5 Pitfalls to Avoid When Implementing a Knowledge Management System
Due to its scope and breadth across an organization, the task of implementing a comprehensive knowledge management (KM) system entails significant risks. Cautionary tales abound of organizations that have all but bankrupted themselves in pursuit of an effective KM system, only to end up with a disorganized mess that ultimately did more harm than good.
Therefore, before embarking upon such an endeavor, it might be wise to review some common pitfalls and confirm that in each case an appropriate solution has been prepared.
1. The knowledge documentation is inaccurate
Knowledge resources are typically documented via procedures, manuals, and general “knowledge documents” (for want of a better term). If a given document is inaccurate, the time involved in producing that document is, at best, lost. At worst, a distinctly negative benefit may accrue, as others attempting to use the document are adversely affected.
Moreover, if the document is a procedure dealing with a volatile subject such as the proper operation of critical equipment, what to do in case of emergency, etc., this adverse impact could be severe.
2. Search tools are inadequate
A comprehensive KM system may generate thousands of documents. To facilitate user searches, this documentation must be properly categorized, indexed, and cross-referenced. In addition, a keyword search facility is usually very effective. Without such tools, the KM system may become little more than a large slush pile of data that users will have great difficulty navigating, leading to many wasted hours of fruitless “needle in a haystack” searching.
3. Access rules are not well defined
An effective KM system will not only provide access to the knowledge resources, it will also control access to these resources. The KM system will accomplish this based on a predetermined set of access rules. If these rules are not well thought out beforehand, conflicts, loopholes, and “back doors” may result that allow unauthorized access and/or block legitimate access.
4. The documentation update process is not properly integrated
Operational changes will require corresponding update of the associated documentation. This task must be performed rigorously and conscientiously, or the KM system will begin sliding toward obsolescence. However, many employees, including some in managerial positions, will view the requirement to update the documentation as being a bureaucratic annoyance that does little more than waste time. As a result, such updates may occasionally “fall through the cracks”.
A mechanism should be in place to prevent this from occurring. Traditionally, this mechanism consisted of a checkbox on a checklist, and/or a signature line, indicating supervisory confirmation of the update. A recent trend is for this mechanism to be enabled via software, as part of an application that guides and controls changes to business processes.
Of course, even with such mechanisms in place, it is still possible for an update to be overlooked. Therefore, as an additional check, general reviews of all KM documentation should be conducted periodically, independent of specific changes.
5. The system contains unnecessary documentation
The cost of documenting a particular knowledge resource is not necessarily related to the importance of that knowledge. Not infrequently, a relatively unimportant bit of knowledge will nevertheless be very costly to document.
Since a definite expense is incurred every time a knowledge resource is documented, it follows that in each case a judgment should be made as to whether the benefit from documenting that particular knowledge outweighs the cost of doing so. Not infrequently, this judgment should be “No”. If documentation efforts are not limited in this manner, development costs may quickly spiral out of control.
The pitfalls cited above, individually or in combination, have tripped up many organizations attempting to implement a KM system. However, an organization that gives due consideration to these issues, and is forearmed accordingly, will be well on its way to success.
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