Knowledge Sharing - Easier Said than Done

“Knowledge has no value unless you share it.” Stephen Hawking made it sound very simple. People sharing their knowledge with colleagues is valuable and of obvious benefit to the organization, however in practice it turns out to be more difficult than you think.

Explicit Knowledge, the type that is typically codified in the form of procedures and documentation, is typically well managed, however Tacit Knowledge, wisdom gained from experience, can be more valuable but this value is difficult to unlock unless the organization adopts the right tools & techniques. The importance of knowledge management has even prompted its inclusion as a clause within ISO 9001: 2015.

One of the most popular ways to try and capture knowledge for organizations is a lessons learned database. Typically, these exist in the form of an Excel spreadsheet or Access database and are populated during a lessons learned (LL) session at the end of a project and then filed away. Ideally, the lessons that have been collected should be reviewed at the start of any new project, incorporating anything that is relevant to improve project performance. As shown below in the graph the knowledge search and capture are carried out when most of the project staff are not assigned to the project. This is a missed opportunity to maximize project productivity.

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Our own interviews with over three dozen professionals across 20 organizations in 5 industries in Canada, as well as international survey results from the Project Management Institute show that most organizations fail to effectively share knowledge across locations and time. While the lessons learned collection process is better recognized in projects, this problem extends beyond project-based organizations, with our research also showing that operating and maintenance organizations struggle with tacit knowledge sharing. The graph below plots the organizations we have spoken to on a spectrum that has four general types of organizations:

  1. Learning Organizations that have strong knowledge management tools and processes;

  2. Digital Laggards that have strong business processes but few digital tools;

  3. Digital Adopters that have invested in good digital tools but have not implemented the business processes to maximize their value; and

  4. Reactive Organizations that have few processes or tools to manage knowledge.

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The challenges associated with the knowledge management process can be categorized into one of two categories: Collection Friction or Retrieval Friction. Sources of Collection Friction include the fact that much of the knowledge has been forgotten by the time a LL session occurs, there is little motivation for people to contribute, and there isn’t an easy way to document and codify this information for effective reuse. Sources of Retrieval Friction include the fact that finding relevant LL is very difficult since it is locked away in either disparate files or a hard to use repository, only a subset of team members search for LL at the beginning of a project, the content is generally not captured in a reusable format, and even when the repository is accessible, it can be difficult to find the most relevant Insights for the task at hand.

As a consulting company facing these same challenges ourselves, we developed totaliQ, an intelligent knowledge sharing platform. totaliQ is a 2-sided marketplace for knowledge that helps organizations that rely on knowledge workers, maximize the value of their employees' tacit knowledge. To see more details on how we achieve this, check out our product page.

Organizations have an opportunity to increase their productivity by taking a new approach to knowledge management that maximizes the value of this organizational asset. Making this process continuous, placing value on it by measuring it and adopting technologies that reduce Collection and Retrieval Friction, organizations will increase productivity, reduce waste and be more competitive over the long term.

Jason Thorne