Knowledge (Part 2) – an enterprise-wide methodology

September 5, 2009

KM_Post_Quinn_AnyaIn Part 1 of this post I gave an overview to the process of levering knowledge and creating information (KLIC) in the workplace through carrying out a simple knowledge gap analysis or ‘information audit’.  This approach works well when levering knowledge from an individual or small group of people for a particular purpose. But what about an approach that can work across a whole organization as an ongoing knowledge initiative? I was prompted to think about this by a response from someone to the original post who admitted that a lot of this ‘knowledge’ stuff was confusing and was asking for a simple, practical and above all logical methodology or set of tools that could be used by virtually anyone in any organization.

Therefore in this post I will attempt to outline a metholodolgy for carrying out an organization wide knowledge initiative based on an approach that I have found to work very well in the past – the Quality Circle. The approach is fairly non-prescriptive and should be scalable for organizations of different sizes and with varying resources.

Quality Circles?

Quality Circles have for some reason gone out of fashion in the West although I note that Toyota still uses the approach. The approach is based on the simple premise that staff will be willing to contribute their ideas and experience in solving problems in their own areas so long as they are genuinely allowed to have their say, they can see that their ideas are taken seriously and that this all takes place within their normal working hours.

In order that it not be seen solely as a management initiative facilitators are drawn from non-supervisory staff and they are taught simple brainstorming and problem solving techniques suitable for use in a team setting. Problems can then be brought to the surface and knowledge levered from the team on how they might be best solved. If a problem was found to be caused by someone or something outside the team it would be noted and escalated to the proper person. It’s really as simple as that.

The main problem with this approach is that it requires real and ongoing support from senior management. Unfortunately for Quality Circles, in the West at least, they were sometimes seen as the only thing that you needed to do to ensure good quality in products and services rather than as a small, though important,  part of a much wider strategy. When they were seen as failing to deliver the goods as a stand alone approach Quality Circles quickly fell out of favour.

I have always considered this a small tragedy as, in my opinion, Quality Circles are not just a good way of solving problems leading to greater efficiencies etc. I also saw them as a way of empowering staff.  They allowed staff to have their say, to contribute and to use their brains.  I have always been amazed at the depth and breadth of knowedge that exists within some teams and have often been absolutely frustrated at senior managers employing consultants at exorbitant fees when I knew that we already had that expertise on tap just down the corridor at virtually zero cost.

Organizations that can effectively tap into such a reservoir of  knowledge will always have an edge on those that don’t. Solving problems early before they grow into major concerns will always benefit an organization as will removing some of the minor day to day irritations that can send staff crazy over time if they are not addressed.  However, in my  opinion, showing your staff that you seek and value their knowledge, experience and expertise can also pay major dividends through increased staff buy-in, commitment and loyalty.

‘Knetworking’ – An introduction

As any methodology needs to be called something I have dubbed this ‘knetworking’ which I am afraid is the best I have been able to come up with. It is, of course, a conflation of ‘knowledge networking’ which is a good short description of the proposed methodology.

In order to describe how ‘knetworking’ might work in practice I am going to use a very simple organizational model. The only extra, dedicated resource required is a ‘knowledge facilitator’ who should be the hub for all knowledge activities. In smaller organizations the ‘knowledge facilitator’ might be a hat worn by a member of staff for a few hours a week. For larger organizations perhaps a team of facilitators might be required. Whatever the resource available the ‘knowledge facilitator’ must be the single person responsible for pulling together and monitoring  all ‘knetworking’ activities. I would like to think that this activity might become part of the intranet responsibilities in many organizations as I think that it would be a good fit as detailed in my posts on the Enterprise-wide Information System. However, as you rarely get something for nothing in this world, extra resource must be made available to ensure that existing intranet activities are not compromised.

‘Knowledge’ – the traditional model

In order to explain how the methodology might work I am using a very simple organisational model (below).


As the activities in almost all organizations can be reduced to the input/transformation/output model, using this approach should make the model more generally applicable. You can see that it consists only of four areas, input (which might be material control, stores or customer information), two sets of transformation teams (which might be transforming different products or different stages in a product assembly or process) and output (finished products or services). Above these teams there are two levels of management. I have used this (too) simple model to hopefully make it easier to see how the methodology works and how the flow of knowledge around the organization might be achieved.

As you can see from the ‘traditional model’ knowledge flows generally only occur in an ‘up and down’ or hierarchical manner meaning that at the grassroots level teams and their managers have little idea of what problems other areas of the organization are solving and what innovative ideas they are creating and using to improve their processes. The buck stops at the highest level of  management who, theoretically, can pull together all the knowledge gained but this seldom happens due to the fact that a single person, or even a small team, can only do so much. Therefore top level management relies on condensed reports to aid decision making which comes up the chain of command from the grassroots and then communicates strategy decisions downwards.

This is unsatisfactory and inefficient on several levels –

– Knowledge silos are not just allowed to exist but are, in effect, actively encouraged

– The same problems are being solved again and again in different parts of the organization

– The knowledge, experience and creativity of staff members is not being accessed

– Innovation is stifled

– Reliance on documented information solely, whether this is electronic or hard copy, will never tell the whole story. Therefore, without human to human input, management at all levels will not be seeing the true picture and may be making important decisions based on partial data only

‘Knetworking’ – a methodology

So if the ‘traditional model’ doesn’t work what might?

Let’s look at the same model again.


This time, however, you can see that there are lots of red arrows linking all the teams at the same levels and blue arrows for links between levels. These arrows represent the periodic attendance by team representatives at other teams’ ‘solution sessions’ thus allowing knowledge to spread over time from all teams and to all teams . This approach essentially provides a ‘side to side’ approach to knowledge in the enterprise and also enhances the traditional ‘up and down’ model of knowledge flows. This ensures that good ideas and approaches to problems are not siloed and are made available to everyone across the enterprise.

How might this work? If you can imagine that a half an hour a week or every two weeks is set aside, perhaps as part of the team brief process, to look at the problems that a team is encountering and how they might be solved, as well as actively seeking suggestions for new ideas and approaches. All input,  tranformation and output teams will each be holding their own ‘solution sessions’ hosted by their own team representative who has been trained in simple knowledge levering approaches such as the fishbone (or Ishikawa) diagram, simple root cause analysis (5 whys), pareto analysis etc.  The only rules in selecting the representative is that they are not part of the supervisory team and should be seen by all team members as an ‘honest broker’.

However if these sessions are creatively timed it may then become possible for team representatives to attend other team’s sessions and report back. In this way members of the Transformation 1 teams can see what other teams are doing with the same transformation or product and communicate this back to their own teams. They can also see what problems and ideas the Transformation 2 teams come up with. This may be especially beneficial if the Transformation 2 team is ‘upstream’ in a process so that the effect of what the Transformation 1 Team is doing (or not doing) can be communicated.

At their next team’s ‘solution session’ the team representatives can then report back so allowing for ‘knowledge’ to be communicated across teams at the grassroots level. This process is also important for sessions at higher management levels too. Allowing members of teams at all levels to sit in may contribute greatly in ensuring that the correct solution for a particular problem is selected and may also help staff to understand the day to day problems that managers face.

‘Knetworking’ in your organization

As all organizations and their cultures differ there can be no single prescription for how ‘knetworking’ might be accomplished in your organization. The frequency of ‘solution sessions’, how long they should take and how they are to be facilitated in really down to what works for you. However, in my opinion, even if the approach is adopted using the minimum resource it should still provide benefits for your organization and its staff.

We need to talk now about the ‘knowledge facilitator’ role. This is probably the most crucial role as this function will be the ‘go to’ person for all things knowledge based as well as being responsible for providing a holistic overview to the whole enterprise-wide knowledge initiative.

The ‘knowedge facilitator’ must basically ensure that –

– All team representatives are competent and are trained to a suitable level

– That ‘solution sessions’ are timetabled so that team representatives can attend other teams’ sessions

– That periodic ‘knowledge summits’ are held where all team representatives can get together and exchange views and discuss the latest problems afecting their areas

– That a system of recording what goes on at each ‘solution session’ is instituted and maintained. This might be something as basic as a spreadsheet containing bullet points encapsulating the discussion or perhaps a data base which can be accessed by all team representatives

– That the knowledge data is suitably analysed and that a report on knowledge activities is pulled together monthly or quarterly to ensure that senior management are kept informed

And that’s it really. In these posts I have stated that knowledge leverage and information creation (KLIC) can be carried out in two ways –

– The knowledge gap analysis or ‘information audit’ dealing with specific areas and processes

– ‘Knetworking’ which is an ongoing enterprise-wide approach aimed at levering knowledge to solve problems and produce new ideas at every level of the organization.

What I have described above, and in the previous post, is really the skeleton of an enterprise knowledge system, it’s up to you to put the flesh on the bones and tailor the basic idea so that it works well for your organization. Relying solely on hard copy or electronic data only can only provide  part of the picture. It’s my hope that such an initiative will increase the flow of human to human information giving everyone a much richer picture of what’s going on in their organization.

(Thanks to quinn.anya for the superb Flickr CC photo)

4 Responses to “Knowledge (Part 2) – an enterprise-wide methodology”

  1. Nick Milton Says:

    Just for clarity, how does this differ from a KM approach involving communities of practice and Peer Assists?

    • patrick c walsh Says:

      Interesting question. Off the top of my head –
      Peer assists (if I understand the term right) are usually one off events held when a team is facing a specific challenge and they invite people who they think might be able to help with a specific problem. The big difference between peer assists and ‘Knetworking’ is that the ‘solution sessions’ are short, the process is ongoing over time and people who may not normally be invited will be attending. I am a great believer in ‘planned serendipity’, that is, creating the conditions where disparate individuals can be thrown together increasing the chances of something original coming out of the process.

      Communities of practice usually consist of people with a passion for the same thing and they are likely to include people doing the same thing e.g. a Finance CoP, a Quality CoP, an Engineering CoP etc. One of the main attributes of ‘knetworking’ is that it should cut across these lines and bring together people of differing backgrounds and interests.

      The ‘knetworking’ process would not exclude CoPs and peer assist activities, indeed I think that they might even enhance each other. In my view the attributes of ‘knetworking’ that CoPs and peer assists don’t cover is in making ‘knowledge’ activities a regular part of the workplace activities (and not making a big deal about it), being more inclusive in bringing together representatives of all workplace teams, using a kaizen approach to bulding up knowledge over time and, possibly most important, basing it on an approach (Quality Circles) that, in my mind at least, has been shown to work in the workplace.

      I’d appreciate your feedback on the above,

      All the best

  2. […] we have a real advantage but one that is rarely grasped. Organizations that effectively deploy simple knowledge techniques, integrated into an intranet team’s activities, will gain a considerable competitive […]

  3. […] June 2008 « The elevator interview – ultra quick intranet user research Knowledge (Part 2) – an enterprise-wide methodology » […]

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