When we think about measuring efficiency within a business, we usually think about fairly observable areas against which we can apply metrics and see change: profit/loss, time to completion of certain key tasks, sales pipeline progression etc. But the interesting thing about efficiency is that it’s actually comprised of so many more intangible elements found in everyday work and these are often overlooked in favor of more obvious cues.
One of the biggest efficiency drains on any organisation has to be the way in which critical knowledge for performing tasks is shared between the team members who do the work each day. Think about how information moves through your own organisation. While it might be different than this example, it’s likely that you’ll see some similarities to the following scenario:
- A team works on an important project
- Work is completed, those people move on to their next opportunities
- Some time passes and someone has a question about that first project or one very similar to it
- The team members, potentially scattered, are queried via any number of communication channels
- Responses might take days or even weeks—or the individuals involved may have moved on to other companies and are no longer within the organisation and thus their knowledge is lost
- The responses that come back may not contain the detail needed to fully understand the project or its intrinsic challenges
- Everyone says “It sure would be great if we had a better way to do this” because this is far from the first time this has happened
See anything familiar in there? If not, feel free to pull the ripcord on the rest of this article and share your secrets to success. But if so, you likely have—as many businesses do—some very common issues with knowledge management.
Knowledge management (KM) is an area of focus within a business concerned with the capture, preservation, and synthesis of information to provide future value to the organisation. In many companies, this manifests as an anecdotal history coupled with document storage that becomes diluted over time… or more embellished. Either way, details are often lost, but more importantly the value that is locked in those details is gone as well.
This kind of information is nothing short of actual capital—the ability to build on the work that’s been done before has a direct fiscal impact on operations and should never be overlooked. You might not be able to deposit it in an account but make no mistake—it’s equivalent to raw currency in many companies.
The business may have a process of producing case studies at the end of a project. But do those case studies accurately convey the learning and nuance of the process that led to that project’s completion? Or do they simply talk at a high level about facts and figures? The value of information is sometimes trapped in the minds of the individuals who worked on the process that created that information. And it’s not that they don’t want to share it—in many cases, they’re happy to pass it on—it’s just that there isn’t always a clear path to do so, or they may be in such high demand that their schedules don’t allow the time needed to create the right materials to ensure understanding of those important aspects of their work.
Now think about the time people actually spend tracking down the information or individuals they need to work more successfully. That time has a real cost, and it’s not intangible. It’s time that isn’t spent creating additional value for the business or thinking strategically about how to move forward. It’s administrative, it’s difficult, and it’s frustrating to those involved.
So we’ve got the value of the work we’ve already done being lost—and in the worst case, potentially duplicated without the awareness of what’s come before; we have individuals with important jobs to do spending voluminous amounts of time tracking down the people and materials they need to be successful in their current pursuits; and we have a problem of scale—small teams might be able to manage this to some degree, but a global business can’t.
WHAT DO WE DO?
We begin by creating a discussion about the real cost of not taking the right steps to preserve information in a way that serves our future needs. We talk openly about the challenges we have in leveraging the value we create in our work each day. We engage leaders in understanding that investment in the processes behind storing and sharing knowledge have positive cultural, operational, and financial impacts.
This is by no means a small challenge, but moving toward a solution starts with asking some basic, clarifying questions to understand the landscape of information in your business, and where a considered KM process can augment it:
1. Who needs to be included in the decisions around a KM solution? Identify key stakeholders, team members, and SMEs to build a cohesive view of how knowledge is used, shared, and preserved inside the business.
2. What tools and/or processes (if any) do we have in place now—and how are they working? Identify baseline systems, programs, and methods for capturing information and their related financial and operational costs to the business.
3. Where do we want to go? With that core working group, identify a clear vision for the future of the KM model that most aligns with the vision of the business—and get creative. You’ve got a blank slate… envision the most ambitious outcome possible.
At Endava, we see knowledge management as the next great problem to solve. It affects us all, and if we can do it well, the benefit is extraordinary. We’re actively thinking through what it means to work collaboratively in a global environment, and we’re focused on solving the right problems. We’ll continue to explore aspects of this topic in future posts, so keep reading as we embark on this journey.