Knowledge Management in brief
The evolution of KM concept
Today knowledge is increasingly being viewed as one of the most important resource of the organization and it is at the center of organizational agenda across the world. Knowledge management refers to all systematic activities for creation and sharing of knowledge so that knowledge can be used for the success of the organization. KM processes provide a framework for connecting people to people and people to information, to develop and share distilled learning and best practices.
The concept was foreseen by visionaries
The importance of “Knowledge" in the context of business organization was first described by Peter Drucker in his 1959 book 'The Landmarks of Tomorrow' by giving a new concept of 'knowledge worker'. Since then, many of his books have run commentaries on the development of knowledge work and the knowledge worker. But all these got confined to the academic sectors and organizations did not take much of notice to these path breaking concepts for a long time to come. 1980s saw significant investments in the field of IT in the developed economies. Around these times the concept of knowledge management caught the fancy of the organizations in a big way.
Evolution of KM
The first wave of KM focused on IT- database / Information stored in IT systems and it was assumed that knowledge management has been achieved. But this approach of IT centric KM ultimately failed to excite the users of the concept i.e. the employees. The realization dawned that essentially KM was all about the people and IT being an enabler. The issues of behavior, culture, and tacit knowledge, mostly in the abstract became the key to the success of Knowledge Management. But there was no easy mechanism to address these issues of vast complexities. In the meanwhile some researchers undertaking studies on the learning process witnessed best practices of sharing and learning in organizations like Xerox and Boeing. It was seen that a group of people having similar work responsibilities used to share their daily experiences in an informal manner and in turn enhance mutual knowledge related to their work areas. The late 90s witnessed the path breaking approach to KM through Communities of Practice which became a practical way to frame the task of managing knowledge. It provides a concrete organizational infrastructure for realizing the dream of a learning organization. The man credited with developing the concept of Community of Practice defines CoP as “Community of Practices are groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in their area by interacting on an ongoing basis.”
Maturity of KM
KM has taken different approaches based on the understanding of the concept and varying needs of the organizations. Some of those approaches besides CoP included using collaboration tools (e.g., Lotus Notes), content management systems, knowledge maps and conducting After-Action Reviews or lessons learned sessions. No single approach provides a comprehensive solution to knowledge capture and transfer. The approaches best suited for capturing and/or transferring knowledge entirely depend upon the type of knowledge that the organization is attempting to capture and share. Some of the major approaches to KM are given below:
The After-Action Review
The After-Action Review is a method of providing feedback to teams to increase and reinforce learning. An After-Action Review is a professional discussion of an event, focused on performance standards, which enable the trainees to discover for themselves what happened, why it happened, and how to improve performance.
Communities of Practice
Communities of practice (CoPs) are an effective approach to capturing and sharing tacit knowledge. There is an inherent need in the organizations to connect those who need knowledge with those who have the knowledge and CoPs are the best way to effectively collect and disseminate knowledge. Hence, the development of CoPs has become a central preoccupation for the organization. Most important when dealing with CoPs is the realization that these communities are living bodies of knowledge that require a moderate amount of attention to function. That is, too much pressure to perform can dissipate a community, just as leaderless communities can lose direction. And as communities become a more integral part of an organization, they can reshape the organization itself by changing the culture to one of greater knowledge sharing.
Repositories are primarily used to capture explicit information and typically contain databases that have structured content. These databases can include experiences, presentations, reports, SOPs, dos and don’ts, checklists, sketches, troubleshooting tips and literature. The best repositories supply magnet content that draws people to the database in the context of their work. Such content may be information on solution support. In extensive IT environment these systems automatically capture content rather than require people to take the extra step to enter it again. As the number of repositories an organization can be too many it is vital to leverage the use of existing information before creating new information. The best solution is to build a knowledge repository that links to other repositories in the organization so that the employees can have access to many knowledge pools in one spot.
Subject Matter Experts Directories
Another widely used KM approach is use of Expertise locator systems which can point to individuals both inside and outside the organization. In some cases of very basic form it is integrated with the organization’s phone directory. This tool allows access to humans rather than information to enable an actual conversation or an e-mail exchange that sets the context around information.
KM embedded in process
Another popular method of knowledge management which has emerged where KM tools are the integral part of organizational business processes and employees have to necessarily use KM features while performing defined process steps. This approach is an attempt to earn benefits of KM in a surer manner.