A Knowledge Management (KM) assessment involves speaking to people across all parts of an organisation, at all levels of seniority and with varying levels of experience. We ask about daily work, trying to find out how people create, capture, share, organise and access knowledge and what they have to help them in this:
- Who is accountable for identifying (and then learning) lessons from project, if anyone?
- When do people get together to share knowledge, if at all?
- Where does 'good practice' get stored, if anywhere?
- What kind of IT tools are used, if any?
- How is good practice updated, if at all?
- Who's in charge of this, if anyone?
- It provides them with an overview of what KM capabilities are present in their organisation
- It assesses these capabilities against a benchmark of leading KM organisations
- Where strengths are identified, it recommends ways to embed and broaden their reach
- Where weaknesses or gaps are identified, it recommends ways to improve performance
Together, these ensure that any subsequent KM investment is cost-effective and targeted on those areas where its impact will be greatest.
Sometimes, organisations seek to 'skip' this vital step and just want to 'do KM' any form of preliminary assessment. In my view, this approach is wasteful and risky because:
- They do not yet know what KM capabilities are, and are not, present in their organisation
- They have no idea what 'good looks like'
- They may procure training, tools, software or coaching that duplicates things already in place
- They do not yet know where their need is greatest
In keeping with several recent blog posts, I think analogies can help here.
We've looked at the 'KM as cooking' analogy before, so imagine preparing the weekly shopping list with reference to a cookery book but without checking the cupboards or fridge. I hold my hand up to this wasteful oversight - you get to the store and end up buying things 'just in case' you don't already have them at home. Which means that, with fresh produce, you now have double the amount of bacon, beans, broccoli, cheese etc. that you need, which either needs to be eaten or gets wasted. And with dry goods, you simply add yet another packet of ground ginger or mixed herbs to the back of the cupboard, alongside the two already there.
Cooking not your thing? How about building? You've just won the lottery and want to build a new house. Are you going to get a builder to just do as they want, or are you going to get an architect to design something first? In fact, before the architect come along, shouldn't you get a survey done, to make sure first that the ground on which you intend to build is solid?
Not in a building mood? Then how about joining me in battle?! A famous saying from my former profession is that 'time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted'. Regardless of whether you're planning on destroying an enemy compound, or distributing aid to starving refugees, or helping to evacuate civilians from a civil-war-torn country, you need to get 'eyes on', through surveillance systems and/or people on the ground. The more information that can be gained about the enemy, as well as the ground on which you will have to operate, the greater the chance of success - which means killing the enemy and saving everyone else.
In all of these examples, intelligent planning involves finding out the current situation, before deciding how to change it. As with shopping, building and battle, so it is with KM.