If you're reading this article, you probably know knowledge management is important — but that doesn't make it any easier for you to put a plan into action.
So many organizations struggle with implementing knowledge management processes because knowledge is only half of the phrase. If you don't properly execute a knowledge management framework, you won't be able to document, store or share any of that know-how.
Whether you're just starting with knowledge management or looking to improve your existing processes, we'll outline the practices and tools you need to build an innovative, knowledge-sharing culture in your organization.
What is knowledge management?
The American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC) might have one of the best definitions of knowledge management (KM) that any of us could ever hope to come across.
Here's what it says:
Knowledge management is a collection of systematic approaches to help information and knowledge flow to and between the right people at the right time.
As a definition, it’s so clear and simple.
Unfortunately, wrapping your head around actually putting a knowledge management process into practice is anything but simple.
Knowledge management (or KM) has been around since the 1970s. Its goal, more or less, is still in line with how the APQC defines it.
However, lots of KM information is very dense and academic. This makes it hard to approach its implementation from the outside in. So, think of what follows as a friendly and practical on-ramp for getting things going.
To put a knowledge management process into practice, you’re actually setting up and supporting a process that has four phases. Let’s break down what each phase is, why it’s important, and some ways you could approach it in your own company.
How to implement a knowledge management process
Phase 1 - Gather knowledge
Every knowledge management process should first start with the gathering of information. What’s more, you should start by gathering knowledge your organization already has. And you should do this through the use of formal knowledge management audits.
Formalizing the knowledge gathering through audits is vital to KM. Because regular knowledge audits help determine:
- The overall availability of information in your organization.
- The needs, gaps, structure, use, and flow of this information.
- The importance levels of this information (i.e., what’s important, and to whom).
- How your organization’s culture and capabilities help or hinder knowledge use.
Your initial knowledge audits also lay a solid foundation for the rest of the KM process to build on.
Audits should be conducted by a specified audit team. In addition to KM stakeholders, the audit team should include a healthy variety of perspectives and roles from the greater organization. This mix of roles and priorities helps ensure the auditing process encompasses a holistic view of where, how, and what knowledge is gathered. What’s more, a diverse auditing team will be better equipped to navigate access to the entire organization.
The audit process itself is usually conducted through a mixture of tools and methods. Some examples would be online surveys, individual and group interviews, analysis, and documentation through tools like Scribe.
Through these means, the auditing process should identify:
- Knowledge or knowledge efforts that are redundant or being duplicated unnecessarily.
- Gaps in knowledge.
- Where new knowledge is being created in the organization, and how
- Organizational Subject Matter Experts (SMEs).
- “Bottlenecks” that limit or prevent employees and departments from getting the information they need.
It should be noted here that audits should not be limited to problems and issues related to organizational knowledge. It’s important for the auditing team to document areas and processes that are working well. In doing so, KM within the organization won’t lead to additional issues. And these functional aspects of the organization can be codified and scaled as part of the KM process itself.
As for the actual output of the knowledge audit, form matters less than its findings. A thorough initial audit also ensures that current methods of knowledge storage are sound before new knowledge is added.
Phase 2 - Store that knowledge
Once acquired, knowledge needs a “home." And in knowledge management, storing knowledge refers to this phase in the process. Of course, by default, all knowledge is stored somewhere. So, more specifically, knowledge storage in KM refers to creating and using a singular home for everything acquired in phase 1.
Whether on or off-site, the benefits of creating a singular, go-to location for knowledge includes:
- Less time lost to searching for needed information
- Simplified security and role/department accessibility, especially for KM in highly regulated industries
- Streamlined quality control and info de-duplication
- Easier navigation of acquired info, especially at scale
Traditionally, knowledge for a given organization was centralized on-site. This could be a significant investment, but it certainly was convenient. Traditionally, on-site KM storage made it easy to secure the pricey physical hardware that stored an organization’s knowledge. But the increasing needs for knowledge management, coupled with the realities of a post-COVID workforce, are making on-site storage increasingly cost-prohibitive.
Instead, knowledge storage for modern KM typically leverages some form of data warehousing. These are specific types of data management systems designed to provide all the benefits of on-site, centralized storage (and more) with none of its limitations. In vetting options for “cloud-KM” storage solutions, make sure to look for features that not only support but potentially enhance each phase of the KM process, like recommendation engines, automatic translation, and machine learning.
Scribe uses AI to write process documentation for you — so you can create, edit, share and store step-by-step guides in minutes.
Each Scribe is auto-generated, complete with text and screenshots. All you have to do is turn on the extension or desktop app. Here's one in action.
Store Scribes in-platform, or embed in any of your favorite tools (all Scribes will universally update as you make changes)!
Phase 3 - Share knowledge
No amount of knowledge, acquired and stored, is useful if it can’t be distributed (i.e., shared). And while simple as a concept, KM distribution grows exponentially more complicated as the ways we all transfer, store, and present information evolve.
As part of the KM process, knowledge distribution refers to the ways acquired and stored knowledge can be distributed throughout the organization. And basic workplace tools, like email, video calls, and presentation software, are commonly used for knowledge sharing. But the KM management process also needs to account for the less tangible ways information is shared at work. For instance, there are timing implications: when knowledge is shared and how often. And with an increasingly geographically diverse workforce, technical details like language and language translation play a growing role in sharing knowledge.
For these reasons, specialized distribution methods are increasingly important as part of the knowledge management processes. Some examples include:
- Enterprise-wide KM wikis – Platforms that access or contain information but that also provide search engines, information structuring, and ways to customize access to info
- Learning Management Systems (LMSs) – Systems that leverage knowledge to train, onboard, and upskill employees through training modules, engagement analytics, learning paths, and course creation tools
- Peer-to-peer learning tools – Integrated workflow capture tools like Scribe that offer frictionless ways for subject matter experts to capture and share their knowledge both formally and informally.
Share Scribes via quick-links, email, easy-embed or exported into a PDF. And with Scribe Pages, you can combine Scribes with video, images and more in visual process docs, templates, manuals, SOPs or other work instructions.
Phase 4 - Knowledge use
The effectiveness of the previous three phases quickly becomes clear when an organization starts putting knowledge to work. Often, the impacts of the knowledge use phase are associated with “better decision making.” But, more specifically, knowledge used in this phase should result in:
- Increases to the speed and quality of decision-making.
- Increased agility within the organization.
- Faster problem solving (including time saved locating information needed to problem solve).
- The democratization of specialist expertise.
- Increases in innovation within the organization.
- More efficient and impactful communication.
- Improved non-KM related business processes.
- Upticks in both employee development and engagement.
And again, despite being the last part of the knowledge management process, the KM itself doesn’t end once knowledge is being used. Putting the KM process to work will, in itself, generate new knowledge. New knowledge which should then, you guessed it, be acquired, stored, and distributed for use. And because this ongoing process is so fluid, utilizing tools like Scribe benefits the entire knowledge management process.
The knowledge management process: Rinse, repeat, evolve
Now the knowledge management process isn’t just easy to understand. It’s also clear why, and how, it functions as a never-ending cycle. But even though the KM process will remain relatively unchanged over time, the environment it operates in certainly will.
This is why it’s wise for KM workers to stay ahead of the curve, keeping tabs on how KM tools are increasingly shaping modern workspaces (as opposed to the other way around).
For more help here, read about 11 Knowledge Sharing Tools That are Shaping Hybrid Work.