by Russell T. Westcott
The ASQ Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence (CMQ/OE) body of knowledge (2006) states: “Use knowledge management techniques to identify and collect internal knowledge (core competencies) and best practices, to understand and share lessons learned, and to adapt and use such knowledge in new situations. Identify typical organizational hurdles that must be overcome in order to implement these techniques.” A well-informed and competent quality manager’s role includes having a working knowledge of the intent and process of knowledge management. The CMQ/OE Handbook, Third Edition (ASQ Quality Press, 2006), discusses knowledge management within the context of management skills and abilities. Finally, ISO 9004:2009 addresses knowledge management as “Managing for the sustained success of an organization.”
Now, for the brief tutorial.
Overview of the knowledge management process
Knowledge management includes collecting, storing, and transforming data into information leading to the creation of knowledge and a basis for attaining wisdom. (See figure 1.) Knowledge is differentiated in two major categories: Explicit knowledge (captured and recorded knowledge), and tacit knowledge (the difficult-to-articulate know-how, techniques, and practices that constitute an individual’s or the organization’s expertise). Attempts to successfully create ways to transform tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge continue, but they have a very long way to go. Meanwhile, a huge threat looms large for the future: What to do when the economy improves and millions of people begin to look for better opportunities, taking their tacit knowledge with them?
Figure 1: Knowledge management: Derivation of wisdom
From earliest times, hoarding knowledge has been a practice in building and sustaining individual and organizational power. Of course, organizations still feel the need to safeguard their formulas and processes to protect their competitive advantage. However, a balance needs to be maintained between the intellectual property that must remain a closely guarded secret and the knowledge that should be shared, as appropriate, with stakeholders.
Questions to ask
Some of the considerations in preparing for an assessment of knowledge management are:
- Have the types of data to be captured and the media on/in which the data are to be received been identified?
- Is the purpose for collecting, storing, accessing, and using the data defined?
- Are there procedures for capturing the data, organizing them, categorizing them, and transforming them into usable information?
- Have appropriate security protocols been established?
- Have appropriate data storage facilities and programs been instituted?
- Are appropriate policies and directives governing accessibility, data use, data maintenance, retention, and disposal in place?
- Is there a periodic assessment schedule for evaluating the ongoing effectiveness of the knowledge management processes? Is it followed?
Ten key knowledge management success factors auditors should look for
Does top management ensure that:
- It is visibly involved in supporting the knowledge management process, especially in relation to scarce resources, e.g., time and money?
- Knowledge management is effectively planned and deployed?
- The persons responsible for knowledge management are trained to best use their individual talents in achieving optimum results?
- Steps are taken to assure that knowledge management plans and processes are realistic, achievable, and aligned with strategic plans?
- The process for tracking, analyzing, measuring, and reporting knowledge management progress and results is clearly communicated to and understood by all persons involved?
- Practices for recognizing and reinforcing those who enable knowledge management’s success and contribute to the fulfillment of the organization’s strategic objectives are viable and working as planned?
- The data and information derived from each of the organization’s processes and practices are integrated with the management of knowledge within the organization to facilitate decision making, guidance in developing future plans, training, and continual improvement of the organization’s processes?
- Steps are taken to make sure that appropriate people throughout the organization are kept informed of progress being made in achieving knowledge management objectives?
- The knowledge management process itself will be subjected to continual improvement?
- The knowledge management processes are assessed continually to seek ways to make it more efficient and more cost effective?
The transfer of data, information, and knowledge about best practices ties in with the organization’s benchmarking practices. Best practices consist of any practice or process, knowledge, know-how, or experience that is deemed valuable for this or other organizations.
Knowledge management effectiveness and sustainability is enabled by the organization’s culture, technology, infrastructure, and measurement.
Newly assigned auditors of knowledge management processes should work to become as knowledgeable of its application to their organizations as possible. Remember, the intent of the audit/assessment is threefold:
- An applicable and viable knowledge management process has been developed, implemented, and is continually reviewed for improvement
- The knowledge management process is understood by pertinent individuals in the organization.
- The knowledge management methodology will assure the objectives of the organization will be met.
A knowledge management system doesn’t mean that uncataloged storage boxes full of documents that no one accesses because the knowledge is not transparent to potential users will suddenly appear. For example: Within a small engineering design firm, organized on a project-by-project basis, each project manager kept files of his or her completed projects. Documentation was not standardized (each project manager brought his or her own system from a previous employer). No categorization, indexing, or other scheme was used. Project files were treated as if they were the private property of the individual project managers. Sharing was not part of the culture.
After the first sustained a major loss because it inadvertently replicated an error, the firm’s president mandated that a knowledge management process be designed and implemented. The outcome was great: standardized documentation stored in a centralized location staffed by a knowledge management specialist, in which all information and knowledge about a completed project was cataloged. Further, check-off project close-out forms had to be completed by each project manager. Procedures for the design process stated that before a new project was started, pertinent past-project information and/or knowledge had to accessed and reviewed for best practices and for lessons learned. New designers and project managers received instruction in the use of the knowledge management center.
“If we build it, they will use it” does not apply to knowledge management. It requires a continual effort to emphasize its importance to the organization. Therefore, auditing knowledge management center’s compliance to procedures and measuring effectiveness was added to the internal auditing schedule. See table 1 for additional examples of knowledge management.
Table 1: Knowledge management examples
|Data, information, knowledge managed
|Design data, proposals, bid strategies, and outcomes
|Safeguard intellectual property, guidance for new developments, prevent "reinventing the wheel"
|Medium or large legal firm
|Details of legal actions to augment published case law, documents backing actions taken, outcomes of strategies employed in supporting clients
|Defend legality and efficacy of actions taken by firm, guidance for study pertaining to a new similar circumstance, learning tool for newer attorneys
|Retail store chain
|Customer transaction and profile data
|Address needs of segmented customer groups; schedule customer contact personnel for key buying periods; stock products in accordance with fluctuating demand periods; achieve optimum buyer satisfaction with product placement and availability ; optimize inventory, store hours, and special sales
|Historical data, information, and knowledge highlighting the growth and development of the organization from inception to present, including physical artifacts
|Input to strategy planning, educate newer stakeholders, support publicity and advertising endeavors, provide objective evidence in legal and regulatory matters
|Transactional data and information
|Objective evidence of customer orders, product/service realization, delivery and satisfaction, support for compliance with regulatory requirements and certifications, input to decision processes and improvement efforts
|Information regarding potential new projects, design data supporting proposals and bids
|Objective evidence of meeting client and pertinent legal and regulatory requirements, source for replicating successful design and implementation approaches
|Data, information, and knowledge supporting actions taken
|Documentation of lessons learned and actions resulting from learning, develop a practice of debriefing projects, input to internal training of employees
|Any organization owning intellectual property
|Managing intellectual property (patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, formulas, proprietary processes)
|Record pertinent nonphysical property, periodically assess its value, and publish summary value to the organization's owners
|Medium or large sales organization
|Technical product data and information (internal and competitors'), sales presentations, sales policies and practices, sales strategies, promotion information, customer account data, analysis of buying patterns, industry trend data
|Data and information made available to field sales force online, supports and motivates a well-informed sales force, helps increase sales and satisfy customers
|Very large organization
|Huge database of customer data and product/service data
|Employ data mining methods to surface relationships among the data that can be used to initiate improved customer segmentation, service and satisfaction, and increase sales and profitability
|Large professional organization, corporate library
|Member profile data and interests
|From a member's profile a member is alerted to learning activities of specific interest that are new or about to be available
Technology can assist with collecting, storing, and manipulating data into usable information, but transforming information into knowledge—and ultimately wisdom—involves human intervention. Humans are needed to add meaning and context to information. The most elaborate and efficient knowledge management system design is relatively useless unless the people responsible for decisions and action do not effectively access and use the information.
Auditing and assessing the knowledge management subsystem is critical to both sustaining and improving the effectiveness of the overall success of the organization.
About the author
Russell T. Westcott is an ASQ Fellow, certified quality auditor, and certified manager of quality/organizational excellence. He edited The ASQ Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence Handbook, Third edition (ASQ Quality Press, 2005), and was a co-editor of the ASQ Quality Improvement Handbook. Westcott authored Simplified Project Management for the Quality Professional (ASQ Quality Press, 2005), and Stepping Up To ISO 9004:2000 (Paton Professional, 2003). He is active in ASQ’s quality management division and the Thames Valley, Connecticut section management.
Westcott instructs the ASQ certified manager of quality/organizational excellence refresher course nationwide. He writes for Quality Progress, Quality Digest, The Quality Management Forum, The Auditor and other publications.
Westcott is president of R.T. Westcott & Associates, founded in 1979 in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. He guides clients in implementing quality management systems, applying the Baldrige criteria, strategic planning, and project management practices.
Tags: knowledge management.