posted 1 Feb 1998 in Volume 1 Issue 4
Implementing Knowledge Management:
As members of a large knowledge-based consulting organisation, Bill Ives and Adam Gersting of Andersen Consulting are increasingly being asked by clients planning knowledge management solutions to share our best practices regarding knowledge management implementations. In this article, we provide insights gained through both the creation of knowledge management solutions for our clients, and from the design, implementation and use of our own internal Andersen Consulting Knowledge Xchange© knowledge management system.
Knowledge management is truly a multi-disciplinary venture, requiring expertise in strategy development, business process design, change management or people issues as well as technology expertise; the need for each of these four areas, which is becoming common wisdom in the marketplace, provides a framework for this article. A knowledge management solution needs to be linked to and support an organizations strategic objectives as well as have its own strategic objectives. It must support key business processes as well as have its own clearly defined knowledge processes for facilitating the creation, acquisition, synthesis, sharing, and use of information, insights, and information.
Knowledge management solution developers need to recognise that people must be empowered, enabled, and enticed to make optimal use of the knowledge within the system, as well as become owners and creators of the system content. Solutions need to employ appropriate technologies, selected to best support the strategic, business process, and change objectives of the solution. The following lessons represent key learnings from each of the four areas of strategy, process, people, and technology.
|Link knowledge management to strategic objectives and measures|
Many Organizational leaders see knowledge management as a hot topic, and are, therefore, working to implement knowledge management solutions. These leaders may start with only vague goals such as improve our knowledge capital or share best practices; a recent survey of those in charge of knowledge management found that few had a clear understanding of the business improvements that knowledge management initiatives were to provide. Knowledge management solutions involve long-term, strategic commitment, and must be linked to Organizational goals and objectives in order for long-term value to be realised. These linkages differ depending on the industry; they could be to achieve such goals as reducing the acquisition time and cost in today’s acquisition-driven retail banking industry, providing better market intelligence for product developers, or sharing best practices and past failures around specific projects for truck designers, chemical engineers, or pharmaceutical researchers. In the knowledge-intensive consulting industry, for example, knowledge management is frequently seen as the mission-critical application; it is necessary for the core operations of the firm. In our organisation, this outlook provides strategic direction and fuels large resources, much research to support continuous improvement, and extensive involvement by users at all levels of the organisation.
|Develop and monitor the value proposition|
As just mentioned, knowledge management solutions should be designed to support specific strategic programs; value propositions can then be linked to the objectives of these programs.
Even if there is executive support for the system and its implementation is already under way, effort should be focused upon clearly documenting bottom-line benefits derived from the system. Where possible, start the value proposition with direct tactical cost savings where attribution is clearer. For example, if a knowledge management system is used to reduce the training requirements for a new initiative, then cost reductions such as reduced time away from the job for training, reduced learning curve, and the ability to accelerate the initiative roll-out can be more easily attributed to the knowledge management system. However, reduction in program implementation costs is often not the primary driver for knowledge management solutions. The more dramatic and strategic benefits for organizations often come through improvements such as increased speed, efficiency, innovation and better decisions, seen through reduced cycle time for new product development, reduction in processing errors and rework, or increased customer satisfaction or retention. Metrics (e.g., quality) and measures (e.g., defects per million) should be established for these drivers, so that improvements attributed to knowledge management solutions can be appropriately documented. Documenting benefits realised will aid the organisation, both as it evaluates the initial pilot implementation and determines next areas to extend knowledge management.
|Secure top management commitment, sponsorship, and leadership|
Following the first two lessons will certainly help secure top management commitment for funding, but this commitment also needs to lead to very visible and active sponsorship and leadership by the executive team. For many organizations, knowledge management represents a cultural change, and employees need to know that top management is behind this change and that it is an ongoing way of life for the organisation. This visible sponsorship can take the form of communications, funding of key initiatives, Organizational changes, and perhaps most important direct modelling of the desired behaviour. Some of the most frequent contributors to our own Knowledge Xchange© system are the top executives in our firm; this sends a clear message of value. A shared recognition of the value of knowledge management by people at all levels of the organisation is perhaps the most effective incentive for participation.
communications, funding of key initiatives, Organizational changes, and perhaps most important direct modelling of the desired behaviour. Some of the most frequent contributors to our own Knowledge Xchange© system are the top executives in our firm; this sends a clear message of value. A shared recognition of the value of knowledge management by people at all levels of the organisation is perhaps the most effective incentive for participation.
|Create business unit knowledge sharing performance measures|
Effective knowledge sharing is a systematic process of knowledge capture, evaluation, categorisation, and distribution followed by feedback and improvement leading to new capture, evaluation, etc. Formalised knowledge management processes can accelerate this knowledge cycle and increase the breadth of content. Performance measures can be developed at the business unit level around these goals of acceleration and increased scope, which can also be lead indicators of business performance. For example, the number of best practice contributions submitted by communities of practice could be both a measure of the knowledge management system use and a lead indicator of future business success in the respective areas. Quality measures must also be established so contribution is not simply volume driven. Attribution of causal relationships between increased Organizational learning and performance improvements is always risky, given the difficulty of conducting controlled experiments. Linkages showing quality can be reinforced through what Tom Davenport recently labelled proper anecdote management.1 Several clients with which we have worked justify and continue to support knowledge sharing based on anecdotes that can be tied back to value propositions or business unit measures. The following is typical: We had a critical problem that was going to prevent us from launching the new product on time. We posted a question to the knowledge base and got an answer from another engineer who had just solved a similar problem. We made the fix and got the product out on time, saving us millions in lost revenue.
|Develop an implementation and migration strategy|
Knowledge management initiatives frequently start within a defined, high-impact area to quickly demonstrate the value and to gain support for larger efforts. Constraints imposed by technology, Organizational changes and availability of content can also require a phased implementation approach. In these cases, it is important to develop a clear strategy for expanding the system in terms of functionality, content, and scope (or number of business units), and to gain top management support for this strategy. A key part of this strategy is developing the value proposition for these expansions as well as understanding their linkage to the organizations strategic objectives. This information will be crucial for prioritising the system expansion on each dimension. If possible, the first programs should target areas in which there is already a culture of knowledge sharing and networking. For example, in most organizations, engineers and researchers are more likely to be already engaged in sharing knowledge than sales and marketing. Starting within existing knowledge sharing areas will model success and reduce potential initial cultural obstacles. As the knowledge management system expands into other areas, more attention will need to be given to incentive issues. The pre-existence of a knowledge sharing culture in most consulting organizations is one reason they are early adopters of knowledge management systems.
|Define areas for knowledge sharing and map the knowledge flows between them|
|Define the key business processes or areas covered by the knowledge management system, the knowledge flows among these areas, and the key knowledge requirements for each step within each of the flows|
|Determine who needs to contribute this knowledge and who needs to use it|
Frequently, these users and contributors are the same people sharing best practices around a role or common job task; however, cross-functional information sharing is also essential for achieving certain business objectives and requires more formal support within the knowledge management system. For example, product designers need to engage in dialog with production managers and workers around requirements for new products, and customer service agents often provide key input on customer needs and desires to help shape effective product design. These knowledge exchanges should be charted through maps of the required knowledge flows. As part of this process, it is also important to define the knowledge areas that members of specific roles do not need to participate in as either users or contributors. This clear, up-front definition for users of what to do and what not to do avoids wasting Organizational resources on unfocused activities.
These clear knowledge flows prevent unfocused activities, such as the rampant development and publication of home pages often found in intranet environments, and helps ensure that all content in systems is linked to improving business performance in strategic areas.
|Define knowledge sharing processes|
Since knowledge sharing is new to most organizations, this process definition will enable users to quickly and effectively begin to share and leverage information and insights. Within our organisation, knowledge processes have been defined for the sharing and use of project deliverables: steps for posting, reviewing, approving, and using have been defined, providing clear guidelines for use, and enabling the design of efficient library databases. As users become more familiar with initial knowledge sharing processes and the types of sharing that knowledge management systems can support, additional knowledge sharing opportunities can be identified, formalised, and integrated into the overall solution. These knowledge processes should be embedded in overall business processes so that knowledge capture is immediate and is not seen as an extra burden for users; if the knowledge management system is something extra for users, they will be much less likely to use it on their own. There are times, however, when it is valuable to conduct debriefing after work events. This practice has been used extensively by the US Army in their After Action Reviews and is beginning to be adopted by business.2 When debriefing does occur, a clear focus, objectives for knowledge capture, and direction to create action steps for improvements will help to guide comments, allowing contributors to share experiences of value to the organisation, in addition to general successes and failures. It will also help to overcome the natural reluctance to say what really happened, allowing participants to add positive value by generating the recommended action steps.
|Define knowledge sharing roles and responsibilities|
Roles and responsibilities must be defined for all those involved in the environment. These definitions should clearly state when and how individuals are to interact with the knowledge sharing system. We have developed several key knowledge management roles that we use internally and recommend to clients that are implementing large knowledge management solutions. The roles range from that of Knowledge Sponsor to a top executive supporting the overall knowledge effort through funding, promotion, recognition, and communications throughout the organisation to Knowledge Integrators, who monitor and guide the content of knowledge bases.
Knowledge Base Integrators ensure that the structure of knowledge repositories support business needs. Both formal and informal communities of interest have been defined and supported. The larger communities have full-time Knowledge Champions to promote contributions and publicise valuable contributors and knowledge capital.
|Define requirements for involvement|
Requirements, along with a clear acceptance process, need to be established for bringing new communities of practice into the knowledge management system. These requirements should include identifying community leaders, defining roles and responsibilities, implementing a communication plan, training users, selecting and entering the appropriate initial best practice documents, and ensuring support is in place.
This entry process should be carefully controlled to ensure that participating communities are properly prepared and enabled to effectively engage in the process before they are allowed to participate.
|Create and implement a communication plan|
An overall communication plan needs to be developed to help move all parties from initial awareness of the knowledge management system and their roles within it to commitment to using the system. Initial communication messages should be provided through various means, and should not rely on the knowledge system itself. As awareness is achieved, the knowledge management system can be used as a major communication vehicle to move the users towards commitment and help them to begin to actively work with the system. Ideally, the communication messages should have some entertainment value along with real business messages/benefits that are clearly conveyed with examples. This will help to motivate users to initially investigate, and later take ownership, of the new knowledge management system.
|Develop and deliver a training program|
As knowledge sharing often represents major cultural change, users need to be trained on the value of the new processes as well as on system procedures. As with communication, the knowledge management system itself can be leveraged to deliver training.
Training should model use of the knowledge management system and provide practice in using it, learning by so doing. For example, a new group of courses for our own internal knowledge management training makes use of intranet technologies to delivery computer-based training that is directly linked to our knowledge management system. These courses allow for both the dissemination of knowledge and skills around specific topics and the focused gathering of new knowledge capital around these topics; participants are encouraged to add their comments and experiences about selected course topics. This input can then go directly into the relevant sections of the knowledge management system, providing another valuable learning experience around knowledge sharing. Much research has demonstrated that learning by doing greatly increases retention.
In addition, if learners actively contribute their new insights, retention is even greater.
Co-ordinate knowledge management with other related learning initiatives. As one goal of knowledge management initiatives is to create a learning organisation, knowledge initiatives should be co-ordinated with other learning initiatives such as training and performance support that cover the similar content areas; this allows for consistency and synergy among all related learning initiatives.
Individual learning is generally supported by Human Resource groups, while Organizational learning through knowledge management is frequently supported by Information Systems groups. It is important that these two groups cooperate on initiatives so that Organizational and individual learning make use of each other. These groups should not function in uncoordinated silos around learning initiatives, which is often the case in many organizations. Integration of knowledge systems with other learning initiatives enriches the learning experience, and helps system users understand that sharing insights and experiences is at the core of continuous improvement and learning.
|Address incentive issues|
It is becoming common knowledge that the biggest obstacles to the success of knowledge sharing efforts are cultural, with the issues of incentives being the most challenging. When addressing knowledge sharing change management challenges, one source of effective insights can be past cultural change successes. For example, one of our clients has successfully implemented a culture of operational safety at all levels of the organisation; some of the approaches to change used in this program can be applied to knowledge sharing. While effective leadership, a shared vision, clearly defined communities of interest, and a strong commitment to Organizational success are the best motivators, incentives should also be considered. Incentives for behavioural change can come in the form of direct financial reward, career enhancement, peer recognition, and/or adherence to cultural norms and expectations. In our firm, knowledge sharing is part of each individuals performance review on both a project basis and an annual basis. There is a six-level model of knowledge sharing behaviour and expectations that indicates where individuals should be for each career level.
Contributions to the system can become very visible records of individual and team achievements, which provides additional incentive. Knowledge Champions, described earlier, encourage system use through frequent communication and updating of sharing messages and recognition of contributors. These Champions nominate the knowledge contributor of the month in order to further recognise and encourage participation.
|Develop proper user support|
The lack of proper user support can cripple the best designed knowledge solution. Support includes showing how to best use the system from a content and functional perspective, as well as addressing traditional technical questions. Our firm and several of our clients have, or are planning to adopt, multi-tiered user support systems to handle the content and functional questions. In addition to technical support groups, these tiers encompass a help desk function, ‘super users’, or dedicated, experienced personnel on rotation from the field, and identified experts in the field. This multi-tiered approach provides a faster response time and shields experts from routine questions. Service level agreements to need to be established and maintained which are consistent with levels of support in other areas. To increase the effectiveness of this critical support program, training plans need to be developed for these content support personnel on such issues as:
what to expect; how to handle questions; generation of Fads (frequently asked questions with answers), etc.
|Model system design on work processes|
Just as knowledge processes should support overall business objectives, technical systems should be designed and developed after knowledge sharing processes are defined, in order to best enable these processes. For example, one process in many organizations is the creation of documents that are commented upon and that go through several revisions before they are completed. Even after documents are released, suggestions for improvements or questions of clarification need to be gathered, analysed, and incorporated. Systems can be designed to facilitate this process. The document creation and comment capture processes can be executed using a series of databases representing each major step in the process (content collection, document creation, document use and refinement), or through a document management system supporting the same steps. Technology can also enable the process discussion around source documents, documents under development and documents as they are published and used. By selecting technology components and designing systems after business processes such as the one above, organizations can better ensure that technology is, in fact, enabling the business.
|Investigate traditional methods as well as emerging technologies|
Leading technologies that enable knowledge sharing environments include Internet technologies and product offerings such as those of IBM/Lotus, Microsoft, etc.
In addition to these core technology components, additional technologies both more advanced and more simplistic are often required, but not always considered. Many knowledge sharing organizations employ advanced technologies such as threaded discussions, agents, filters, search engines, work flow capabilities and profiling. The more explicit knowledge is, the easier it is to put into words within knowledge repositories. The sharing of more tacit knowledge requires both richer, higher bandwidth channels and more direct human interaction for dialog and clarification. For such tacit knowledge transfer, face-to-face or voice-to-voice interaction is still most efficient, be it through meetings, telephone conversations, voice mail, or videoconferencing.
The types of technologies employed will also depend on the size, geographic distribution, and nature, of the users in the organisation. By matching knowledge management system components to business needs and user characteristics, the best mix of core, leading-edge, and traditional technologies can be brought together.
|Establish a standardised knowledge management architecture|
Knowledge management architectures should be designed and integrated with other technical architectures to ensure that all users are provided with standard services through standard mechanisms. Single-point connectivity should be provided to allow users to seamlessly connect to heterogeneous environments. For example, in our global environment, a single call to an accessible toll-free number provides connectivity to our entire internal Knowledge Xchange© system as well as to the public Internet. Additional mechanisms should be in place to support the needs of all different user types that may exist in the organisation, office-based, remote, and mobile users. The more knowledge management architectures can be designed to simply and effectively support user groups, wherever and however they may work, the more the environment will be leveraged.
|Employ iterative design and development techniques|
Most of the software applications used to develop knowledge sharing applications lend themselves to iterative design and development approaches as changes can be made quickly and easily. Developers should take advantage of iterative design and development approaches to gather phased input from key users to ensure that applications meet user requirements. Within many of our client engagements, key users representing a cross-section of the end-user population work with the project team from initial brainstorming sessions through application rollout and use. By working with key users at critical stages, feedback can be gathered and adjustments made prior to the next session; this ensures that applications best reflect user requirements and look and feel preferences.
|Define operations standards|
Operations Policies, Procedures, Standards & Guidelines (PPS&Gs) should be developed and implemented to ensure that the technical environment is efficient and effectively supported and run. Major areas that must be addressed through Operations PPS&Gs, regardless of the platform, include architecture overview; server software installation, administration, and maintenance; server management procedures; hardware standards; backup procedures; and security policies and procedures. The creation and maintenance of clearly documented and understood operational policies and procedures used throughout the organisation will help to ensure consistency and high availability of the technical environment. It will also be a valuable tool for bringing new administrators up to speed. We have developed detailed PPS&G for our internal environment, as well as for several clients, which allows administrators around the world to quickly, consistently, and effectively operate and support growing, mission-critical, technical environments.
This represents a partial and dynamic list as we continuously gather new insights. We will post this article in our knowledge system along with a set of presentation slides for others to use with clients or internal audiences to share these lessons, invite suggestions, and generate dialogue: after all, we welcome comments from you, as well.
Bill Ives is an associate partner in Andersen Consulting’s Change Management practice, and Adam Gersting is a consultant in the Technology practice. They can be contacted at
s.william.ives @ ac.com and at
adam.m.gersting @ ac.com.