Business is forever changing and evolving. The things you need to do to stay up to date can be daunting. Yet, the alternative is falling by the wayside. This occurs when knowledge management is overlooked.
Plus, when 78% of millennial customers won’t give you a second chance, your day-to-day interactions count more than ever. That’s why you need a solid knowledge management system.
Knowledge management is the only way to reliably manage the resources available to your team. It also helps everyone to perform to the best of their ability.
- What is knowledge management?
- Is knowledge management important?
- The history of knowledge management
- Types of knowledge
- How to create a knowledge management system
- How knowledge management helps organizations
Let’s get you on the road to improving your resources!
What is knowledge management?
“Knowledge management is the process of capturing, distributing, and effectively using knowledge.”– Thomas Davenport, 1994
The above quote is probably the most succinct summary of knowledge management we know of.
Have you ever struggled to accomplish a task? Then had to ask someone for help or refer to some kind of documentation?
If you’ve ever played a video game then chances are you’ve gone online to find tips, tricks, or even cheats.
These are all examples of knowledge management in action.
The easiest way to explain knowledge management is to say it is all about collecting information and expertise on a particular topic. It is then stored in an accessible way, shared with those who need it, and used to better achieve your goals.
Think of it as a way to consistently use what you know and learn from your mistakes. This is instead of blundering forwards on a bunch of assumptions.
For example, let’s say that your manager asks you for a monthly sales report. You might use a process like this one here:
If you’ve successfully managed the knowledge available, you should be able to:
- Easily bring together records of their output;
- Discover the results of any experiments.
This could be done by either:
- Asking those directly involved;
- Going into your team’s database/records and accessing the knowledge directly.
Once you have that knowledge, it’s a cinch to create the report and present it to your manager. They can then analyze the results, see what needs improvement and make a decision.
You didn’t know everything off-hand from the beginning, and neither should you be expected to. There is too much going on in our daily work and lives to be able to memorize everything.
Instead, the knowledge that you needed was made available so that you and your manager could use it.
If you’re a long-time member of the Process Street blog, you’ll know just how crazy we are about processes. We believe it’s important to document your processes. This is so that everyone knows what they need to be doing at any given time and without having to stop to ask for directions. The productivity gains alone are staggering.
Is knowledge management important?
“An organization in the Knowledge Age is one that learns, remembers, and acts based on the best available information, knowledge, and know-how.”– Kimiz Dalkir, Director at McGill University, Knowledge Management: In Theory and Practice
Imagine that it’s your first day at a new job. You haven’t been trained beforehand and you aren’t familiar with the duties you’re expected to perform.
Your new boss walks up to you and says, “Nice to meet you, now get on with your work”. No resources, no mentoring, nothing. That’s what your life would be like without knowledge management.
Knowledge management isn’t just vital to learning how to perform new tasks though. It’s crucial to run any kind of test and reliably improve your processes and practices.
It’s the basis for everything we do here at Process Street!
While we’re technically a piece of workflow management software, process management wouldn’t exist at all without the theories behind knowledge management.
Think about it. process management is all about documenting your regular tasks in a way that lets you identify any recurring problems. That way you ensure that everything is done correctly, and up to a certain quality standard. It’s the backbone of any thriving business.
The history of knowledge management
The principles of knowledge management have been in use since the beginning of recorded history, albeit not under the same name.
Cave paintings, village elders, early books, and so on. All of these are prime examples of how knowledge has been recorded and shared over the ages.
Even if you haven’t heard the term “knowledge management” before, I can guarantee that you’ve experienced its benefits. Whether you’ve read a book for fun or looked up how to do something using the internet, you’ve benefitted from that shared knowledge.
One of the earliest mentions of knowledge management, as we know it today, came from Peter Drucker in 1959. Coining the term “knowledge worker”, he identified workers who use their knowledge to improve and deploy products and services.
“[Drucker] noted that knowledge workers would be the most valuable assets of a 21st-century organization because of their high level of productivity and creativity.”– Corporate Financial Institute, What are Knowledge Workers?
Drucker and Paul Strassmann further studied the importance of knowledge as a resource that organizations could use. Others such as Chris Argyris, Christopher Bartlett, and Dorothy Leonard-Barton looked more specifically into the elements of how knowledge is managed.
By the mid-1980s, it was widely agreed that knowledge played an important part as a competitive element of business.
This realization led to the formation of the Initiative for Managing Knowledge Assets in 1989. It served as a base for managing knowledge. Shortly after the topic reached a wider audience, knowledge management-related articles appeared in high-end journals such as the Harvard Business Review. There was also the publication of books such as The Knowledge-Value Revolution by Taichi Sakaiya in 1991.
Interest in the practice has only increased over the years. Major consulting firms, such as Ernst & Young, take full advantage of knowledge management. Many others have decided to focus on specific areas of knowledge management, such as change management, best practices, business process management, and risk management.
Types of knowledge
Tacit knowledge is difficult to record or convey to those with less experience than you. It is the knowledge that comes directly from experience. Anything that you consider to be common sense, intuitive, or practical know-how is in this category.
Tacit knowledge is very difficult to record, which means that it’s most often learned by directly interacting with someone who already has the knowledge. This could be via training or mentoring. It could also be done by getting an outside expert to help with a certain issue.
Explicit knowledge is the complete opposite. It is anything that is easy to record, share, and learn from. This is usually what you’d think of when you imagine a knowledge management system. This can be in the form of a documented process that tells you how to carry out a particular set of tasks.
- Tacit knowledge: The “know-how” and “know-why” are hard to record. They are learned from one-on-one interaction with experts and are often subject to context and interpretation. Examples include: riding a bike, driving, reading body language, intuition, and emotional intelligence.
- Explicit knowledge: The “know-what”, is easy to record, share, and teach. It is often highly structured and doesn’t change based on context or interpretation. Examples include: the color of a car, how many steps there are in a given process, someone’s name, and the number of words in a book.
The problem with many knowledge management systems, when it comes to explicit knowledge with very little room for tacit knowledge to be present, is that they are designed to:
That’s mainly because tacit knowledge, by definition, is more difficult to communicate by means of writing down or verbalizing. It can be done, but it’s more complex.
These types of knowledge are present (and vital) to the everyday running of your business. This can include explicit knowledge contained in your training manuals right up to the tacit knowledge that your experienced team members learned on the job. That’s how a knowledge management system can help your entire team access what they need to know.
How to create a knowledge management system
Many systems have major faults at some level or another. There is also the need to include the whole team in the process of building it, which encourages participation in the final product.
First, you need to set some ground rules:
- The goal is to create a system where anyone can access the information they need. That applies whether it is recorded or by talking to someone more experienced.
- You shouldn’t try to document your team’s tacit knowledge.
- Information from all projects should be recorded where relevant team members can access it.
- Consult all team members when building systems, they know their work better than you do.
- Deploying the knowledge management system is just as important as designing it. Ignoring either of these factors will cause the system to fail.
Once there are understood, you can begin the process of building your knowledge management system.
The entire process should look like this:
- Build a knowledge management web to discover how things are currently connected and accessed.
- Assess the problems that this system causes.
- Plan your ideal knowledge management system.
- Assess the technology and departmental needs of any changes.
- Make sure your team contributes to, and understands, the changes.
- Build the infrastructure needed for the new system.
- Go through the whole system with everyone who will be using it.
- Deploy your new knowledge management system one piece at a time to avoid overwhelming your team.
- Constantly listen to feedback to improve the system.
Most of these points are self-explanatory. they largely resemble those of any decent change management model. However, let’s go through them anyway to clear up any misconceptions.
First, you need to build out what your current knowledge management system is. The easiest way to do this is to get your whole team together. You want to use their knowledge of how things are getting done to plot out accurate connections.
For example, you could create a flowchart to demonstrate:
- All of the processes you have;
- How they’re used;
- Where tacit knowledge plays a role.
You should then assess the system you’re currently using. This helps to see what problems are being caused and why. Always look to identify where information isn’t being provided and what bottlenecks are created as a result of limited availability.
You should then gather your team once more and plan what your ideal knowledge management system should look like. You don’t have to have specific technology in mind for this yet. First, focus on solving the problems you previously identified.
Once that’s taken care of, it’s time to look into the resources you’ll need to create the new system. This can include anything from tech to new employees and expertise.
Again, it all depends on what problems you’re having and how you want to solve them.
Then it’s time to move on to building the framework for your new knowledge management system. This means setting up all of the technology and communication avenues that it requires to work.
Then all that’s left to do is to deploy your system slowly over time. You can do that while making sure that your team understands and agrees with the changes you’ve made.
How knowledge management helps organizations
All this talk of tacit and explicit knowledge, management systems, and constant cooperation can be a little overwhelming. You have to worry about not messing up the current system you have. At the same time, you also plan an entirely new system that needs to be foolproof to reap the full benefits of efficient knowledge management.
That’s where Process Street comes in:
With Process Street, you can document all of your explicit knowledge in easy-to-find workflow templates. These templates are fully customizable and can be run as checklists to track the progress of every task your team needs to complete.
Team, group, and individual user permissions can be controlled to make sure that everyone has access to everything they need to know (and nothing more). You then ensure you are protecting your sensitive documents while also sharing your knowledge base across your whole organization.
Not only that, but you can assign users to separate tasks, workflows, and templates. This will send them email notifications when they are required to take action on a given task. The advantage of this is letting you keep your experts in the loop and in communication with the rest of the team.
Process Street’s Pages also allow you to build a library of living process documents that you can easier share with and collaborate on with team members.
In other words, it’s a fantastic way to make sure that your tacit and explicit knowledge are all in the same place.
What do you use for your knowledge management system? Please let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!