Through a new series of posts, I developed this agile knowledge management alphabet primer to touch upon some of the key concepts, approaches, methods, tools, insights in the world of (agile) KM. And because there could have been different alternatives for each letter I’m also introducing the words I had to let go of.
A for After Action Review
After Action Reviews are one of the closest synonyms – in people’s minds – of what knowledge management is all about. And surely it is one of the sure fire methods to bring learning straight into knowledge management, where it is due. After action reviews help discover insights and – if carried out consistently – progressively instil a spirit of curiosity and openness to change, which is fundamental to KM.
A could also have been…
Agile – this whole blog is dedicated to agile knowledge management because agility refers not only to the business method of improving and rolling out softwares known as Agile Software Development but also, by extension, an approach of ‘safe failing’, failing fast, often and improving quickly, which again is the whole point of KM.
Authenticity – In your efforts to work on KM, authenticity is probably one of the best behavioural cards to play, because rolling out KM, whether a system or an approach or any combination thereof, is not easy and requires people to trust in you. Being authentic shows that you have nothing to hide and that people can believe in what you are saying and suggesting, that it is in their best interest.
B for Behaviour
If you take my definition of KM which is about conversations, documentation and learning, the first and third part have much to do with behaviour (change). Stimulating conversations and gearing them towards learning are both influenced by the current behaviour of the people involved, and are also influencing these same people to share, learn, document, engagement more… Behaviours are also what makes KM work so hard at times, because behaviours take time to change… But sometimes the seed of success is also in the interesting and different behaviours of positive deviants.
B could also have been…
Blogging – Blogs are seen as places of personal opinions, genuine, authentic sharing of thoughts and engagement. They have found their way in the typical arsenal of options for knowledge managers. And I personally totally see why.
Big data – The new holy grail of KM: since sharing knowledge is so hard and takes so much time, how about using data to getting insights that we need. If only it were so simple…
C for Change
Deep down, KM is all about change and change processes, only from the knowledge side of change. It’s about behaviour change, change in how people think, talk and work alone and together, change in how organisations use their knowledge assets to organise themselves and get better and more relevant at what they do, social change that brings vast communities together. And as we know change is hard, so KM is up against a real challenge but also one that is worth it.
C is one of the heavyweights of this KM primer. So many C-words could be essential to KM… here’s a few.
C could also have been…
Conversations – This is the second leg of my definition of KM and one that is central to another definition of KM stating that KM is about ‘increasing the quality and frequency of conversations that get your job done’.
Communication – Despite many people misunderstanding and mistaking KM for information management, there is a lot of communication in KM and that’s the reason why they come together in my work.
Curation – Part of the documentation is to curate information around us to be able to retrieve it and make it accessible to others at any time.
Culture – The hidden part of the iceberg that KM attempts to change.
Community (of practice) [CoP] – One of the most spearheaded tools (or approaches) for getting conversations that get your job done. And CoPs are facing challenges.
Capitalisation – In the francophone world ‘capitalisation des expériences’ is the closest thing there is to KM.
Complexity – What we face in ever more facets of our work and life, and one characteristic that makes KM so relevant in its attempt to connect us all together to better appreciate the intricacy of this complexity.
Cycles – The learning cycles that help us look at what we do in different, novel lights.
Related blog posts:
Enough were mentioned already, don’t you think?
But in addition, here’s this 2005 document from the World Food Organization ‘the ABC of KM‘ (PDF) that I thought was worth referencing.
D for Documentation
Following my definition of what KM is, documentation is another leg of knowledge management, focusing on information management and curation. But documentation is also about taking it to a personal and behavioural level, in order to learn (e.g. blogging!). Where discipline reaps rewards and inspires others too. In this respect, documentation
D could also have been…
Data – I don’t believe all too much in the logical model of DIKW from data to wisdom but data is – or can be – definitely an important part of KM. Data are surrounding us and part of the information management is to organise that data and turn it into information that is available, affordable and accessible. Under ‘data’ you also find databases and ‘big data’. The former were the object of the first generation of KM, while the latter is what preoccupies a lot of new knowledge managers now…
E for Engagement
Let it be said once and for all: KM is not just about the systems and tools, it’s crucially about people. Engaging people in KM is as important as -and I would argue even more important than- the information systems that hold the promises of big data… Engage for success! And there are many traditions of engagement to start from.
E could also have been…
Empowerment – Empowering employees or the people generally involved in a KM initiative is not always an objective. But sure enough it helps engage them in your general KM approach and with the tools and systems that it relies on.
Enabling (environment) – Management, funding etc. are all part of an environment in which knowledge gardening can really thrive. The culture is also a big part of this enabling environment if it emphasises curiosity, learning, openness, acceptance of others and of failure, empathy, humility etc.
Exit interview – After action reviews are one well-known KM tool. In the older tradition of KM, exit interviews are another one. How to make sure that a person leaving is not leaving with all their knowledge, network and more. This has been the object of fascinating debates on KM4Dev and I already reflected on this in the past.
F for feedback
Feedback and its specific offshoot ‘feedback loops’ are central to any knowledge management approach that puts learning at its centre. Feedback is -on a personal level- an essential piece in improving one’s actions and questioning frames of reference and mindsets. And it’s all the more important to make feedback an important part of KM that it is difficult to give feedback, and even more so to give (and receive) good, useful feedback.
Feedback loops, are to knowledge management processes what feedback is to interpersonal relationships, a way to build in signals giving indication of what is going well or not along the way. Feedback loops are essential to any learning system or approach. And the earlier they kick in, the better!
F could also have been…
Failure – What with the fail fair, safe-fail approaches and more. Failures in KM are not the holy grail, but they’re one sure way to learn from important mistakes and improve (feedback loops again). Fail fast, fail often, stand up again. Quick & dirty KM to get to the real thing. That is also the history of development cooperation.
Facilitation – Nick Milton from Knoco said it: the first skill any KM team should learn is facilitation. Without it, how to get the best thinking from everyone to make a KM approach work? And with knowledge sharing and learning at the heart of KM, there is just no way around understanding how facilitation helps and applying it to all collective endeavours.
Folksonomy – Taxonomies are an important part of information management, to agree on the terms that will help curate a collection information items on a meta-level. Folksonomies are crowdsourced -or at least user-defined- taxonomies that help users find content related to what they’re searching, using their language (rather than language defined by a corporation).
G for Gardening
Knowledge is a garden, and knowledge management is the gardening of that knowledge. The knowledge ecology that KM feeds off of depends on the sowing (starting individual or collective initiatives), fertilising (capacity development, innovation, monitoring around these), pruning and trimming (curation) etc.
G could also have been…
Gamification – An increasingly important approach in various areas, but also in KM the use of games or gaming elements applied to serious initiatives is a way to create buy-in where simple databases and manuals failed miserably.
Gains – Since KM is so much about behaviour change, the idea of gains must be central to any KMer, Articulating the gains, the win-win, the ‘what’s in it for me’ is essential for KM buy-in.
H for humility
Learning (the third and in my view most crucial element of KM) is an eternal quest towards recognising the limits of your knowledge and building our (understanding of our) world upon the shoulders of giants. As such it makes us humble about the wealth of uncharted knowledge that we still have to get familiar with. But humility is also about managing expectations about KM. Since knowledge management has so much to do with behaviours, it takes time to effect change and being humble rather than over-promising is a useful stance when you have to roll out a KM program. I mentioned in the past how the path to wisdom is paved with effectiveness, focus, humility and empathy.
H could also have been…
Honesty – This was the only other H-word I found useful in the realm of KM, though there must be more of these out there. In any case honesty is, for very similar reasons to humility, a useful quality to have in KM particularly when it comes to managing expectations, and making yourself and your work more acceptable by building trust (and trust is the truth.
I for Infomation (management, systems)
After the letter C, I is another one of the KM heavyweight letters in this alphabet primer. The choice here is large, as you can see from the other options below. But of course information should be sitting on the I-throne. Information is at the core of KM, both in the documentation side of things, on the personal learning side through absorbing that documentation, and generally because it is about codifying other peoples’ know-how and knowledge in ways that benefit a much wider group of others than would be possible through human mediation. Under information come also information management and information systems.
I could also have been…
Innovation – More than KM, innovation has really become the centre stage of knowledge work and some would even mention that of all KM generations, the new one is all geared towards innovation. For sure getting people to share knowledge and learn together brings them to innovate. If a culture of curiosity, safe failing, encouragement, daring is there, then the ground is extremely fertile for ongoing innovation capacity.
Institutional memory – Another of the classic entry points to knowledge management: how to make sure an organisation remembers what happened in the past and prevents reinventing the wheel all over again. This goes together with exit interviews but goes much beyond that to the collective records of an organisation or network.
Intention – The last I-word I would add to this list – more could have made it – but an important one: the sense of purpose, and the intention that is at the heart of the rituals of learning. Intention helps us get better and that is why it features highly in agile KM initiatives…
J for Journey
Any and every KM initiative is a journey unto itself and because it is a learning journey with no fully guaranteed results, the journey matters as much as the destination. It brings up lots of ideas, feedback, insights and more.
J could also have been…
Journaling – A great practice for documentation, journaling (as blogging is) has the potential of revealing deeper patterns that explain a lot of things. For KM, journaling on the KM initiative, documenting the process, and even impressions of individuals involved can be the difference between success and failure, between quick and slow, between good quality and sloppy.
K for Knowledge
Of course, what else? Knowledge is the capacity to turn information to action, and if it’s the sum of insights we have, but not a commodity that can be transferred. There are many (also visual) understandings of knowledge. I’m just offering my definition here. But knowledge is certainly what puts KM in a mystical world, as it relates to how our brains work and how we connect with each other to form a collective intelligence.
K could also have been…
Know-how – Next to what we know there are also many processes set know that help us to do things. Practical knowledge, hands-on, instructional stuff to move from theory to practice, including practice smarts.
L for learning
I wouldn’t leave the last part of my definition of KM as it is the most important one to justify the existence of knowledge management. And whether it’s about learning how to retain institutional memory or how to innovate, learning is the driving force to make us every better equipped to deal with challenges and to increase our capacity to adapt and anticipate, to be resilient etc.
L could also have been…
Leadership – leadership is the vision that drives initiatives, shows the way and rallies support all along. No KM endeavour survives without strong leadership and leading by example – and innovating. And this is true at all levels, not just about top management. The KM project leader, management and personnel alike must demonstrate that sort of leadership – but they can only do so if they have all been properly involved and empowered to do so of course.
Library – Libraries used to be the crude epitome of knowledge management in the times of old. The vast quantity of information that codified the knowledge of the ancients was so great that it’s no wonder the first era of KM wanted to mimic this in the digital world. But that was not enough. Online brochures’ advocates learned that at a high cost.
M for Management
Leadership is key in KM. But management is also very important. Managing change, managing assets, managing processes, managing tools and managing people to make sure all these elements work in synergy and support each other.
M could also have been…
Monitoring – Part of the management of KM is monitoring how it is going, collecting metrics that give indications of visibility, use, appreciation and gains in produce of any kind. Monitoring is at the heart of learning and thus of KM too – even though it is usually the reason why people give up on KM because it is so difficult to go beyond the use of information platforms and learning processes to point to what people are doing with it.
Meta tags – An essential element of curation are the meta tags that allow to describe a resource and make it easier to retrieve later through search.
N for Network
From networkshops to communities of practice and assessing networked value, from personal learning networks to engaging in social networks, networks are ubiquitous. The world of KM in 2016 cannot avoid this fact, and it explains why so much emphasis goes nowadays on distributed learning, on massive open online courses, on cultivating personal learning networks etc. Knowledge management always was a network thing in itself. It now hast just become utterly obvious.
N could also have been…
O for Open
If the ultimate goal of knowledge management is to connect and convert everyone to cultivating our collective intelligence, then a general state of Open-ness is central to it. Open knowledge, open source, open access, working out loud and all the rest of it.
The reality is still a bit more subtle than this: in certain areas where the mindset is not all that open, agile KM has to create safe closed spaces where progressively people can taste the power of Open, little by little, in smaller groups first. But open KM is almost a tautology.
P for People
In order to have any success, KM has to be about, for, and by the people. It’s the people that think, that feel, that identify, that explore, that analyse, that summarise, that rally, that use, that reflect, that unite, that live with anything that KM produces. Focus on the people, YOUR people and at least you don’t miss the most fundamental first step. Who are they? How will they think and feel and react about issue abc, system pqr, approach xyz? Let them help you!
P could also have been…
P is also a heavyweight letter, covering many rejected candidates:
Processes – In the KM heyday, people, processes and systems were the litany of KM heads. While this has waned to some extent, processes remain an important lens to see how the information (the content) is used and absorbed by the people, and how to organise workflows that work. And process literacy is essential to KM success.
Portals (expired) – For a long time many KM people were building portals just because it sounded like the right thing to do, until there was already too many platforms out there and it became cumbersome. Nowadays agile KM no longer looks at portals as the go-to solution, but rather looks at meta portals for helping the questioning process, such as with Quora or Wikipedia.
Patterns – An essential aspect of learning, and of complexity, patterns are necessary for knowledge management in that they offer ‘invisible feedback loops’ that can be used to inform how KM is doing and how all the people and elements around them are gelling or not.
And I could have also written about: platforms (covered in this primer through systems, portals etc.), pacing, purpose, personal, presence, participation…
Q for Question(ing)
Q has to be about questions and the act of questioning to find out what is the next quest, what is the new insight, what is the emerging feeling, what is the anticipated vision. Questions are at the heart of learning and (ever) adapting. Methods like ‘nine whys‘ are at the heart of agile knowledge management. So practice your questioning!
Q could also have been…
Quality – In some environments where KM is not so well-known, and where social media are questioned, as in my home country France, the quality approach is another term for parts of what KM tries to do, around information management and ensuring the right service at the right time for the right person. With quality comes also the idea of quality standards and monitoring processes, other elements that guarantee a certain degree of service that can be expected.
R for Rituals
Central to learning are rituals. And although in the industrial age rituals were perhaps partly eclipsed, they are gaining ground again in the network age, as a rediscovered attribute of ‘tribes‘ and of community gatherings. In KM, rituals entail both the ritual of a quality approach e.g. reviewing what’s out there and building upon the latest available information, but it also entails group rituals that mark important moments in the knowledge life of a grouping e.g. in(tro)duction of new staff, exit interviews, after-action-reviews, yearly learning retreats etc.
Here’s more about tribes from Seth Godin:
R could also have been…
Results, reviews and ratings – Results, reviews, ratings are all part of a healthy approach to any (set of) system(s) that are used, to better understand what is going on and what needs to be kept, tweaked or removed. In other words, use metrics to define your baseline, and then assess your end result through reviews, ratings and other tests that provide you with that data. And think about the functions you need for the results you wish to obtain.
Reinventing the wheel – I illustrated in a post about KM in cartoons this common challenge that KM aspires to tackle once and for all. Even though a small dose of reinventing the wheel is unavoidable and perhaps even desirable to tickle peoples’ curiosity and empowerment.
Role modeling – In any behaviour change approach, there are models that inspire others. These are the champions that lead the way, the positive deviants that discover smarter ways, the herders that pull everyone in a direction etc. Find out what are some of the role models you need for your initiative and see who can role model for you. These people can be your most precious assets.
And still R could also be… relationships (covered by people, and trust), reflecting etc.
S for Social
In the first era of knowledge management (partly disputed by these 7 ages of KM), all that mattered were information systems. But fast forward to 2016 and no one doing KM can pretend to do a good job when they’re not looking at the social dimension of knowledge management. And engagement and learning through the social interfaces is key.
S could also have been…
Systems – as in ‘information systems’. Yes systems are as central to KM as the social side of things. But I just happen to believe in the people using the system more than in the systems themselves. And not least because too many people got attracted to the idea of ‘be-all-do-all’ global information systems.
Sharing – Nothing new under the sun: information – and knowledge – are meant to be shared for any agile KM approach to thrivingly flow. HOW you get there is a different issue, but sharing is one of the archetypical expected behaviours of successful knowledge management (and knowledge sharing one of the three pillars of KM in my definition).
And S could still have been stealth (KM), scaling etc.
T for Trust
Knowledge management is not flavour of the day, and the reason behind this is that it takes time: to understand the situation, to imagine fit approaches, to build systems and crucially to build trust among the people that are part of an agile KM ecosystem. But trust is one of the cornerstones of sustainable knowledge management (and a great many other things)…Trust is the truth.
T could also have been…
Thinking – Because knowledge management is very much in the realm of logical reasoning (even though there is much place for feelings too) and because analysing, reflecting etc. are all avatars of thinking.
Tools – Another name for systems, but in knowledge management circles there is also a whole wave of people enthusiastic about tools, exploring them, playing around with them, understanding their value… before they may get turned into systems. That playfulness with tools is essential – without falling in the tool trap on the other hand.
Tradeoffs – As with any complex domain, knowledge management is about choosing certain things – or rather slightly favouring them – over others: information vs. knowledge, pilot vs. large scale, stealth vs. big bang, centralised vs. decentralised. So tradeoff thinking is a useful card to have in your agile KM deck.
U for Unlearning
Learning, unlearning, two sides of the same coin. In agile KM we have to let go of certain ideas, behaviours, aspirations, ways of doing things. And so unlearning is just as important as learning new things. Make room for what comes next.
U could also have been…
Unconferences – Wikipedia describes these so: “An unconference, also called an Open Space conference, is a participant-driven meeting. The term “unconference” has been applied, or self-applied, to a wide range of gatherings that try to avoid one or more aspects of a conventional conference, such as fees, sponsored presentations, and top-down organization.” And rightly there’s a place for these different types of gatherings in agile KM, because the gist of it is to let ideas flow, trust build, creative energy to get unleashed. It’s also about unlearning, and taking calculated risks… and that’s what agile KM is all about.
What would be your letter choices for this section of the agile KM alphabet primer?
V for Vision
Any agile KM initiative ought to start with a vision, even if having a plan does not provide a silver bullet and even if a vision doesn’t mean you are close to realising it. But it is an aspiration that gives you an idea of where you want to be (and by default where you are now) so it gives both some non-compromising view of what you’re up against, but also some aspiration and inspiration for where your journey should take you.
V could also have been…
Value – Whether the value of communities of practice, of a new portal, of a training or coaching program, of a series of meetings etc. the value of any KM initiative and of knowledge work has to be assessed, monitored and demonstrated.
W for wisdom
And I don’t mean it in the way the DIKW pyramid works (not), but rather the way continual learning sharpens senses and quickens the road to gathering wisdom (through effectiveness, focus, humility and empathy). Wisdom is about asking the right questions at the right moment, it’s about paying attention to the right people – it permeates all good agile KM initiatives or at least it is openly invited to nestle in such initiatives.
W could also have been…
WIIFM – The famous ‘What’s in it for me’ factor that shows where the benefit is. Without it, kiss your agile KM goodbye because the behaviour change involved with most agile KM initiatives is too high a hurdle for the people concerned if they don’t gain anything and/or don’t see what their personal gains can be. Articulate that WIIFM from the start, and prominently, without making empty promises. It’s part of the personal factor in KM.
Win-win – With the difficult promise of selling KM to anyone, the perspective of ‘multiple fits’ and of minimising tradeoffs (even though they are mostly unavoidable in the complex contexts where agile KM is set) is compelling. So win-win is crucial. And that means for instance web platforms that work for both users, managers and IT managers; or communities of practice that serve creative and productive purposes, or events that please patrons but also benefit all participants etc.
Web (stuff) – The inevitable expansion of connectivity means the web has become the space of choice for agile KM, even though face-to-face contact is not about to disappear and has much going for it. Still, the web is the reason why knowledge management came of age in terms of connecting learning etc. And the future of the web is proactive, and contextual.
X for X-pollination
Let me cheat here and use X as a cross 😉 Cross-pollination is just a convoluted way of looking at knowledge sharing across (institutional or other) boundaries. It’s the way institutional memory is built across project silos.
X could also have been…
X reasons not to learn – As mentioned in this blog post: X reasons not to learn, not to share, not to progress.
Y for Why?
Another cheat here – we’re in the difficult section of the alphabet he he he – but the point here is to keep on questioning, asking yourself why, educating your questions etc. Why is one of the most powerful questions one can ask. And at this it is one of the most important weapons in the agile KM arsenal.
Y could also have been… well… what, really?
Z for Zombies
I’m not talking about the dead-alive of the films, series and games, but about the people who attend poorly designed and ill-facilitated events. This is a good reminder that good, strong agile KM is about avoiding to turn more people into zombies in your conversations, meetings, events… Focus on learning, engagement, excitement and all that the letters of this agile KM alphabet primer have to offer…
Z could also have been…
Zen, zooming, zones etc. – But at this stage, I think I have explored enough alternative letters in this agile KM alphabet primer, which is coming to an end.
Let me know what you thought of this agile KM alphabet primer, in all honesty and with constructive feedback 🙂