The field of knowledge management is about how organisations can use specific methods to capture, store and retrieve the core information, intelligence and expertise of their people. It includes the ability to identify, represent, create and adopt the specific experiences, core capabilities and insights held by high performers. Some of these assets may already be captured in formal explicit procedures, while many others remain informal or tacit. The field of knowledge sharing and knowledge management enables organisations to set up frameworks for capturing the most important lessons learned on projects and in the field.
1. The purpose of knowledge management
The purpose of knowledge management is to improve the performance of organisations and teams in order to provide greater leverage of the knowledge and experience held internally. Progress may come from the way an organisation manages projects, uses new technologies, mentors and trains new employees, and how people at all levels of experience learn to improve. Ultimately, knowledge management is about creating cultures of continuous improvement that are supported by the most senior leadership while often being led from the bottom up.
Organisational Change Collaboration and Learning
Organisations embarking on serious organisational change may start out by asking questions about the process and benefits of internal improvement like.
- If a team currently learned something of value today, how likely is it the team would still be using it in 6 months?
- How might new recruits on other projects learn those same things?
- How do organisations embed know-how for the long haul?
- How do they ensure lessons learned stay learned (for as long as they remain useful)?
- Who inspires, empowers and energises knowledge leadership within the organisation?
Progressive organisations understand that being able to transfer learnings significantly increases performance, lowers risk, reduces costs, saves time, develops people faster, and provides higher quality, swifter innovations.
2. Successful knowledge management strategies
What makes a knowledge management project successful? The answer has changed a lot over the years as technology itself has changed.
Keys to successful Knowledge transfer projects:
In order to roll out a successful knowledge management project, standard factors need to be present. These include:
- A clear purpose and set of objectives
- A focus on improving performance and value in the organisation
- A formal technical structure
- A knowledge-friendly culture that is motivated to change and improve
- Different channels that can be used for transferring knowledge
- Senior executive support
- Methods enabling the organisation to capture tacit or informal knowledge assets.
Organisations that have the ability to capture context-specific knowledge held by its experts and that can transfer these key project learnings across large populations of employees can create significant competitive advantages in their industries. In most cases, organisations can use technology already existing in their business or online to significantly enhance current operating methods. Other areas of significant value include new methods of running toolbox meetings, workgroups and case studies. A world-class knowledge management system today is a hub for formal and informal business intelligence.
3. Understand your knowledge objectives
What are your objectives?
- Is your program going to be focused on the creation of more collaborative work practices? The better use of lessons learned?
- Continuous improvement methods?
- Knowledge sharing systems and social networks?
- Other kinds of know-how and expertise?
Who are the internal champions pushing for change? Are you working with the CEO, CIO and/or COO or is the program being driven by specific project managers? The areas listed below are contributing factors to any organisation’s success in building a strategy for knowledge management.
- Use of lessons learned
- Ability to upskill new employees quickly
- Capture of major project learnings
- Use of informal workforce conversations
- Older workforce
- Codifying and capture of knowledge
- The use of technology
- Finding and searching for answers/findability
In your organisation, you will currently have:
- Project management systems
- Learning management systems (LMS)
- Document / Knowledge management systems
- Intranet capability / Social media and add-ins
- SharePoint platforms
If these systems are used strategically and effectively, they can completely transform the way business processes occur within an organisation.
4. Capture organisation experts intelligence
One of the toughest problems faced by organisations changing the way they do business is the ability to capture the key intelligence or “know-how” of its best people. Over the past 20 years, smart organisations have realised that cultures focused on continuous improvement create significant business value.
Toyota’s use of knowledge sharing and performance improvement techniques have led to extraordinary advances in production facilities. Toyota have managed to consistently decrease the number of defects coming out of their factories and have also created knowledge sharing techniques, across their organisation and suppliers.
Organisational knowledge distinctions
Some knowledge is explicit and/or documented procedurally. Most knowledge, however, tends to be tacit – informal ways of doing things that people have been told or learned over time. If an organisation has powerful methods of collaboration and innovative learning processes, and if informal learnings can be captured, stored and used on other projects and teams, these methods can quickly then be transferred into more formal procedures.
5. Understand your current environment
It is important to understand the current status of where your organisation sits. Understanding the current landscape with regard to leadership, systems, people and culture has a large impact on the kinds of objectives that can and should be set.
- Is your environment one that encourages learning and the dynamic flow of information and know-how?
- Do you work in an environment that is collaborative or authoritative?
- How are mistakes dealt with? Are they swept under the carpet and kept quiet or are they used as lessons? Is the organisation focused on continuous improvement?
- Do you use collaborative toolbox meetings that always facilitate what went wrong, what went right, and what can be changed immediately to improve on the current project?
What level is your organisation at today?
- Level 1 – Fragmented or ad hoc type structures with regard to knowledge.
- Level 2 – Content-based structures with some position descriptions with regard to knowledge ownership, but only a little training.
- Level 3 – Process-based view where knowledge is a process and systematic efforts have started to identify and share knowledge within the organisation.
- Level 4 – Capability-based structures where the organisation uses knowledge for capability development and demonstrates an understanding of simple, complex, tacit, explicit internal and external knowledge, with diverse knowledge flows between external and internal parties. Demonstrates the use of and implementation of reward systems, involvement at all senior management levels and training across all aspects of knowledge management.
Almost all major global organisations are changing the way they operate to better share knowledge through some kind of peer groups, cross-unit networks often based on shared interests. Large organisations are focusing more and more on the transfer of best practice and improved decision-making by seeking advice from peers across the business.
6. Conducting knowledge systems audits
Many people generalise about how things work within their own organisation. Therefore, the ability to conduct a formal knowledge systems audit can be a valuable method of understanding exactly how people learn in your organisation. This process may take the form of online surveys, face-to-face question-and-answer sessions, and group facilitation on key projects.
Its purpose is to find out what kinds of methods, processes and systems are being used within the organisation and how these functions are enhancing or obstructing the ability of internal teams to learn, gain new technical information, understand the best way of doing things, and transfer best practices across the team.
An audit or knowledge mapping process looks at how knowledge flows – by project / by department / by sector or by segment – are working to leverage performance within the organisation.
- Where is knowledge in the organisation captured?
- What knowledge systems are used in different key roles?
- Where do the greatest transfers of knowledge occur?
- Who leads collaborative learning environments (if they exist)?
- What projects already share information between teams/projects/segments/countries?
- What specific online tools and technology are used for collaboration?
Formal versus Informal Learning
- How are formal learning systems used?
- How are informal groups used in mentoring?
- How is knowledge currently being lost?
- What kinds of succession plans are held?
- How does staff turnover relate to learning methods?
- What are the kinds of learning used in staff inductions?
7. Setting up collaborative frameworks
One of the most challenging areas to master is the final piece of any strategy – the rollout. The selection of a series of champions, people with much experience who truly believe in the value of transferring knowledge is essential to success. These people can become leaders of specific core knowledge areas. They need not be the people who run specific workshops or systems, but they will be the facilitators of knowledge transfer within the business. There are many ways that projects may be piloted and then rolled out across organisations. A couple of them rely on the use of more tacit and informal knowledge being captured, leveraged and used across multiple teams in environments. Based on the objectives you have set, it is then possible to select specific areas you can implement improvement on a trial basis. The methods described below are used by some of the most successful organisations in the world.
Nucor Steel has used many strategies to help their experts become more comfortable sharing their tacit knowledge. Some of these include:
- Building efficient knowledge transfer channels
- Specific workgroups set up to transfer best practice
- Transferring key staff between sites for concentrated learning periods
- The creation of a culture that enables people to feel comfortable taking risks and sharing knowledge
- Investing in methods of codifying tacit and informal knowledge
- Group-based incentives.
Some of the collaboration techniques used at Toyota include:
- Creation of project charters
- Sets of operating rules
- Projects often being driven by the teams bottom up
- 100% value-focused
Communities of Practice
Communities of Practice (COP) are another knowledge management process with great practical value. They bring together people who have a similar set of interests based on a business process, project, or some kind of theme in order to exchange or share personal, public, or organisational knowledge to increase the value of that knowledge within the community.
The use of online information and schedules allows information held on the system to be used in such a way that it actually can become knowledge. There are many hundreds of other strategies used by major organisations that effectively transfer intelligence from their project teams across distributed environments, sectors, and countries.
8. Best in class conclusion
What does best in class knowledge management look like in a large global organisation? Technology is changing so quickly that accomplishments we could never even dream of are now completely possible. New technologies now enable us to capture project details in 4D and 5D models, thereby allowing people on site to see and use the information moments after it has been updated by designers in the office. We now have the ability to access with the touch of a fingertip all of the information once held in paper folders .
World-class knowledge management today enables a new starter to watch a series of videos filmed on site showing people working where they will be working, doing the things they will be doing. On major projects, swipe cards can now show project managers who was on site, what qualifications they have, where they had past experiences and if issues occur, team members can be trained on site immediately through video footage in the form of learning objects.
New knowledge capture techniques enable organisations to use workgroups, toolbox meetings, and prestart in new ways where safety is a much higher priority. Best practice can be conveyed much more quickly and in a much more compelling manner. Sophisticated knowledge management also considers different learning styles. An essential part of knowledge transfer is acknowledging that many people on sites do not want to look at computers or read procedures. By using a combination of new technologies, face-to-face workgroup environments, and informal focused communities of practice, key experience can be built and shared much more effectively.
In organisations with powerful learning-centric environments, new employees are able to upskill much more quickly. Staff turnover tends to be much lower when transfers do occur, which is increasingly because project teams are able to capture and understand past lessons learned. When a leader has an issue, answers are much more simple to find, either in the form of learning objects online or by being able to contact the right person much more quickly than before.
The design, build and rollout of knowledge management programs within major organisations enables real competitive advantage. By using a mix of new technologies and different meeting formats, and bringing together experienced teams, some of whom offer diverse opinions and experiences, organisations can enhance performance on projects and the ability to leverage internal intelligence. By populating technology with the right information from the people in the organisation who have specific competencies that in past have never been able to be effectively captured, organisations can gain significant competitive advantages.