Knowledge management best practices from Bridjr insider and technical communication Jedi, Dr Debbie Davy Ph.D. Learn how to help your organization identify, safeguard, and manage knowledge by recognizing the future and being future-ready.
“Those who cannot remember the past,” George Santayana, the famous philosopher, poet, and essayist tells us, “are condemned to repeat it.”
Everyone knows the wisdom of that line, but in my experience, too many organizations repeat their mistakes by ignoring fundamental Knowledge Management (KM) lessons. Sure, organization executives and managers may have created policies that meet regulatory and human resource requirements, but what about knowing how things are done?
What is Knowledge Management?
“Knowledge management is a business process that formalizes the management and use of an enterprise’s intellectual assets. KM promotes a collaborative and integrative approach to the creation, capture, organization, access and use of information assets, including the tacit, uncaptured knowledge of people,” according to GartnerGartner_Inc. (n.d.). Definition of knowledge management (km) – gartner information technology glossary. Gartner. Retrieved September 13, 2021, from … Continue reading, the global research organization. “These assets may include databases, documents, policies, procedures, and previously un-captured expertise and experience in individual workers.”
Knowledge Management can include all information likely to be used by an organization, even from those outside it, such as vendors, customers, and the scientific and scholarly community.
I contend that for the long-term benefit of the organization and its bottom line, executives must document the knowledge their key staff have acquired at the organization and make it available for current and future members of the team.
Why Knowledge Management?
We’ve all seen the challenge when a senior member of the organization retires or leaves. It creates a vacuum in the knowledge of how to do specific processes. As a result, the remaining staff, particularly those new to the roles connected with a project or job, find themselves trying to understand how to do their jobs.
Staff are left asking: How do we do certain tasks without reverse-engineering the process? What forms are required? Who are the contacts necessary to complete the task or should be consulted as a Subject Matter Expert (SME)? While some of these details can change, such as individual SMEs, other components have multiple steps that could take valuable time from a project if you have to reverse engineer a process or understand what management positions are needed to include a decision.
We can all learn from those who have done the job before, especially from someone who has had years of experience at it. Unfortunately, people who leave often take fundamental process knowledge with them—not intentionally, but because the organization failed to recognize the importance of documenting what the employee knows.
Tacit and Explicit Knowledge
Knowledge Management falls into two categories: Tacit and Explicit.
Tacit knowledge is often the least documented and usually contains the information that can cut valuable time off of tasks over the life of a project. Often it’s the subtle details—the right tool for making a repair, for example, or a shortcut learned from experience—that can save the most time in the long run. Unfortunately, it is often not captured because it is thought to be obvious and self-evident; the knowledge holder assumes a baseline of knowledge and doesn’t factor in changes over time (e.g., an old recipe that assumes knowledge of ingredients and quantities).
Tacit knowledge is the knowledge that IS NOT formally captured:
- Knowledge that has not been made explicit but could have been
- Knowledge held by people but not recorded
- Knowledge that is not thought to be important enough to record, but which could be crucial
Explicit knowledge may be found in organization policies, standard operating procedures, organizational charts, content management systems, expertise locator systems (systems that find the right person with the knowledge you need), lessons learned, and Communities of Practice. A Community of Practice is a group of individuals who come together to share knowledge.
Explicit knowledge is the knowledge that IS formally captured:
- Content management systems
- Expertise locator systems (systems that find the right person with the knowledge you need)
- Lessons learned records
- Communities of Practice (CoPs)
Case study: Schlumberger’s successJ. Etkind, K. Bennaceur, M. Drnec and C. Luppens, “Knowledge portals support widely distributed oilfield projects,” IEEE International Professional Communication Conference, 2003. IPCC … Continue reading
From a journal entry comes this case study, engineers at Schlumberger, a global oil field engineering organization, wanted to find a way to share knowledge to support widely distributed oil platforms. But Knowledge Management was a challenge. The engineers who originally built the organization’s oil rig platforms had retired or, worse, passed on. Schlumberger needed a way to share tacit knowledge with its new engineers and support the crucial innovation to staying the pre-eminent firm in its field.
Recognizing it needed to support a knowledge-sharing culture to succeed today and the future, the organization was the first to build knowledge portals that allowed for searchable solutions. It built one of the largest private global Intranets—second only to that of the United States Armed Forces—to connect people and services worldwide. The system was in place in the early 1980s, long before “Internet” was a household word.
Understanding the importance of knowledge management, Schlumberger successfully connected:
- People to people (to form knowledge communities)
- People to information
- People to Communities of Practice
- People to knowledge (explicit AND tacit)
- People to learning
Benefit to organizations
Like Schlumberger, all organizations can benefit from increased efficiencies (allowing them to access the right solutions at the right time) and improved internal processes when they capture their tacit knowledge.
With Knowledge Management, organizations can expect:
- Identification, retention, and use of key process knowledge
- Better information sharing and retrieval
- Earlier identification of crucial project knowledge
- Safeguarding of intellectual assets
- More efficient information access and sharing through centralization
When an organization chooses to document knowledge, the advantages outweigh the short-term effort and cost. This is about taking the information learned from the past and making it available for the present and future team. Knowledge Management is crucial to an organization’s future.
Once they identify, safeguard, and manage their knowledge, organizations can continue to do what they do best, confident that the right information is available to the right internal and external audiences in the right way and at the right time.
|↑1||Gartner_Inc. (n.d.). Definition of knowledge management (km) – gartner information technology glossary. Gartner. Retrieved September 13, 2021, from https://www.gartner.com/en/information-technology/glossary/km-knowledge-management.|
|↑2||J. Etkind, K. Bennaceur, M. Drnec and C. Luppens, “Knowledge portals support widely distributed oilfield projects,” IEEE International Professional Communication Conference, 2003. IPCC 2003. Proceedings., 2003, pp. 12 pp.-, doi: 10.1109/IPCC.2003.1245490.|