Putting on my knowledge management helmet for a minute, I've been asked the following question at least a half-dozen times this week: "What knowledge should we capture in my organization?" I don't think the question stems from skepticism about "KM" (of which there is plenty and there SHOULD be), rather I think it's the size of the task that training, HR and operations folks are tasked with. If you can't figure out the answer to "what" then it's darn near impossible to figure out the right method or technology to support a project in the area. Some thoughts on information capture follow:
Determining Processes and Activities That Merit Capture
Since a business process is simply a collection of sequential, related activities that may or may impact one another, it’s often best to look at the output of a process, and the activities that comprise it to determine merit.
High Value Activities. The more value the organization places on a particular business activity, the greater the likelihood that there is value in capturing the details that surround it. Value, in the broadest sense, can be defined using several filters:
-Is the process connected to strategic activities of the business e.g. generating revenue, developing new products, manufacturing goods?
-Is the process considered a high risk activity i.e. is it costly to undertake, does the output of the activity have significant influence on other activities, if not performed will the business suffer? e.g. research and development such as drug discovery, or
-Do the inherent characteristics of the way the process or activity is executed provide the business with competitive advantage and is it proprietary in nature or viewed as a key component of the organizations intellectual property?
Scaleable Processes. The more that the organization can benefit from communicating the activity in a clear and concise way, the more important it is to share the information across the business.
-Are enough people performing the specific activity the better execution around that activity would result in a benefit to the business …because the ability to repeat and scale the way the business operates improves company performance? e.g. customer service processes. This is accentuated when those people performing the activity are geographically dispersed e.g. a retailer with 500 stores, might find great value in sharing best practices and knowledge around a relatively medium to low value processes/activities such as a store procedures manual.
Regulated or Controlled Activities. The more regulated the process or activity the greater the degree to execute with precision and oversight, the higher the likelihood of a negative impact due to poor performance.
-Is worker safety compromised? Will operations be suspended? Is there a risk of government intervention via fines, or audits? Will shareholders/financiers take punitive action?
High Churn Roles or Job Types. The greater the employee turnover or risk of knowledge loss from such turnover, the more important it is to quickly on-board, cross-train or re-train employees.
-Is process or area of your business exposed to unusually high risk of retirements or is there poor succession planning in place for the specific role type i.e. if the subject matter expert leaves, is there risk that vast amounts of institutional knowledge will leave with him? There are entire industries where this can be an issue.
-Is the process assigned to a role type where employees can be expected to churn out of the organization more quickly than other roles (therefore requiring frequent hiring, training) e.g. quota carrying sales positions generally have a turnover rate that is a multiple of the organization’s normal t/o rate. And when those employees leave, there is significant downside as current revenue pursuits go dormant, time is spent finding replacements, and there is significant productivity loss as new sales people learn the ins and outs of the organization.
Mergers and Acquisition Environments. The more acquisitive an organization, the greater the value in codifying the way in which they do business, which in turn can help integrate acquired companies and their employees more quickly.
-Does the organization plan to grow or add specific capabilities through acquisition? M&A activities frequently fail due to cultural and people issues once the red-tape and financial arrangements come to a close. The more easily the acquirer can communicate processes related to business strategy and tactics to the acquirer, the higher the likelihood that the acquired entity can contribute to the overall goals e.g. the higher value processes noted previously.