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Navigating the Minefield: A Practical KM Companion By Patricia Lee Eng and Paul J. Corney -- BOOK REVIEW

This slim book (120 pages) punches above its weight when it comes to delivering insights to early as well as established KM practitioners. Based on case studies of 19 KM initiatives from a wide range of sectors, it covers KM drivers, sustainability factors, deterrents and emerging trends.

Patricia Lee Eng is the former senior advisor for knowledge management at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Paul J. Corney is a KM consultant and member of the British Standards Institute KM Standards Committee (KMS/1).

It draws on 18 in-depth interviews on KM in practice, based on a nine-question survey. Featured organizations are: Airbus, ARUP, BP, Cadbury Schweppes, Defense Acquisition University, DEC, HP, IPOS, International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, Lloyds, PETRONAS, NASA, Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, Port of Antwerp, Sellafield, Shell, U.K. NHS, U.S. Army and U.S. NRC.

“It takes energy, perseverance and an open and innovative mind to create, build and maintain an effective KM program,” the authors begin.

KM drivers

The surveyed organizations report four types of drivers of KM: risk management, desire for improvement, innovation and regulatory requirements. Good KM programs have both an operational and a strategic focus. They build agility even in the face of changing market conditions.

For example, U.K. nuclear facility Sellafield (gov.uk/government/organisations/sellafield-ltd) leveraged KM to mitigate knowledge loss due to retirement of a large section of its workforce. Similar considerations applied to NRC, PETRONAS and Lloyds Register Marine.

Knowledge mapping helps identify the key beneficiaries and stakeholders, pain points, quick wins and impact metrics. It should cover knowledge flows, bottlenecks, roles, priorities, quality and reliability. Facilitators and consultants can play a key role.

Launching KM initiatives

Successful KM launches have involved KM champions, sponsors and mentors. “Choose something that addresses a pain point, can be done quickly and won’t cost a lot,” the authors advise as an initial KM step.

Successes should be documented and publicized, which can help ensure KM continuity even after leadership changes. Impacts can include reduced knowledge loss, better efficiency and even new contracts.

For example, Sellafield focused on identifying and saving critical knowledge, drawing on examples like Shell’s ROCK (Retention of Critical Knowledge) program. Knowledge capture was prioritized depending on immediate or future needs and whether knowledge was already captured via video, interviews and structured documentation. Facilitators helped with knowledge mapping, definition of terminology and validation by experts.

Defense Acquisition University (DAU) created an online encyclopedia of defense acquisition topics, called ACQuipedia, along with workshops and online forums to improve complex acquisition processes.

Lloyds designed knowledge retention and transfer services for business continuity plans; an interactive online dashboard helped map core knowledge assets. There were turnover meetings between experts and successors, along with training courses in critical areas.

Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) used KM to develop a decision support tool for improving consistency, accuracy and timeliness in processing insurance claims. Cadbury used KM among microbiologists to ensure enzyme consistency in making new kinds of candy. The International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) uses blogs to improve reporting by researchers.

Those are all useful starting points, but KM programs must build momentum, the authors advise. “Yesterday’s success is old news. Highlight your new ones,” they urge.

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