posted 1 Nov 1999 in Volume 3 Issue 3
Review: The Knowledge Management Fieldbook
Roger Evernden reviews this title written by Wendi R. Bukowitz and Ruth L. Williams. Published by: Financial Times Prentice Hall, London 1999
ISBN: 0 273 63882 3
The number of books covering knowledge management is steadily growing, but all too often I get the feeling that the authors have limited experience of implementing the ideas and theory. Rather than providing a definitive approach to implementing knowledge management, this book is designed as a guidebook for thinking about how to implement knowledge management within an organisation. It is primarily a workbook - with checklists, questionnaires and spaces to encourage you to write down ideas and reactions as you use it.
The authors have strong backgrounds in research and management consulting, and the book is a serious attempt to bring together some of the best knowledge management ideas based on a survey of more than 50 organisations through interviews and case studies. It would have been useful to include a simple list of participating organisations, although some of these are apparent from the examples.
It is aimed at those who already understand that knowledge management is important, have committed themselves to action, and want to know what to do next. The format is straightforward - starting with a brief and clear description on how to use the book, followed by a knowledge management diagnostic and then a set of 'working' chapters for the different components of the Knowledge Management Process Framework.
The knowledge management diagnostic contains seven sections that correspond to the seven working chapters. Each section contains 20 statements that you evaluate and then score. The diagnostic is designed to help identify areas of knowledge management that need development in your organisation and to guide you to relevant chapters in the book. I used the diagnostic against two of our major clients to see how it compared with our experience, and it seems to provide a good 'rough guide' by helping to focus on important areas and priorities.
The bulk of the book (315 out of 370 pages) is then devoted to the working chapters. There are seven chapters that correspond to the knowledge management processes. These seven processes are grouped into the tactical process (get, use, learn and contribute) and the strategic process (assess, build/sustain and divest). The approach in each chapter follows the same pattern. An introduction explains the challenges and focus - resulting in a list of imperatives and challenges. For example, in the chapter on the 'Get' process, the imperatives include articulation, awareness and access. Each imperative is then discussed in detail, including a list of the major challenges for the imperative. For each challenge there is a discussion, a case study, a worksheet that instructs you to 'Think about it!' and a chart to help you prioritise the challenge based on whether you need to respond to the challenge and whether your organisation has the ability to respond to the challenge.
At the end of each chapter there is a section for collating scores from each challenge and prioritisation into an 'Agenda for action'. There are also examples of action steps that you can take, with a space for you to decide who should be involved and how to proceed.
Not all of the ideas will work in your organisation. In the 'Learn' process, one of the challenges is to promote the pleasure principle at work. The authors point out that there are benefits for both organisation and employees when this principle genuinely exists. They describe Buckman Laboratories International where there is a cultural norm that promotes work at any time and place and a majority of employees share enthusiasm and curiosity about work. Sceptics may doubt that such an ideal is possible; no doubt this book will work better for true believers in knowledge management. The important thing is that the book encourages you to think about whether this challenge is important for your organisation and then provides techniques for planning how to meet the challenge.
I found myself wondering whether book format was the ideal vehicle for containing such valuable guidance. The book will help you to think about many of the key knowledge management issues, and in the process generate a lot of ideas and actions, but there is a danger that the thoughts and actions become too daunting or complex to manage effectively. I also had questions about how to track changes and learning after the initial use of the workbook. This is not a criticism of the book, because it does not set out to cover these issues, but it is certainly something that a serious practitioner needs to take into account.
In summary, although you could sit down and read this book, it is designed to use as well as read. It is clearly aimed at organisations that are fully committed to knowledge management; there is little discussion for example on how to handle situations where there is a mixture of positive and negative opinions about knowledge management.
If you are looking for a practical approach for developing an action plan and getting started with knowledge management, then this book provides a wealth of techniques integrated through a Knowledge Management Process Framework, and supported by case studies and examples.
Roger Evernden is a senior consultant at WorkSpace International Ltd., UK. He provides practical guidance in information management. He can be contacted at:firstname.lastname@example.org