How to “Bulletproof” Your Approach to Knowledge Management Strategy

Sam Puckett
October 24, 2022
min read
September 19, 2023
Photo credit
In their book "Bulletproof Problem Solving," Charles Conn and Robert Maclean outline how to strategize your internal knowledge management strategy. Here's how they do it!
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Knowledge management (KM) is one of three major factors affecting the success of modern organizations.

Despite these findings, only nine percent of business leaders feel they’re ready to pull the trigger on implementing a knowledge management strategy.

That’s bad news for anyone looking to champion a knowledge management strategy within their org. Especially since lack of buy-in at the leadership level is often a death knell for knowledge-related initiatives.

So, for KM workers looking to establish a knowledge management strategy, you should first focus on how you approach the strategy process itself. Because to overcome the odds, you’re going to need to be bulletproof. And as Charles Conn and Robert McLean write in their book Bulletproof Problem Solving, your strategy needs to begin with clearly defined problems and clearly actionable solutions.

By approaching our knowledge management strategy using the first three steps of their process, that’s exactly what we can do.

Begin by defining the problem(s) your knowledge management strategy needs to solve

Strategies are only as good as the problems they’re designed to solve. So, the bulletproofing approach we’re taking begins by identifying and clearly defining the problems you think knowledge management could solve.

And no, “lack of knowledge management” doesn’t work as a clearly defined problem. (Don’t worry, we got this!)

In general, problems that knowledge management strategy works to solve include:

  • Poor communication within the organization.
  • Siloing of specialist expertise.
  • Lack of organizational innovation.
  • Slow, convoluted decision-making and problem-solving.
  • Outdated or lacking business processes.

Even then, as part of the bulletproofing process, problems like the above need to be absolutely clear. And part of the crystallization process includes identifying the boundaries of each problem.

Conn & McLean recommend doing this through the creation of what they call “problem statements.”

Each should be specific and measurable (when possible), time-bound, and calibrated to stakeholder values and boundaries. And, despite being called statements, you’ll see each begins to read more as an outcome-focused question when fully defined.

For example, “poor communication within the organization” in problem-statement form could become, “By Q3, how can we decrease the number of monthly emails that X, Y and Z departments send to each other while improving their ability to collaborate in a measurable way?”

Now, that statement won’t win a Pulitzer Prize (probably). But you can see, when compared to the original, the example problem statement is more calibrated to strategically lead to potential solutions (e.g., let’s do some knowledge management). But don’t jump into solve mode yet. Problem statements need to be perfected.

Every aspect of your knowledge management strategy-to-come hinges on the quality of these statements. That, and expertly crafted problem statements justify the need for the knowledge management strategy itself. This means each is worthy of multiple rounds of critique and refinement before moving on to the next part of the bulletproofing process.

Next, reveal potential ways forward by pulling your problems apart

Problem statements perfected, you now need to figure out exactly why your problems are, well, problems. Doing so allows you to parse good potential solutions for your organization from good solutions in general. And as part of their approach, Conn & McLean propose doing this through the use of logic trees. Logic trees are simple ways to visually branch out the layers of a problem statement. And this branching reveals the levels and layers of each problem, which aspects of the problem are causes, and which are effects.

There are also different kinds of logic trees, and some work better than others for certain problems. For this reason, Conn & McLean recommend trying two to three different trees per problem statement to see which works the best for each.

(Source: Conn, Charles; McLean, Robert. Bulletproof Problem Solving)

How to “bulletproof” your approach to knowledge management strategy

A major part of logic tree construction involves applying MECE, the concept of “mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive.” MECE helps ensure the “branches” of your logic trees don’t overlap as you break problems down. This means each trunk and branch of each problem is self-contained (e.g., they’re each exclusive). Additionally, each logic tree captures an entire problem (e.g., each is exhaustive).

When a problem statement is broken down in this way, you can start solutioning. And at this point, don’t hold back. All the time you’ve invested in the problem-statement process means any potential solution will be relevant to your organization. But while all relevant, some solutions are always better than others, which brings us to the final step in bulletproofing your approach to a knowledge management strategy.

Finally, identify the best (of the best) ways to move ahead

Once you’ve branched each problem statement out as its own logic tree, it’s time to focus on some specific solutions. Because unfortunately, not every good solution will be a good solution for the particulars of your organization. So, choosing which to move ahead with is especially important. Practically speaking, knowledge management workers will always have more or less ability (e.g., influence) to enact potential solutions.

Additionally, the amount of impact knowledge management solutions can reasonably have within a given organization will also vary. For these reasons, solutions worthy of being included in your strategy should be both high in your ability to influence them and high in their potential impact. In their bulletproofing process, Conn & McLean accomplish this through the use of a simple, 2x2 matrix:

(Source: Conn, Charles; McLean, Robert. Bulletproof Problem Solving)

For each problem, plot out each potential solution based on how much influence the strategy owners will have in its implementation and how much impact it could have on the problem overall. Once done, it will be clear which high-influence, high-impact solutions belong in your knowledge management strategy.

Congratulations! You’ve bulletproofed the start of your knowledge management strategy

At this point, Bulletproof Problem Solving and the specifics of knowledge management strategy begin to diverge. No worries. You’ve now put more thought and effort into the foundation of your KM strategy than most folks do in theirs, entirely. That said, the remaining steps of Conn & McLean’s process do offer some high-level guidance for the KM worker.

Through the development of the rest of your knowledge management strategy, be mindful to:

  • Determine what resources you’ll need to put KM to work.
  • Detail which individuals should be responsible for certain tasks and who should be accountable, consulted and informed of others (RACI).
  • Summarize data and details to support problem statements, key points, and insights.
  • Ensure your strategy as a whole conveys a compelling story.

Even following a bulletproofing process, knowledge workers will still face challenges in trying to inspire the buy-in needed for KM to thrive. But paying extra attention to how you approach the strategy process itself ensures you’re setting the odds in your favor.

Consider increasing those odds by getting ahead of the challenges many face collaborating in hybrid working environments. For more help there, see how our article on hybrid working can help as your team works together on your knowledge management strategy.

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