Above and Beyond KM A discussion of knowledge management that goes above and beyond technology.

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This publication contains my personal views and not necessarily those of my clients. Since I am a lawyer, I do need to tell you that this publication is not intended as legal advice or as an advertisement for legal services.
  • What’s Your KM Priority?

    Some law firm knowledge managers gathered recently to consider the ways in which knowledge management actually makes a difference for law firms.  We undertook this exercise as a means of identifying what our KM priorities were and what they should be.  To help focus our discussion, we considered the  following question:

    What single thing does your KM department do that has the greatest impact on your firm.

    (This question came out of an earlier blog post and discussion on KM priorities using the guideline If you were the only KM person in your firm, what would be your primary mission?) Here is what some of the members of the group said they were doing now:

    1. Being the firm’s institutional memory
    2. Breaking down information silos
    3. Facilitating information retrieval
    4. Maintaining the firm’s knowledge bank
    5. Sharing best practices
    6. Expanding adoption of KM systems
    7. Enabling collaboration
    8. Providing business process vision and leadership
    9. Enabling innovation and change

    What I found interesting about this list is that the various missions appeared to fall into two categories:  Information Management (items 1-6) and Firm Management (items 7-9).  Further, I left the discussion with the distinct sense that the knowledge managers engaged in Firm Management rather than Information Management were generally more optimistic about the impact and future of KM in their firms.

    What is your KM priority?  If you could do only one thing for your firm, what would it be?  Does it reflect a focus on Information Management or Firm Management?  Is that focus sensible and durable given what we know about basic KM principles?  And do you think that focus will weather the current economic uncertainties?

    Now, taking inspiration from the image of concentric circles above, what mission or project would you add to your portfolio if you could hire one more person?  What would they do?  And, what if you could hire yet another?  What would they do?  By building out incrementally in this fashion, you should end up with a more considered, coherent and powerful approach to KM in your firm.  Start with what you’ve identified as the number one KM priority for your firm and then expand as circumstances warrant and resources permit.

    The key to this approach is have at the core of your KM program a project or mission that delivers maximum positive long-term impact to the firm.  And then, to have the discipline not to dilute that impact by cluttering your KM program with projects and personnel that fail to deliver the same or greater impact.

    [Photo Credit:  fangleman]

    Published on March 30, 2009 · Filed under: law firm knowledge management;
    16 Comments
  • http://blog.tarn.org/ Mark Gould

    This is an interesting analysis Mary. For me there is an additional question that I think people need to ask themselves (whether their focus is on information management or firm management):

    Why are you doing this — what will be the outcome of your work?

    I suspect that the answer to that question may be more satisfying for the firm management group than for the information managers, which would be why that group was more optimistic.

  • http://www.jasonplant.co.uk Jason Plant

    Although I'm not a KM person, from another Legal support function I'd say that 1-6 and 7-9 aren't mutually exclusive. 7-9 surely are essential for a support function now to ensure that 1-6 can be delievered?

    In fact I could probably substitute 1-6 with specific Legal IT goals and then add 7-9 as they are in this list and it would support the specific IT list too.

  • http://blog.tarn.org/ Mark Gould

    Very important point, Jason. When defining what KM is for, we often forget to explain why a particular activity is knowledge management, rather than general management. If we fail to do that, we fail to persuade people that KM is actually a distinct function, adding value to the firm in a way that no other function can.

  • http://aboveandbeyondkm.com Mary Abraham

    You’re absolutely right, Mark. The “why” is every bit as important as (if not more important than) the “what.” Hopefully, the “why” question is answered collaboratively by KM and law firm managers and helps connect KM activities to the firm’s strategy.

    - Mary

  • http://aboveandbeyondkm.com Mary Abraham

    Jason –

    You’re right that these items are not mutually exclusive. Would it be fair to say, however, that while the last three items are essential for the first six, the reverse isn’t necessarily true?

    - Mary

  • http://aboveandbeyondkm.com Mary Abraham

    Mark -

    You’ve put your finger on a perennial problem: defining the boundary line between general management and knowledge management. It’s been suggested that in the early years, KM focused on managing information/content, but as the discipline has matured, we’re understanding that its principles can be applied to a wider range of processes beyond basic information management. Of course, this only leads to further blurring of the general management/KM boundary line…

    - Mary

  • http://www.nickmilton.com Nick Milton

    Interesting post, and interesting question

    If I were answering it, I would say

    “If I were the only KM person in my firm, my primary mission would be to work with the knowledge of most value to the organisationm and to solve the most pressing problem that hampers the full deployment of that knowledge”

    What I actually DID to work with that knowledge – whether I rebuilt the store of explicit knowledge, improved the communication of tacit knowledge, introduced the key technology to unblock the knowledge flow, introduce the crucial KM process that was lacking, or assign the key missing accountabilities – would vary on a case by case basis.

    I would not see my job as the provider of an off-the-shelf solution, but a troubleshooter looking to unblock the flow of the company's most mission-critical know-how

  • VMaryAbraham

    You’re absolutely right, Mark. The “why” is every bit as important as (if not more important than) the “what.” Hopefully, the “why” question is answered collaboratively by KM and law firm managers and helps connect KM activities to the firm’s strategy.

    - Mary

  • VMaryAbraham

    Jason -

    You’re right that these items are not mutually exclusive. Would it be fair to say, however, that while the last three items are essential for the first six, the reverse isn’t necessarily true?

    - Mary

  • Mary Brock

    Interesting list. Before KM was KM, I was the only worker in this field in my law firm — this was back in the late 1980's to late 1990's or so . I maintained the firm’s legal knowledge bank, dragged content out of people, was the firm's institutional memory (to some extent ) and facilitated information retrieval.

  • VMaryAbraham

    Mary –

    You've got a terrific vantage point for assessing the development of KM at your firm and others in your city Is your sense that law firm KM in Toronto is still focusing on Information Management, or has there been a shift to Firm Management?

    - Mary

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  • VMaryAbraham

    Nick -

    I like your image of the “troubleshooter looking to unblock the flow of the company's most mission-critical know-how.” However, it suggests a focus on the information management rather than the firm management side of things. Is that what you intended?

    - Mary

  • VMaryAbraham

    Nick -

    I like your image of the “troubleshooter looking to unblock the flow of the company's most mission-critical know-how.” However, it suggests a focus on the information management rather than the firm management side of things. Is that what you intended?

    - Mary

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