« Talking up KM | Main | Capturing corporate memory »

April 29, 2006


Nancy White

How are we defining process?

My Take:

A regulated, defined sequence of activities that seeks to reach an end goal.

Common in business where low cost, high throughput and minimum errors are often the desired end results.

Lauchlan Mackinnon

You say:

Steve levels these charges:

* Right information, to right people at the right time - is the wrong focus
* The quest to 'know what we know' or codification has failed to yield efficiency
* Structure and processes imposed by KM have limited (natural) inquiry, creativity and awareness
* KM tools have reduced cognitive effectivity

His critique is spot on. Process is a knowledge killer, information is about messages, knowledge is sense-making, awareness and learning, organization of information is NOT KM and capturing stuff in 'knowledgebases' has a proven poor ROI. Where do we go next?

Firstly, I disagree that the version of KM that you/Steve are attacking is particularly representative of KM. KM strategies can be focused around codification or personalisation strategies (see the HBR article "What's your strategy for managing knowledge?" and codification is but one approach. Then there are the "third generation" approaches to KM that try to integrate KM and organizational learning, e.g. in McElroy's book "The New Knowledge Management". Then we have the fact that the major KM tools, e.g. communities of practice, facilitate and enhance creativity and give people the support to make their case for change to management. So, I think you and Steve are attacking a straw man - 'first generation'KM which is basically about knowledge bases - and of course that's inefficient for many situations. We knew that over a decade ago.

Your alternative to your straw man is basically to adopt a learning organization perspective. It seems surprising to me that anyone thinks KM and OL are in conflict rather than complementing and supporting each other.

So, as you might guess, I am not persuaded by your critique. I think it is both misguided and incorrect. But, we all have to have our own views . . .

Kaye Vivian

This is a very interesting topic! It's true that some of the structure and processes imposed by KM force creative limitations. I hadn't exactly gotten to that point in my own thinking, but I totally see it. I'm not sure I agree fully with your statement that process is, in and of itself, a knowledge killer though. Sometimes putting a process in place organizes chaos so that creativity is liberated. Soccer teams plan a play or have a game plan, but spontaneous creativity occurs anyway. Having five different groups or departments in one organization setting up independent databases that can't share information doesn't make sense. Putting a process in place to force them to think broader and more universally probably liberates creativity of the teams -- for example, freeing them to think creatively about important problems and how to solve them more effectively. Of course, on an individual basis, if a person is constrained by an awkward information collection system or process, that process could be a creativity killer. Perhaps the discussion hinges on the differing needs of individuals and groups. I think process for groups is not inherently a knowledge or creativity killer, where process for individuals may be. If that makes sense. I'm not sure how you reconcile these though, since individuals work in groups! Thanks for the Monday morning mental exercise. :) --Kaye


I think that the biggest mistake that we make in knowledge management is to try to implement our theories as though all knowledge in the enterprise is the same.

I often think of knowledge as though it were represented as a heat map. Systems and processes are quite good at profitably capturing knowledge which is the most dense-- the most specific and self-contained. For instance, there is undeniably a business case for capturing frequent help desk replies in a knowledge base rather than let them evaporate in email or telephone calls.

The more diffuse the knowledge becomes (in other words the wider the scope and the more overlap with other areas) the less profitable it will be to attempt to automate this knowledge. The process that it supports is much less clear and less definable and rather obviously less able to be captured as content in structured way.

Once you've picked the low-hanging fruit (knowledge that is mroe suitable to being captured as structured content), I think that the task becomes one of fostering collaboration in an effort to generate more useful content and creativity. The tools opened up by the so-called Web 2.0 environment give us a lot of interesting ideas how we might be able to usefully relate unstructured content/knowledge in a way that doesn't rely on a strict supportive role in a process.

Isn't this all rather cyclical anyhow? KM is no more immune to fashion-of-the-month syndrome than any other field of thought...

Carol H Tucker

I disagree that building a process is a knowledge killer. I have a great deal of experience going into an organization and repairing failed infrastructures, and putting processes in place is a key element to designing and implementing a successful support system!

Vijeesh Papulli

It certainly is a very interesting topic to argue about. I would love to see how Steve wriggles his way out of this one :-). Knowledge Management is something beyond just technology and processes. Its a philosophy which tries to explain how society has evolved by its use of what it knows and learns in course of time.

The comments to this entry are closed.