Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Discipline of Managing Knowledge

I often hear clients ask for a whiz bang process to manage knowledge, as though there is a click of the ruby slippers and knowledge is transferred from brain to brain. Click, whoosh and done.

The truth of managing knowledge is that it is a discipline, just as project or risk management are disciplines. If it were not a discipline, knowledge would be passed from person to person or team to team, simply by osmosis and passing each other in the hallway. Yes, some knowledge is shared in that way, and that is important. But is informal, ad-hoc knowledge transfer enough to ensure the hard-earned knowledge critical to your business and unique to your organization, is captured and shared with those who need it at the time they need it, in a way they can use it?

Consider the last time you encountered a new problem and set off to find the expertise, documents, research, or other information relevant to helping you solve that problem. Remember trying to identify who had experienced this before, where the right document would be located, what it would be called if you could locate it, and whether or not it was up to date? Hours of time trying to locate something only to find that when you did, if you did, it was not quite what you needed.

It takes discipline to capture the learning you have about an issue you know may come up again, if even in another flavor. It takes discipline to consider who might need it next, and where might they go look for it, to help you know where to store it. It takes structure to organize that knowledge to make it easy for the particular audience to use-- especially if they are of a different generation, function, culture or organization.

Rather than a silver bullet or a click of the heels, I suggest going back to the basics. Start with the disciplines you already know and practice. Look at your project management and enhance it with questions such as: why did we approach our project this way, what alternatives did we consider and why, who else needs to know this and how will I get them the information they need. Begin by disciplining yourselves to share knowledge in a familiar way, by enhancing structures already in place.

Discipline yourself to role model the behaviors of sharing knowledge and watch the culture change toward doing the more whiz bang knowledge management interventions. Without the foundation of discipline, there is a great likelihood that knowledge shared now may be gone tomorrow. No one has time for wasted effort.

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