Managing The Knowledge Portfolio
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Rick Dove, Paradigm Shift International, www.parshift.com,

In the agile organization knowledge management means having the right knowledge in the right place at the right time. If you have a Chief Knowledge Officer and this isn't the gist of the job description your company is paying lip service to the concept. Some of the issues faced by this responsibility are listed in Table 1.
   Having knowledge at the right time means it is available sufficiently in advance of when it must be utilized to allow for the application time. If it is to be applied in an area that is difficult to change then it must be available early enough to allow for sluggish application. Unfortunately an idea who's time has come generally has many lovers - speed of implementation is at least as important as speed of knowledge acquisition.
   Having knowledge at the right place means having it in a specific someone's head, not in the wrong person's head and not in an on line repository or a corporate library or a document file. Technology is useful to help people find resources that can help them learn the knowledge they require; but it is neither a substitute nor an alternative for somebody learning something. The knowledge management responsibility includes both a push and a pull side. Knowing who has knowledge is no more important than knowing who needs knowledge - especially in these early times when corporate cultures are not yet naturally collaborative and knowledge seeking.
   Having the right knowledge means managing the organizational knowledge portfolio to anticipate emerging needs, satisfy current needs, and weed out the obsolete needs - everywhere in the organization. I prefer using the phrase knowledge portfolio management to knowledge management because it conveys this strategic distinction and separates itself from the territory staked out by information technology departments and vendors. That the CIO is confused about owning the CKO responsibility is a measure of how urgently this distinction needs to be made.

Knowledge management means
having the right knowledge
in the right place at the right time.


In late 1998 I had an opportunity to join a team assisting a multi-cultural global corporation define its knowledge management strategy and architecture. In preparation I searched for taxonomies and frameworks that might provide a working structure for us. Though I found many useful discussions of the issues and elements of knowledge management information technology systems and knowledge management practices, it was evident that the field is young, still struggling for definition, and still looking for a place of natural ownership within the corporation. For wisdom without prescriptive direction, at least if you can turn a deaf ear to the obvious Lotus Notes bias, Working Knowledge by Davenport and Prusak offers a good working perspective for appreciating many of the major issues [Harvard Business School Press, 1998].
   In this search only two formal efforts stood out - one with substance and one with promise. The 1998 work by Holsapple and Joshi at the University of Kentucky is useful for its generic structural approach that stops short of arguable prescriptive methodology, and is an amalgamation of the thoughts and views of some 30 plus practitioners in the field. It offers a pure and simple structure that could be a useful armature for any organization looking for an uncomplicated start.
   Then there is the Knowledge Management Consortium (KMC) which is developing an aggressive and comprehensive model with the intent to submit it for ANSI/ISO standardization. This comprehensive modeling effort promises to include strategic aspects, social/cultural aspects, technology/engineering aspects, and organizational/complex-systems aspects. Members include current and would-be users of knowledge management practices, as well as consultants and vendors of technology support products. Local chapters are forming spontaneously, and their modeling progress can be followed at www.kmci.org. Though I question the value and motivation of ANSI/ISO standardization at this time, I look forward to a model with the breadth and formalism this group pursues, at least as a comprehensive strawman to guide implementation strategies.
  

   
Table 1: Some Key Knowledge Portfolio Management Issues
   

  • What's new and necessary to know changes quickly.
  • The value of what is already known changes quickly.
  • Some of what is known is obsolete and toxic.
  • Applying someone else's knowledge often has no glory.
  • Knowledge is often not in the heads of the people who need it.
  • Knowledge is learned, and there's no time-out for learning.
  • Different people learn differently.
  • Collaborative learning is best, but (usually) culturally unnatural.
  • Knowledge is not naturally mobile within an organization.
  • Large organizations are culturally diverse.
  • Large organizations are geographically dispersed.
  • KM and collaborative web tools are in their infancy.
  • What to know and when to know it is a vital strategic issue.
  •   
    Perhaps there will never be a generally accepted definition, structure, and organizational home for knowledge management. With its promise to play a central and deciding role in competitive differentiation, these questions may be best answered differently by different firms leveraging their own unique strengths and missions. From my experience, effective knowledge management in a major consulting organization with its high churn of MBA advisors bears little useful resemblance to what is needed in, say, an automotive manufacturing organization. At some generic level, however, there should emerge some useful theory and process.
       In the agile organization knowledge management is first about learning, second about application, third about purpose, and there is no fourth. These are ordered as prerequisites - it is of no use to have purpose if it cannot be enacted, and it is of no use to be action capable if people cannot understand the purpose and the means. Conversely, prerequisite skills can and do provide benefit even without or before the development of successor skills. In Table 2 purpose is represented by Requires and Identification, and learning is represented by Acquisition, Diffusion, and Renewal. Application is not represented in that table as it is about change proficiency, which is a separate but co-dependant competency that has been discussed here previously at length.

       
    Table 2: Knowledge Portfolio Management
       
      
    Important Distinction:
    Portfolio puts strategic emphasis on the dynamics of knowledge value.

    Working Definition:
    The identification, acquisition, diffusion, and renewal of all knowledge that the organization requires.

  • Requires is a key word. It assumes a timely evaluation of what knowledge is needed
    when and by whom to meet operational needs and strategic objectives.
  • Renewal recognizes that knowledge value degrades with time
    and can become toxically negative.
  • Diffusion recognizes that knowledge is understanding,
    that this occurs in peoples heads, and that it involves learning.
  • Acquisition recognizes that knowledge may be captured from internal
    resources, obtained from outside resources, or created by the organization.
  • Identification recognizes the dynamic nature of knowledge value and
    seeks to anticipate new needs in time to acquire knowledge and diffuse it.
  •    
    First About Learning

    Knowledge management is first and foremost about learning - what should be learned, when should it be learned, and who should be learning it. How these things are done, of course, is where the management part comes in. You can call it knowledge identification, knowledge acquisition, knowledge diffusion, knowledge renewal or anything else you like - in all cases it boils down to somebody learning something. And that's the rub - partly because learning is generally misunderstood as teaching, and partly because it's a squishy human thing that lacks the cold hard edge of black and white decision making and technology selection.

    Second About Application

    Applying knowledge requires a change. If knowledge can't be applied proficiently its possession is reduced in value. We recognize change proficiency in both reactive and proactive modes. Reactive change is opportunistic, and responds to a situation that threatens viability. Proactive change is innovative, and responds to a possibility for leadership.
       An organization sufficiently proficient at reactive change to respond when prodded should use that competency proactively to put others off balance. Those that are good at reactive change yet poor at proactive change are exhibiting symptoms of poor knowledge management.
       Using collaborative learning workshop groups we analyzed hundreds of business practices and process, as well as product designs, for change proficiency. It was evident early that there are subcategories or domains of change within both reactive and proactive categories. Eventually we found a natural order among these types of change that reflects priority and mastery as proficiency is developed, and structured this knowledge as a Change Proficiency Maturity Model (see www.parshift.com).

    Third About Purpose

    Knowledge management is a tool to support an organization's strategic plan. This is its purpose. Unfortunately many organizations do not have a strategic plan sufficiently articulated, or one that spans an appropriate time period, to serve as the sole guiding source document for the person or group charged with strategic management of the knowledge portfolio. Corporate vision and mission must also be taken into account when anticipating what knowledge will be needed for the future.
       Who is responsible in your group for knowledge management? The foremen, the supervisor, the manager, the director, the vice president, someone with a knowledge management title, or all of these people? What's your personal responsibility here? If you don't have real comfortable answers to these questions, where is your security for continued employment?


    1999 RKDove - Attributed Copies Permitted
    Essay #052 - Published 4/99 in Automotive Manufacturing & Production, Gardner Publications


    Would you like to offer some thoughts or add to the dialog? Your sending of a comment automatically grants us permission to edit and post at our discretion. Send your comment to
    ========= Reply =========================
    From: hnliwen@public.guangzhou.gd.cn (Li Wen), Date: Fri, 14 May 1999
    The measurement of knowledge management.

    ========= Reply =========================
    From: razak@razak.com (KENNETH R AZAK) Date: Wed, 8 Dec 1999
    I'm interested in a specific procedure or tool for developing knowledge portfolios and implementing knowledge management. Any suggestions?

    ========= Reply =========================
    From: (Rick Dove) Date: Wed, 8 Dec 1999
    You might look at "Knowledge Management, Response Ability, and the Agile Enterprise" - specifically the section toward the end called "Purpose and Portfolio Management" - which describes the procedures we employed successfully at the Agility Forum. The paper can be downloaded from:

    ========= Reply =========================
    Date: Sun, 2 Jan 2000, From: ssi_can@istar.ca (jack w. bonney)
    I find your articles to be very accurate and more informative than most.... perhaps you may find that there are 3 distinct functions needed to SUSTAIN any knowledge-based initiative in an organization:

    1. knowledge management program; policies, budgets, & schedules, as well as standards, and executive endorsement;
    2. knowledge transfer systems that can develop, deliver, revise, and control content (as well as few other key activities),
    3. knowledge legacy program: an innovative and economical way to provide a limitless supply of human resources to the overall momentum of the undertaking in order to ensure its continual success.

    We are currently implementing the foundation for such an integrated solution at the new airport in Inchon South Korea.... if you would like more information on the above, or this unique project, simply contact me and I will try my best to assist. Sincerely, Jack Bonney, president, SSI - Canada.

    ========= Reply =========================
    Date: Tue, 4 Jan 2000

    From: (Rick Dove)
    Thanks for the feedback, Jack. Your project sounds interesting. I'll be doing something similar in Malaysia in a few months, most likely, and look forward to learning how the cultural differences will affect the approach. Have you found any cultural adjustments to your normal approach necessary in Korea?

    ========= Reply =========================
    Date: Wed, 5 Jan 2000, From: ssi_can@istar.ca (jack w. bonney)
    In fact, I have found it necessary to develop an orientation guidebook for our prime contractor's consulting staff - the cultural topography in Korea is unlike any other country in Asia (of course, if everyplace was the same, they wouldn't have to pay me). When it comes to the application (i.e. knowledge management), people are typically the same everywhere: paranoid, insecure, afraid of something new.... but again, that's how the cost is justified. If you would like to get more details on what we have developed and the extent of the solution we are positioning ourselves to install, you can check out the following website: home.istar.ca/~ssi_can/km-book.shtml

    I will appreciate any comments you may have....thanks for replying....sincerely,
    Jack W. Bonney, President, SMART-TEXT SOLUTIONS INC. : <http://www.radiotower.com/ssi-can/>


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