Jeff Moffa and Lisa Merriam:
Too many knowledge management programs in the past have failed because of a mix of a faulty approach and the quirks of human nature. Large manufacturers in the U.S. and Europe are rethinking the model for managing knowledge from the ground up — with measurable success. These new systems are being built around these key ideas:Active and agile knowledge. The old knowledge library paradigm is too static. Knowledge is active, alive and has greatest value when used. It must be accessible, useful and relevant. Engineers don’t have time to stop what they are doing to dig for a manual — assuming they know where to look in the first place. Knowledge must push to workers in context.Accessible, complete and current knowledge. Knowledge is stored in a variety of disconnected documents that quickly fall out of date. An engineer may not have time to search for specification documents, best practices presentations and various spreadsheets of data. And if he grabs old parameters without realizing they are outdate, he may invest hours in a solution that is totally out of specification. Systems must make it easy for users to access a complete and current knowledge.Make knowledge capture part of the process. If people don’t have time to go search through documents, they surely don’t have time to create them. Efforts can vary in quality, depending on who creates them. Capturing knowledge, evaluating it, refining it and updating it has to be an organic part of the workflow — or it simply will not happen.Structured flexibility. Knowledge takes many forms and is used in many ways. An engineer might need materials specifications, dimension measurements, picture maps, work instructions and interdependency schedules to design a part. The system must be flexible and able to completely capture and structure that content for access and reuse.Reward knowledge contributions. Some people fear sharing their knowledge will make it easier to ship their job to China. Others take genuine pride in being the go-to person when someone has a question. A well-managed knowledge system uses such cultural issues to motivate, recognize and reward people for contributing. They create a virtuous circle of engagement, trust and use, with practical rewards that encourage more engagement and more use.