Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The State of Knowledge Management

I am at this moment in Cambridge Maryland, attending, Braintrust 2007, a Knowledge Management conference. As I listen to my esteemed colleagues, I am struck again by the similarities of our issues. No matter the organization, large, small, public, private....we are all struggling with the same challenges. KM was considered a new 'discipline' 12 years ago. KM groups were formed inside organizations, the Big 6 consultancies created areas of practice and even Gartner told us the KM world was on fire, the next big business craze.

The fire may have died down but the need has become red hot. Baby boomers retiring, organizations 'right sizing', mergers, acquisitions, strategic partnerships....and simple human nature, have created the perfect storm for KM.

How do we manage increasingly complex knowledge in ever changing, highly competitive environments?

In the midst of the complexity, we come back to the basics, the practical decisions, actions and thought which allow us to make clarity in the midst of chaos. Those who might benefit from more complex solutions may disagree. I stand my ground. Before we can implement highly involved technologies we must answer a few difficult questions and consider some key points:

1. What is the business issue we are trying to solve and what is the business benefit to solving it?
2. Who will stand up and take responsibility for the work and how do we get them onboard?
3. Where in the organization do we start?

4. What do we consider as we begin? We begin with the basics.

  • We consider the people around us who need to know what we know or are learning
  • We think of think of the important relationships both internal and external to the organization and how they work most effectively
  • We determine how we can most easily and simply organize our documents, map their locations, make them searchable, use common naming.
  • We learn to build conversation.
  • We tell stories about our key learnings and consider how to share across a wider function
  • We end meetings with: What is our key learning, who needs to know it and how will we tell them

We talk to each other. We listen to each other. We stand in curiousity, not in the assumption we know it all. We think of who outside of the usual group of people, would benefit from the learning that is being accumulated.

Yes, there are complex systems we can use to do these things-- and sometimes we will use them. To be successful, however, the systems start with the people, and with the processes. They will grab the hearts and minds of the users, to help ensure sustainability.

And at the basis, they will be simple. How do you begin today? Have a conversation-- not a debate-- a conversation with someone around you with one single focus-- to learn.

I suggest you also go read David Gurteen's information about Knowledge Cafes. More about that tomorrow.

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