9 Questions to Answer for Knowledge Management

Originally published August 18, 2014

When starting a knowledge management (KM) initiative, first define your top three objectives (see 15 Knowledge Management Benefits for suggestions). The next step is to determine who will participate in the program, which basic processes will be required, and how tools should support the people and processes.

The program may apply to everyone, or to a subset of the population. There will be different roles for different job types. And leaders need to be aligned to the program direction.

Existing processes and policies will have to be modified, and new ones created. And tools will need to be used, created, obtained, and integrated.

To identify these details, answer the following nine questions about people, process, and technology.

People Questions

1. Which people in your organization need to participate in the KM program? In some programs, everyone will participate in some way. In others, you may target a specific type of participant. The top three objectives you defined will help answer this question. The following dimensions should be considered.

Is the program targeted for specific departments, groups, business units, or functions? Examples include Human Resources, Finance, Legal, Research & Development, Information Technology, Operations, Marketing, Sales, and individual product or service lines of business. A program may be initially designed to support only the needs of the Legal department. If it goes well, then additional departments may be added.

Which job roles will participate? Examples include sales people, programmers, product designers, help desk specialists, shop floor technicians, contract administrators, purchasing agents, loan officers, nurses, engineers, customer service representatives, administrative assistants, and technical specialists. A knowledge base to support help desk specialists is a typical application.

Will the experience or rank of employees matter? Does the program apply only to entry-level, junior, intermediate, advanced, or senior people? A knowledge sharing program for new hires to help acclimate them to the organization may not apply to those who have been there for a long time.

Is the program for certain supervisory roles or levels only? Examples include individual contributors, team leaders, project managers, first-level managers, middle managers, and senior managers. A knowledge capture and reuse process for project managers may be designed for their specific requirements.

Does expertise level count? Should only novices, veterans, experts, masters, or gurus participate? A community of practice may be created for experts, masters, and gurus only to ensure that their time is conserved.

Will the program address specific areas of responsibility? Examples include customer-facing, back-office, and fiduciary responsibilities. An initiative can be focused on linking customer-facing and back-office personnel to improve communication and collaboration.

Is the initiative for a certain type of team location? Teams may be located at a single site, in one city, in one country, in a single region, or worldwide. A KM program for a team located in a single site might involve regular gatherings to share knowledge, while a global team might emphasize threaded discussions.

2. What are the different roles that participants will need to play? For each type of participant in the KM program, define what they are expected to do. Some will be providers and some will be consumers of knowledge. Most people will be expected to perform multiple roles. Specify the most important tasks for each type of participant which support the top three objectives.

Following is a list of roles from which to choose.

  1. leader: defines and communicates the core values of the organization, sets and communicates direction and goals, and inspects and ensures performance
  2. knowledge manager or assistant: leads and supports the KM program as full-time or part-time jobs
  3. survey taker, administrator, or creator: provides user input by participating in taking and administering surveys
  4. networker or collaborator: connects with other people as part of a social network or community and helps them out as needed
  5. community member or leader: participates in or leads communities of practice
  6. student, teacher, or training developer: takes, teaches, or develops training courses
  7. reader or author: reads or writes user documentation
  8. methodology user or developer: uses or designs standard methodologies
  9. inventor or innovator: creates new knowledge
  10. reuser, contributor, or content owner: reuses, shares, or provides knowledge
  11. reporting consumer or provider: uses or creates metrics reports
  12. change agent: enables process or culture change to occur
  13. process user or provider: uses or creates work processes
  14. inquirer or searcher: asks questions or searches for content
  15. storyteller: uses narrative to motivate others to take action, build trust, transmit values, get others working together, share knowledge, tame the grapevine, and create and share a vision of the future.
  16. tool user or provider: uses or creates tools and systems
  17. threaded discussion participant or moderator: participates in or leads threaded discussions
  18. expertise locator or provider: locates expertise or serves as an expert for others
  19. taxonomy governor: defines and maintains a standard classification system used for metadata, navigation, and searching
  20. tagger: applies metadata tags to content so that searches and aggregators will find it
  21. archiver: archives content so that it is preserved
  22. blogger: publishes blog entries, links to other blogs, and responds to comments
  23. wiki author: edits wiki entries or creates wikis to allow cooperative editing
  24. podcaster: records and distributes audio or video broadcasts
  25. subscriber, syndicator, or publisher: subscribes to news, blogs, wikis, podcasts; syndicates or aggregates any of these; or publishes any of these

3. Who are the key stakeholders and leaders to line up in support of the new initiatives? The success of the program will depend on having leaders and respected individuals playing active roles in communicating, inspecting, and reinforcing its goals.

Identify both specific leaders, e.g., the senior executive, the chief technical officer, or the human resources leader, and leadership categories, e.g., all managers, all senior technical fellows, or all program managers. Then define what each of these leaders will be asked to do.

For example, what do you want the senior executive to do? To participate in a kickoff webcast? Send out a message to all employees? Include KM in the balanced scorecard?

What do you need all managers to do? Include KM goals in all performance plans? Inspect compliance to those goals? Enforce them during performance reviews?

What should respected experts be asked to do? Lead communities? Respond to questions? Publish white papers?

Answer these questions, and then contact the key stakeholders and leaders to enlist their participation, support, and leadership.

Process Questions

4. What existing processes need to be modified to incorporate KM activities? From the following list, identify all processes which already exist and need to be part of the KM program.

Here is a list of processes:

  1. methodologies
  2. creation
  3. capture
  4. reuse
  5. lessons learned
  6. proven practices
  7. collaboration
  8. content management
  9. classification
  10. metrics and reporting
  11. management of change
  12. workflow
  13. valuation
  14. social network analysis
  15. appreciative inquiry and positive deviance
  16. storytelling

There may be existing methodologies. Some collaboration methods may already be in use. Workflow may be performed using some technology. Compile a list of all processes currently in use which you can include in the KM initiative, either as is or by adapting them.

5. What new processes need to be created? In answering the previous question, which processes don’t currently exist, but are needed? From the above list, identify all additional processes which are needed but are not currently available.

For example, there may not be any process for capturing and reusing knowledge. Lessons learned and proven practices may not be collected currently. The organization may not be aware of appreciative inquiry as a technique.

Choose the most critical missing processes for inclusion in the program. Consider the potential difficulty in implementation and the anticipated benefits of each in making your selections.

6. What policies will need to be changed or created to ensure desired behaviors? Adopting, enhancing, and creating processes will be of limited value unless there are associated policies which require their use. For the most important processes, plan to create policies to enforce adoption.

For example, a content management policy may be required to specify how content is created, stored, and reused. A classification standard which defines the organization’s taxonomy and how it is to be deployed may be needed. A standard procedure for how intellectual property is to be valued may need to be enforced.

Technology Questions

7. What existing tools can be used in support of the new initiatives? From the following list, identify all tools which already exist and need to be part of the KM program.

Here is a list of tools:

  1. user interface
  2. intranet
  3. team spaces
  4. virtual meeting rooms, web/video/audio conferencing, and telepresence
  5. portals
  6. repositories
  7. threaded discussions and Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs)
  8. expertise locators and ask the expert
  9. metadata and tags
  10. search engines
  11. archiving
  12. blogs
  13. wikis
  14. podcasts and videos
  15. syndication, aggregation, and subscription management systems
  16. social software and social media
  17. external access
  18. workflow applications
  19. process automation
  20. gamification applications
  21. e-learning
  22. analytics and business intelligence
  23. cognitive computing and artificial intelligence

For example, your organization will likely already have an intranet. It may be using a tool for virtual meeting rooms. An e-learning system may already exist. There may be a tool for subscription management. Using all such existing tools as part of the KM program will save money, accelerate implementation, and demonstrate the important concept of reuse.

8. What new tools will need to be created or obtained? In answering the previous question, which tools don’t currently exist, but are needed? From the above list, identify all additional tools which are needed but are not currently available.

For example, there may be no suitable technology for team spaces. Discussions may currently be taking place using standard email, and thus not archived for future searches. Emerging technologies such as blogs, wikis, and podcasts may not be available.

Select the most important missing technologies for inclusion in the program. Analyze the likely costs and benefits of each in making your choices.

9. What integration of tools and systems will be required? Purchasing or developing a series of standalone tools which are disconnected will pose problems for a KM program. Users will complain that there are too many sites to visit, redundant data entry required, and overlapping and confusing technology.

To avoid these problems, plan to integrate as many tools and systems as possible. Automate data flows to avoid the need for redundant entry. And purchase or develop suites of products which work well together. For example, add a data feed from a business system to a knowledge repository. Design a web site which pulls information from multiple sources to provide a unified view. Ensure that the incentive points tracking system automatically detects all desired actions and doesn’t require manual entry.

Getting user input

To help answer these questions, it is important to get user input. Conduct surveys to identify participants; request process and technology suggestions; and compile a list of people, process, and technology components which are currently in use.

The results of the Opportunities Survey conducted for the Top 3 Objectives will also be useful in providing the 9 Answers. In addition, conduct a Resource Survey to compile a list of people, process, and technology components which are currently in use, determine the usefulness of each one, and request suggestions for additions. Use this survey to find out which processes and tools are currently popular, identify gaps in meeting user needs, and look for integration possibilities.

For details on conducting surveys, see KM Surveys and User Surveys.

Examples

Here is an example of how these questions might be answered in a consulting firm:

People

1. Which job families in your organization need to participate in the KM program?

  • Consultants
  • Project managers
  • Managers

2. What are the different roles that participants will need to play?

  • Consultants: need to collaborate as members of project teams and communities of practice
  • Project managers: need to reuse content from previous projects an contribute details about new ones
  • Managers: need to ensure that consultants and project managers perform their expected roles
  • KM leaders: need to provide the required people, process, and technology components

3. Who are the key stakeholders and leaders to line up in support of the new initiatives?

  • Senior executive: sponsor program, provide funding, communicate regularly, establish goals, and inspect ongoing performance
  • Management team: lead by example, ensure goals are defined, and reward good performance
  • Thought leaders: lead communities, endorse processes, and use tools

Process

4. What existing processes need to be modified to incorporate KM activities?

  • Project team collaboration: replace ad hoc email and file sharing with use of standard team spaces
  • Employee goal setting and reward: add KM-specific goals and rewards

5. What new processes need to be created?

  • Capture: collect project information and documents
  • Reuse: search for existing content and contacts from previous projects and employ as much as possible in new projects

6. What policies will need to be changed or created to ensure desired behaviors?

  • Collaboration: ensure that all project teams use standard team spaces
  • Capture and Reuse: ensure that the capture and reuse processes are followed

Technology

7. What existing tools can be used in support of the new initiatives?

  • Threaded discussions
  • Virtual meeting rooms

8. What new tools will need to be created or obtained?

  • Collaborative team spaces
  • Structured repositories

9. What integration of tools and systems will be required?

  • Threaded discussions with email and search
  • Collaborative team spaces and structured repositories with email, search, and workflow

Summary

Planning a KM initiative includes determining who will participate, which processes and tools are required, and how tools should be integrated. Take the time to do this carefully in the planning stage, so that you don’t have to spend more time later dealing with problems.