Friday, July 07, 2006

Injecting knowledge management practices in the innovation process

To face new work challenges efficiently and effectively in evermore competitive environment, employees need
- to have access to information needed for performing their jobs
- to be able and motivated to use existing knowledge residing in coworkers, organizational routines etc.,
- to be able and motivated to create new knowledge,
- to store and share that knowledge throughout the organization where it is needed.

Driven by the realization that people and organizational know-how represents a strategic asset that can be leveraged for competitive advantage, the practice of knowledge management has become pervasive and ubiquitous across business environments. With the purpose of improving the organization’s efficiency and effectiveness through better decisions, organizations have started to consciously plan, organize, actuate and control activities that instigate utilization of existing knowledge and new knowledge creation which is needed in current and future decision making activities.

However, even though there is abundance of management interventions that are being introduced as knowledge management initiatives (i.e. measuring intellectual capital, building intranets, fostering collaboration in communities of practice, leading training programs, installing groupware…), many KM projects get abandoned as they do not deliver what has been promised (Chua & Lam, 2005; Davenport & Glaser, 2002; Stewart, 2002; Wing & Chua, 2005, Desouza and Awazu, 2005).

A growing realization is that companies reporting successful KM practices are the ones that inject knowledge management practices directly into business processes (Davenport & Glaser, 2002; Seeley, 2002; Desouza and Awazu, 2005). Namely, employees need to interact with organizational knowledge during their work assignments. The tasks conducted by a member of the R&D lab of your organization will differ from the work being conducted by a production engineer or the marketing analyst, or even the secretary. Following that, how and which existing knowledge is (could be) utilized and how new knowledge is (could be) created, depends on the work-context.

Smith & McKeen (2004) examined how different organizations have injected knowledge practices in business processes and, combining field research with previous literature findings, suggested a framework for doing that.

Consider a case of a company who brought knowledge management practices to its sales process. The firm redesigned the information system used by the sales managers and account representatives to accommodate their knowledge needs: account reps had been interested in trends and sales data for a particular customer and sales managers wanted to have composite information at hand. The system also dynamically linked people that were connected with particular customers, so they were able to socially construct new knowledge in person (Smith & McKeen, 2004).

Smith and McKeen (2004) suggest that injecting KM practices in business practice involves the following steps:
1) Focus on core business processes
2) Start with process redesign: IT/IS and KM specialists need both to understand capabilities and possibilities of “the other” side and understand how business process itself
3) Add KM to the process: organize and package codified and reusable knowledge, formalize common practices (i.e. of knowledge sharing), identify links to tacit knowledge.
4) Perform contextual analysis where knowledge from the process is looked at from a higher level or organization: where can that knowledge (or new knowledge, based on existing) also be used or repurposed?
5) Maintain and improve KM practices constantly.

How do these finding affect the context of our project?
Innovation itself is a process, too. In each of the innovation stages, generation, advocacy and screening, experimentation, diffusion and implementation, there is abundance of opportunities – or rather, needs - for injecting knowledge management practices. To foster innovation process successfully, companies need not only to be aware of the process’ stages and critical issues within those stages, but also consciously think of, develop and implement appropriate KM interventions. Only then will existing knowledge be able to get utilized and new knowledge will be able to get created, leading to more efficient and effective realization of each of the innovation stages.

Chua, A., & Lam, W. (2005). Why KM projects fail: A multi-case analysis. Journal of Knowledge Management, 9(3), 6-17.

Davenport, T., & Glaser, J. (2002). Just-in-Time Delivery Comes to Knowledge Management. Harvard Business Review, 80(7), 5-9.

Seeley, C. (2002). Igniting Knowledge in your Business Processes. KM Review, 5(4), 12-15.

Desouza, K.C. & Awazu, Y. (2005). Engaged Knowledge Management: Engagement with New Realities, Hampshire, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan.

Smith, H. A., & McKeen, J. D. (2004). Developments in Practice XII: Knowledge-enabling Business Processes. Communications of AIS, 2004(13), 25-38.

Stewart, T. A. (2002). The Case Against Knowledge Management. Business 2.0, 3(1), 80.

Wing, L., & Chua, A. (2005). Knowledge Management Project Abandonment: An Exploratory Examination of Root Causes. Communications of AIS, 2005(16), 723-743.

[Summary Prepared by: Pete]

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