posted 10 Jul 2009 in Volume 12 Issue 8
Case study: Accenture
Evolution not revolution
Kieron Champion on how Accenture is utilising maturity models for KM performance improvement
Knowledge management (KM) has, today, become standard business practice for many organisations. The issue of measurement, however – particularly the assessment of business impact – remains problematic. While return on investment (ROI) measures are increasingly commonplace, maturity modelling offers a new, and simpler, measurement tool with the potential to impact KM programmes beyond mere measurement.
Accenture’s Capability Development (CD) organisation is now using a maturity model, not only as a qualitative measurement tool, but also as a more practical and tangible means to manage and enhance our KM capabilities. While traditional KM measurement techniques provide historical perspective, maturity models are offering Accenture teams a forward-facing view with a focus on continuous improvement.
At Accenture, a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company, the KM focus is on obtaining and synthesising intellectual capital to maximise decision-making and innovation across diverse functions and disparate locations, thus enabling our clients to become high-performance businesses and governments.
Far more than a cluster of simple processes, the KM programme is also about developing and rewarding a culture of knowledge-sharing – encouraging collaboration among our people to problem solve and build capabilities, regardless of their location. Accenture’s CD organisations are responsible for designing, building and running our KM programmes, supported by dedicated offshore teams and centres of learning excellence.
Beyond simple measurement
The CD team within Accenture’s Outsourcing organisation recently began to make increasing use of KM maturity models to move our KM programmes forward in a number of ways.
Recent changes in the Outsourcing organisation’s High-Performance Learning and KM programme – including a change of leadership, integration of new CD team members with differing understanding and experience in designing KM solutions, and increased use of offshore resources to build and run KM solutions, coupled with new capabilities offered by Web 2.0 – have created new challenges and unexplored opportunities for the KM programme.
Our team also faced obstacles commonly experienced in many KM programmes: stalled initiatives, lack of engagement with business leaders, and an uneven understanding of the KM value proposition within the organisation. As a result, our KM programme was characterised by inconsistencies that created a confusing landscape for users, as well as our CD team. The new CD director and the KM strategy lead made a conscious decision to spearhead a new focus on KM and, in particular, ensure that our programme was addressing priority areas with best-practice solutions.
We began to make increasing use of a KM maturity model to measure, monitor and enhance our KM programme. The model gave us a tool with which to both tackle the challenges and identify opportunities within our KM programmes.
The use of a maturity model has enabled us to refocus existing programmes to be more business relevant. It has also enabled us to engage with sponsors to launch new KM solutions to meet specific business requirements. Within the CD team, the KM maturity model has become a central component of our management processes. It not only provides a shared vision of a mature, optimised KM function, but also provides a detailed roadmap for the journey. The model enables the CD team and the Outsourcing organisation to contemplate this journey in measurable steps, rather than unrealistic giant leaps.
Shared view and common language: A case study
Our KM maturity model defines the differing and sequential phases and characteristics of ‘maturity’ for KM within Accenture. It defines these characteristics across three dimensions through which we support knowledge sharing and collaboration:
People to content – focusing on standards and prescriptive content, delivered through managed channels, to meet knowledge requirements of Accenture personnel;
People to people – creating collaboration tools to effectively support the workforce in efforts to share, leverage and learn from collective experience and expertise;
Content to people – leveraging existing and/or developing new channels to syndicate knowledge assets to targeted audiences to ensure personnel are aware of, and using, the latest knowledge capital.
Using the maturity model as a framework, the CD team is able to qualitatively assess KM programmes, identifying specific measures of maturity for each programme. In conversations with business leadership and the KM strategy lead, CD professionals identify the desired outcomes of the KM programme – offering a vision of what a mature KM programme consists of and then setting an appropriate ‘target.’ Business leaders – who may have an incomplete understanding of the KM value proposition – get a view of what a fully optimised KM function looks like, along with the foundations on which it is built and the associated value proposition.
The maturity model also makes clear what will be required by way of sponsorship and buy-in and can assist in identifying resources and defining roles and responsibilities to take the next logical steps. These steps are based on demonstrable successes, providing business leaders with confidence that our proposals are realistic and achievable, and that our CD team employs a ‘methodology’ to achieve the targets, based on collective experience.
The use of a maturity model requires that the CD team and business leaders recognise that maturity targets will not be common across all programmes. One size does not fit all. Some of our KM programmes require sophisticated and complex solutions, which demand higher levels of maturity. Others will require simple and functional solutions, which can be successful while also being ‘immature’. In addition, for some programmes, expectations regarding rate of progress is small, while other programmes are able to set more aggressive targets.
A maturity model approach enables the flexibility to accommodate these distinctions. The model accommodates programmes with different starting points and measures of success. What remains consistent is that each programme has goals that are clearly defined using a common language and framework, with KM point solutions and wider programmes aligned to strategic objectives.
A strategic journey
Once maturity targets have been set, the CD team can use the model to identify the actions required to build the necessary characteristics of maturity and competence. The lowest maturity levels seek to build engagement with sponsors, ensuring KM programmes are connected to strategically important initiatives and knowledge. They build small but successful programmes based on Accenture’s leading KM practices, developing repeatable, scalable processes.
Higher maturity levels build on these foundational (immature) characteristics to enhance the programmes. They draw on more complex solutions with more ambitious outcomes – integrating all three dimensions of knowledge-sharing to fully leverage Accenture’s knowledge capital and expertise. Regardless of the target, the KM maturity model assesses programmes in a KM lifecycle, recognising that long-lasting and material performance improvement is realised through evolution, not revolution.
In addition to providing strategic measures, the use of maturity models has also helped our CD team to make more tactical enhancements through the following measures.
Our team is geographically dispersed, and understanding of the KM tool set and value proposition was inconsistent across our team members. The use of a maturity model proved useful in ensuring that the team builds KM solutions to standard designs. The maturity model lays out the steps, by way of characteristics of increased maturity required, to move programmes forward. The result is that we are able to develop consistent solutions. Regardless of which part of our team has built the solution, our users experience a familiar environment, increasing their readiness and ability to make use of it in the manner and purpose for which it was designed.
In addition, by standardising our approach and definition of maturity, we build on and leverage past successes and learn from past mistakes. This enables us to continuously improve and enhance our solutions and offerings, based on real-life experiences. It also allows us to design, build and run programmes at increased speed and with confidence in the results – since their foundation is built on proven approaches and known success factors.
Offering a framework for prioritising actions
Conversations with business leaders and sponsors give us the insights we need to understand their priority areas and, therefore, to build programmes that will meet their particular challenges. The maturity model complements these discussions, showing leadership and our team members the logical next steps for building competencies. It also prioritises those actions which must be in place before moving to the next level of maturity. A view of the “exit criteria” is not always necessary, but this use of the maturity model has increased its value for the CD team. In addition, while there is no hard and fast rule, our experience has shown that success in one phase of maturity is, indeed, built on the solid and demonstrable successes in earlier phases.
Enhancing the use of offshore resources
As the use of offshore resources becomes more significant to our team’s success, it is increasingly important that our offshore team members (based in India) share the same understanding of each KM programme’s vision and employ the same language and measures of progress as the onshore team (predominantly based in US). The model has been particularly helpful in light of the differences in geographies and time zones between our teams, which limit the opportunities to meet face-to-face or even speak live.
Our organisational model is based upon offshore resources owning the ‘build-and-run’ phases of our KM programmes. The use of a maturity model helps our offshore resources take greater ownership of the areas they support. Because they understand the characteristics of the next level of maturity in a given area, they can take greater responsibility for identifying issues and challenges. They can make recommendations and move programmes forward much more independently.
The maturity model has provided our team with a common framework for our KM conversations and we use the differing characteristics of maturity to shape a clear view of where we are heading, and then to identify the tasks and activities that offshore resources must complete to ensure our programmes and solutions are built as designed.
Educating sponsors and business leaders
The maturity model also plays a significant role in providing our business leaders with a view of what a fully-rounded, mature KM programme might entail and the value they might expect to gain from it. The model also reminds business leaders that moving from immature to mature is a slow and deliberate journey marked by continuous improvement. Expectations can be set accordingly. In addition, the model outlines roles and responsibilities and required support for not only the CD team and offshore resources, but the business leaders and general audiences as well. By using the model we have been able to show that success for our KM programme is dependent on shared accountability and effort.
Increasing focus on KM
The majority of the CD team has a background in training, and while somewhat familiar with KM, had difficulty translating this into actionable and relevant programmes. The recent change in our team’s leadership -- and a resulting recognition that knowledge sharing and collaboration will play increasingly large roles in supporting the Outsourcing organisation – encouraged us to refocus our KM efforts and measure progress.
The use of the KM maturity model – and the resulting view on agreed targets and progress – has been key to recent KM successes, enabling us to jump-start our KM programme. Not only are business leaders able to view progress against mutually defined targets, but the team members each have these targets as part of their annual performance management cycle. Unsurprisingly, this has had a significant and positive impact on the amount of time and attention that our KM programmes now receive from individual team members.
The use of a KM maturity model has been instrumental in pushing our KM programme to a higher level of performance.
A maturity model is not a replacement for a clearly defined KM strategy or a strong understanding of the organisation’s strategic objectives. It does, however, provide a means to measure an organisation’s existing KM programme, and a clear and actionable roadmap to future KM maturity.
In addition, as KM solutions become more sophisticated – drawing on new tools and applications – there will be a greater need to ensure there is a common and consistent understanding of a mature KM programme among KM professionals, as well as between KM professionals and business leadership and the wider organisation. KM maturity models are designed to enable that understanding.
Kieron Champion, is Outsourcing, and Knowledge Management Strategy Lead, Capability Development at Accenture. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org