KM Standards vs. Principles

Wow, it’s been a long time since I posted a blog; I’ve been busy working with new clients and I just haven’t had any earth-shattering KM thoughts to share; no ba in my schedule lately.

[Aside: I wrote this for a side-project that I’m working on, so it may eventually appear somewhere in another format.]

There seems to be a lot of talk about KM standards lately, so here are some initial thoughts I had…

What does “standards” mean? According to Wikipedia, standards are “any norm, convention or requirement.”

What does “principles” mean? Again, according to Wikipedia, principles are “a law or rule that has to be, or usually is to be followed, or can be desirably followed, or is an inevitable consequence of something.”

How are they different? Principles are abstract, whereas standards provide something to be compared to/measured against; standards are more tangible.

How are they the same? They can both be used to provide direction, guidance, and/or insight into a situation.

As with everything we have to come to a common understanding, a common lexicon. We have to figure out what terms and ideas mean in our own context and in the context of the organization or group that we are working with.

Does KM need a common lexicon? Yes

Do we need a common understanding of what KM is? Yes

Do we need a common understanding of what isn’t KM? Yes

Should we be inclusive or exclusive? I believe inclusive, knowledge is a system, and it has many interconnected parts, excluding a part means we don’t have an accurate picture of what is happening. If one of the goals of knowledge management is to improve an organization’s efficiency and effectiveness with its knowledge, isn’t  it better to have an understanding of the whole system rather than one pillar of that system. Decision making will be that much better for understanding the system; innovation will be that much more successful for understanding the system. While having a more holistic view may be more challenging it will result in more comprehensive solution; a solution that is more workable and accepted.

Do we need hard and fast Knowledge Management rules to live by? No. Knowledge is a system, an organization is a system. In order to be successful we must be able to adapt to the needs and requirements of each system. There is no one “right” way to “do” KM. KM has to be adjusted to the culture and nature of the organization. There are similarities among KM implementations, but no two implementations are identical, because the needs of each organization are not identical.

KM has to be by design to be successful.

Design thinking is characterized by being purposive; human centered; a balance of analytical and creative; uses abductive reasoning, i.e. inference from best available explanation; and iterative, it uses prototyping and play testing to achieve success.

Here’s how these principles are applied in knowledge management:

Purposive: we look at the organization’s strategy, goals, and objectives and assess how knowledge management best supports those activities. The knowledge management strategy outlines how the organization’s goals and objectives are furthered through the application of knowledge management activities.

Human centered: the best knowledge management implementations consider the people of the organization, e.g. how they work, what makes their work-lives easier, what the culture of the organization is like and works with those requirements to make the organization more efficient and effective in its knowledge processes and activities.

A balance of analytical and creative: KM should be a balance of analytical and creative. It should capture knowledge and make it reusable, but it also needs to leave space, ba, to allow for knowledge creation. This space can look like lots of different things, e.g. giving employees 10% of their time for projects they want to work on/explore, foosball tables, basketball courts, gyms, art/creativity space, and communities of interest; activities that encourage different connections to be made.

Abductive reasoning: this sums up the belief in KM in general. It can be very difficult to prove a causal link between improved knowledge activities and improved organizational performance, metrics and ROI continue to be a significant hurdle for many organizations. However, anyone who has experience with implementing knowledge management successfully knows that efficiency and effectiveness in an organization are improved through the use of knowledge management activities.

Iterative: successful KM starts small and grows. It starts with an over-all strategy and plan, but then moves to pilots, which bring in small parts of the organization, so that lessons can be learned and adjustments made as the people, process, and supporting technology are implemented across the organization.

In conclusion, KM needs principles, a common lexicon, and a common understanding of what is and isn’t KM, but it does not need standards.