Best practices in knowledge management have changed over the last two decades. Of the four views of knowledge management, the first, business strategy, has stayed the same. That is because knowledge management still begins with the business objective. To be competitive in the knowledge economy, companies focus on key high-level strategies: the serve the customer, build an integrated value chain, accelerate product cycles, and add value with information, develop new markets, and maximize intellectual capital.

The second view, business processes, has also stayed the same.Knowledge management is a process that can be broken down to a series of subparts and examined in detail: knowledge capture, transformation,communication and utilization. With application of technology and business practices, each stage may be viewed as an opportunity for process improvement.

It is the third view, business technology, which has changed the most. Knowledge management’s specific software is now designed to capture,store and transfer tacit knowledge with increasing levels of sophistication.Likewise software specialties such as business intelligence, documentmanagement, search and retrieval, customer management, and collaborative software have all made huge strides over the last decade. What started in the1990s as crude database solutions have now evolved into a quite sophisticated software databases and artificial intelligence engines. As such the older versions of knowledge management from a technology standpoint are undergoing rapid change.  The best practices in this area even a few years ago are now obsolete.

The fourth viewpoint of knowledge management, business culture, is also changing. This is because the whole organizational model of the industrial economy is changing. In hierarchical organizations each departmental pillar, sales, finance, manufacturing, R&D, admin and more,was an island. In the knowledge enabled company, all the functions of the organization act in concert toward the same objectives. Flat, not silo,organizations are now best practice.                          

The eight capabilities needed for best practice knowledge management are:

1. The organization considers conversation to be the heart of the real work of knowledge creation and building of intellectual capital.

2. Members of the organization focus on principles and practices of good conversation as they engage with colleagues, customers, and suppliers.

3. The organization members consider one of their primary roles to be a convener host for conversations about questions that matter.

4. Members of the organization spend sufficient time discovering the right questions in relationship to the time spent finding the right answers.

5. Process tools and disciplines are systematically used to support good conversation.

6. The physical workspace or office area is designed to encourage informal interactions, good conversation and effective learning.

7. The organization has technology systems and professional resources devoted to harvesting the knowledge being cultivated at the grassroots level and making it accessible to others across the organization.

8. Sufficient training in the development budget is devoted to supporting informal learning conversations and sharing objective practices across organizational boundaries.

Managing Knowing and Knowledge

If knowing and knowledge are segmented to four segments as shown in the “Managing Knowing and Knowledge” figure, two sets of generic activities are best practices:

1. Designing and implementing techniques to identify and record both knowledge and ignorance (i.e. inventorying and auditing) and then designing processes to share, use and protect such knowledge and to remedy ignorance by learning or knowledge creation.

2. Designing and orchestrating contacts, environments and activities to discover and release what is not formally or explicitly known (i.e.socializing and experiencing) and perhaps coaching and encouraging people to be effective in these processes. Note that addressing the problem of not knowing what you don’t know may seem beyond the powers of formal knowledge management.However, innocent ignorance can be remedied through surprise encounters, with problems, with observations or with people. Often this is what we learn from experience: from doing new things, from visits to new places, or from handling unusual situations. Formal management in the domain of the bottom right cell of the figure could involve creating experiences for individuals and teams, i.e.something with life-changing, character building, or refreshing and renewing implications.

The focus of these best practices may seem like “soft” sciences;because such company’s tacit knowledge resides in informal communities, made up of people, places, and things. However it must be remembered the community interactions create business value because they responsibly and efficiently share four high-value activities. These are: SENSING: discovering capture. ORGANIZING:categorize and personalize. SOCIALIZE: collaborate and share. And finally INTERNALIZE:understand and create new knowledge.

Lastly it must be remembered that communities interact in both physical and virtual places. It was said by Bryan Bell of Lotus, “people come to communities for information and they stay for the people”. Tight Knit bonds are what make the building and sharing of tacit knowledge possible

As an example of how knowledge management practices relate to competitive strategies, consulting companies practices across the knowledge management spectrum provide insight to the extremes of R&D organizations. The practices focused on Personalization would best be applied to R&D Games in the upper left of the matrix, i.e. Technology Races. The practices focused on codification would best be used by R&D organizations playing R&D Games in the lower right of the matrix, i.e. Food & Clothing.

How Consulting Firms Manage Their Knowledge

The “How Consulting Firms Manage Their Knowledge” figure shows the variation in Economic Model, Knowledge Management Strategy, Information Strategy, Information Technology, and Human Resources. As applied to R&D organizations what is most important is that each of these strategies are aligned, that is they are consistently up and down either the left or right column, not a mix!