By: Laurence Smith, HP Knowledge Architect and Transformation Consultant
I often run across 3 myths that customers have regarding knowledge management. Because these myths seem so prevalent, I want to debunk these fallacies, which include:
Myth #1 – You can’t measure the value of knowledge
Today, I’ll discuss the first myth but before I begin, I want to define what I mean by “knowledge” (distinct from “information” and “data”); otherwise I have no chance of debunking any myth that uses the same term.
“Knowledge” is an “asset” that we use to make effective decisions quickly and consistently. An “internal process” that guides us to seek out the most relevant data and information (and people, i.e., sources of knowledge) for the most desirable outcomes. Whether it is how to diagnose and fix a problem, execute a process, write a sales proposal, or produce an Enterprise Architecture, knowledge leads me towards the best decision. As my colleague Stuart Rance says in his post titled “6 steps to get started with knowledge management,”the only knowledge that is of any value is the knowledge in someone’s head that helps them make decisions and deliver services.” However, it is possible to make some knowledge assets explicit so that they can be used by many individuals to make decisions.
It is possible to measure the outcomes of using knowledge
I can measure the outcomes of my decisions, e.g., “Did this resolution (=decision) fix the customer’s problem?” or “Did this proposal lead to a successful bid?” In both examples, the “knowledge asset” is an “internal process” that was followed in identifying the resolution and constructing the proposal.
When I use a knowledge asset to make a decision that leads to a favourable and measurable result, I can rightly assert that it helped me achieve the desired outcome. If that knowledge asset happened to be “tacit” (inside my head), then I could attribute it to my “experience.” However, if the knowledge asset is in an explicit form, such as in a well-structured document, a rule base, or a decision tree, then I should reach the same conclusion. In practice though, this often doesn’t happen and the credit is given to the individual who applied the knowledge asset and not to the asset itself!
Connecting knowledge to outcomes of use
The quality of knowledge impacts the quality and consistency of the decision-making processes that use it. For example, if my knowledge is inaccurate, incomplete, and inconsistent, then it will increase my risk of making a decision that yields an undesirable outcome.
The ease of access to relevant knowledge will directly impact the speed of decision-making. In other words, the more time I spend searching for vital knowledge, the more time it will take me to make a decision.
We can illustrate this through a simple equation:
Decision time = knowledge access time + knowledge application time
- If the knowledge asset I use to make the decision is tacit, then ‘knowledge access time’ will shrink to almost zero.
- However, if the knowledge asset I need is explicit, I must go and find it and my decision time will be greater.
So what are the practical “value measures” (of knowledge) I can use?
There are two sets:
1. Outcome measures – measures of the effectiveness, efficiency and consistency of the processes where human decisions are needed
2. Control measures – measures quality of our knowledge assets and average speed of access
I would expect there to be a relationship between these two sets of measures. Here are two examples.
- In a Service Centre – There are relationships between the quality of knowledge assets and First Contact Resolution Rate; knowledge access time and customer contact time.
- In a Software Factory – There are relationships between the quality of knowledge assets and product quality (e.g., measured by test success rate); knowledge access time and process efficiency.
I often wonder whether “knowledge management” is a misnomer and should be re-named “continuous decision improvement” so that it states what it can do for us and not what it is. I hope that this first post will lead you to the same conclusion.
In my next post I’ll tackle Myth #2 – You can’t capture knowledge. This is another inaccurate perception that I’ll address…stay tuned!
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