Knowledge Management 101: Don’t Try to Boil the Ocean

Email this to someoneShare on LinkedInTweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+
Knowledge Management
When I first began to delve into Knowledge Management (KM) at UMT, trying to grasp the breadth of organizational knowledge felt like trying to catch an ocean in my cupped hands.

UMT consultants deliver client solutions that draw upon a variety of disciplines, ranging from Resource Management to Application Portfolio Management; they leverage expertise that runs the gamut of industry knowledge, from pharmaceutical to financial, and that dips into a vast pool of Microsoft tools and technologies. The need to manage this knowledge within an organization that is simultaneously expanding its workforce and market footprint has thus climbed up high on the executive agenda.

UMT perseveres on a quest to conquer its ocean of knowledge, and despite the challenges, I am continually amazed by the myriad ways that knowledge already flows through the organization. When I joined UMT, I began to manage our knowledge sharing portal, “UMT-Pedia”, to which consultants regularly contribute documentation on best practices and process knowledge within the various disciplines. Recently we launched the Service Catalog that provides a standardized framework for the client solutions delivered within the main industry verticals that we serve. But I have quickly come to realize that these tools do not fully quench our consultants’ thirst for knowledge and constitute just one piece of the knowledge-share puzzle.

Consultants at UMT seek quick access to information about their peers’ work; they often need to know about solutions being delivered in real time, as opposed to reading documentation after the fact. I have tuned into other channels to find that indeed there is also fluid and timely knowledge share occurring within our organization; UMT’s Future Leadership Team holds frequent office hours, inviting team members to discuss current business challenges or to present innovative solution approaches; process knowledge is shared ad hoc via our Yammer corporate social network; status updates are delivered by account teams at regular regional meetings. It is without a doubt that UMT’s current knowledge sharing practices – whether documented or verbally communicated, structured or unstructured – reflect an organizational culture in which high-quality, consistent delivery of client services is a top priority.

There is still certainly room for improvement, and this has served as one of several guiding principles for the recently formed KM team. Our first objective was to solidify a strategic approach to KM and to align executive thinking around this approach before improving our KM practices. Late last year we separately interviewed each of UMT’s partners with this objective in mind. There was consensus about the need for a unified online repository, a process that bakes KM into our cultural DNA, and a focus on the knowledge that matters most. On that last point, several partners repeated the same mantra: “Don’t try to boil the ocean.”

Selecting which organizational knowledge to focus on felt both relieving and confounding; though it narrowed the scope of KM, it left us with some puzzling questions at first. Where do you draw the line between “must-have” and “nice-to-have” organizational knowledge? What do you tackle first? In time, our team discussions lead to a two-pronged framework: “Governed” versus “Democratic” Knowledge. While best practice knowledge might need to be properly vetted or “governed,” the “democratic” knowledge could be added to the portal without an approval process. As we avoid boiling each client solution down to a best practice, we can facilitate timely awareness of these solutions. Our next steps are to pilot these two approaches in parallel.

So far Knowledge Management has proven to be a complex and evolving endeavor but also one that holds high value. Aligned with UMT’s top management, I believe that KM can be a competitive differentiator at the business level; in working with our consultants, I see the tremendous value-add at the grassroots level, since these resources can help lay the foundation for client work. While I internalize messages like “don’t try to boil the ocean,” I strive to stay flexible and open-minded as I proceed on the KM quest at UMT. I am confident that continuing to adapt to the organization’s needs will ensure the sustainability and success of UMT’s evolving KM program.