Everyone who has ever endeavoured to introduce knowledge management has done so with the intent of making it valuable to both the consumers and those providing the service. So, what separates the successes from the failures? In my experience there are a couple of contributors to the losing end of this battle:
- A lack of overall support of the process and its continued lifecycle from leadership
- The lack of ability to implement and sustain a process to manage knowledge long term
- A scope that impacts the ability to even implement this capability from the beginning
It sounds like a tough hill to climb, but there’s hope. To help get us there, I have outlined a few tips I have used in that past that got some traction.
Understand the “Why”
A large majority of the initiatives that get implemented fail simply because we are unable to get people to wrap their minds around what the improvement initiative even is about. Think about it, no matter what improvement you are working on, you can mentally hear one person asking “Why?” Knowledge management improvements are no different. Part of effectively marketing this improvement process will involve you or your team answering the why question in advance, and so you need to understand what it is from the beginning.
Start with the End in Mind
The next step to ensure that the knowledge program is successful is to think about what the end state will look like. You have figured out why you want to improve knowledge management; this step focuses on defining what you need to improve.
In broader terms, when you think of knowledge management, you are looking to establish or improve upon areas that will allow you to be more collaborative as well as improve organizational efficiency, innovation, and agility. This is great, but this may be a bit high level. Try thinking about a specific target area. For example, perhaps you want to improve customer satisfaction.
Having a specific activity or target area will allow you and your team to outline a roadmap as well as identify what challenges lie ahead in achieving your goals. Do not think of this as an IT-only objective. Think in terms of what business objectives will be satisfied as well as their challenges as it applies to your target area.
Considering the business impact is critical as this is where many initiatives fail. The way that knowledge management is outlined might be IT-centric and is simply not fit-for-purpose for the business, and because of that, it never really gets off the ground properly.
Another reason to always consider the business side is that when IT focuses on these sorts of improvements, they are looked at from purely a technology perspective, and the process and people component is left to the side causing further issues.
People and Culture
Outside of work people consume and share knowledge from the internet via search engines, social tools, and collaboration apps with such regularity that it is almost a reflex. Interestingly, when they come to work, their cultural expectations change, and the exchange of information has a different expectation. In many cases the information might be locked away or might not exist. In some cases, you just are not able to find it in the mire of sites or data available. Part of making this initiative successful will require that you find out how our business needs to consume and collaborate. While you might need security constraints to protect the information and the company, you still need to know how the business wants or needs to leverage knowledge.
Another huge consideration, and probably the most important, is to define the knowledge management scope. It is here that this process can get way out of hand, and this is where you typically see more challenges with keeping this initiative on target if the scope creeps. Keep the scope simple. You can always add more to a successful knowledge management process later.
Keep the scope simple. You can always add more to a successful knowledge management process later.
Now that you know what you want to do, you need to know how knowledge management is going to work via some basic processes. The key here is to not go down the rabbit hole too far and just look at what it will take at a minimum to get the process moving along. Having a simple process that is easy to understand will ensure it is followed and repeatable.
Figure out in simple terms how knowledge will be created, curated, and shared in your future state. Part of your initial step would have outlined how these were done (or not), and augmenting these activities will be critical to ensure that knowledge records are managed effectively and consistently throughout its lifecycle.
People might be quick to point out that technology is the main showstopper in your knowledge management initiative. However, once you get the process and people down, you will have a real sense of where technology may need to be improved or replaced. Don’t get too hung up on the technology.
With a pretty good idea of where you want to go and what it will take to get there, you now must look at what you are doing right now to assess what gaps exist. Some gaps will be easier to manage than others. For example, a small change in a process might only require internal communication and small amounts of team review while others may require an adoption of a different way of doing things entirely and have a need for significant organizational change management.
As you outline what gaps exist, you will also need to consider what will be involved in solving those issues so that you can account for them in the roadmap. After all, while small, added together there might be a requirement of time that impacts your timeline or additional resources to facilitate any larger gaps. Remember though that this will all be for nothing if you don’t continually have support from your sponsor, leadership, or your business.
Communication with all stakeholders will be imperative for this initiative to be successful. Since you are dealing with a knowledge sharing improvement initiative, this should go without saying. Share your knowledge about knowledge.
Time to Implement
The time to get this initiative off the ground is at hand. You know what the result should look like; you have thought through all the processes, considered all the challenges, and built a lasting roadmap for success. While you put in an enormous amount of work to get this started, it will take an equal, but different, amount of work to keep things going.
To be able to continually improve, you must measure the initiative from the onset. This will you to gather some baseline metrics from the start. In the beginning, try not to get hung up on the amount of change. You might see a drastic improvement, or not much at all. All numbers tell us something. In my experience, building a scorecard or dashboard to visually show success will keep you on target.
As described before, I suggested an example that you want to improve customer satisfaction. Part of doing that allows either employees or clients to get answers to questions in a considerably shorter timeframe than if they we required to connect with a service desk. To that end, the service desk does not have to expend support resources to answer those questions over and over. It is these metrics that must be measured and shared as the improvement statistics.
An example of this would be to find the average number of requests relating to people mapping their network drives. Let’s say that on average we had 30 of these a month. If we were to create a knowledge record for this, the expectation might be that the 30 requests we once had might go away. But to quantify this we would record the number of times that the knowledge record was utilized to map the drives. This metric would work in conjunction with the reduction of requests we had.
It is important to remember that knowledge metrics aren’t only from knowledge record tracking. In some cases, they will come from other functions or teams based on the impact that knowledge has on their activities. Using the metrics to outline the value is important, but remember this data must be shared.
Make the Commitment
Knowledge management can impact a wide variety of improvement initiatives in your business. But you will need to allocate time, resources, and money to achieve success. This is not a side-of-the-desk activity. That mind-set is what has kept organizations from realizing improved efficiency, better decision making, and overall agility as a result of an effective and consistent knowledge management process.
Ryan Ogilvie is a service management consultant with Blackfriar Consulting in Calgary. Ryan’s focus with his clients is to help them realize value by leveraging service management best practices. Apart from his work with his clients, Ryan believes that sharing his experiences with his community either through his blog, Service Management Journey, or various others is the most rewarding part of his work. He was recently recognized by HDI as one of the Top 25 Thought Leaders in Technical Support and Service Management and is an HDI Featured Contributor for 2018. Follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanrogilvie or connect with him on LinkedIn.