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6 steps to get started with knowledge management

If people have the right knowledge at the right time then they can work more effectively and efficiently, make better decisions, and deliver higher quality services at lower costs. Many IT organizations that I have worked with don’t have very effective knowledge management, so people make poor decisions, service quality is less than it should be, and there never seem to be enough people to do the work.

 

When I ask IT managers what they think is the best way for them to get knowledge they need from another person, the suggestions they come up with are often wide-ranging and imaginative. If I ask these same people what tools and techniques they use for knowledge management, the answers are frequently limited and unimaginative.

 

Knowledge is not contained in documents and databases; the only knowledge that is of any value is the knowledge in someone’s head that helps them make decisions and deliver services. We can use documents to help transmit this knowledge from one person to another, but the purpose of knowledge management is not to manage the documents, but to ensure that each person has the knowledge they need, when and where it is needed.

 

Implementing a comprehensive knowledge management process can involve a lot of work and cost, but it is possible to get quite a lot of value from some very simple steps. Here are some practical steps you can take to help you get started with knowledge management:

 

1.     Start with a list of the roles in your organization

 

You must have a clear understanding of how your organization creates value for your customers. Make sure you can answer these questions:

  • What are the major activities and processes that take place?
  • Who carries out each of these activities?
  • Where are the decisions made?

This information is probably already available to you, as part of your organizational governance. If it isn’t, then have a think about governance before you get started on knowledge management.

 

2.     Identify activities that would benefit from improved knowledge

 

Start by prioritizing activities that:

  • Use a lot of resources
  • Have a major impact on services or customers
  • Are not currently performed well due to a lack of knowledge

You can expand the scope of knowledge management to take in other activities later, but it is best to start with these high priority activities.

 

Look in some detail at how these activities are performed. Talk to the people actually doing the work and making the decisions and identify how knowledge supports them:

  • What knowledge is available now?
  • What knowledge could improve the activity?
  • Does someone else in the organization have the knowledge that is needed?

This should result in a list of activities that could benefit from improved knowledge, and some idea of where that knowledge could be found.

 

3.     Identify tools and techniques to help with knowledge transfer

 

There are many different tools and techniques that can be used to help get knowledge to the right place. Don’t just think about creation, storage and management of documents, but identify all the different approaches you might use. Which of these is suitable will depend on your organization’s culture and preferences, as well as on the type of knowledge you need to manage.

 

Here is an initial list of things that you might want to include – but don’t let my list constrain your imagination:

 

  • Searchable document repository
  • Knowledge base integrated into your service management toolset
  • Mentoring and coaching
  • Webinars and podcasts
  • Discussion forums and social media platforms
  • Instant messaging, email and phone calls to knowledgeable people
  • Email or paper-based newsletters

When you have a comprehensive list of possible techniques you can consider which of them might be suitable for each of the activities and types of knowledge that you identified in the previous step.

 

4.     Motivate people to share the knowledge that is needed

 

Most of the knowledge you need probably already exists within your organization, but you will need to motivate the people who have this knowledge to share with those who need to use it. How you do this will depend on the culture of your organization, and on the tools and techniques that you have selected.

 

You will probably want to identify a small number of knowledge management champions to model the behavior you want, and to encourage other people. It can also be very effective to publish the names of people who make useful knowledge contributions, and to use gamification to provide reward and encouragement for the desired behaviors.

 

5.     Motivate people to use the knowledge that has been shared

 

Remember that knowledge can only create value when it is used by someone to make decisions or deliver services. You need to think about how to incorporate the knowledge that is being created into the activities that you identified earlier.

 

You can use gamification to help encourage the required behaviors for use of knowledge, and you can integrate this with gamification for knowledge creation. You can use these techniques to identify and acknowledge the authors of the most reused pieces of knowledge, and the people who make the most use of shared knowledge. When you know what knowledge is being reused you can also use this to justify further investment in knowledge management and to plan future improvements.

 

6.     Manage your knowledge to ensure it remains relevant and helpful

 

Don’t forget that knowledge management isn’t a one-off project; it has to include a change in the culture of your organization. This means applying all the management of change techniques that you would use for any other organizational change.

 

You need to constantly review the sources of knowledge, to ensure that they remain relevant and helpful, and purge anything that is out of date. If you are using gamification to identify most-used knowledge artefacts, then the same data can be used to identify unused knowledge that may be suitable for improvement or archiving.

 

 

Although you could make very large investments in a major knowledge management programme, you could also start quite small and follow these six steps to get you started. You can then use continual improvement techniques to expand the scope and coverage of your knowledge management until it meets the needs of your organization.

 

Learn more about HP Consulting Services and how HP can help you shift your focus from operation to innovation.

 

And, if you want ideas about how to start thinking strategically, then read some of my other blogs:

For more info about me and what I can do for your organization, see my profile on our Technology Services Experts page.

 

Follow me on Twitter @StuartRance

Stuart Rance

Comments
David Mann(anon) | ‎09-10-2012 05:42 PM

Thanks Stuart, these are great points. I'd offer the following to underscore a few of your points and steps:

 

  1. The Service Desk is a natural and obvious place to focus efforts, since it will nearly always meet the criteria outlined in step 2. It is also a good microcosm for development of best practices that can be extended in a phased approach across the larger organization.
  2. Executive spnsorship and active support by senior management is important, as with any improvement initiative
  3. The motivation in steps 4 and 5 should include rewarding workers for sharing and using the knowledge. This could include incentives, bonuses/awards, linkages to performance management etc. Rewards should be items valued by workers and visible to senior management.
  4. You'll want to develop some way to measure the success of your knowledge management efforts. This will enable a PDCA cycle approach by having the "check" step, and can sustain momentum for your ongoing programme. Individual worker or team level metrics can provide the basis for determining the rewards described above. 
Stuart_Rance | ‎09-10-2012 05:50 PM

David,

 

Thanks for the feedback.

 

I agree that the service desk is often a good place to start, because (as you say) it tends to meet all three of the criteria in my step 2. I also agree with your comment about executive sponsorship, I mentioned the need for proper management of change and high level sponsorship is certainly important here.

 

I probably should also have written about measuring success, this is an important part of any project.

 

Andrew Gilbertson(anon) | ‎09-12-2012 03:30 PM

Stuart,

 

Excellent article.

 

Gamification was a new expression for me, having looked it up I'd be interested in any gamification examples you may have in a knowledge management context.

 

Andrew

Stuart_Rance | ‎09-13-2012 09:56 AM

Andrew,

 

Gamification of knowledge management would be based on allowing your users to score which knowledge they have reused and how useful it was. You can then get your knowledge contribitors to compete for the most useful articles, or for the largest number of useful articles. You can award titles like "Knowledge Expert" or "Knowledge Guru" for the people who exceed targets, and you could even make these domain specific so that one person is a Unix Knowledge Expert and someone else is a CRM Knowledge Guru.

 

The knowledge that you rate doesn't have to be documents, it could include webinars, podcasts or anything else that you can manage and share. The important thing is that you set up an environment where people will compete to be recognised by their peers for their contributions to knowledge sharing.

Aprill Allen(anon) | ‎09-13-2012 02:02 PM

Hi Stuart,

Where you talk about starting small: I think this is key to approaching knowledge management (KM) from scratch. It's hard to prove ROI, but a term I heard at today's online community managers conference in Australia is, consider the COI—the Cost of Inaction. In IT terms, that cost is RISK.

By way of starting small, I would look at processes already taking place, where KM wouldn't involve too much extra overhead. Like, incident management with an already working service desk environment. Ensure resolutions are documented and not just closed with "done" etc.

Also, I expect most enterprise environments have Active Directory. It can aid expertise location by ensuring everyone fills out their AD profiles with their focus areas. Encourage people to make themselves available for a call or conversation with colleagues who have questions about those topics. 

These small things won't cost any extra money, and won't require much extra time, but will set the foundations for better decision making, less repeated mistakes, and less solving the same problem over and over.

 

To Andrew's question about gamification: I don't have a specific, current, KM related gamification system, but one startup SaaS helpdesk & customer feedback solution did have a knowledge base leaderboard where the agents with the most, good quality, articles were listed  leaderboard-style across the whole SaaS userbase. I'm not sure if they still offer that, though.

 

Anyway, great article with many salient points. Thanks.

Stuart_Rance | ‎09-13-2012 07:58 PM

April,

 

Thank you for your feedback. I have a great deal of respect for your well earned reputation in the field of Knowledge Management and always enjoy reading what you have to say.

Rudolf(anon) | ‎09-14-2012 08:30 PM

Stuart, 

As a person who has enabled 3 new KM edforts to launch from scratch, i would like to add a very important point when starting off. Getting user inputs. At Inknowin Consulting we have face to face meetings with at least 2 employees for every position to f

ind out what pinches them and what is the knowledge they would typically 'Google' and situations where they feel frustrated at not having contextual information. 

We find this creates affinity to the effort.

Re Gramification, ican share specific examples implemented with great success including titles like Knowledge Ambassadors etc at a more detailed level if you can connect me with the person intested.

Thank you for a thought provoking article!

Rudolf

 

 

 

 

Stuart_Rance ‎09-14-2012 10:57 PM - edited ‎09-16-2012 12:13 PM

Rudolf,

 

I do agree with you about user input. This has to be part of the approach and will contribute to the management of change program.

 

I can't connect you with other people who have posted here, but I would love to hear more detail about your gamification examples. Please do post some more information.

 

Joe Albano PhD(anon) | ‎09-18-2012 03:40 PM

Stuart –

 

Once again, you present a lot of food for though. When I think about knowledge management I can’t help but think of the old quality joke that says that quality management is the executives’ response to the concern that left unmanaged, quality might run rampant throughout the organization.

 

The point is that knowledge is only valuable when it is applied. Thus your mention of governance is particularly appropriate. As an example consider customer service or service/help desks. In these situations we can use knowledge systems to gather information about what are the most common issues our customers and clients have. This allows us to develop knowledge about the best responses to these issues. Governance becomes important here because many issues are not of the form “if this is the issue, then this is the response”. That is, many issues require judgment to understand what the customer is asking for and then synthesize the knowledge into an appropriate response.

 

Since the application of knowledge may range from highly deterministic (if this, then that), to highly subjective (we’ve never done this before, but for this client in this situation it is the right thing to do), governance becomes especially important. In steps 3-5 of your article I believe it is important to clarify decision rights (who participates in the decision), responsibilities (who makes the decision), and accountabilities (how do we make sure decisions are made and improve over time). So if we are to apply knowledge in meaningful ways it seems important to know who is responsible for what decisions and how our escalation paths work. It also seems important to use past decisions to improve our knowledge and decision making over time.

 

I also appreciate April’s comment about characterizing ROI and offer the following suggestion: Several years ago I was working with an insurance company that was having difficulty justifying its investment in updating the service desk (including training and a rudimentary KM process). Looking at transaction costs alone made for a difficult “sell” to the executive level. Then we did a simple calculation of the lifetime value of a customer. We simply looked at the average vale of the portfolio of insurance policies held by a customer multiplied by the average length of a customer relationship. Then we looked at retention relative to negative service desk interactions. Justifying the program became much easier.

 

Bottom line: I think that KM and governance are inextricably linked and are part of a bigger effort to clarify roles and improve organizational effectiveness. This becomes especially important as organizations (enterprises or companies) grow and vision and mission are no longer communicated by everyone sitting around the same table, but must travel and be translated through layers of management.  

Stuart_Rance ‎09-18-2012 03:48 PM - edited ‎09-18-2012 04:15 PM

Joe,

 

Thanks for your observations.

 

I absolutely agree that knowledge management is inextricably linked with governance, and if we are going to use knowledge to help us make decisions we had better know who participates in what decisions. This is why I said in step 1 that you may need to "... have a think about governance before you get started on knowledge management."

Rudolf DSouza(anon) | ‎09-19-2012 09:24 AM

Hi Stuart,

Sorry for the delay in responding.

When we were implementing KM at a sales company in India, we realized early on that the culture of the organization was predominantly a Sales Culture. This has an upside and a downside. Upside- Salespeople love to share their stories. Downside- Salespeople hate to admit that they learnt from someone else, especially from another Region. But Sales People love to be recognized!.

So we gave titles to BOTH- those who shared and those who learned.

When a practice was downloaded we awarded points to the contributor. There was a merit list of Practices and the Top 25 were monetized (token amount) and given a certificate while the Top 3 were given trophies at the annual management summit and badges as Best Practice Leader.

The ones who downloaded the content had to submit evidence after 3 month and every quarter thereafter for 3 quarters showing the change in performance by implementing a practice. They were given a certificate and title of 'Keen Learner'  

Thus both earned Bragging rights with the learners getting the added benefit of being perceived as future potential.

 Trust this is helpful. Rudolf, InKnowin Consulting

PS: can I get an intimation when new comments are posted on this topic? (Ques not to be published)

Stuart_Rance | ‎09-19-2012 10:10 AM

Rudolf,

 

Thank you for this example of how to use gamification with knowledge management. I am a strong believer in this kind of approach to encourage behaviour change.

 

If you look at the top of this page you will see a small drop down arrow next to the text "Article Options", this will allow you to subscribe to the article so that you see all responses. I have never tested this without being logged in to my HP Passport account so you may need to create an account before it will work for you.

 

Birgit Gobi(anon) on ‎09-26-2012 02:32 PM - last edited on ‎09-26-2012 03:25 PM Stuart_Rance

Hi Stuart, Excellent blog! Especially item 2 is often the trigger point: creating business value. When working a the customer site as a KM consultant, I often suggest to turn it around: What are the major business PAINS - and how can KM help. This brings us also to the RISKS April has mentioned and can help to get sponsorhip.

However, we are all on the same page ;-)

BR, Birgit

Stuart_Rance | ‎09-26-2012 03:13 PM

Birgit,

 

If we all agree on what is needed, and on the enormous value that it can bring to IT organizations, how come we see so little effective knowledge management in use?

 

I hope that my blog might stimulate some people to start making small steps towards implementing basic knowledge management, but if you have any ideas on how we can help people to get started I would be very pleased to hear them.

 

Vladimir Kufner(anon) | ‎01-29-2013 04:16 PM

Well, great article. Agree on this absolutely.

Two of my cents:

  • would consider company culture factor - KM cannot work properly in companies where is strictly applied internal "competition". If people are under the threat of losing their jobs in favor of some new/younger/offshore colleagues, you simply need to fail at all.
  • the role of incentives and awards is IMHO crucial here. One of the largest real life issues would be that people simply do what they must do and some KM activities are usually considered as proverbial "cherry on cake".
  • proper funding and senior management support required. Nice example might be our initiative in HP SW Professional Services. We have defined REUSE initiative which is about defining knowledge briefs/knowledge articles, getting them approved by SME and managers and finally getting "internal hours" for time sheeting. So finally people not currently working on projects can focus on KM topics quite easily and by doing this they can significantly improve some of their personal objectives.

rgds

Vladimir

Stuart_Rance | ‎01-29-2013 05:26 PM

Vladimir,

 

You are of course correct that organization culture is very significant and that people need appropriate metrics and rewards to encourage the behaviours that you want - but I often find that if you make space for people to share, and take away the dis-incentives, then they really enjoy sharing with their colleagues.

 

 

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I help clients use service management to create business value for themselves and their customers. I am a senior ITIL examiner and I have wr...
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