Knowledge Management has been portrayed as being a direct descendant of the quality movement that started with W. Edwards Deming, and quite rightly we can trace many of the core tenets of KM to the various Quality Management offshoots. The concern for parsimony and efficiency, the analysis of work structures, and the interest in keeping libraries of best practices are all cemented in the foundations of both the Quality Management and Knowledge Management spheres.
It has been a source of concern however, if not irritation to many people that the focus on procedure and structure in the quality movement may have inadvertently displaced the human side of the equation, and that insufficient attention is given to learning and behavioral aspects. Sometimes the builders of procedures seem to forget* that processes and procedures are executed more in vivo than in silico, so to speak – humans would be performing the procedures rather than computers. (*Perhaps a legacy of the Taylorite turn.)
Many otherwise well-designed processes fail simply because they ignore that humans learn, do not always respond rationally, and may simply get bored (or take short-cuts as a result of learning). People require motivation, knowledge, and ability to perform a procedure, and no matter how carefully and how ingeniously a procedure is crafted, if it isn’t constructed to accommodate humans, it is bound to fail – sometimes with impressive results.
Knowledge Management on the other hand has the same basic QM background, but embraces more of the I/O Psychological understanding of humans, and pays attention to aspects of motivation and leadership, learning and knowledge-diffusion, and information-ergonomics. Think of it like the difference between the standard-model of economics versus behavioral-economics. The former presumes a perfectly rational and fully informed agent executing a self-maximizing schema, while the latter presumes a somewhat predictably irrational person who may also have biases due to either a lack of knowledge or preexisting beliefs, and may simply not be motivated to act as desired.
Bringing these two streams together again seems to have the promise of the benefits of the repeatability and predictability of procedure and the stability of established infrastructure libraries, with the human factors that can put knowledge, skills, and attitudes to work to achieve a desired or preferred end goal.
Previously, knowledge management was pretty much excluded from the world of quality management, but with the release by the British OGC of ITIL V3 in 2007, KM was overtly nominated as part of the core features, and specific processes in the Service Transition part of the ITIL Life-cycle Phases were dedicated to Knowledge Management.
This embeds a Services Knowledge Management System (SKMS) in the fabric of an operational services strategy, and while not part of the ISO20000 framework for Infrastructure or the ISO9001 Quality Management framework (and therefore not in the audit process for certification), would still be a highly convenient attachment point for expanding KM activities
There are two obvious approaches that one can take at this point – to view the relevance of the SKMS in terms of KM providing knowledge-bases for ITIL deployment and use, or additionally to view the inclusion of a KM marker within ITIL as a very expedient and advantageous eye to hook ITIL into a broader Enterprise KM approach.
Using KM only to set up ITIL Knowledge Bases seems like a bit of a waste of an opportunity, so perhaps the more productive approach would be to see how KM and QM can work together.
This can of course be viewed from both angles – a way to use KM as a vehicle to spread ITIL and QM concepts throughout an organization, or alternatively as a way to spread Knowledge Management practices on the back of the increased attention (and budget) that ITIL is currently enjoying.
Another way to picture this, is as co-infectious ideas – that is, memes that are compatible and which both act as adjuvants for each other, perhaps in a cyclical and recursive fashion. An organization deploying ITIL can gain by also spreading KM practices that extend beyond IT activities, and likewise an organization that has “caught the KM bug” could implement ITIL and gain far better advantage from IT both in cost-effectiveness of IT, as well as risk-reduction.
The potential advantages to ITIL and QM of this are many, but here are five of my favorites
- A better way to determine when to teach and when simply to present a job aid, since while people love to know, they don’t really like to be taught anything that is boring or not clearly relevant.
- A more effective deployment process that embeds learning in a way that increases transference by adding context and meaning.
- Highlighting the critical question of any process: “Yes, but would they actually do it?” and addressing the motivational and leadership aspects of informational behavior.
- Introduction of Information Ergonomics to make processes easier to understand, easier to find, and conveniently located in the person’s information ecosystem – putting regular or critical information as few mouse-clicks away as possible.
- Establishing networks and communities of people whose processes are related and giving them stakeholdership in the design and execution (and maintenance) of procedures and processes.
The challenge of course is how to avoid killing innovation.
That is my story, and I am sticking to it