Implementation of a KM system

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Installing a Knowledge Management System within an organization


In concordance with the vast literature on knowledge management, plenty of different ways of implementing knowledge management have been proposed to date. There is a general agreement that, like any other initiative within an organization, successful knowledge management implementation requires a proactively managed project (a KM project), containing a number of different steps (sometimes defined as stages) to reach the KM goals. While the details and sequences of these steps may vary widely in different approaches, common principal features become apparent which are critical to the success of the KM project.

Obviously, such general guidelines can only provide a first frame on specifying the KM project. The approach will be strongly influenced by the type of organization, and ultimately by the singularity of the organization itself. This may call for tailoring the KM strategy and the tools deployed to the specific needs of the organization.

IAEA's suggested approach starts from a self-assessment designed to identify the current status of KM with its strengths and weaknesses, and compare it to a desired target level. According to the outcome of that assessment, a KM strategy can be defined, describing the KM goals to be attained, followed by one or more pilot KM projects. The KM project will involve key personnel in management and subject experts, and may well call for assistance from outside experts.

The description of the implementation starts from considering steps in a generic implementation programme condensed from the various implementation approaches mentioned above. Subsequently, approaches specific to some different types of organizations, namely Nuclear power plants (NPP), radioactive waste management organisations (RWM), research and development (R&D) and technical support (TSO) organisations, Regulatory body and Academic organization are outlined. The KM elements which are of particular importance for the type of organization are emphasized and expanded.

Next, the KM project's governance is adressed, which relates to consistent management, implementing cohesive policies, establishing appropriate methods/tools and providing the means of empowerment for a given area of responsibility. Closely related to these aspects are issues of documentation and reporting, which are shortly described.

Experience shows that many pitfalls beleaguer the way to a successful KM implementation. Some of the more serious ones are described at the end of the article.

Generic implementation stages in a KM project

For KM projects, a five - stage process is applicable as depicted by Fig. 1..

Fig. 1. Five stage KM implementation process


Orientation involves the understanding of basic KM concepts and the understanding of how KM can help drive change and increase organizational performance. The IAEA has done much to assist in this area and have produced significant reference material to help the initiation and education of managers and practitioners at all levels. In addition to the documentation listed in the References section of this publication, the IAEA has undertaken other initiatives to help with the understanding of KM concepts and the application of best practice. Such initiatives include:

It is extremely important that managers and sponsors understand what KM actually is, understand how benefits can be achieved and have a basic understanding of the techniques that can be used to facilitate improvement. Orientation may take several months to organize and deliver. A useful exercise at this stage is to benchmark the current KM maturity of the organization. The self-assessment proposed by IAEA provides a means of achieving this.

Strategy formulation

During this stage the organization begins to make plans on how to utilize KM approaches to help deliver the intended improvements or change. A good starting point here is to put together a KM policy or set of policies that will underpin future activities. This is similar to the approach that organizations use to implement formal quality management systems; in fact some organizations extend the existing quality assurance (QA) or human resources (HR) policies to address KM issues. Alternatively, a stand-alone KM policy can be prepared. Both approaches are equally valid and have their own merits. The main aim of this policy stage is to:

  • Consolidate initial ideas;
  • Communicate these ideas to others in the organization;
  • Gain commitment from senior managers;
  • Prepare the ground for stage 3 and future stages.

The policy document(s) contain top-level ideas and organizational beliefs but more detail is needed for the overall strategy and approach to be viable. This is best described by the creation of a separate strategy document or business plan that can be used as a means to guide a particular project or a series of future initiatives. This publication will usually be established by a group of senior managers responsible for the initiative and will involve many detailed discussions, meetings and workshops aimed to capture ideas from the main decision makers in the organization.

Once available in draft form it is necessary to distribute the document to all participants involved in the process to gain as much support as possible before the KM project launch process begins.

Design and launch

A successful KM implementation requires a number of prerequisites to be in place at the start of a project. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Does the project align with organizational needs?
  • Is the purpose of the project clearly defined?
  • Are the benefits understood and well communicated?
  • Is there top management support/commitment?
  • Is there a senior management sponsor?
  • Is a project manager assigned?
  • Are resources made available?
  • Is there sufficient ‘know how’ in the project team?
  • Is the knowledge sharing culture of the organization understood and receptive to the needs of the project?

Much of the above should have already been discussed and agreed during stage 2, however, there may have been changes or a significant delay in starting the project since phase 2 and some of these aspects may need to be revisited. A project specific plan should be developed which describes the project aims and objectives together with a timed plan of tasks and details of resource requirements. The project should be run as an internal change initiative requiring buy-in and support from top-level management. The exact details of the plan will vary from project to project but will need to reflect the benefits sought and the KM tools and methodologies to be used. Many initiatives at this stage involve the concept of a pilot project, i.e. a project with limited scope used to test the tools and methodologies before a full roll out commences.

Expand and support

This stage builds on the project launch in stage 3 and continues with the further implementation of KM in the organization. If a pilot project is adopted in stage 3, then lessons learned from this project are important inputs to this stage. Expanding the KM capability of the organization can be done in a number of different ways, e.g.:

  • Roll out of the tools and methodologies used in stage 3 into other, additional areas or departments of the R&D organization;
  • Extension of the KM tools and methodologies;
  • Implementation of new or additional KM tools and methodologies.

This expansion of functionality will invariably lead to the requirement for additional budget and resources. Further support from senior management will also be needed to ensure that the initiative is correctly focused and does not falter. If there are multiple KM initiatives to deliver in parallel it may be necessary to consider the adoption of a ‘programme management’ approach. This considers the cross project links between the various initiatives and addresses aspects such as interdependencies and priorities. Programme management is a topic in its own right and is outside the scope of this publication.

Institutionalize knowledge management

This stage is reached when multiple KM projects have been realized after many years of effort. KM techniques and approaches become a normal part of organizational activities and can be found, for example, integrated into the QA system (see Section 8). Cultural issues that may have existed following the introduction of KM projects will have been resolved and the organization will have a positive view of KM and its benefits. To reach this stage is not the end for KM in the organization but rather the beginning as with any other process; KM becomes part of the integrated management system and needs to be maintained within the cycle of continuous improvement.

Organization-type specific implementation aspects

IAEA provides guidelines for implementing KM in nuclear organizations, concentrating on aspects specific to different organization types. The following documents are available or to be published:

Similar publications for other types of nuclear organizations will follow.

Governance and project reporting structures

Governance for a KM project relates to consistent management, implementing cohesive policies, establishing appropriate methods/tools and providing the means of empowerment for a given area of responsibility. These should be derived and communicated via the strategy documents and project plans described above in stages 2 and 3.

The set up and reporting aspects for a KM project are very important and also relate to governance issues. Fig. 2 shows the typical reporting structure that might apply to any kind of R&D organization looking to implement a KM project. The project sponsor is a key member of top management with decision making powers inherent in his or her main role.

Fig. 2. Typical KM project reporting structure

The IT development team and Process development team typically come from the IT Department and QA Department respectively (but this need not be the case). Process development is an important aspect as most KM projects will result in a new way of working for many employees.

The Implementation team should come from the area(s) of the organization where the project is to be implemented. This could be department, group or location based. This is a very important representative group as the project success or failure will dependent on how well the recipient group implement and derive benefit from the initiative.

A Phase review team is an independent team of senior managers who scrutinize the project and ensure alignment with the R&D business. They meet on a regular basis (perhaps 3–4 times during the duration of the project).

Some KM projects may also require specialist input from other departments such as Human Resources, Training, and Administration etc. It is important to select the most appropriate team structure and individuals to meet each project’s specific needs.

Avoiding common pitfalls

Some common pitfalls that should be avoided when running a KM project are adressed. The list is not exhaustive and tries to address all types of project in all types of R&D organization.

Insufficient management commitment

Not establishing or gaining support from senior management remains the number one reason why many KM and IT projects fail to deliver their main objectives and benefits. Support in this context means more than just signing a NKM policy document, it means proactively taking part in discussions and using influence to overcome objections or other problems that might affect the project outcome. When establishing a KM project it is imperative to have allies at the top level in the organization willing to fight for the cause. Without this support there is a very high likelihood of failure.

Incorrect business alignment

Fig. 1. Alignment of KM with the top level goals of the organization

The implementation of KM initiatives that are not aligned to business needs will also inevitably lead to a high probability of failure. Alignment means relating KM methods and tools with the benefits that can be gained from their adoption. Fig. 1 shows how alignment might work in practice, with a clear ‘line of sight’ from the KM techniques to the benefits realized.

The creation of an equivalent model, tailored to the needs of the organization is a useful checkpoint for establishing correct alignment and project success.

Underestimating resource requirements

A common mistake that organizations make is to underestimate the resources needed for a successful KM implementation. The resources described here relate to the money and manpower required for effective delivery of projects. The main problem seems to relate to manpower. As KM is a people related topic, much effort is needed by:

  1. The project team to implement the KM tools/techniques;
  2. The experts in the organization who are often needed as part of the knowledge transfer process.

Although full time commitment to the project is not required throughout its duration, a significant proportion of time should be allocated and agreed with line managers before commencement. This may require some key individuals to temporarily suspend tasks or to delegate tasks to others whilst taking part in the project.

Failing to address cultural issues

Failing to address the significance of cultural issues is another area that many organizations often neglect. KM projects, by their nature, involve people sharing and collaborating with others. If the conditions are not conducive in the organization for knowledge sharing then this can be a major issue and a barrier to implementation. However, many of the problems can be avoided at project inception by selecting project members and experts who already possess qualities and beliefs that promote the sharing of knowledge.

Poor communication

Failing to communicate the objectives, benefits, methodologies and other aspects of the project to everybody in the organization can also lead to a difficult implementation. Every opportunity should be used to communicate using channels such as notice boards, web-sites, email, team meetings, newsletters etc. Increased leverage for the project can also be gained by communicating the aims of the project to clients, contractors and partnering organizations. As the project progresses it is also important to provide updates regarding milestones achieved and other significant accomplishments. An upbeat, positive approach works well that takes into account the other success factors in this section.

Underestimating implementation timescales

KM projects need considerable effort to establish and run. In many cases the tools and techniques will be unfamiliar and time consuming to manage. In addition to this, a new way of working may be required that takes participants longer than expected to master. These effects, combined with the resourcing issues discussed above, mean that most projects run late or behind the targeted programme. Delays invariably result in additional spend and frustration for participants. These problems should be envisaged when the project begins and adequate margins built into the programme. A key learning point is always to expect KM initiatives to take longer than might initially be expected.

Implementation success factors

The success of a KM initiative depends on many factors. The list below identifies some important factors. The list is not complete:

KM intervenes into work processes, a particularly sensitive topic, when many personal and organization specific factors may be involved.

  1. Top management support
  2. Job security
  3. Education & Training
  4. Knowledge sharing culture
  5. IT infrastructure
  6. Dedicated Resources
  7. Project Management
  8. Human resource management
  9. KM tools
  10. Network of experts
  11. Reward system and Recognition
  12. KM strategy and NKM policy
  13. KM Audit & Measurement
  14. KM Pilot Projects

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