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Why top-tier KM programs map their knowledge

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How to create knowledge maps

You don’t need any new technology or special tools to get started with knowledge mapping. In fact, most organizations use simple applications such as Microsoft Excel. Although organizations have their own twists and variations, most knowledge mapping follows a simple four-step process.

Step one: Identify areas of knowledge that should be mapped. If the organization has documented process or competency maps, use them to start listing potential focus areas. Otherwise, the KM team can ask managers and experts about the knowledge people need to get work done in their respective areas. Through a series of iterative conversations, the team can identify the roles, business areas, technical domains, and/or processes that should be mapped.

During this first step, it’s critical to explain the “why” and “how” behind knowledge mapping so stakeholders understand how it contributes to business goals. Leaders, line managers, and individual participants need to know that knowledge mapping is worth their time. Explain that knowledge mapping will help the organization work smarter and faster, avoid errors and redundancies, and prepare for the future. Then, tie these general benefits to the organization’s unique knowledge-related challenges. For example, show how knowledge mapping can help coworkers prepare for an expert’s upcoming retirement, enable a manager to bring new employees up to speed faster, or improve quality by getting teams at four global locations working the same way.

Step two: Draft a knowledge map. Smart KM teams use a standard template to ensure a consistent process and output across roles, areas, and/or processes. The template should include fields such as:

♦ process, activity, role, or strategic focus area (i.e., the entity being mapped);

♦ what knowledge is required for the process, activity, role, or focus area;

♦ who owns the knowledge;

♦ where the knowledge is located;

♦ who can validate the knowledge;

♦ whether the knowledge is tacit (undocumented) or explicit (documented); and

♦ the current state of the knowledge’s quality and flow (indicating risks, bottlenecks, and gaps).

Use the template to collect information from the experts, process owners, or teams that have information about the knowledge area under review.

Step three: Evaluate risks and opportunities revealed by the maps. Most organizations define standard risk criteria through an organizing framework such as a scoring system, dashboard, or risk assessment framework. Some, such as the U.S. Army Armament, Defense and Engineering Center (ARDEC), simplify this process by building gap and risk analysis directly into their knowledge maps. Common risk criteria include impact on business continuity, financial risk, and reputational risk as well as whether the knowledge is documented and available to those who need it. A standard set of risk criteria helps the KM team guard against bias as it works with stakeholders to pinpoint the most critical topic domains along with areas where knowledge is in severe peril (e.g., it is held by only one person) or where siloes or other hurdles prevent knowledge from getting where it needs to go.

Step four: Use map insights to fix knowledge-related problems and improve knowledge flow across the business. The next section explains how leading KM programs translate their knowledge maps into tangible improvements.

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