the technology infrastructure. An applications management group will support the applications that are a key part of services delivered to customers, providing support during design, transition, and operations. As a by-product of this organizational structure, supporting systems—including knowledge bases—are formed, also organized along these same organizational boundaries.

To overcome these KM silos, start with a compelling vision and mission that all groups can “buy into”; plan and deploy an initial and ongoing communications plan that will set the right expectations with all groups and continue to reinforce the value and benefits of the new KM approach; tear down barriers to participating in knowledge capture and submission, making it easy for all service and support groups to participate; make it an integral part of everyone’s job, from frontline support, to tier 2 support teams, to management; build it into your performance management and compensation program, so that people realize knowledge sharing is expected; and make it a part of being recognized and rewarded.

As service and support staff begin to see and experience how fundamental this is to their daily job, and when they begin to experience that it is actually working and making their jobs more productive and enjoyable, the barriers between the silos will fade, and they will begin to rally around the new approach. A new knowledge culture will gradually begin to take shape! 

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Step 4: Focus on the Strategy and Process First, not the KM Tool

All too often, management mistakes KM as a tool or system, instead of an organization-wide process. This is a common phenomenon, since IT managers and practitioners typically have an implementation/support technology background. Compounding this problem, vendors want nothing more than to sell lots of KM tools, systems, and databases. But a KM tool will not produce a KM process. As discussed, start with a solid strategy. Then define and document the process, along with the appropriate tools and technology.

Once you’ve defined how KM will play an integral role in your core processes, pick the best systems and tools that fit your requirements. You might choose to use a Wiki to store shared information, or a database, or a collection of repositories. But without well-designed processes that provide a framework for the way people ought to do their work using knowledge, your tools and databases will soon go unused—and rapidly fall out of date. KM needs a process owner and manager, defined inputs and outputs, triggers to initiate the capturing and sharing of knowledge, defined metrics and measurements, supporting policies and procedures, and enabling people and technology. 

Integrate your KM systems and tools into your processes so they are simple, fast, and effective. Google sets the bar when it comes to search, and your KM process should follow industry-leading examples. The search engine should allow for natural-language search, as well as search by phrase/keywords. The search engine—along with supporting databases—should be fully indexed to enable quick results sorted in relevance order. Attention should be paid to supporting structured as well as unstructured data in databases and linked repositories.

Don’t forget to establish a set of metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure, monitor, and report on the adoption and success of your KM initiative. People pay attention to things that are measured and reported.  Set realistic targets for your core KM metrics, and make the reporting on KM part of your monthly management IT scorecard. This will raise the visibility of KM in everyone’s eyes, and also enable you to assess the growth, impact, and value of KM. Sample metrics might include: 

  • Number of articles added—per day, week, month
  • Knowledge base contributions by support team member
  • Number and percentage of solutions reused
  • Number and percentage of incidents resolved where a knowledge article was instrumental 
  • User-satisfaction level with the KM capability

Step 5: Make It Easy to Capture Knowledge as a By-Product of Work

Supporting systems and tools should support KM embedded in the workflow, so that a submission is a by-product of the work effort. For example, during incident management, a search should be automatically invoked after classifying the incident. Extra steps or navigation should not be required. A match report should return the most likely solutions/workarounds at the top of the list. If no solution is applicable, and the analyst ends up devising and documenting a new solution, submitting to the KM process should be just a few keystrokes.

Include an embedded QA sub-process to expedite solution review and processing. Once the submission has been made, direct these electronic records to an appropriate SME for that area of knowledge. SMEs might be technical or application management specialists in back-line support groups. They should have as a daily responsibility the review, editing, and approval of submitted KM articles, so these can be incorporated into the KM system in a timely fashion. This also ensures that knowledge added is accurate, complete, and published only to the proper audiences (for example, internal use only or user-ready).

Step 6: Build It Into the Way People Work

Revise your service operations standard operating procedures (SOPs), such as incident management, request fulfillment, and problem management, to embed searching and contributing to the KM system. In this way, searching and contributing to your KM system does not become added steps, but is an integral part of the in-line mainstream workflow process. No extra steps required; roadblocks removed.

Revise your job descriptions and appraisal process so that contributing to the KM system is required by operations personnel, such as service desk staff and other IT support groups. For example, support staff might be required to contribute three KM articles per quarter. Periodic appraisals would reinforce the importance of participation.

Make the contribution to KM, and its use, an integral part of rewards and recognition. For example, no awards for outstanding performance should be given where the team member failed to meet his or her contribution requirement for the quarter.

Workflow Transformation

Realizing that implementing KM is a strategic initiative, and must be planned, designed, and implemented using a lifecycle approach, results in an organization-wide process that literally transforms your culture and the way people work. Instead of having to think about how to search the knowledge base for a solution or an answer, service and support staff will just do that as a matter of carrying out their normal routine. Instead of having to consider how to submit an article to KM for sharing with others, the process will simply capture their knowledge as a by-product of the normal workflow. Benefits to the organization, support staff, customers, and users will be transformational, and you will never look back!


Paul DooleyPaul is the president and principal consultant of Optimal Connections LLC. With more than 30 years of experience in planning and managing technology services, Paul has held numerous positions in both support and management for companies such as Motorola, FileNet, and QAD. He is also experienced in service desk infrastructure development, support center consolidation, deployment of web portals and knowledge management systems, as well as service marketing strategy and activities. Currently Paul delivers a variety of services to IT organizations, including Support Center Analyst and Manager training, ITIL Foundation and Intermediate level training, Best-Practice Assessments, Support Center Audits, and general IT consulting. His degrees include a BA and an MBA. Paul is certified in most ITIL Intermediate levels and is a certified ITIL Expert. He is also on the HDI Faculty and trains for ITpreneurs, Global Knowledge, Phoenix TS, and other training organizations. For more about Paul, please visit www.optimalconnections.com.


Tag(s): continual service improvement, IT service management, ITSM, ITIL, KCS, KM, knowledge management, service management, supportworld

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