KM, Continuous Improvement, Process Re-engineering, and Six-Sigma

Last week (January 28-29, 2015) I was in Amsterdam for KM Legal Europe, I provided some thoughts on that in my previous blog. Also in that blog post I mentioned that the subject of where KM fits with Continuous Improvement, Process Re-engineering, and Six-Sigma came up. We had a discussion about it, but we ran out of time and I’m not sure that we really came to any conclusions.

First lets start off with some general definitions/explanations.

While Continuous Improvement, Process Re-engineering, and Six-Sigma are all different activities and initiatives, and there are books and courses on each of them separately for the purposes of this blog post I am going to group them all together because for the purposes of this discussion their touch-point with KM is the same. So what are they? They are activities that have the objective of aligning organizational processes with the needs and objectives of the organization. They seek to remove inefficiencies and streamline work processes; they aim for standardization and the reduction of variability.

Knowledge Management, on the other hand, is about learning and sharing, and making sure people have the knowledge they need to do their jobs.

On the face of it, it doesn’t seem that there is much in common, but as they say, “the devil is in the details.”

Let me ask you this, “why do we learn?” and “what are we hoping to accomplish by learning?” Some organizations will say to be more efficient and effective, provide better customer/client service, to be better at what we do, whether that is provide a product, service, economic development, or something else. Hmmm…don’t those sound similar to what Continuous Improvement, Process Re-engineering, and Six-Sigma are all about?

There are many ways to learn, Stan Garfield compiled a list of 80+ activities that can be considered KM activities. Where does learning overlap with Continuous Improvement, Process Re-engineering, and Six-Sigma? In my mind, it’s in the Lessons Learned processes and activities. In Lessons Learned we are trying to understand what worked, what didn’t work, what we should do differently next time and what we need to do to make sure “next time” is better than the last time. That sounds like Continuous Improvement, Process Re-engineering, and Six-Sigma to me.

Now in Continuous Improvement, Process Re-engineering, and Six-Sigma we may actually create the redesigned process. Whereas in Lessons Learned we may recognize that the process needs to be redesigned or a checklist created or some other such outcome and kick-off a sub-process that does the creation. But the Lessons Learned process does do a check and ensure that the outcome was completed and implemented, thus closing the loop on the whole cycle.

I know I have over simplified this, but I do believe the two sets of activities are very closely linked, and I wanted to get across that it’s just a change in perspective that’s needed.

KM isn’t something separate from everything else, it’s a key component of everything and recognizing that makes the implementation that much more complete.

Notes from KM Legal Europe January 2015

I attended KM Legal Europe last week in Amsterdam; I enjoyed the conference very much. I got to talk with many of the speakers and attendees and learn more about what the law firms and corporate legal departments in Europe are doing in the KM space. I was impressed by their thoughtfulness and recognition of the fact that KM can bring them efficiencies and effectiveness as well as innovations and competitive advantage. They were a passionate group of practitioners.

While KM in law tends to focus on documented knowledge because of the nature of the sector and the need to track matters and precedents, there were discussions of lessons learned and sharing tacit knowledge too.

One of the things that (pleasantly) surprised me, was the discussion of automated document creation, when I have spoken with other organizations (not just law firms) about this technology they haven’t even known what it was, so to sit in a room where many were enthusiastic users was refreshing.

Other things that I found refreshing were the discussion of continuous improvement, six sigma, and process re-engineering. Again, all things that utilize an organization’s knowledge and especially, at least in my mind, the use of lessons learned processes and activities. This probably deserves its own blog post, as the participants were quite interested in this area and unfortunately we ran out of time.

One final thing that I found gratifying was the group’s willingness to not only share and learn from each other, but the interest in my experience working in other industries and sectors. They seemed to recognize that KM is KM and that they were behind many other sectors, so there were many things that they could learn from those who have gone before them.

All-in-all a wonderful few days with wonderful people, so glad I was able to take part.