Knowledge Management FAQ

What is Knowledge Management?

There are many definitions of Knowledge Management, but the one we prefer is the simplest - "Knowledge Management is the way you manage your organisation, when you understand the value of your knowledge". In other words, it is the management framework (of Roles and Accountabilities, Processes, Technologies and Governance) that you put in place to maximise the value and application of your knowledge, and which provide a managed approach to building, developing and retaining know-how, in service of business goals.

Knowledge Management is about systematically making use of the knowledge in the organization, and applying it to YOUR business problem; tapping into "What your company knows"; to help you deliver your business results. It consists of never making the same mistake once (let along twice), and making every decision in the light of the full knowledge base of the company. The management of knowledge needs to be part of your business practices, just like the management of finance and the management of safety.

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What is Knowledge?

Knowledge is the ability to make effective decisions, and take effective action (based on a definition by Peter Senge).

Part of the confusion between Knowledge Management and Information Management is almost certainly the lack, in the English language, of any distinction between Know-How, and Know-What. We use the word "knowledge" for both of these forms of knowing.

However Knowledge management has always delivered its real value when applied to "Know-How" - to improving the competence of the organisation by giving people access to the knowledge they need to make the correct decisions.

The implication of this definition, is that it allows you to align Knowledge Management with Decision Support. At a recent Knowledge Management planning workshop, for example, the project leader asked that the KM plan be focused entirely in the upcoming decision to select the project concept. We then had a great discussion as a team about "what do we need to know, to make an effective decision on concept selection?" The knowledge needs inventory that emerged from this discussion was then used to plan the project learning actions.

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What is the difference between information management and knowledge management?

There is a subtle, but very significant difference between knowledge management and information management, linked to the differences between knowledge, information and data.

Information management is "the provision of the right information to the right people at the right time". Knowledge management goes beyond this, and provides insight, guidance, experience and know-how, for the purpose of decision support and effective action.

Knowledge management is as much about connecting people as collecting content, more about building communities than building databases, and more about reflection and analysis than about architectures and taxonomies. Knowledge is a lot harder to manage than information, as it is mainly stored in heads rather than hard disks. However knowledge management needs to be built on a foundation of good data management and information management.

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Is it about Intranets and databases?

An Intranet is one of the technologies which can assist in knowledge management. However knowledge management is much more than IT systems and applications. Because knowledge lives in people's heads, and loses value when it is written down, it can't be treated like data or information. Knowledge Management needs a complete Framework

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Is it about social media?

Knowledge Management technology needs a social side, and several of the technologies that fall under the "social media" umbrella have a role to play in Knowledge Management. However social media technologies are still technologies, and still need to be combined with People, Process and Governance issues as discussed below.

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Is there a systematic way to manage knowledge?

Knowledge management is simple to apply, and very effective if it is done systematically. Through an extensive program of pilot testing, we have developed a systematic approach which has delivered value wherever applied. Aspects of this approach are discussed under KM Models. See also our Knowledge Management Implementation services.

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What is a Knowledge Management Framework?

A Knowledge Management framework is a complete system of People, Process, Technology and Governance, which ensures that Knowledge management is applied systematically and effectively to improve business results.

See our Knowledge Management Framework services

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What are the biggest barriers to Knowledge Management?

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What behaviors are needed?

We need to treat knowledge as something of real value to the organisation - something which we own in common. We need the recognition that our loyalties and linkages lie wider than just our own team. We need to recognize our dual citizenship; that we are members of our local business team, and also of communities of practice which span the federation. We need the behavior of reflection; the habit of stopping to think about what we have achieved, and how we achieved it, in order to learn. We need openness to the ideas of others; a willingness to look for help. We need the generosity to offer our help when it is requested. See more about our Learning Culture services.

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Why should we implement KM?

Knowledge is one of your key assets. Like your staff, your money, your customers, your brand. It is one of your more valuable assets too - just imagine how your organisation would perform if you had no knowledge, and your staff had no knowledge! It is good practice to manage your valuable assets. You almost certainly have implemented financial management, people management, customer relationship management, brand management. So it makes sound business sense to implement knowledge management too; to derive maximum business benefit from the invisible asset which is the operational knowledge held in the heads of your employees.

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What are the benefits to my business?

In today's knowledge-intensive world, what matters is 'What you know, Using what you know, and How fast you can know something new'". There is no other sustainable business advantage, according to Larry Prusak of IBM. The value of Knowledge Management is delivered in three areas;

Contact for advice about knowledge valuation.

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What are the benefits to me and my team?

In any activity which has a learning curve; knowledge management can accelerate the learning; driving down costs, increasing efficiency or up-time, giving a safer operation, whatever is relevant to your business (click on the picture for more detail). Knowledge management can also eliminate the unlearning curve, so that knowledge can be accessed in ten years time, as fresh as it is today The majority of your business challenges will not be unique to your team. The chances are that someone, somewhere in your business, has already solved most of the problems you are facing. Why not access their knowledge via a Peer Assist? Bring it in at the planning stage (build a better plan) and at the operations phase (access the wider pool of experience). There is no longer any merit in solving things for yourself, the merit is in delivering your business objectives faster, cheaper, safer and cleaner. If there is knowledge out there which can help you, then get hold of it as soon as you can. As Lord Browne, Chief Executive Officer of BP once said, "Most activities or tasks are not onetime events. Whether it's drilling a well or conducting a transaction at a service station, we do the same things repeatedly. Our philosophy is fairly simple: Every time we do some thing again, we should do it better than the last time"

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Is there a conflict between re-use of knowledge and innovation?

There is no conflict. You can only innovate effectively from a position of full knowledge. Find out what your company knows already, and then see how much you have to innovate, based on that knowledge. Who knows; there may be an off-the-shelf answer to your question that will save you having to innovate at all!  However when no knowledge exists, you need to develop a good Innovation methodology to create the new knowledge.

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How long will it take to implement KM?

If you do it right - if you learn from others who have implemented Knowledge Management - then it will take you several years before you have implemented Knowledge Management to such an extent that it becomes self-sustaining. Depending of course on the size of your company! In a small organisation (less than 500 people) you may be able to do it more quickly. If you don't learn from those who have done it before, you may never implement it successfully.

Because this is a cultural change process, which involves changing the hearts and minds and work habits of your staff, you can't do it overnight. After a couple of years you may be in a position where KM has caught hold, and it may be a few more years before it is fully institutionalised across your entire organisation. You need a dedicated implementation effort, focused on breakthrough and the delivery of new ways of working, which lasts until you can start to establish rules and disciplines for KM. At this stage you can move to a steady state organisation which will over see the completion of the task to full transformation.

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How much will Knowledge Management cost to implement?

This is a difficult question to answer, because it depends on the size and complexity of the organisation, whether you need any special technology (such as an Intranet), and the speed with which you wish to transform. BP spent £5 million over 2 years. De Beers spent in the order of $2 million over 2 years. Other references to KM budget can be found by web searching. Contact us for a quote for your own organisation.

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How much value will Knowledge Management deliver?

Again this is a difficult question to answer, without knowing the details of your business. However, companies are increasingly coming to realize that their operational knowledge is one of their most powerful assets, and often least managed, assets. Knowledge Management is a way to unlock the value of 'the things you know'. Just think how valuable your knowledge is to you. How well do you look after it? Imagine your company with no knowledge. Imagine your premises, your plant, your staff, but with no knowledge or experience of the business, the processes or the customers. Think how poorly you would perform, and the value that you would lose. That value is the current value of your knowledge, in an unmanaged state. Imagine if your finances were as unmanaged as your knowledge! Think how much more value you could derive;

All these are achievable, through the application of a systematic and holistic KM process. So ask yourself

All three statements above represent the ideal end state, and you will never reach this level of achievement. This represents the ultimate vision - the ultimate value tied up in your knowledge. However you may get some of the way there by implementing knowledge management. You could quite easily get 20% of the way there, and the chances are that is worth a very great deal of money! That is a top-down approach; a bottom -up approach would be to consider the areas in your business where KM is likely to have an impact, and ask

Not all benefits are monetary- for example the main drivers for KM in the World bank include

See our Knowledge management valuation services

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Is there any point in trying to measure the value?

That depends if you think you can get full buy-in from your organisation, without having to demonstrate value. There are very few organisations where nobody ever asks "What's it worth? Show me the money!" You need to be prepared to demonstrate value, which means you need to be able to measure value. Try the approach below as a way to measure value;

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Does implementing KM have to be a specific project?

Yes it does. Yes to the extent that the implementation phase

So it needs to be managed as a project. Whatever process you use internally for managing projects; apply it to your KM implementation.

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Do we need a KM team?

Yes, you need a team who are accountable for delivering the transformation to embedded KM, and who deliver the project mentioned above. This team will then hand over to an operational KM team when the project is complete. See our Knowledge Management Organisational Design services

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Does the transition need to be driven from the centre?

Yes, it does, if it is to have full reach. Knowledge Management can start anywhere in the organisation. Very often, one group or one individual in the organisation will see the potential, and will develop a vision for Knowledge Management. They may even deliver a transformation to a Knowledge Management culture in their local business area. However the full business benefit will not be realised until the whole organisation is managing and exchanging its knowledge. So if KM is started locally, it should eventually be extended to the whole company, and ownership for the implementation then needs to transfer to the centre.

For example, Knowledge Management as a systematic discipline in BP began in the BP Norway Exploration office, and was driven locally. When the organisation as a whole committed to KM, ownership for implementation was taken by a central KM team.

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Does the transition need to be driven from the top?

It is vital to have a high level sponsor or champion during the implementation stage of knowledge management. KM implementation it is a process of cultural change, and change is unpleasant and disruptive. People resist change. You need a knowledge management champion at a high enough level to set the agenda for change, and to give knowledge management the "weight" that it needs. Because knowledge management interacts with disciplines such as IT, HR, learning and development and internal communications, the champion should be high enough up the organisation to be able to influence the agendas for these other disciplines. There may be interdisciplinary "turf wars", and the role of the champion is not necessary to resolve these are to make it clear that there needs to be a resolution. Some prominent high-level champions within their respective organisations include

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Can we transform the whole company at once?

As tempting as it might be to try and transform the whole company at once, this is very unlikely to work. The best approach is a piloting approach; as follows

  1. - Search for innovators, enthusiasts and thought leaders in the organisation. Recruit them to the KM cause.
  2. - Look for Pathfinder projects, where you can experiment with applying KM in your own culture, and also deliver significant measurable value. Choose projects which are likely to succeed.
  3. - Deliver the projects, learn from them, and use the results to raise awareness in the organisation. Recruit supporters and allies.
  4. - Select a second set of projects, and deliver them. At the same time, develop a systematic approach to KM.
  5. - When the time is right, sufficient value has been created, and a robust model has been proven, develop KM standards which can be implemented across the rest of the organisation.
  6. - Go into a roll-out phase
  7. - Monitor and support the organisation until transition is complete.

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What will the culture change look like?

Moving to a systematic management of knowledge is a culture change process. You will be introducing a culture where knowledge is seen as important to corporate success, and where accessing and sharing knowledge becomes an automatic routine process. This requires a change in the way people think and behave. This is a profound shift from the individual to the collective

That shift from “I know” to “we know” – from “Knowledge is mine” to “Knowledge is ours” is a huge one, and counter-cultural to many of us. People can find it scary, but once it has been achieved, it is like living in a different, and far better, world. See our Learning Culture services

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Will it work in every industry?

Knowledge Management has been proven to work in very many industrial and non-industrial settings. It works, because it is people-based, and people are the same whichever industry you work in. Knowledge Management has been shown to work in

It will work for any industry, but in some industries may take longer to implement. The key determinant is the internal culture, and to what extent this is already collaborative and performance-focused.

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How will people react?

When you first introduce Knowledge Management to an organisation, you will meet a whole range of reactions;

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How can we help people see that KM is a good thing?

Tell stories. Tell true stories of value, Even better, take video of people telling their own stories of the value KM has delivered to them.

People need to see not only that Knowledge Management delivers value to the organisation, but also that it delivers value to them as individuals. Go by the "Principle of Local Value". People will adopt anything, provided they see it as having tangible value in the local setting. Help them see the local value.

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Are there any success stories of organisations who have done this?

There are loads of success stories, and these are extremely valuable to you. People learn best through hearing about the successes of others, especially if those success stories are told by someone who was involved (as described above). Some KM success stories and a matching set of failure stories can be found on Nick's blog. We have many other stories, and there are also many case studies available in the literature. We highly recommend Nancy Dixon's book "Common Knowledge" as a source of success stories.

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Will KM implementation need the purchase of special technology?

The lack of technology is seldom the main barrier to the management of knowledge. People can manage knowledge with fairly standard IT technology, and you will probably find that you have the technology, it's the processes that you lack. The basic technology requirements are discussed here


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Will KM implementation need the introduction of special processes?

Almost certainly you will need to introduce specific Knowledge Management processes. Any sort of management system requires processes. Financial management requires processes such as budgeting, auditing, balancing the books. Personnel management requires processes such as interviews, appraisals, personal development plans. Safety management requires processes such as site inspections, toolbox talks and incident reporting. Similarly, Knowledge Management requires the introduction of special Knowledge Management Processes

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Will KM implementation need the introduction of new roles?

Almost certainly you will need to introduce specific Knowledge Management Processes. Any sort of management system requires accountable roles. Financial management requires roles such as accountants, financial planners and auditors. Personnel management requires a whole range of HR roles. Safety management requires roles such as safety officers, fire wardens and HSE roles. Similarly, Knowledge Management requires the introduction of KM Roles and structures.

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How does KM tie in with business strategy?

Knowledge Management needs to be very closely tied with business strategy. Knowledge management is not something you do for it's own sake; it's not something to do because "it's a good thing to do". Knowledge management is something you do in service of your organisational goals. That means that KM needs to be very closely allied with the business strategy. Ask yourself

See our KM strategic services.

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If we build a good IT system, or social media software, will people share knowledge naturally?

No they won't, I am afraid. You may introduce the best IT system in the world, and the most user-friendly social media, but people will not just naturally start sharing knowledge. You need to show them how, you need to tell them why, you need to engage them in the idea that knowledge-sharing is easy and delivers value to them, you need to coach them in the processes and approaches to use, and then you have to make it part of the day job.

Knowledge Management is a cultural change process, and people need to be coached through change. Investment in IT is an excellent start, and needs to be followed up with an equal, or greater, investment in coaching and training, if you are to deliver the full benefits. The need for an equal balance of people, process, technology and governance is particularly true for Knowledge Management. No single one of these factors will deliver a transformation in business results; only a holistic combination of the four. The practical outcome of this is that your KM implementation team should be split evenly between technologists, HR people, process people and change agents. Similarly not more than one third or one quarter of your KM budget should be spent on technology.

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Will KM conflict with other initiatives?

There is certainly a risk that people can be overloaded with initiatives, and can start to suffer from initiative overload. Find out what other initiatives are going on in your organisation, and see if you can find a way to combine them with Knowledge Management. Find a way to coordinate the demands on the staff, so that (for example) they only need to go to one induction day, not three, or only need to fill in one self-assessment, not several. Knowledge management can actually be an enabler to many initiatives. Knowledge management processes can be introduced to, for example, help business units learn from the pilot implementation of a new process, and so accelerate its application in other areas.

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If we don't like it, can we change back?

You can't half-change. If you intend to do this, you should really commit yourself to the full 2 to 3 year program (but have contingency plans, in case external circumstances cause the program to terminate early).

What will it do for our share price?

Knowledge is one of your key assets. The investment community expect you to be managing your assets. If they see you implementing Knowledge Management, effectively and efficiently, and for business benefit, then your share price will rise.

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How can we incentivise knowledge sharing?

Knowledge Management needs good governance (see our KM Governance services), and a key component of Governance is incentives. We have limited time and energy, and people in most companies are already working at their limit. How can we incentivise people to spend the time on KM now, to save the time in the future? We need to give the following;

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How can I start to manage knowledge?

If you are managing the knowledge of a business unit or team, you need to start to think about introducing KM processes, such as After Action Reviews, Peer Assists, Retrospects, Learning Histories, and so on. You may wish to run a Knowledge Management Audit, to identify the strengths and gaps in your current processes. You may wish to arrange training in some of the tools and techniques, so that they can become embedded in your business processes. You will certainly need to think about what your knowledge assets are, and how they can be managed. On a broader level, you will certainly want to consider your knowledge management strategy, vision and objectives, and to decide a budget, timeframe and implementation program. You will probably want to kick off a few carefully selected pilot projects, and you will need to set up a program of learning from your Knowledge Management implementation. You may wish to identify knowledge sharing networks of business practitioners (communities of practice) across your organization, and give them the crucial resources they need to enable them to share and apply their knowledge.

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Who can help?

We can help. We have experience with all aspects of KM, and experience of nearly two decades of successful KM implementations, since 1992. We know most of the pitfalls, and can help you avoid them. Drop us a line and see how we can help.

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