Accelerators of KM maturity: Part 3

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The importance of assessing KM needs and implementing standardized tools and approaches

Many organizations want to understand how to build a better knowledge management program. At member-based nonprofit APQC, we use a 146-question KM Capability Assessment Tool to help organizations evaluate the current state of their KM efforts and figure out how to advance to the next level. The 146-question assessment measures each KM program in 12 categories, determines where the program falls on a five-level maturity model and highlights any gaps that may be impeding the efficacy of KM tools and initiatives.

Although APQC has collected and validated maturity assessment data for nearly a decade, until the past year we had never aggregated the responses to explore the broader implications of this data set. But our most recent research changes that. By testing more than 90 statistical correlations across data from 218 KM programs, we’ve learned a lot about how KM programs develop and progress—and the early actions most closely associated with long-term success. The result is a set of foundational KM capabilities we’re calling “accelerators of KM maturity” because putting them in place will vastly increase your odds of building a mature, impactful KM program.

The first two articles in this series walked through accelerators related to developing a KM strategy, putting resources in place to support it and building broad support among leaders and users of KM tools and approaches. This month, we’re focusing on four process and technology imperatives that can fast-track your KM success:

  • Complete knowledge maps to identify gaps and needs.
  • Conduct IT needs assessments to guide KM technology investments.
  • Standardize processes for knowledge retention and flow.
  • Integrate KM tools into the overall IT strategy.

Complete knowledge maps to identify gaps and needs

APQC has long advocated the importance of knowledge mapping, both early in a KM program’s development and at key intervals as the program matures. In simple terms, a knowledge map is a visual representation of an organization’s internal (and in some cases, external) knowledge resources. Usually superimposed on process maps, knowledge maps help an organization understand what information and expertise is needed to execute each step in its business processes. A good knowledge map outlines:

  • what knowledge and expertise is critical to strategic goals and ongoing operations;
  • who has that knowledge or where it resides;
  • who needs the knowledge and when, where and in what format;
  • how often the knowledge is refreshed or updated; and
  • any gaps or risks associated with the knowledge.

In our experience, knowledge mapping results in three big benefits. First, it enables the KM core team to identify very specifically where there are gaps in the organization’s knowledge as it relates to core business processes (e.g., product development or drilling) or barriers to knowledge sharing (e.g., inaccessibility of knowledge or lack of trust because of poor knowledge quality). Second, it delivers early results that can be captured and shared as success stories to further promote the benefits of KM. Finally, it provides the KM team with an opportunity to interact with the business. Giving input into knowledge maps engages business stakeholders in the conversation, demonstrates some of the value that KM can provide and helps build advocacy for KM enterprisewide.

Analysis of APQC’s assessment data further clarifies the business case for knowledge mapping by linking the use of maps to the achievement of advanced KM capabilities (see Figure 1 on page 13, KMWorld, March 2016, Vol. 25, Issue 3 or download chart 1). For example, 70 percent of organizations that complete knowledge maps for initial KM focus areas are able to standardize

KM processes across multiple instances or situations, compared to only 38 percent of those without knowledge maps. We suspect this is because knowledge mapping facilitates the identification of needs that are duplicated across various business areas. If the maps completed by different teams, functions or units all surface similar gaps or barriers, the KM team can prioritize common solutions to common challenges.

Knowledge mapping also emerged as one of six foundational KM capabilities statistically linked to an organization’s ability to successfully identify and address barriers to knowledge sharing and use. In fact, organizations that map their knowledge are more than three times more likely to achieve that goal. This came as no surprise to APQC: Knowledge mapping engages business stakeholders in constructive dialog, encouraging them to evaluate the status quo and articulate the specific challenges that prevent them from getting knowledge where it needs to go. This is an obvious first step to tackling obstacles that prevent employees from freely creating, exchanging, accessing and applying institutional knowledge.

Similarly, knowledge mapping is associated with an ability to make KM methods and tools available to knowledge workers on demand: Eighty-one percent of organizations that complete knowledge maps achieve this goal, compared to 30 percent that do not. Like the connections to standardization and the removal of knowledge sharing barriers, this seems logical. The act of mapping knowledge forces both the KM core team and business stakeholders to think methodically about the problems that impede knowledge flow and the available tools and approaches that can solve those problems. When an organization applies the best possible tool in its KM toolkit for each scenario, it naturally follows that knowledge workers will be more likely to have access to KM methods and tools when, where and how they are needed.

Conduct IT needs assessments to guide KM technology investments

When an organization is shopping for KM tools, it’s easy for knowledge managers (and their bosses) to become dazzled by the slick user interfaces and cutting-edge capabilities featured in marketing brochures. But picking the most sophisticated platform is usually less important than ensuring the tools address the specific challenges or opportunities that users are facing (while fitting as seamlessly as possible into existing processes). For this reason, APQC recommends conducting an IT needs assessment to understand the priorities and requirements of those expected to adopt any new technology.

If knowledge mapping helps the KM team decide which knowledge areas it should focus on, an IT needs assessment makes clear the specific technical functionality that will best support those knowledge areas. Overall, KM programs that bother to assess IT user needs at the outset have an easier time implementing KM technology. Most notably, they are more than seven times more likely to have standardized KM tools and applications that are integrated into the overall IT strategy. They are also more than twice as likely to maintain standardized taxonomies for classifying their core knowledge assets.

We suspect that IT needs assessments drive standardization because an understanding of users’ perspectives helps organizations make more considered, deliberate decisions about KM technology. A KM team that starts by evaluating and comparing stakeholder requirements is better positioned to identify tools that address common needs and preferences across the target user groups. This, in turn, makes it easier to adopt a standard enterprise KM platform and content taxonomy.

Standardize processes for knowledge retention and flow

We’ve established that knowledge mapping and IT needs assessments are linked to standardization of KM processes and tools. But why is this even important? APQC’s assessment data suggests that standardization is one of the hallmarks of mature KM initiatives. A uniform, cohesive approach to knowledge retention and flow is linked to increased support for KM in the business, greater rates of knowledge sharing and reuse, and the successful expansion of the KM program.

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