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Control 2007, Knowledge Management

Knowledge and team performance

I’ve written previously about the potential benefits of “Knowledge Management” and also commented on the extent to which it is a fad.  Peter Drucker’s comment bears repeating: “There is no such thing as Knowledge Management, only knowledgeable people”.

For many organisations, KM is limited to capturing and codifying information in IT systems.  Yet, all the evidence is that the majority of knowledge is “tacit”; i.e. in people’s heads as a consequence of what they have learned.  Trying to “put that in a database” is doomed to fail.  Clearly, use of IT systems to capture and share “information” has many benefits, but information is not knowledge.

I was interested to find a blog post on the Chartered Management Institute’s website titled: Is Knowledge Management essential or a white elephant?   This referred to a Harvard paper published in 2010 reporting a study into the impact of knowledge repositories on the efficiency and quality of work done by a team.  The research was done in an Indian software development company, so it is clearly risky to extrapolate the findings to other teams and other industries. However, it is an interesting assessment of the value of a systems-based approach to Knowledge Management.

This is from the report’s Abstract:

Using objective data from several hundred software development projects the researchers found that knowledge repository use has a positive effect on project efficiency but not on project quality.  Concentration of repository use, a form of within-team specialization, is negatively associated with project efficiency and positively related to project quality.  Finally, they found that in some cases the effects of both repository use and concentration of repository use are greater when teams are dispersed geographically or encounter changing tasks.

If I read this correctly, teams using a knowledge repository were able to improve their efficiency and productivity. This is very similar to the experience of Nimbus Control users who use the software as an “Intelligent Operations Manual” and find it really speeds up their ability to “find stuff”.

By “Concentration of repository use” the report means where use of the repository is limited to a few people, rather than being used widely by all team members.  So, the report says there is a small group of higher intensity users whose work quality benefits from this usage.  Again, that reflects my experience in several client organisations: we often find a few real enthusiasts who contribute lots of content to any knowledge system and get the most benefit out of using it. In marketing terms, these are the pioneers and early adopters.  The vast majority of users will contribute little to the knowledgebase and probably also make little use of it.

The final conclusion of the report says that such knowledge systems are of particular benefit when people are geographically dispersed on project teams, or where there is lots of change in a project.  This also makes sense; a technology solution really does help people connect, share and learn across different locations.  It’s also particularly helpful to enable people to keep up-to-date when there is lots of change (e.g. providing version control and change control).  So, teams that are geographically dispersed and whose projects are subject to lots of change improve both their efficiency and quality through the use of knowledge repositories.

All very interesting and my conclusions would be:

  • IT “knowledge solutions” can help improve productivity because people can find stuff more easily, but
  • Not everyone will be enthusiastic about using them (no surprise);
  • Those that do use them intensively, can improve the quality of their work, and
  • IT solutions are really helpful in projects to break down geographical barriers and to help manage change
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