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  • 5 January 2011 09:53

So here’s how you actually manage Knowledge Management…

"The solution would seem to be the description of both knowledge and best practice in terms of flexible procedures that may be modified according to circumstance."

By John England, Managing Director, Mindsystems Pty Ltd

While fascinating, the frequent conferences and reams of published papers on Knowledge Management seldom seem to come up satisfactory practical solutions.

Some suggest, for instance, that one of the most pressing needs for knowledge capture is in the area of open ‘knowledge drain’ when someone retires or leaves an organisation and it is difficult to identify a published practical solution to this problem.

First let us try to define two terms that seem key to the issue, namely ‘knowledge’ and ‘best practice’. The start point for both these definitions is the assertion that neither knowledge nor best practice is fixed, rather they are both transient and driven by circumstance.

So, what is knowledge? It is suggested that the formation of knowledge is related to Chaos Theory. Rather than saying the world we live in is chaotic, this theory says that from time to time patterns form from the cloud of randomly moving events. If we apply the same theory to the formation of knowledge we get:

Random Data and Information - Correlated Information - Knowledge.

The suggestion is that from the ‘cloud’ of random data and information patterns or ‘correlated information’ emerge, and that the visibility of these patterns is facilitated by the environment/circumstances. This correlated information can be synthesised into ‘knowledge’ that is relevant and usable in a specific situation. From this, it follows that what is ‘Knowledge’ today might be almost irrelevant tomorrow if circumstances change.

This same sort of argument could be applied to the process of problem solving and is certainly consistent with ‘Weak Signal Theory’.

But what is best practice? This seems also as ephemeral as a ‘best practice’ today can quickly become inappropriate as circumstances change. Admittedly some are more enduring, such as an approved procedure for sterilising surgical instruments. On the other hand the best practice for a dynamic situation such as fighting a fire is less straightforward. Certainly some rules can be established, such as never working alone, and checking breathing equipment. But many other factors cannot easily be predicted in advance.

The solution would seem to be the description of both knowledge and best practice in terms of flexible procedures that may be modified according to circumstance. In addition a properly written procedure can act as a more enduring guideline to produce a successful outcome.

If such procedures are described in visual terms then understanding and subsequent modification can become intuitive. Let's consider a simple, generic example of a typical business situation such as disaster planning. There are a number of clear categories and sub categories which should be considered when developing a such a plan:

1. Identify the types of hazards pertinent to your situation: a. Bush fire threat b. Internal Fire c. Natural Damage d. Data Loss e. Theft f. Etc.

2. Develop ‘What if’ strategies for each hazard.

3. Plan emergency supplies and equipment: a. Communications b. First aid c. Battery back-up lighting d. Firefighting equipment e. Plan equipment maintenance

4. People: a. Identify key roles and assign people b. List emergency contacts

5. Training: a. Key role training b. Evacuation c. Firefighting

6. Safety: a. Identify safe areas b. Establish escape routes c. Plan evacuation

7. Business protection: a. Plan equipment replacement b. Check insurance cover c. Plan location alternative d. Plan data recovery

This plan was developed graphically using MindManager 9 mind-mapping software, but even when translated to a simple indented list still has the following advantages:

It Is extremely easy to read and understand. Changes can easily be made to suit specific circumstances. Notes can be written for each heading. This forms the ideal basis for training and induction of a new employee. Outgoing employees can be asked to update the procedure, thereby capturing their knowledge and experience. When a graphical display is used (such as the original map created using MindManager 9) there are significant additional advantages:

• The flexibility of the software means easy review and updating. • Because the map allows “hidden” notes a great deal of specific information can be stored without cluttering the overall picture. • The software allows linkage to a Gantt chart which means review and development milestones can easily be established.

Of course this not only represents an example of dynamic ‘Knowledge Capture’ but is also the basis for a flexible 'Best Practice' procedure.

There seems to be ample evidence that traditional knowledge management procedures [often little more than gigantic piles of documents, either physical or electronic] are not effective. It follows that another avenue needs to be found and it is suggested that this ‘Knowledge Procedure’ approach needs to be explored in greater detail.

Mindsystems has been experimenting with these approaches for some time, and would be extremely interested in getting feedback on these ideas.

# The author, John England, is Managing Director of training and management consultancy Mindsystems Pty Ltd, reseller of Mindjet MindManager software. He has extensive experience in management and training in both multinational companies and the armed services. Twice John held positions as National Training Manager of multinational companies before starting his own company. Earlier his career encompassed the roles of low power nuclear reactor chemist and nuclear submarine officer.

John may be contacted at: +61.3.9999 1310 or jce@mindsystems.com.au

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