Preparing for The Future of KM, or Running Toward Failure?

January 15, 2016

I just read a CMSWire blog post on “Preparing for the Future of Knowledge Management.” While the article contains some excellent advice, I strongly disagree with one of the core recommendations.

Christian Buckley recommends that KM practitioners “begin by identifying and cataloging all of your knowledge assets…this in itself can be a massive undertaking, {but} you cannot develop a strategy if you do not understand where and what your assets are.”

I believe following this advice is likely to result in a KM failure. The problem is the use of the word “all.”

Let’s do a little role play. Context: you work for an organization where the KM program is acknowledged as needing improvement. You have been asked to attend a meeting with top management and to recommend a new strategy. Imagine going into that meeting and saying, “We have petabytes of information scattered all over the place, and job one is to identify and catalog ALL of it.” I can assure you this will be met with a Donald Trump-like response: “You’re fired.” Cataloging ALL your information assets as Step One is like trying to boil the ocean. It won’t ever boil, and you will never get to Phase 2 of your KM project.

In my opinion, job one is to begin a process that can succeed. The likelihood of success can be significantly boosted by following one of the most important laws in the universe – the 80 / 20 rule. Let’s go back to the role play. I advise you say something like “We have petabytes of information scattered all over the place, and people have no idea how to find what they need to make better decisions. I recommend we take a phased approach to solving the problem. We’ll start by identifying the most critical information that we need to share, and we’ll organize and reuse that first. Once that slice of information is well organized, findable, and shareable – and most importantly, being used by employees – we’ll use the same approach to tackle the next information set. After serial successful iterations using this process, we’ll see steady progress toward our goal of enabling employees to find the information they need, whenever they need it.

I agree that a top level bucketing (i.e. a basic understanding of what information exists, how it is used and by whom) of the petabytes of information must be undertaken. The next step involves prioritizing the value of reorganizing the various information “buckets.” But with these two steps done, and a commitment to a phased approach, you have a roadmap for success. And you achieve early visible success by improving access to your organization’s most critical information. Sounds like a winner to me.

In conclusion, my strong advice is: a) focus on a subset of your organization’s information, b) get early wins quickly, c) rinse and repeat. This beats trying to boil the ocean every time!

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