posted 1 Oct 2009 in Volume 13 Issue 1
Think for yourself
David Gurteen makes some recommendations for those charged with undertaking KM projects. including issues to bear in mind and practices to avoid.
It surprises me that so many knowledge management (KM) projects are undertaken by people with no training or education in KM and little or no project or change management experience.
If you plan to undertake a KM project then it makes sense to understand KM thoroughly, especially as most KM projects fail.
One of the reasons for this is that we are dealing with complex human systems. In addition to understanding KM, you need to understand organisational complexity. For example, you should study the work of Dave Snowden and his Cynefin Framework.
You should also ensure that you understand the emerging ‘social KM’ based on social-networking tools, as well as taking the time to increase your awareness of intellectual capital and other related disciplines. There are some key points to keep in mind:
KM projects are tough – perhaps the toughest projects to undertake in any organisation. If you are not a seasoned project manager with a fair degree of experience in change management, then you are likely to fail;
KM means different things to different people and industries – HR, IT and librarians all see KM through a different lens. It will also have a different meaning to your organisation;
KM is about surfacing unknown problems – not just about responding to known issues or supporting business objectives.
There are also some practices and issues to be cautious of:
Beware of prescriptions – KM is context dependent and there is no substitute to thinking things through in your context;
Beware of KM certification – there is nothing wrong in receiving certificates for attending a course or for being certified or accredited to practice specific KM techniques. Cognitive Edge, for example, accredits practitioners who have attended its workshops. What you do need to avoid is the nonsensical practice of certifying KM and awarding pretentious titles to participants such as ‘certified knowledge manager’. The field of KM is too broad, too deep and too rich for this to have any meaning whatsoever. It’s merely a cheap marketing technique;
Beware of case studies – people often ask me for case studies but I studiously avoid giving them, as all too often they paint a rosy picture and distort the truth. More often than not they are thinly disguised marketing material for a vendor or their so-called ‘KM System’. They are also dangerous in that people tend to treat them as ‘prescriptions’ (if it worked there it will work here). They inadvertently help avoid the need for thinking in context;
Beware of academics and of theory – there is nothing inherently wrong with academics and theory, such as two-by-two matrices and conceptualisation, but it can cause you to take your eye of the ball. Focus on specifics and real-world practical examples. And beware of prescriptive approaches and ‘best practices’. Get real; and
Beware of charlatans – there are far too many people teaching KM, who have no idea what they are talking about or are promoting old (and often proven to fail) methods. There is also a lot of poor material on the web so be cautious.
The bottom line? There is no substitute for thinking for yourself in your specific context.
David Gurteen is founder of Gurteen Knowledge. He can be contacted at email@example.com