Achieving KM Independence Part 3: Program Independence

Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

April 09, 2020

Technical, user, and program independence are all important to the success of a knowledge management initiative. In this final part of a three-part series, I’ll explain how to establish an independent knowledge management program and keep it funded, supported, and operational. There will be a companion free webinar on April 22, 2020 (subscription link at the foot of this post).

Program independence means that the program is not subject to undue influence from any one function in an organization, that it’s permitted to continue operating, and is not cut back or eliminated. Where the program sits in the organization is a key component of its independence. And its ongoing existence can be enhanced by providing compelling business cases, use cases, and success stories.

Organizational Reporting Structure

Where does knowledge management belong in an organization? It shouldn’t sit under IT, Human Resources, Learning & Development, or some other stovepipe. If there is no independent Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO) who reports to the CEO, then some neutral organization such as Operations is the best place.

If KM is under IT, it will be tool-centric and not adequately address the people and process aspects that are of critical importance. If under HR, KM will be people-centric and under-emphasize processes and technology. And if it’s under Learning & Development, KM will take a back seat in both share of mind and budgeted resources, behind traditional education and training efforts.

The KM program needs to report to a function that will not pull it in a single direction. Its independence will allow it to keep people, process, and technology components in the proper balance.

A Sound Business Case

To get started, and then to be allowed to continue, a KM program needs to present a reasonable business case to executive leadership. To do so, establish a plausible scenario and then extrapolate the benefits. For example:

  • If we save one project from repeating the same mistakes as previous projects, that could save $2 million, which will more than pay for the program. If we repeat this, the impact on profits is very large.
  • If by responding quickly to an opportunity with a proven solution using acknowledged experts, we win one $10 million project that we would otherwise have lost, that’s incremental revenue of $10 million. If we repeat this, the impact on revenue is very large.
  • If by ensuring that the best engineering product knowledge is reused, we avoid one product recall, we save the company hundreds of millions of dollars.

This type of business case can be very persuasive. Note, though, that it is not a strict return on investment (ROI) analysis. You can’t prove that the sole cause of any outcome was KM, and you can’t prove that costly problems were avoided if they never happened. But you can point out that the probabilities of positive outcomes are significantly increased through KM.

Define the most painful problems that knowledge management can help prevent, such as:

  • Product recalls
  • Injuries or deaths
  • Lawsuits
  • Unprofitable products and services
  • Low employee morale
  • Lost customers
  • Damage to the brand
  • Inability to attract or retain talent
  • Diminished productivity, revenue, growth, profit margin, shareholder value
  • Becoming a takeover target

Make a sound business case. For example:

  • Do we want our people to be able to readily find deliverables from previous projects so that they can reuse them, and people who can provide useful advice on how to deliver the next one?
  • Do we want anyone who has a question, seeks a resource, or requires help to be able to easily, quickly, and reliably get what they need?
  • Do we want to avoid redundant effort, repeating the same mistakes over and over, and keeping important information from

Relevant Use Cases

In addition to gaining executive support for your KM program with a good business case, it’s important to get the endorsement of your user base. To get them to enthusiastically embrace your KM offerings, you need to present persuasive use cases. Here are examples of use case you can offer.

  • Share what has been learned, created, and proved to allow others to learn from the experience of the organization and reuse what has already been done. KM tools provide the most effective way for users to share their knowledge across the organization, including those they don’t know but who can benefit from what is shared.
  • Innovate by being more creative, inventive, and imaginative, resulting in breakthroughs from bold new ways of thinking and doing. This allows the organization to improve and evolve by giving everyone a chance to participate in innovation.
  • Reuse what others have already learned, created, and proved to save time and money, minimize risk, and be more effective. Reusing knowledge prevents redundant effort and repeating mistakes.
  • Collaborate with others to yield better results, benefit from diverse perspectives, and tap the experience and expertise of many other people. This allows knowledge to flow at the time of need, creates communities of practice, and takes advantage of the strength in numbers.
  • Learn by doing, from others, and from existing information to perform better, solve and avoid problems, and make good decisions. Knowledge management enables users to deepen their expertise.

Compelling Success Stories

Both executive teams and users can be influenced by examples of how knowledge management delivered actual results and benefits to the organization and individuals. KM leaders should solicit, collect, publish, disseminate, and present stories from users about how the KM program enabled their success and what KM means to them.

Here are three good ways to collect success stories.

  • Request them in a threaded discussion, via an Enterprise Social Network, or in an online entry form.
  • Look for community discussion threads containing examples of success. The proof is right there, in the words of the actual users.
  • Interview users in a community call, webinar, or recurring call-in show.

When capturing success stories, ask the following questions:

  • What challenges did you face?
  • What knowledge resources did you use?
  • How did you use these resources to address these challenges?
  • What was the outcome?
  • What benefits did you realize from using the resources? (time saved, costs avoided, incremental revenue, problems avoided, increased customer satisfaction, accelerated delivery, innovation, process improvement, etc.)
  • What benefits did you and your organization derive?
  • Did anyone else benefit as well (e.g., a community)?
  • What alternatives (instead of using the knowledge resources) did you consider?
  • Which alternatives did you try?
  • If you did not use the knowledge resources, how do you think the outcome would have been different?

For more, see How to craft effective success stories by Shawn Callahan.

You can establish independence for your KM platform, users, and program by following the advice offered in this series. Select KM systems that can be configured and customized without having to rely on IT. Offer tools that provide a great user experience with minimal training required. And clearly demonstrate the benefits of the KM program so that it will continue to be sponsored and users will rely on it to get their jobs done.

Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

KM expert, consultant and author, Stan Garfield, will be presenting the next in a series of KM Conversations for Lucidea on Wednesday, April 22, 2020 at 11:00 am Pacific, 2:00 pm Eastern—subscribe here to be notified. Stan has compelling information to share, based on his distinguished career as a KM practitioner. Read his posts for our Think Clearly blog, and learn about Inmagic Presto, which has powered the KM  initiatives of many organizations.

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