The Right Stuff

A sidebar e-mail conversation with some thoughtful readers of my earlier post, Is Your Knowledge Management Strategic, raised the following interesting question: How do you find out if you have the necessary content and processes without doing a full-blown knowledge audit, yet how do you avoid the dangers of the knowledge audit?

Dangers, you ask? In the wrong hands, a knowledge audit is a bit like that old definition of a sailboat (i.e., “a hole in the ocean into which you pour buckets of money”). Knowledge audits have a way of absorbing and squandering resources. And they can go on and on.

Perhaps the right approach is more triage than audit. Once you know your business strategy, and have determined with the business folks what knowledge (both internal and external) is necessary to implement that strategy, then do a quick and focused check to see if you have the required content in logical places. Contrast this with a full-blown knowledge audit, which tends to be more like a comprehensive inventory of all your content and processes — whether or not they are pertinent to your business strategy.

The full-blown organizational knowledge audit is probably best undertaken just before you switch jobs or retire so that you at least will know the scope of the legacy you leave to your organization. At any other time, does it really matter how much content you have in your knowledge management system if you don’t have the critical bits of content that are required for operational success?

PS: If you’re still tempted to tackle a full-blown comprehensive knowledge audit, start with the interesting resources provided via the ever-helpful Knowledge Flow.

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5 thoughts on “The Right Stuff

  • July 17, 2008 at 7:14 am
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    Mary — I couldn’t agree more, with one addition. An audit can be useful at the outset of a KM strategy so that the difference can be gauged when the retirement audit is done.

    I have yet to be convinced, however, that a full-blown audit adds real value. In an business like a law firm, it should be fairly clear who is doing what, what is working, and where the obvious gaps or opportunities are. In the competition for limited resources, I would prefer to favour real action (commitment to new methods of knowledge sharing, for example) over contemplation (an audit).

  • July 17, 2008 at 8:15 am
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    Hi Mary Abraham
    I found your commentary interesting, and let us say thought provoking.

    As a professional Knowledge Auditor I naturally take issue with the general slant of your commentary.

    However, I will not ‘rush to judgement’ but accept your views as a genuine attempt towards a somewhat ‘pragmatic’ approach to true knowledge asset maximisation and management in a firm or an organisation.

    In effect, you seem to be advocating a position of ‘just get things done now, quickly and by the shortest possible route, cutting out or by-passing perceived irrelevancies’.

    Such an approach is of course appealing to many CEO’s and Senior managers.
    But within the context of knowledge management is it Wise? Is it Prudent? Is it Advisable?
    The history of KM FAILURES clearly suggests not.

    So, I do hope that you are not advocating KM ‘quick-fixes’. That would be deleteriously dangerous and could mislead many who are not wise or experienced enough to know that such an approach to KM will NOT ultimately benefit a firm or organisation, and the expected cost savings are very unlikely to materialise.

    With Sincerity
    Dr Ann Hylton
    Knowledge Auditing Consultant and Trainer
    KeKma-Audit

  • July 18, 2008 at 8:09 am
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    Mark –

    I suspect that there are some businesses (such as law firms) where it is harder to make the business case for knowledge audits. Many large law firms have full-text searchable document management systems, experience databases and other tools that allow us to locate sources of information relatively quickly. I agree that an audit at the onset of a KM effort could provide a useful baseline against which to measure the efficacy of that KM effort, but find myself wondering how many big law firms have actually undertaken one AND would recommend the exercise to others.

    – Mary

  • July 18, 2008 at 8:22 am
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    Ann-

    I’m pleased to make the acquaintance of a professional knowledge auditor. Given the overwhelming pressure I and my big law firm colleagues feel to be pragmatic in our approach to KM, I’d be interested in learning more about the instances in which large law firms actually have found that a full-blown knowledge audit gives a good return on investment. And, I suspect all my colleagues in this area would be glad for advice on how to ensure that a knowledge audit does not take more time, money and other resources that we cannot spare.

    We aren’t looking for quick fixes, but given the skepticism in some North American law firms about the value of knowledge management generally, we are looking for tools and methods whose value is easily demonstrable to our non-KM decisionmakers

    – Mary

  • July 19, 2008 at 10:19 am
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    Hi Again Mary Abraham
    Unfortunately I cannot personally give you “instances in which large law firms actually have found that a full-blown knowledge audit gives a good return on investment.” I certainly have never done a ‘full-blown knowledge audit’ of/for a large law firm.

    Yet, a properly conducted ‘full’ Knowledge Audit MUST by default, by necessity, give a good Return on Investment. If not, then the Knowledge Audit itself is useless, and I might just as well make my exit from this profession now.

    Further, why should we even talk of a ‘FULL’ Knowledge Audit. If it is not a ‘full’ knowledge audit it is an incomplete or partial knowledge audit, and as such the Knowledge Audit process itself has not been completed.

    ‘Full-blown’ Knowledge Audit aside, I venture to argue that there CANNOT exist any case where even a partial Knowledge Audit that has been PROPERLY conducted has not financially benefited the Audited Company. Meaning the money was well spent, with measurable ROI.

    Virtually every business, company and organization (worldwide) is afraid to ‘take-on’ a proper, full knowledge audit. As with law firms, Time and Resource pressure is usually cited as the main reason. In my experience Cost is not usually a big barrier, but rather is factored in among the main ‘excuses’.

    The majority of companies that do undertake a Knowledge Audit are happy to stop at the Questionnaire Survey and/or Interviews. They are not usually prepared to go on to the next important stage, the Knowledge Inventory and then on to the ultimate stage, indeed the crowning point and ultimate purpose of the Knowledge Audit, the Knowledge Mapping stage.

    Also companies have not yet developed the mature thinking or mindset of understanding the valuable, essential, and indeed mission critical role of the Knowledge Audit in a Knowledge-Driven Organization, in this the 21st Century Knowledge Economy.

    Like all change and adaptation, it will take time for companies to come to the realization that the (FULL) Knowledge Audit can no longer be just an option. Even this statement seems incredible to CEOs, CFOs and other corporate principals. But we Knowledge Auditors have to patiently work to build awareness, even if it is ultimately for the benefit of the next business and corporate generation.

    Finally, companies, including law firms, are truly missing out, by excluding the ‘full’ Knowledge Audit from their core corporate administration and operations.

    With Sincerity
    Dr Ann Hylton
    Knowledge Auditing Consultant and Trainer
    ┬ęKeKma-Audit

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