Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Implementing Knowledge Management: Practical Approach

Knowledge is key for decision making and strategy building. But knowing does not always translate into doing it. It is very critical for organizations to implement right and effective tools for managing organizational knowledge to build and sustain competitive advantage.

Knowledge Management facilitates creation, consolidation, transformation, sharing, distribution, and application of knowledge. No two organization can follow same methodology to implement knowledge management. And it is not necessary, if an approach works for one organization, other organization can use it as a cookie cutter. Knowledge is very subjective by definition and varies from one organization to another. Even if organizations are in same business domain, knowledge management methodology may be same but implementation approach may be completely different.

Knowledge starts with understanding of organization's business perspective and future strategies. Organizations have not been able to implement effective knowledge management practice for very reason that they do not understand their problems, opportunities and strategies clearly. Knowledge management starts with understanding of business processes and offerings. Organization needs to understand what is knowledge for them and what is not. Initially while setting up a knowledge management program, technology should take a back seat. The focus should be on processes and people, and technology should be seen as an enabler. Many organizations make mistakes by throwing technology before understanding the organizational knowledge assets and processes.

For example, Software consulting organization should know that organizational assets are project documentation and code. They need to organize and store the assets in a way that everyone in the organization should be able to re-use it and thereby reduce the learning time. The organization gains the competitive edge by transforming the assets into knowledge and there by improving productivity and developing core competency. The tremendous growth and profitability of Indian Software Industry is attributed to an effective knowledge management programs.

Steps for implementing an effective knowledge management program or practice are:

1. Identifying knowledge - Organizations needs to identify all sources of the knowledge and information so that it can be consolidated, stored in the centralized or distributed repositories, and shared and distributed when required.

2. Organizing Knowledge - Once the knowledge sources are identified, next step is to organize and provide structure to knowledge into organizational taxonomy. It helps not only in removing unnecessary and redundant information but also provides structured navigation to the information. In this step, organization need to understand boundaries of explicit and tacit knowledge. This step requires lot of thoughtful thinking and analysis from people and organization perspective.

3. Transforming Knowledge - Knowledge needs to transformed in a way so that it facilitates in making decisions and building new strategies. The knowledge needs to internalized, socialized and externalized so that it is shared and applied in most efficient manner. Further read 'How to transform the tacit knowledge into explicit form?'.

4. Measuring knowledge benefits - No process can be improved if it it is not measured for success. The key to success of knowledge management is the ability to measure the effectiveness of the implementation and narrowing it down to returns through revenue. The monitoring and control on processes are necessary to identify opportunities for eliminating redundancy and allow for continuous improvement.

What role technology play in knowledge management? As mentioned, technology should only be seen as facilitator or enabler. Knowledge Management program can even be implemented without additional investment but it won't be as effective or productive. Organization need to understand that they would need to make investment if they have to implement any Knowledge Management program. How much, depends on existing technology infrastructure and approved budget. If the organization does not have executive sponsorship for the program, no matter how deep and wide is your vision, the initiative is bound to fail. The executive sponsorship is required from the monetary as well as commitment perspective. Most of the initiatives fails because of half hearted commitment from executive management.

Knowledge Management program should be seen as organizational change management. Despite of great implementation and technology support, knowledge management may fail due to lack of support of organizational culture and adoption. Knowledge Management has same definition of the Democracy, knowledge of people, (utilized) by people and (created and consolidated) for people.

2 comments:

Stan Garfield said...

Hi, Ravi.

I linked to this post from my blog.

Regards,
Stan

Brad said...

Ravi,

A case study of work I did at a previous employer might interest you - it explains the thinking and planning that went into launching Communities of Practice.
See http://www.ifama.org/nonmember/OpenIFAMR/Articles/v5i3/hinton.PDF
Regards,
Brad