“Where do we start?” It’s a question that can seem daunting for the organizations that EK works with as they contemplate moving from developing a Knowledge Management (KM) Strategy to implementation. This question invites uncertainty and even skepticism as leadership reflects on what resources will be required, how much time it will take out of their staff’s days, and past KM efforts that have commenced and stopped multiple times without showing value. As we work with organizations to understand their current state of KM maturity and develop a Target State Vision and Roadmap for how to better connect their people to the knowledge and information they need to do their jobs, our job as KM consultants is to ensure that there is no ambiguity around this question.
One way we do this at EK is by defining a series of pilots, which are limited-scope efforts, focused on quickly demonstrating value to organizational stakeholders by solving targeted issues and exploring new technologies and practices. Each pilot is intended to validate that the KM Strategy approach we’ve developed will work for the organization and to determine how that pilot can be scaled. These pilots also serve to drive incremental change and excitement for “what could be.” This exercise in defining pilots begs the question though, “How do we know where to get started?”
Here are 6 questions that help us determine the best approach for an organization to start their KM transformation.
1. Where is the low-hanging fruit?
A commonly used metaphor, what I mean by “low-hanging fruit” is that we’re looking to identify the simplest activity to implement within an organization that will produce immediate, tangible value. What this means from a practical standpoint is that the pilot has a low-level of complexity. There are a few ways to judge this:
- The pilot is able to be conducted using solely the internal expertise and experience of the organization’s staff. In this scenario, no external subject matter expertise or consultancy is required. The organization can get started today with the skills and competencies they have in house.
- The pilot involves one department (or business area) or up to two closely-aligned departments. Scoping the pilot to one or two departments allows an organization to test a methodology or process within a specific function before it’s adapted and scaled for the enterprise’s benefit.
- The pilot is building off and enhancing a pre-existing technology or practice. We’re always looking for examples of “good KM” when we’re conducting our Current State Assessments because we know that there are strengths that can be leveraged. Some of our pilots do just that – they improve something that is already in place that has the potential to be transformative if modified or if the right incentives are in place to increase adoption.
2. What does the organization care about, and what would get them excited?
At the onset of a KM Strategy project, we ask staff at different levels of the organization, “If you had easier access to the people and information you need to effectively execute your daily tasks and responsibilities, what would that mean for you? How would that help you be successful?” Ultimately, we’re trying to understand the downstream effects and business value of KM for the organization.
In every organization, the downstream impacts and business value of KM can vary depending on the teams and departments whose insights are being solicited. For those in Sales roles, for example, it could be access to accurate, current, and competitive market information that is going to help them pursue and close sales deals. For those in Customer Service positions, it could be having the ability to find customer and account information to provide the right level of service to customers based on what the organization has done for them in the past. For other organizations, it’s ensuring continuity of operations by ensuring that knowledge does not walk out the door when their employees leave or retire.
It’s these value statements that help us think through what pilots can serve to further these goals:
- Does the organization need a pilot around content clean-up to ensure that when people do come across information, they have confidence that it’s up-to-date and accurate, and they can use it to take action or make a decision?
- Could we come up with a pilot that helps to define what customer-facing staff would want to see when searching for past information on customers and accounts?
- Do we need to consider a pilot around experimenting with knowledge transfer techniques to support colleagues in sharing what they know throughout their tenure with an organization?
My colleague, Mary Little, discusses the importance of aligning KM with your organization’s strategic goals and this can start as early as the pilot definition phase.
3. Who is interested in being an early adopter of KM, or is equipped with the capabilities and resources to support a pilot immediately?
If we’re conducting an KM Strategy project at the enterprise level, we always ask to speak with staff who represent different functions and departments with the organization. We do this for a variety of reasons, one being that it helps us understand those pockets within the organization that are acutely experiencing a KM challenge and who are eager to see change. This approach not only helps us brainstorm options for what recommendations and pilots we will define for the organization, but it also helps us identify who might want to be a part of a pilot. Identifying early adopters in the form of a department, group, or team helps the organization drive interest in and momentum for its KM initiatives. This is critical for the long-term adoption and sustainability of a holistic KM program, which will be focused on solving different challenges over time and necessitate changes in how people work.
Another angle to consider is whether there is a department or group who has the capabilities and resources needed to support a pilot immediately. Part of this involves exploring what skill sets will be needed to perform associated responsibilities and whether the organization can draw on current employees with specific expertise to support the implementation of a pilot. Conversely, it is also important to gain an understanding of an organization’s internal processes around approving funding for projects. It can be beneficial to have these conversations to determine whether departments have their own pool of funding to use at their discretion or whether projects have to go through a more formal review process that happens at different intervals throughout the year.
4. Is there an existing organizational initiative that we can align a KM pilot to?
In developing a KM Strategy, we look at five different dimensions within an organization: People, Process, Content, Culture, and Technology. Because we’re looking across these dimensions, we often hear about other initiatives that are going on in the organization. We love to hear about these because they can be tangential to what we’re doing and there are opportunities for alignment. In the past, these tangential initiatives have taken the form of:
- Data inventory and governance efforts.
- Enterprise search projects.
- Process improvement efforts.
- Initiatives to consolidate content management or customer relationship management systems.
- Records management implementations.
- Selection and implementation of a learning management system.
- Sunsetting legacy knowledge repositories and related content migration efforts.
Just as it can be easier to secure support for a pilot if it’s tied to an organization’s strategic objective, it can be easier to secure support for a pilot if you can communicate how it will support the success of another initiative. By aligning a KM pilot to another relevant initiative, you’re helping to ensure the maximal effectiveness of both.
5. How many people will the proposed pilot impact?
In considering what pilots we recommend prioritizing as part of a KM transformation, we’re thinking about what is going to drive the biggest return on investment. Part of that has to do with how many people will be affected by the proposed change. Early on in our KM Strategy engagements, we request an overview of our client’s organizational structure, their departments, and which departments have interdependencies. This gives us a sense of how big the departments are in relation to each other and which work closely with one another. In return, as we conduct interviews, focus groups, and workshops, we start to understand the degree to which staff are experiencing similar KM challenges regardless of where they sit in the organization, and which KM challenges are most pressing. Armed with this information, we can think through how to prioritize our pilots based on how many people it will impact positively. These pilots often end up being holistic efforts that will benefit all departments over time, as they are scaled.
6. How foundational is the pilot?
When developing pilots and recommendations, we are also outlining a roadmap across which these can take place. Our roadmaps span different timeframes based on an organization’s needs and resources, but they can include both “foundational” and “advanced” pilots. A foundational pilot is one that helps establish the success of subsequent efforts in the roadmap. This could include, for example, developing metrics to monitor the success of KM pilots, enable alignment across different initiatives, and allow the organization to make data-driving decisions on how to adapt its KM Strategy, as needed. We may also include, if the organization is ready, advanced pilots that lay the groundwork for AI applications – for example, developing a knowledge graph to connect and show meaningful relationships between data regardless of where it is located. While the advanced pilots can sometimes be more “exciting” work, we want to ensure an organization is laying the foundation to explore advanced AI capabilities in the right way and in a way that will be scalable and sustainable. Prioritizing foundational pilots on your organization’s KM Strategy Roadmap is essential to building that infrastructure.
Regardless of how big your company is, how many millions of documents your organization might maintain, or how widely disparate the processes are between staff to capture critical information, we know it can be overwhelming to contemplate the question “Where do we start?” But it doesn’t have to be. We’re here to help! Contact Us at Enterprise Knowledge to navigate this ambiguity and jump start your KM transformation.