From KM Treadmills to KM Windmills and Beyond

A treadmill in a gym can do you a world of good. A KM treadmill, however, can put you in a world of hurt.

What’s a KM treadmill? That’s a question¬†Chris Boyd (Senior Director of Professional Services at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati) and I addressed earlier this week during ILTA’s remarkable hybrid webinar session that linked simultaneous live meetings of ILTA members in eight cities: Boston, New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Toronto. In our presentation (which reprised our highly interactive session at ILTACON 2017), we identified the following characteristics of a KM treadmill:

  • it takes dedicated attention and effort to run the program
  • it stops when your attention and effort stop
  • it often involves a great deal of manual labor
  • it usually requires nagging
  • your KM team dreads it

Does this sound familiar? When researching KM treadmills in preparation for our session, we discovered that far too many “traditional” law firm KM projects were, in fact, pure treadmills. Is it any wonder many law firm KM professionals are frustrated?

So what works better? We have a few suggestions:

KM Windmills

KM Windmills are not dependent solely on the efforts of your KM team. Rather, they find and use existing “energy sources” within the firm that others create and maintain. What types of energy sources do they leverage?

  • existing processes (e.g., new business intake process, pitch preparation process, etc.)
  • existing roles (e.g., having secretaries maintain practice group content)
  • existing technology (e.g., using experience-tracking database to augment precedent and expertise location, enterprise search that leverages existing knowledge stores, etc.)

Because they rely on energy sources that are prized and supported by other parts of the business, these KM programs can share the burden of maintenance and support with those other parts of the business. Of course, the more valuable that energy source is to the business, the less likely it is that your overworked KM team will have to shoulder the laboring oar.

KM Infinite Energy Machines

Moving from a portfolio of KM projects that are primarily treadmills to one comprised mainly of windmills makes a great deal of sense. It allows your KM team to do more with less by collaborating with other successful teams and projects within the firm. If you have managed to achieve this, pat yourself on the back.

Nonetheless, I would be remiss if I didn’t hold out the possibility of something even better: the KM infinite energy generator.¬† Extrapolating from the Buttered Cat paradox, a KM infinite energy generator is a KM system or project that produces such useful results that its main beneficiaries (outside the KM team) feel compelled to use it more and contribute even more to its continued success. And, the bigger it grows and the more it is used, the better it gets. Twenty years ago, this would have sounded like pure science fiction. However, we are seeing with machine learning the reality of computerized systems that learn from their own processes and then improve those processes.

Sustainable KM

If you are prepared to think differently about your knowledge management efforts, consider developing a sustainable KM program. Just like we have sustainability management in other sectors to reduce damage to the environment, a KM sustainability program aims to optimize KM efforts so that they achieve the highest benefits with the lowest collateral damage possible. For those interested in learning more about this healthier approach to KM, see my earlier article, Sustainable KM (in Thomson Reuters’ Practice Innovations, July 2016).

But wait, there’s more

During both this week’s hybrid webinar and last summer’s ILTACON session, the best part was the table discussions during which attendees shared their treadmill frustrations and their remarkable windmill successes. We learned of some innovative ways law firm KM teams have found to harness the winds of their firms in order to make their KM programs more efficient. This was a reminder that the oldest and most effective way to share knowledge is through conversation. We’re delighted that these sessions provided the impetus for some really helpful knowledge exchange.

[Photo Credit: Rhododendrites]

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