KM made simple
Knowledge Management has little to do with computers or software. Computers and software are tools to help with knowledge management, just like meetings, or memos, or file cabinets are tools. You cannot “start doing knowledge management” now that you’ve got your software installed. KM is more about groups of people agreeing on the who, what, where, why and when, than about the tools, the how.
KM can be implemented from the top down, or the bottom up, as described in Working Knowledge by Davenport and Prussak. Davenport elaborates on the bottom up aspect in Thinking for a Living, pointing out that individual workers need help and support when learning how best to manage their information.
KM is about people knowing who to ask; it’s not what you know but who you know.
Every document is a template – it’s easier to edit than create. Spend some time making your spreadsheet more of a general template. Spend some time today so you can be lazy tomorrow.
Attractive things work better – whether it’s your desk or a user interface, as Don Norman tells us, or cleaning up the subway system to lower crime rates as Gladwell relates in the Tipping Point. Your program might be programmatically elegant, but if it’s ugly, people won’t like using it. So they won’t.
It’s got to be easy – the best KM solutions are baked-in and “contextual” and part of the job: If I click save, the document will be added to the archive and everyone will be automatically notified. If the solution makes things more complex, adds to the number of clicks, or requires people to relearn html every time they need to publish something, it’s not going to work. Remember, people lie, people are lazy, and people are stupid.
Use lists – lists are useful. Writing itself evolved in part from keeping lists of commodities. Information can be organized in many ways, as described for example, by Wurman in Information Anxiety 2, such as location, alphabet, time, category, and hierarchy. Use a couple of these and you’ve got a table.
Communities of practice – these are loosely affiliated, multidisciplinary or multi-departmental groups focused on a topic of common interest, exchanging information and ideas, and collaborating toward shared solutions. These are great ways of sharing tacit knowledge, and are discussed well in terms of KM in the Complete Idiots Guide to Knowledge Management.
Everything has a place – from the personal level through the enterprise level, decide where things go. Above the personal level, this requires consensus and agreement, not mandates.
You can’t tell people how they will do KM, they need to be part of the discussion, and part of the solution. Bowker and Starr in Sorting Things Out point out that every classification scheme will have “misc” categories, and will be subverted when it doesn’t fit a the real world.
Names matter – on a file system names are a piece of metadata. Notes001.doc is not helpful, Notes001_initial_planning _meeting.doc, is more useful.
File properties – with MS Office every document has file properties that can be used to add context and aid in re-finding. Take the time to write an abstract, fill in a title, include the author’s name and date the document.
Search – I don’t need to worry about bookmarking, or storing a shortcut, or designing an elaborate categorization scheme, if I can find it any time I want with Google, the command-line of the web.
Email yourself – come on, everybody’s doing it: your inbox is your information management system. So keep your emails, save your sent mail, learn how to use the email search tools. Yahoo Original’s email search is great, though the beta search isn’t as good. Outlook search is good too. Learn about email folders and filtering tools.
Send links not attachments – when you’re working on a document in process, or to allow yourself the luxury of editing the document even after it’s been published.
Send attachments not links – when having a static version is important.
It’s not always important that you “know it all.” It can be far more practical to know where to find it.
And finally, always carry a pen and paper. Maybe your pocketmod, or just the back of a receipt, but being able to capture those quick thoughts can be useful.
Entry filed under: KM.