The 10-Step Guide to Setting Up a Knowledge Management Program

Jill Monte - Content Specialist ·

When it comes to knowledge management (KM), not everyone agrees on its definition or value. Some people believe that KM is a stand-alone program or project, but that is incorrect. Knowledge management refers to the explicit and tacit information life-cycle that runs throughout the entire organization continually. When implemented based on the right objectives, process clarification, and people incentives, KM:

  • Taps into existing expertise and experience
  • Enables better and faster decision making
  • Provides highly valuable process efficiencies that eliminate redundant efforts
  • Encourages communication of important information widely and quickly
  • Stimulates innovation and growth

Need more info on knowledge management and the types of knowledge that exist? Before reading further, brush up on the basics of knowledge management and why it’s important to your company.

Why Implement KM?

By setting up a successful KM process, a business can reduce costs, enhance productivity, and improve knowledge sharing processes among teams, managers and employees. KM focuses on managing business critical knowledge and, as a result, it helps improve efficiency and productivity throughout all work stages and managerial levels.

What’s at risk if you don’t implement KM in this ever-changing global economy? HR Magazine reported that Fortune 500 companies are losing up to $31.5 billion a year by failing to share knowledge. By proactively implementing knowledge management systems, companies can improve their chances for success by expediting decision-making, building more efficient learning environments, supporting innovation and inspiring cultural change.

Before a solid knowledge management plan can be created, it is essential to access or establish corporate goals, if they aren’t already created. Check out our informative blog on corporate goals here.

A successful implementation of a KM process demands an alignment between the strategic objectives of the organization and the process itself. Based on those goals, it makes sense to assess the information, tools and processes required for meeting the company’s knowledge management needs.

The best early steps in the KM process involve strategy, planning, and needs gathering, while later steps focus on implementation and continual development and improvement. The steps listed below will take you seamlessly through setting up a successful knowledge management program.

Step 1: Create Knowledge Management Program Objectives

Before defining a process, take the time to visualize and articulate your end goals. What do you hope to accomplish as far as how knowledge is captured, shared and analyzed? Start by comparing existing documentation of knowledge and procedures and then create a match to the skills and abilities required for optimum performance within your organization. You should be able to:

  • Conduct a skills assessment
  • Identify skill gaps
  • Establish appropriate program objectives
  • Document the business problems that need resolution

The best way to start is by writing a list of short-term and long-term objectives that address the business problems and support short- and long-term business goals. Short-term objectives should be able to provide validation that the program is on the right path while long-term objectives will help to create and communicate the big picture.

Step 2: Prepare for Change

Implementing a new knowledge management program may require changes within the organization's existing practices and shared values; changes that some employees may resist. Many companies decide that the more transparent they are, the better. Seeking out employees at all levels to get their input and views on the strategy, design and execution of intended process changes will maximize the best chance for program success. When it comes to managing cultural change, don’t be too proud to call on experts when necessary to help facilitate and roll out new plans and expectations.

Step 3: Define a High-Level Process

Effectively managing your organization's knowledge assets means you should start to form a high-level knowledge management process that includes detailed procedures and work instructions. Clearly documenting the process and the needs of all the departments involved is essential. Utilization of company-wide interviews, as well as gathering current documentation and procedures will lead to the most thorough analysis and subsequent development of new KM goals that are aligned with the company’s corporate goals.

Organizations that don’t clearly define their KM process are unlikely to fully realize their knowledge management objectives. Having a strong understanding of how knowledge is identified, captured, categorized, and shared will result in the most relevant and applicable end results.

These criteria are most crucial:

You may want to consider creating a dashboard to capture all the important data. Some knowledge management systems can be programmed to analyze the relationships between content, people, topics and activity and then produce a knowledge map report. This is particularly useful for information sharing. The dashboard can serve as an evolving, living document that reflects metrics across the company. An example of a basic dashboard is shown below.

Step 4: Define and Prioritize Technology Needs

Depending on the program objectives established in Step 1 and the process controls and criteria defined in Step 3, you can start to determine and prioritize your KM technology needs. Purchasing new technology may not be necessary at all if your existing technologies are able to meet your needs. You can also hold off on making technology decisions until after the knowledge management program gets off the ground and more specific needs are determined.

Step 5: Assess Current Business State

Once you've accomplished Steps 1-4, you are ready to assess the current state of knowledge management within your organization. An organizational analysis can be used to identify the current state of practice among an organization’s departments as it relates to the existing, documented practices and procedures. All pertinent documentation and data will be gathered at this stage.

A solid KM assessment should outline the core knowledge management components: people, processes and technology, while focusing on ways to learn and share knowledge in innovative and collaborate ways.

A typical assessment should also include an overview of the assessment, the gaps between current and desired states, and most importantly, the recommendations for reducing the designated gaps. These recommendations will become the foundation for the road map in Step 6.

Step 6: Know the Importance of Knowledge Maps and Inventory

Knowledge Maps and Inventories are tools that help show the connection between knowledge assets and resources that exist within a department or organization.

In this step, you will create a road map of related projects, with each highlighting specific gaps identified by the inventory. The road map can span weeks, months and years while capturing milestones and challenges to help inform future KM needs.

Being able to demonstrate your organization’s deficiencies is essential as you identify weak links in knowledge capital and indicate where critical knowledge may be missing.

As time goes on, be sure to review and update the road map based on company ups and downs, the ever-changing economy and new business priorities. For more detail on this step as well as other useful tools you can use to increase the flow of information in your KM program, download our free ebook.

Step 7: Implementation

Implementing a knowledge management program and improving the overall effectiveness of your organization will require significant resources and commitment. You’ll know you’re in good shape when:

  • objectives are clear
  • issues have been anticipated and planned for
  • processes and technologies are in place that will inform and launch your KM program
  • gaps have been defined and you have a road map to tell you how to address them

By recognizing and documenting short-term successes through each step of the roadmap, your program’s momentum will remain steady.

Step 8: Assess Effectiveness with “After Action Reviews”

Measuring how much a KM implementation contributes to business benefits can be a challenge because it deals with intangibles. How do you know your knowledge management program is working? After Action Reviews (AAR) are an effective approach for capturing the knowledge gained from KM initiatives. They involve reviewing a project after it is complete to analyze what happened. From there, you can decide what parts of the process to keep and what to change next time. As mentioned above, please check out our ebook which lists practical KM tools that can offer more detailed information on AARs and other methods:

When deciding on the appropriate metrics to measure your organization’s progress, be sure to cover these 4 areas:

  1. Quality
  2. Value
  3. Performance
  4. Compliance

This step is very important because it provides valuable insight into what's working and what's not. You can then take the necessary actions to improve quality, value, performance and compliance gaps, which will improve the overall impact of any knowledge management program.

Step 9: Make Continuous Improvements

Plan to be in a state of continuous improvement with additions and enhancements being made on an ongoing basis. Making use of appropriate new tools and technologies as they become available is key to any successful KM program. A continuous improvement approach to business activities will enable an organization to improve its competitive position either by increasing its revenue through improved relationships with customers or by achieving cost efficiencies through process improvement.

Step 10: Know the Power of Knowledge Management

Implementing a thorough knowledge management plan takes time and money, but the improvements and results are worth it, especially when risks can be minimized. Organizations who make this important investment in knowledge management often realize tangible results very quickly. They will often realize faster cycle times, enhanced efficiency, better decision-making and greater use of tested solutions across the organization.

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