If you plan to undertake a KM project then it makes sense to understand KM thoroughly, especially as most KM projects fail!
One of the reasons many KM projects fail is that we are dealing with complex human systems. In addition to understanding KM, you need to understand organizational complexity. For example, you should study the work of Dave Snowden and his Cynefin Framework.
You should also ensure that you understand the new emerging "Social KM" based on social tools and take the time to understand Intellectual Capital and other related disciplines.
Some key points to keep in mind:
- KM projects are tough: the toughest projects to undertake in any organization! If you are not a seasoned project manager with a fair degree of experience in change management then you are likely to fail!
- KM means different things to different people and industries. HR, IT, Librarians etc all see KM through a different lens. What does it mean for your organization?
- KM is about surfacing unknown problems - not just about responding to known ones or supporting business objectives.
- Beware of prescriptions: KM is context dependent and there is no substitute to thinking things through in your context.
- Beware of KM certification: There is nothing wrong in receiving certificates for attending a course or for being certified or accredited to practice specific KM techniques. (Cognitive Edge, for example, accredits practitioners who have attended their workshops.) What you do need to avoid is the nonsensical practice of certifying KM and awarding pretentious titles to participants such as "Certified Knowledge Manager." The field of KM is too broad, too deep and too rich for this to have any meaning whatsoever. It’s a cheap marketing technique.
- Beware of case studies: People often ask me for case studies but I studiously avoid giving them as too often they paint a rosy picture and distort the truth. More often than not they are thinly disguised marketing material for a vendor or their so called “KM System”. They are also dangerous in that people tend to treat them as “prescriptions”. If it worked there it will work here. They inadvertently help avoid the need for thinking in context.
- Beware of academics and of theory: There is nothing inherently wrong with academics and theory such as two by two matrices and conceptualization but it can cause you to take your eye of the ball. Focus on specifics and real world practical examples. And beware of prescriptive approaches and so called "best practices". Get real!
- Beware of charlatans: There are far too many people teaching KM who have no idea what they are talking about or promoting old failed methods. There is also a lot of poor material on the web. Be cautious.
There is no substitute for thinking for yourself in your specific context!
First published in Inside Knowledge Magazine - 1 Oct 2009 in Volume 13 Issue 1