Are You Creating Value?

Am I creating value? That’s the key question to start and end every working day.

For knowledge management professionals, it can be a tough one to answer honestly. Why? Because many of us struggle with proving the value of knowledge management efforts. We know that we’ve helped individuals, but we are often hard pressed to explain how much we have in fact helped.  For example, you might truly believe that the enterprise search engine you’ve painstakingly implemented will save lawyers time and effort, ultimately saving clients money.  But do you have any metrics to prove it?  Unlikely.  So how do you know that your search engine project creates value?

One approach is to sit next to your colleagues with a stop watch measuring the time spent on searches before and after your enterprise search engine is implemented. Then you should have the data necessary to prove value numerically.  But how do you measure user satisfaction? You could ask users to complete a survey.  With tools like zoomerang or surveymonkey, it’s almost too easy to do this.  However, the real challenge lies in how the survey is constructed and interpreted.  An additional problem is that it can be hard to coax busy lawyers to complete your survey.

If you’re looking for ways to show how much value you’ve created, consider the example of Morrison & Foerster.  On a page whimsically entitled “Geek Power,” the firm makes the following claims about their knowledge management program:

In order to take maximum advantage of the collective experience of our lawyers, we have developed a number of important knowledge management systems and tools.  These systems improve our efficiency.

AnswerBase. AnswerBase is our award-winning enterprise search engine.  The search engine enables us to access the firm’s best and most pertinent practice materials, internal research, attorney experience, client and matter information and other important firm information.  AnswerBase has won a number of awards, including an award from Law Technology News (“Best Collaboration in Implementing Enterprise Search”) and Citytech Global Tech Leaders Top 100 (“Law Firm Project of the Year”).

Knowledge Exchange. Our Knowledge Exchange database makes documents, forms, templates, precedent, briefs, practice materials and internal research available to all attorneys.

They back this up with an exercise they undertook in 2006 to prove value.  Specifically, they retained Bruce MacEwen of Adam Smith Esq to talk to MoFo attorneys about their experiences before and after AnswerBase.  According to Bruce MacEwen:

I was retained by Morrison & Foerster to lead an analysis and review of AnswerBase vis-a-vis its predecessor Knowledge Management system during last summer and fall, and reached the resounding conclusion that AnswerBase was strongly superior to the firm’s legacy systems, by providing highly relevant documents and discovering genuine subject-matter experts within the firm with impressive accuracy.   By interviewing a broad cross-section of lawyers at the firm’s New York offices, I was able to determine that the design and functionality of AnswerBase essentially replicate, as I put it in my report, “the way lawyers think” rather than reflecting technical considerations or limitations.

Admittedly, hiring someone of Bruce MacEwen’s caliber will be hard to justify for every small project on your to do list.  However, I’ve recounted this story to remind you (and me) that sometimes it makes a lot of sense to bring in an impartial third party to help you and your colleagues see what is right in front of you.  And if in the process you manage to demonstrate that your KM efforts have created value, that’s all the better.

[Photo Credit: Dave Elmore]

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