Knowledge Management

Knowledge is “understanding gained from experience.” Knowledge management is getting the best knowledge to the right person at the right time.

Introduction

“Knowledge” is defined as understanding gained from experience—the know-how, know-why, and know-what people need to succeed. Knowledge management (KM) is knowledge put to work—getting the best knowledge to the right person at the right time.

For proposal management (PM) and business development (BD) professionals, this means capturing, standardizing, cataloging, and reapplying proposal content, lessons learned, best practices, customer-related knowledge, and deal-crafting expertise efficiently, easily, and appropriately—so it can be applied to the next opportunity.

The goal of KM is to help individuals and organizations improve performance and create value. KM is not data management, although it shares some of that discipline’s technology. KM is not knowledge for its own sake, but rather knowledge as an asset that has value beyond its initial application. KM is less about technology (storing and retrieving knowledge using databases and search engines) and more about the processes of creating, classifying, sharing, and improving what we know about what we do.

It also means identifying, testing, implementing, and perpetuating the best internal and external practices of our discipline. Much of the former is in a condition referred to as explicit knowledge (already captured and readily available for reference). The latter may be explicit in mature BD organizations, but is more often implicit (in the minds of practitioners). The goal of many KM initiatives is to extract the implicit knowledge of seasoned experts and make it explicit so it can be shared with less-knowledgeable practitioners.

Ideally, KM practices and procedures are well integrated into the culture and values of an organization at every level, and knowledge processes are purposefully aligned with organizational objectives. If so, organizations can leverage the power of both IT and human creativity to their fullest, adding value and improving organizational performance.

Knowledge reaches its full potential if it is shared efficiently and effectively with all who need it. By adopting and applying KM principles, BD and PM organizations can:

  • Convert tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge people can find and use when they need it
  • Turn disorganized information into reusable knowledge objects classified under a useful taxonomy
  • Learn how to share know-how, know-why, and know-what with others to improve performance
  • Distribute knowledge objects as valuable assets that improve efficiency and effectiveness

KM is indispensable—but it isn’t always easy. Three key challenges of successful KM, especially in the BD and PM worlds, are:

  • Choosing the most relevant knowledge from the sheer volume of information available
  • The variety of tools to manage that information
  • A cultural bias against knowledge sharing

To succeed today, BD and PM professionals must handle more information and develop and share more knowledge with greater speed and efficiency than ever before. Any plan for success depends on applying KM practices and tools to sort through information and determine which portions are true knowledge assets—viable for retention, codifying, and sharing.

A number of KM practices and tools are especially valuable for the BD and PM professional. To successfully implement KM, however, you should first distinguish between KM principles (the guiding concepts crucial to KM success) and KM tools, systems, and processes (the tangible assets that make KM work). In this chapter, KM guiding principles are listed in Best Practices 1 through 6; tools, systems, and processes are listed within Best Practice 7.

Best Practices

1. Gain top-management commitment and sponsorship.

Any KM initiative, regardless of size and scope, requires planning, funding, resource allocation, and organizational change management. The Knowledge Management Institute (KMI) calls this the “KM Improvement Imperative.” A key factor of success is a committed sponsor in an executive position. The KMI says that executive sponsors go through four stages before committing support to a KM project, illustrated below:

Stage Behaviors
STAGE 1: Awareness Becoming familiar with the concept of KM (executive briefing)
STAGE 2: Curiosity Hearing anecdotes that others are discussing KM (news feeds)
STAGE 3: Interest Receiving credible evidence that KM has been successfully implemented (case studies)
STAGE 4: Belief Becoming convinced that KM will transform the organization (knowledge audit)

Ultimately, KM requires culture change, an area where executive leadership is crucial. Without sponsorship at the appropriate level, even successful grassroots initiatives rarely permeate the culture of an organization, much less become sustainable cultural attributes.

2. Start small with quick, low-cost knowledge management initiatives.

Because the KM initiatives that can most transform an organization are often costly, time-consuming, and systems reliant, gaining momentum is crucial to KM progress. During Stage 3 (Interest), winning an executive sponsor hinges on the evidence you can provide that KM works in the real world. One way to gain that evidence is by creating, delivering, and evaluating small KM projects that require little in the way of cost or resources. To get started, ask these kinds of questions:

  • What kind(s) of KM do you practice today? Are these methods standardized?
  • How do people in your organization share knowledge with each other and with others outside the organization?
  • Do you retain knowledge about the particularly effective elements of your proposals?
  • Does your organization know where to go for assistance and knowledge?
  • How do you train people new to your organization? How do you ensure that they continue to adhere to your standard processes?
  • Do you have a systematic way of assessing what works and doesn’t during and after a project?

To brainstorm answers to these and more questions with your team, use a KM technique called the knowledge café or K café. Use K cafés to generate ideas for small KM initiatives that will immediately help your performance but not break the bank (or eat up participants’ time). Aim to capture 50 to 100 ideas in your K café, which should last about an hour.

3. Assess your knowledge status through external benchmarking and internal knowledge audits.

To know where you want to go, you have to know where you are. In KM, that means doing either benchmarking or an internal knowledge audit.

Benchmarking

Benchmarking is the systematic process for comparing your processes with those of other recognized leaders. Normally, you compare how well you are doing against others in the same field or industry and determine how to close gaps. You may also benchmark against internal best practices to discover the best way of performing a particular task or process.

According to American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC) chief Carla O’Dell, “sharing only internal knowledge and practices can lead to myopia and the self-delusion that you are the best.” That’s why benchmarking your performance and process against that of industry leaders is crucial for KM. To successfully benchmark, most experts say you need to do the following:

  • Prepare
    • Get management buy-in
    • Select your benchmarking team—people knowledgeable about KM
    • Determine what to benchmark and establish the scope of the study
    • Consider using a benchmarking partner, such as the APQC. Benchmarking partners are member-based nonprofit organizations that support benchmarking projects by connecting individuals with one another and with the knowledge they need to improve, championing methods of improvement, and disseminating
    • Determine how you will collect and measure data
  • Implement
    • Analyze performance and practices
    • Identify gaps
    • Identify best practices, processes, and tools
  • Follow up
    • Communicate findings
    • Establish, implement, and monitor action plans

Internal knowledge audit

An internal knowledge audit, or K audit, is a formal investigation to determine what knowledge is available, what knowledge is needed, what knowledge is missing, who needs the knowledge, and how the knowledge is applied.

A full K audit is indispensable to any KM strategy. The K audit can tell you where you have too much or too little information, whether the information you have is relevant, uncover where information is stored, show where processes or knowledge overlap, show where people are having difficulties keeping up to date with information, and discover communication gaps preventing the sharing of knowledge.

A K audit can use a variety of analysis methods, but the most straightforward and effective is the questionnaire or survey. K auditors identify the key practitioners, IT partners, managers, and other knowledge workers involved in the specified area of concern and survey or, better still, interview them. The essential questions to ask include:

  • What knowledge do you need to do your job?
  • What knowledge do you have?
  • How do you use this knowledge?
  • From whom or where do you get this knowledge?
  • Where do you keep it (is it explicit or tacit; what form does it take)?
  • What knowledge is missing (or is difficult to acquire)?
  • Who else needs this knowledge (to whom do you give it)?
  • Who else might need this knowledge that doesn’t get it now?
  • How do others use this knowledge (how does knowledge flow)?

There are hundreds of questions that may arise as you probe for knowledge. As a BD or PM organization matures, it may benefit by developing a complete KM heuristic. A KM heuristic defines a comprehensive series of questions for capturing explicit and tacit knowledge from the SMEs they collaborate with routinely. A KM heuristic provides a standard, repeatable path for a K audit and for obtaining the information you need to implement small and large KM initiatives.

A critical, final stage of the K audit is developing a knowledge map, or K map, that shows the location, taxonomy, and flow of knowledge across the organization. It brings a visual perspective to the people, documents, functions, and relationships that make up “a day in the life” of a particular knowledge worker or group. K maps can be as sophisticated as database schemas or as simple as a flow diagram, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Simple Knowledge Map.

Figure 1: Simple Knowledge Map. The K map visually depicts where knowledge resides, with whom it resides, and its flow to the knowledge worker.

4. Establish or join communities of practice for knowledge management.

Communities of Practice (CoP), according to Ms. O’Dell, are “groups of people (who) come together to share and learn from one another face-to-face or virtually.”

A CoP may be formal or informal, recognized or unrecognized, authorized or unauthorized. In its simplest form, a CoP is a group of people who share knowledge within a company. In its mature form, a CoP is a professional organization like APMP, spanning multiple integrated disciplines and industries.

CoPs differ from project teams in several ways:

PROJECT TEAMS COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE
Driven by deliverables Driven by added value
Defined by task Defined by knowledge with loose boundaries
Develop by managed plans Develop organically through connections
Bound by management Bound by trust and reciprocal contributions

According to Ms. O’Dell, CoPs have the following characteristics:

  • They help people solve everyday work problems through human connections and support mechanisms
  • They organize, manage, upgrade, and distribute the knowledge of the community
  • They focus on developing, testing, and distributing best practices
  • They develop innovative ideas and create new knowledge around the practice

5. Create a culture that rewards knowledge sharing and transfer.

Ms. O’Dell says that people naturally desire to learn and share what they know, yet knowledge transfer is a very difficult thing to accomplish in an organization. She says this desire is “thwarted by a variety of logistical, structural, and cultural hurdles and deterrents present in our organizations.” These include:

  • Lack of awareness. People with the knowledge don’t know others need it and those who need it don’t know who has it.
  • Lack of absorptive capacity. People don’t have the time or resources to pursue knowledge sharing.
  • Lack of preexisting relationships. People don’t share with people they don’t know or trust.
  • Lack of motivation. People may not perceive a clear business reason for trying to share knowledge.

To succeed in KM, you must have leadership, an incentive scheme, and a culture supportive of transfer. Otherwise, people have no incentive to behave differently. Changing culture means:

  • Creating a compelling need to change
  • Clearly assessing the current state of knowledge sharing
  • Designing initiatives thoroughly and gaining management and organizational buy-in
  • Preparing a good implementation plan to align support and resources

6. Create standards that promote knowledge repurposing.

Lots of reusable knowledge exists in most BD and PM organizations. The problem is that it’s not often ready to reuse. Almost as much work is required to understand and reapply knowledge as to rewrite it from scratch.

As BD and PM professionals seek to create reusable knowledge repositories, they need to create and adhere to strict standards to maximize reusability. Following these tenets of repurposing will help you create content standards that will save time and broaden repurposing opportunities in the future:

  • Store knowledge as individual objects. Knowledge is most reusable when it is built to discrete measures. Define the physical structure of your knowledge objects. Build them in small “chunks” that have a singular purpose and function. You will then have building blocks for a variety of repurposing situations; plus, these individual objects are easier to keep up to date than larger, more complex ones.
  • Adhere to principles of clear writing. If you follow the principles of clear writing, you will create knowledge that shares stylistic attributes. This will save time when you evolve to automating content in wizards and other self-service apps. Content built to clear writing standards automatically coheres and exhibits a single voice.
  • Think about future uses as you create new knowledge. Most of the time, busy BD and PM professionals only have time to react to the situation at hand. And when the current project is over, a new one is already upon them. However, making time to flag new knowledge with a potential “afterlife” is a way to kick-start knowledge repurposing.
  • Build a taxonomy that lets you label and associate related objects. All repositories need an organizing principle and hierarchy. Successful KM projects “work like users work.” Think about how users may repurpose knowledge (for what purpose, in what formats, to what degree of complexity) and build your repository structure to match.

7. Build the following knowledge management tools, processes, and systems.

Establish a best practices management process.

A best practices management process (BPMP) is a proven strategic KM initiative that aims to incorporate continual improvement into an organization’s structure, processes, and skill sets. In Common Knowledge, Nancy Dixon stresses that a successful BPMP depends on matching the right knowledge transfer approach to the receiving environment. For instance, you must consider whether:

  • The receiver is to perform similar tasks in a similar context
  • The tasks performed are of a common type (routine or non-routine; frequent or infrequent)
  • The type of knowledge being transferred is tacit or explicit and whether it affects multiple functions and organizations

The KMI identifies four stages to building a BPMP:

  • Acquire external best practices through benchmarking, competitive analysis, and communities and forums. Two technology enablers for this stage include intelligent search agents and text analytics.
  • Improve activities within a single internal process by building process knowledge bases that pull from a variety of sources and communities. This APMP BOK is a prime example of such a knowledge base for the proposal process.
  • Improve internal practices that span processes by leveraging internal communities of common practitioners enabled by portals and collaboration tools
  • Transfer best practices across multiple operating units performing the same functions to close performance gaps by building performance knowledge bases and training programs to facilitate knowledge transfer

 

Establish a lessons learned management process.

A time-tested KM strategic initiative, a lessons learned management process (LLMP), discovers or creates knowledge gained from experience into standardized organizational processes. LLMPs come in two types:

  • After–action reviews (AAR). Learning happens best when it closely follows the action that it references. KMI says than an AAR is “a candid, non-threatening discussion about the relative effectiveness of an activity as measured against the original goal or standard.” Based on the AAR, participants discover how to reinforce successful practices and improve those that fell short. The AAR process has four parts:
    • Intent. What were our planned objectives?
    • Outcome. What happened?
    • Gap. What were the differences and why did they occur?
    • Learn. What would we do the same or differently the next time?
  • Learn before, during, and after. This type of LLMP is self-evident from its name and is best suited for more lengthy projects. It draws from prior lessons learned across whole projects, and has three phased aspects:
    • Peer assists. Briefings on how to prepare to participate in an upcoming major or complex project
    • Action reviews. Feedback on experiential learning that occurs during the project
    • Retrospectives. Reflections and documentation of lessons learned after the project is complete (similar to proposal post mortems)

Unlike many KM initiatives, an LLMP depends less on technology as an enabler. All it takes is a repository to store lessons learned. Like most KM initiatives, LLMP depends greatly on culture change—creating an environment of sharing without fear of reprisals or loss of status.

 

Hold a knowledge café.

K cafés, a label used by the KMI, come in a variety of styles and formats. They are informal forums designed to facilitate brainstorming and build relationships. They all work in much the same way:

  • Large groups break into smaller groups at tables dedicated to a certain topic or interest
  • A moderator at each table kicks off the discussion and documents outcomes
  • Participants move as individuals or groups to a different table when the topic is exhausted or interest wanes
  • All outcomes are collected and published for further discussion and activity

K cafés are an excellent way to use groupthink to solve problems and stimulate innovations. APMP has used this KM initiative at annual conferences. Called the “idea market,” moderators spent 5 minutes presenting an issue to be solved or an idea to be tested. The moderators had predefined their topics on a flip chart, with a second blank flip chart ready for capturing discussion points. People interested in the moderators’ topics gathered around and commented on the moderators’ topics. Participants could come and go as they pleased. After 15 minutes, the moderator reset the topic so participants could move to another market or stay to continue the discussion. The knowledge gleaned was then published as part of the conference’s proceedings.

 

Create a knowledge management heuristic.

A heuristic is a mental tool that allows you to approach new problems in a systematic way. As mentioned previously, you can use a KM heuristic to establish a repeatable path for K audits.

As a K audit proceeds, questions and answers will naturally lead interviewers to probe more deeply. The KM heuristic provides a path for interviewers to discover deeper layers of information about the way knowledge workers obtain, use, and distribute knowledge.

Your personal KM heuristic will reflect your subject matter and the tools already in place at your business. As with any checklist, the KM heuristic is a living document that will shift as changes in your business occur and as you gain experience in KM. Unlike a checklist, the KM heuristic allows you to branch out on your own path of discovery as your probing follows the methods of the people you are interviewing.

 

Build and manage knowledge repositories.

Most BD and PM organizations have created knowledge repositories (also known as bodies of knowledge). Repositories allow organizations to capture and reuse knowledge so they can eliminate rework, reduce search time, and, if their repository is stocked with “clean” content ready for repurposing, improve quality. A successful repository:

  • Follows a thorough classification scheme. Unstructured content is a useless bucket of data: the knowledge cannot be easily found or reused. Building a taxonomy (a hierarchy of terms where lower-level terms are more specific instances of higher-level ones) for your content based on your particular business function is crucial for finding your knowledge assets.
  • Takes an object-oriented approach. A good repository is built up from the most discrete level of knowledge units you can create. A fundamental knowledge object (FKO) is a kernel of readily applicable information for your discipline. For a proposal team that responds to RFPs, the FKO is often the question and answer (Q&A) pair. For a proposal team that primarily creates unsolicited proposals, it might be a proposal section or subsection that you use every time. Do not confuse an FKO with boilerplate. Because they perform a discrete function, FKOs are easily customized for new audiences or purposes, while retaining the fundamental content you want to express.
  • Uses a robust search engine. If users can’t find the right knowledge, they cannot reuse it. Your taxonomy will help. Apply metatags to all of your FKOs to ensure your users can narrow their searches. Your search engine should also search text using single words and strings of words, plus allow searchers to use boolean operators (and/or/not/and not) to further restrict their queries.
  • Includes a way to measure usage and effectiveness of content. A knowledge repository can be an administrative nightmare if you cannot determine what content is useful and findable. Make sure you use an analytics program that can tell you:
    • Who your users are
    • What they search for
    • How long they take to search
    • What content they take away
    • Which metatags work and which don’t
  • Has a rigorous implementation scheme. Without guidelines for their governance, repositories can quickly become unwieldy data dumpsters—holding some of the information you need and a lot you don’t, with no way to tell the difference. Decide who will be responsible for managing and updating content.

 

Develop cockpit-style checklists.

Checklists—simple step-by-step procedures for discrete tasks—help reduce mistakes by keeping workers on track and overcoming memory lapses. They help workers be consistent and thorough. They even help with complex tasks and procedures: pilots use them, as do surgeons and nurses. They are excellent KM tools for BD and PM professionals because they:

  • Standardize repeated activities, like brainstorming or outlining sessions
  • Facilitate communication across working teams when they are together for brief bursts of activities, as in review teams
  • Remind project participants of important but easily forgotten details that can cause problems down the road (“Did someone remember to fill out the risk management assessment?”)

Checklists are easy to create because they follow a distinct pattern: put checkboxes on the left and actions and milestones on the right. They are the perfect KM tool for organizations starting out on their KM journey because they are cheap to create, easy to distribute, and simple to use.

 

Establish an expert locator tool.

An expert locator is an invaluable tool to help busy BD and PM professionals find the right person with the right expertise quickly and conveniently. It is a symbiotic KM tool because being included as a reference can enhance the reputation and value of its expert participants.

Advances in social media have given the expert locator concept a new, exciting dimension. People share with people they know and trust, and social media helps build connections among people with a shared interest. IBM has used an internal social media application called Expertise Locator to help its people network and find the expertise they need around the world.

Expert locator systems do not have to be sophisticated. Expert locators are also known as “yellow pages” because you can create paper references that work just as well, if not as efficiently, as computer programs. Or, you can build a flat database that contains key information in a few fields, such as:

  • Name
  • Location (for effective contact hours)
  • Reach number
  • Email address
  • Preferred method of contact
  • Functional expertise

As with any database for retrieving information, setting a standard list of categories for functional expertise is crucial to the ongoing value of the tool. For BD and PM professionals, this means having an extensive list of subject matter expertise you need to accomplish your goals. In fact, an expert locator fulfills its purpose particularly when you need a certain expertise rarely.

 

Use performance support systems.

Research in KM indicates that in the business world, most learning is non-instructional. That is, the traditional forms of learning—classroom training and even e-learning—are not the way people, especially BD and PM professionals, learn. Instead, when they need to learn about something or how to do something, they search the web. Here’s why:

  • It’s comprehensive. The entire web of knowledge is delivered after a simple search.
  • It’s immediate. Unlike classroom learning or e-learning, the web delivers knowledge when it’s needed with no lag time.
  • It’s relevant. Users can find what they need to know and ignore what they don’t.
  • It’s modular. Users receive “chunks” of information pertinent to their need and context.

The only drawback to this approach is that you never really know what you’re going to get. Is the knowledge accurate? Is it slanted? Is it up to date? Is it everything you need to know?

A performance support system is an internal alternative to learning via an online search. It has all of the four attributes just described, but improves on them by delivering context-sensitive learning to the user only when needed. Users never have to leave the application in which they’re working. Learning comes to them in various forms:

  • Modular e-lessons. Breaking out processes into discrete steps lets learners quickly find and review the information they need, and only what they need, when they need it. Lessons can be in the form of videos, job aids, voiced-over animations, and FAQs. An easy-to-see context and hierarchy for lessons improves upon the web-search approach. Plus, you can be sure to include only what is pertinent for your business or discipline.
  • Process-oriented knowledge repositories. Many companies rely on business process management (BPM) tools to deliver process steps, flows, commentaries, and simulations when users need how-to information. These may be off-the-shelf or homegrown, depending on the scope and complexity of your processes.
  • Wizards. Learning wizards help people learn by doing. They integrate best processes with easily reusable information within a macro, program, or app. They are especially useful for writing tasks. Users launch the wizard, which coaches them through the steps as they perform the work: writing a proposal, filling out forms, and other standard documents that draw from existing content.

Common Pitfalls and Misconceptions

Falsely equating KM with IT

Some erroneously equate KM with IT. Although KM is greatly enabled by database, communication, and computer technologies, KM will not succeed through technology alone.

KM is process. KM is standards. KM is knowledge quality. KM is continual improvement. Yet, more than anything else, KM is change management. Business culture is not naturally conducive to KM. It is as competitive internally as it is externally. Rewards are normally based on individual performance, and people know that their value to a company is often predicated on their skills and knowledge. When they share their know-how and know-why, they fear they dilute their value.

So recasting incentives, changing recognition programs, and instilling a culture of sharing is crucial to successful KM. IT can help deliver KM and simplify the development and sustaining of KM projects, but technology alone will not get people to share what they know.

Summary

  • Knowledge is “understanding gained from experience.” KM is getting the best knowledge to the right person at the right time.
  • Both tacit and explicit knowledge are best stored, managed, and delivered when converted to discrete digital objects
  • BD and PM organizations of any size, in any business setting, anywhere in the world can benefit from application of KM principles.
  • Most KM tools can be scaled or enabled by technology to meet the needs of all BD and PM professionals
  • KM is more about change management than IT

Terms to Know

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