KM – Wanted: Dead or Alive


It seems a trend in knowledge management news today is to declare “KM IS NOT DEAD!” and of course a year ago, 5 years ago, even 10 years ago the critics were declaring KM dead. Of course you can’t really kill knowledge management. As long as there are people needing knowledge and sharing information there will be knowledge management. Long before Karl Wiig coined the term in 1989 (Firestone & McElroy, 2002) prehistoric man was recording lessons learned on their cave walls, the Pony Express was racing across America so people could communicate, and today Social Media is growing exponentially. All because people need, and want, to share their knowledge with others.Distributing Knowledge

I won’t argue that KM hasn’t enjoyed it’s time as an over-hyped management fad, but unlike other management fads, KM isn’t a management model; it’s an enabler that happens within whatever management model you’re using. It’s up to you to decide if it will happen deliberately, or by chance.

The most effective KM I’ve ever known was dedicated knowledge manager on a custom SharePoint environment with integrated analytic tools, built on top of an enterprise information sharing framework. Most of the knowledge managers focused on maintaining their portal, ensuring site navigation was logical, that files were uploaded in accordance with standards, and users were trained. By contrast, this exceptional KM stepped away from his keyboard, found actual users in their work environment and studied what they were doing. He had data analysis experience himself, in the same field as these users, so he understood their processes, where there was potential for change, and where there was firm protocol to follow. He determined where his systems might add value and trained the users, not on the mechanics of the system, but on how to use the system to do their tasks better. In the process he discovered a weakness in the system. A feature that required users to take an extra action to ensure their work was cataloged appropriately and made discoverable for others. It was just a check box, but user after user neglected it, so he got the programmers to automate it. As a result, his location had the highest utilization rates and shared more products than all of the other locations combined. Identical systems fielded in similar organizations with similar missions, but with drastically different results. All because of one proactive KM who knew how to connect the people and their processes to the technology.

His organization practiced deliberate knowledge management. Call it what you will, but don’t leave knowledge management to chance.

This post originally appeared on Wired Insights, on 12 September 2013

Work Cited

Firestone, J. M., & McElroy, M. W. (2002, July). Generations of Knowledge Management. Retrieved September 11, 2013, from www.macroinnovation.com/images/GenerationsKM.pdf‎


About John Donahue

I'm a practicing Knowledge Manager, providing KM consulting for organizations from small businesses to large governmental agencies. I've organized and participated in KM and IKM Working Groups at a US Embassy overseas, with the US DoD, and with deployed NATO headquarter staffs. I served 20-years as an Air Force officer and aviator, during which time I was an award-winning instructor at the US Air Force Academy and logged nearly 100 combat missions over Iraq and Afghanistan. Now a seasoned Knowledge Manager and certified Project Management Professional I'm applying my organizational, leadership, teaching and technical skill to the knowledge management profession.

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