What is Knowledge Management
The Definite Guide
Knowledge is power. In today’s fast-changing economy, the knowledge of your employees is the single most valuable asset, and timely access to information can make or break your company’s ability to stay competitive. Have you ever heard the term "Knowledge Management"? So what exactly is knowledge management?
Knowledge Management (also referred to as “KM”) is the systemic process of identifying, capturing, sharing, updating, and effectively using your organization's collective knowledge. Generally speaking, a successful knowledge management deployment consists of software tools, system integrations, processes, people and culture. Knowledge management is not just an IT issue, it is a truly organization-wide issue.
History of Knowledge Management
Knowledge Management, as a term, was first introduced by Peter Drucker in the 1980s. In the 1990s, it started to gain traction in the industry and new tools and technologies began to be developed to facilitate knowledge capture and distribution.
The early effort of the knowledge management system focused mainly on documentation. A common practice was to document everything. However, due to technology limitations at the time and the lack of understanding of the people and the culture factors in knowledge management, many knowledge management initiatives eventually failed. Huge investment both in money and resources led to little Return on Investment (ROI). Knowledge management was considered another hype and fad.
In the last 5 years, we are seeing a resurgence of knowledge management powered by a new generation of tools that are designed to address the challenges. New knowledge management systems focus on the balance between technologies and people. More emphasis is now placed on integrating knowledge management into the culture and daily life of an organization to drive wide adoption, high usage, and prevent knowledge silos.
Knowledge management is also taking advantage of the convergence of several industry trends, particularly the adoption of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model and the advancement in artificial intelligence (AI). New leaders in the space are emerging and the old players are being replaced.
Why is knowledge management important?
The concept of knowledge management was introduced in the '90s, however, even today, most organizations struggle to provide their knowledge workers with a way to collect, manage, and distribute their knowledge. According to a report from McKinsey, knowledge workers spend nearly two hours each workday looking for information to do their job. It indicates that a good knowledge management system can potentially raise your organization's productivity by 20 to 25 percent. Another report estimates that Fortune 500 companies on average lose $31.5 billion in productivity per year as the direct result of poor knowledge sharing.
Information overload is so prevalent in today's workplaces. Teams are often dealing with more than they can handle on a given day and it’s hurting their ability to meet their objectives. Information overload is largely about the volume of data we’re expected to process in a given day. The fact is, not all data should get equal amounts of our attention. Having a purpose-built knowledge management system for organizing, accessing, and sharing data makes a world of difference.
The impact of not having a good knowledge management system is especially felt when key employees leave your organization. Critical knowledge can be lost due to short knowledge transfer time before their departure. It is also equally challenging to onboard a new hire or a replacement if the key knowledge has not been captured.
Capture lessons learned
Knowledge management helps you capture lessons learned and prevent repeated mistakes. Without a working knowledge management system in place, your employees will be forced to make the same mistakes and relearn the right processes, which is highly inefficient and costly.
As your organization grows, each group becomes more inclined to operate independently, creating silos that block the information flow across them. A knowledge management system can help break down the silos and foster a knowledge-sharing culture. It promotes cross-pollination, accelerates changes, and drives innovation.
Different types of knowledge
Understanding the different forms that knowledge can exist in, and being able to distinguish between various types of knowledge, is important in designing a knowledge management system. Generally speaking, there are two types of knowledge - explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge.
Explicit knowledge, also known as. know-what, can be effectively captured using documentation. It is also referred to as codified knowledge, such as that found in Wiki pages, intranet, physical and digital files and documents.
Here at AllAnswered, we further classify explicit knowledge into dynamic knowledge and static knowledge. Dynamic knowledge is constantly evolving and needs to be reviewed on a regular basis. It includes such documents as
- Sales processes and messaging
- Competitive positioning, pricing table
- Engineering server deployment playbook
- IT support processes
On the other hand, static knowledge is stable after it is created. Updates are done only on an as-needed basis. Here are some examples of documents for static knowledge.
- Product requirements and design specs
- Architecture documents
- Employee handbook and HR policies
- Meeting minutes
On the other hand, tacit knowledge, also known as know-how, is mainly experience-based and hard to codify. It is estimated that 80% of your institutional knowledge is tacit knowledge which is also the most difficult to manage. Tacit knowledge is often trapped in emails, chat rooms (such as Slack, Microsoft Teams), other tools (such as Jira, Trello, Github), and people's heads.
A good knowledge management system needs to be able to support both, and bring together these useful yet fragmented pieces of knowledge together, keep it updated and make it available to all the employees of your organization.
Why knowledge management fails?
Knowledge management system that is hard to use
Choosing the right tool for your knowledge management needs is critical to the success of your knowledge management deployment. A system that is hard to use will eventually be abandoned by your employees. The state-of-art knowledge management systems like AllAnswered are built for ease of use. They offer functionalities to easily capture, share, and update your knowledge base. Here is a list of key features you should expect from a good knowledge management system:
- Modern text editor that supports rich media
Knowledge is more than just text and a picture is worth a thousand words. Knowledge management software should offer easy to use rich-text editor that supports rich media embeds such as screenshots, videos, code snippets, diagrams, and file attachments, etc.
- Effective way to capture tacit knowledge
As explained above, 80% of your team knowledge is tacit knowledge which is hard to document. Studies have shown that Questions & Answers (Q&A) is the most effective way to capture tacit knowledge. Quora and Stack Overflow are two good examples of public-facing Q&A sites that are super popular. Knowledge management systems need to provide a similar Q&A feature for companies so they don't miss all the tacit knowledge your employees possess.
- Integrate with your existing workflow
Your knowledge management should not be an isolated tool. Instead, it should be an integral part of your team's workflow. Frequent context switching hurts your team's productivity and discourages them from using the tools. So your knowledge management system should provide integrations with other tools that your team uses on a daily basis. For example, if your team is using Slack or Microsoft Teams for team communication, a Slack or Teams integration is a must-have for your knowledge management system.
- Role-based access control
In an organization, not everyone should have the same access to all content in your knowledge base. Your knowledge base should be organized in a way so that users have easy access to the knowledge that they need for their work, but prevent them from accessing things that they should not have access to, based on their group, title, responsibility, etc.
- Analytics and reporting
Analytics and reporting allow your team to continuously measure the quality and effectiveness of your knowledge management system. Being able to report on key metrics such as Monthly Active Users (MAUs) and the usage of the content will help you evaluate the overall effectiveness of the system and identify potential knowledge gaps for future improvement. Detailed analytics can also help you show the return on investment (ROI) of your knowledge management system based on key business KPIs.
Change culture is difficult
A good effective knowledge management system is just part of the equation. Knowledge management is also a people issue, a culture issue. And changing culture is often difficult. A knowledge-sharing culture is one of the primary factors that determine the fate of your knowledge management system. Due to the internal competition and concerns about job security, many employees tend to hoard knowledge and expertise rather than sharing them. This is detrimental to your knowledge management effort, and your organization in general.
Fostering a knowledge sharing culture is not easy and it will take some time.
- In most cases, changing culture is a top-down initiative. So it is imperative to have a champion for your knowledge management effort from your senior management team who will be setting the mission and vision for the project.
- A cross-functional task force should be created to spearhead the implementation, including evaluating tools and systems, set up processes and procedures, establish ownership and responsibilities, etc. Many organizations will disband the task force once the KMS is deployed. It is a big mistake. The task force should periodically review the results and effectiveness of the KMS and implement changes and improvements if necessary.
- It is also recommended that you conduct anonymously polls on a monthly or quarterly basis to see if your employees are more inclined to share their knowledge with their teams. And based on the results, the task force needs to determine if any further changes are required and how to execute them.
Lack of clear ownership
Lack of ownership is one of the common reasons why knowledge management fails. Many organizations believe that knowledge management is owned by all employees. But more often than not, when we leave the responsibility to everyone, no one is accountable for it.
As your company grows, no single person or group is capable of owning knowledge management for the whole organization. So we have to be able to divide and conquer. Your knowledge management system must be able to organize your team knowledge by groups, departments, products, or projects, for example. Once your knowledge is organized in such ways, the owners will naturally emerge. For a group or department, the group leads or department managers will be the owners, whereas, for a product or project, the product or project manager will be the owners.
The owners are responsible for monitoring content, identifying knowledge gaps, and making sure members are engaged. Your knowledge management system should have the features required to make the owners' life easier. For example, the analytics feature helps the owners review which individuals' activities. For users who are not as engaged, the owner may have a private conversation with them or conduct additional training for them. The system should also make it easy for owners to moderate content and create tasks for team members.
Many knowledge management systems start nice and clean, but after several months, it will be cluttered with stale content. If the content in your knowledge management system becomes outdated and is no longer relevant, employees cannot trust the information they found and therefore stop using the system.
A good knowledge management system has to have built-in workflow capability that creates tasks for team members to keep your knowledge base up-to-date. The common workflow including reviews, verification, approvals, and life-cycle management. Modern knowledge management systems also take advantage of artificial intelligence (AI) to discover stale or duplicate content, make knowledge recommendations, and automate the knowledge management workflow.
Poor discovery capability
The knowledge that cannot be found is the knowledge that does not exist. Today, knowledge discovery is much more than just search. The latest development in the areas of artificial intelligence (AI), natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning (ML) enable new discovery capabilities that were impossible before. These capabilities not only make search results more accurate and relevant, but also offer more personalized content curation and recommendations. The right content is surfaced at the right time. And the system is able to continuously learn and adapt based on new information and feedback from users.
Components of knowledge management
After seeing all the main reasons a knowledge management system may fail, you have to wonder what exactly do you need to be successful in managing your institutional knowledge. We believe the top three key components of knowledge management are people, system, and process. All three components are critical and if you simply focus on any one of them, your knowledge management journey is bound to fail. Now let’s discuss each one of them and dig a bit deeper.
People component is the core of your knowledge management initiative. From the get-go, you will need senior management to be the champion and sponsor of the project and set the overall direction and strategy. A task force should be created which consists of stakeholders from cross-functional teams. The task force is responsible for leading the evaluation and implementation effort. They will work closely with senior sponsors, reporting back progress and results on a regular basis. They will also work closely with the knowledge management system vendor during the implementation phase.
The team leads of different groups or departments will become the owners of their own part of the knowledge base defined by separate communities or workspaces in your knowledge management system. The old producer-consumer model of having only a handful of content creators to create the content is not sustainable. Knowledge management requires participation from all team members. It is a truly collaborative effort. Over time, you will build up a knowledge-sharing culture across your entire organization and you will benefit from it immensely for a long time to come.
Knowledge Management System is the technology piece of the puzzle and it is the center of your knowledge management initiative. Your knowledge management system acts as a central repository for all your team knowledge and information. You can consider it the collective brain of your organization.
The system should be designed to be easy and intuitive for anyone in the organization to use. Make sure that the system you choose should have the following -
- designed for collaboration not just simple sharing Tools such as G Suite and Sharepoint follow the create & share model. Content is created by individuals and shared with the rest of the team if needed. Modern knowledge management systems are fundamentally different. They are designed from the ground up to be collaborative in nature.
- capture both explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge Your team knowledge consists of 20% explicit knowledge and 80% tacit knowledge. So your knowledge management system should be able to allow easy capture of both types of knowledge.
- advanced editor with a rich set of features A knowledge management tool should make the process of content creation as easy as possible. Modern editors today utilize floating menus or side menus to enable smooth editing that is truly enjoyable. Support markdown is also important if it is the preferred way to create content for your team.
- built-in workflow and knowledge life-cycle management The workflows supported by your knowledge management system have to be flexible enough to accommodate different requirements of different teams and projects. Common workflows that you should expect from your knowledge management system are
- Periodic review for dynamic knowledge
- Ad-hoc review request as needed
- Notification for followed content and @mentions
- Approval process for strong content quality control
- Close and delete duplicate and outdated content
- powerful knowledge discovery capability Since a knowledge management system is the tool to create, manage and store knowledge for your entire organization, it’s imperative for it to have powerful discovery capabilities so that your users can quickly and easily find the information they need. Knowledge is only useful when the right information is made available at the right time.
This allows all the people who are part of a group, product, or project to work closely together, collaborate on documents, brainstorm ideas, give suggestions, and solve problems with their collective experience and knowledge.
Explicit knowledge is easy to codify and can be captured with modern Wiki pages. On the other hand, tacit knowledge is very hard to document. It is most effective to capture tacit knowledge in bite-sized "knowledge snippet". Q&As have proven to be highly effective and easy to update.
Make sure the editor is capable to handle rich media such as images, videos, tables, code samples. Content from 3rd party tools that your team uses can be embedded directly in your content so your users are not forced to go to other sites to get the information they need.
First of all, your knowledge base should be organized into sub-spaces (such as communities) based on groups, departments, products, or projects. A monolithic knowledge base software not only makes it hard for your users to find the information they need, but also quickly overwhelm users with too much information that they don't need.
Your knowledge management tool must have the ability to tag content. Tags help further classify your content into different topics. You can follow specific tags if you are particularly interested in them. Content can be easily filtered and shown for specific tags.
And finally, it is a must to have a powerful search engine that allows customization and filters to quickly narrow down searches and find the relevant information.
Establishing processes for knowledge management is the lifeblood of your knowledge management initiative. A knowledge base that does not have processes is like a human being without blood flow. Here are the main processes that every knowledge management system should have -
- Identify knowledge that is critical to the company's strategy and operations
- create and collect knowledge that can be shared with others
- a workflow that enforces reviews of knowledge for its accuracy and relevancy
- knowledge life-cycle management that removes duplicate and outdated materials
- integration with tools that your team uses every day such as Slack, Microsoft Teams
Consistent processes adopted across the organization are also key to foster a knowledge-sharing culture. These processes should be integrated into the business processes people already use every day. Your knowledge management system can play a key role in streamlining the processes, for example, creating tasks automatically and sending alerts and reminders to people as needed.
AllAnswered: The Ultimate Knowledge Management System
AllAnswered is the leader in the modern knowledge management system, offering an all-in-one solution for all your knowledge management needs.
AllAnswered organizes your team knowledge by communities. You can create communities for groups, departments, products, projects, or any common interest. A community can be either an open community or a private community. An open community is open to all your team members, whereas a private community can only be accessed by invitations. Private communities are designed to keep certain information confidential. Community moderators are the owners of each community. They are responsible to keep community members engaged, make sure content stay updated, and follow up on workflow tasks if needed.
Within each community, you can create two types of content -
- Pages - pages are designed to capture explicit knowledge. For pages that keep evolving, you can specify a review cycle, for example, every month, quarter, year, or whenever they are updated. A review workflow will be automatically created, and notifications will be sent out to the users who have been assigned to the task. For pages that are mainly stable once created, you can request ad-hoc reviews if you notice any issues with the content.
- Posts - posts are designed to capture tacit knowledge. The most commonly used posts are Q&As. It works very much like Quora or Stack Overflow, but is optimized for organization internal use. You can also create other posts such as polls, surveys, discussions, and announcements.
Each content can be labeled with tags to indicate the main topics of the content. You can filter content by tags and follow specific tags that you are interested in.
AllAnswered also features built-in workflow and knowledge life-cycle management that keep your knowledge base always up-to-date. Dashboards and analytics data provide real-time insights on how your team is utilizing the system and help uncover potential knowledge gaps that need to be filled. The powerful search engine allows anyone to find the information they need quickly and easily across all content, even in file attachments.
If you are interested in learning more about the AllAnswered Knowledge Management System, we would love to talk to you. Please contact us for any questions and schedule a demo so we can walk you through our platform. We also offer a 14-day free trial so you can try it out yourself to see if it is the right solution for you.