Stephen Covey offers an insightful story in his famous Seven Habits for Highly Effective People. He had handed off the responsibility for mowing his lawn to his two sons. Both were very different personalities and tackled the job with a different approach. One tried to reduce the time as much as possible by planning his route and measuring all of the important angles. The other took his time and mowed in whatever pattern caught his interest at the time. Both results were acceptable – the lawn was mown at the end and Covey could relax and enjoy it.
Most companies don’t behave this way (particularly large organizations). They spend significant time and effort planning and optimizing processes. Completely understandable. Slower processes cost money by reducing capacity and throughput.
But at the same time, these companies find the first steps in knowledge-sharing programs challenging. When they start looking at knowledge sharing, they focus on what they are best at – optimizing processes. Getting access to knowledge more quickly (get a new tool!). Making it easier to document in the tools you have (get some training on your tool!).
The problem is that knowledge probably isn’t stuck inside one distinct process. Why? Because knowledge is weird. You can’t judge the quality (read usefulness) of knowledge based on how you create it. The quality of knowledge is judged by the person who receives it, either you or a person outside your process. Focusing on the process itself keeps us from seeing where knowledge is actually stuck – between people and processes.
That’s not to say that you can’t learn a lot about your processes by using your knowledge repository as a measure of process. But knowledge isn’t a process. It’s a deliverable. Given by you to someone else or given to someone else by you.
So, how do I get started finding where knowledge is stuck?
Start with an inventory of how the knowledge moves between processes. What activities are you doing that produce knowledge that you or someone else will reuse? Think about formal and informal interactions with other team members. Work backwards from the knowledge you provide to someone else:
- When did you create that knowledge?
- Where did you store it?
- What were you doing that resulted in the knowledge creation?
- Did you need knowledge to do that activity?
- If so, where did you get it?
Then, map out these interactions and see what knowledge is moving effectively through the organization and what doesn’t make it past a certain point. Don’t worry so much about the process that creates the knowledge. You can get back to that later. Look for places to improve by finding these points where you aren’t shaking hands.