Knowledge Management Fallacies: Repositories ensure that knowledge lasts longer than employees

My employer aims to be a home for the best knowledge workers. Several companies operating in the knowledge economy have similar aspirations. Yet, some of them fall shy of calling themselves a people dependent company. They would rather be process dependent (and people independent). Why? Because a process won't tender resignation and leave. Valuable knowledge may be lost when an employee leaves. Knowledge that is codified into a process is safe from attrition. However, this doesn't work in practice.

Knowledge keeps evolving. Codifying it into a process merely takes a (context-free) snapshot of evolution. Knowledge evolution can only happen in people's heads. The only way to preserve knowledge when someone leaves is to make sure that someone else knows the stuff well enough. However this knowledge transfer will fail if only attempted as a handover activity. Why? Because context is severely restricted during a planned knowledge transfer session. Knowledge sharing and collaboration has to be part of the work ethic of an organization. People need to buy into the fact that knowledge multiplies by sharing. In such a collaborative environment, knowledge silos are minimized if not eliminated.

'People dependence' is much more robust than 'person dependence'. A sharing-friendly culture helps move the dependency from person to people. A process and documentation driven culture moves the dependency from person to repository and knowledge atrophies in due course.

Sharing is effective via conversations, not so much via artifacts. This is because of the lossy nature of communication. Signal to noise ratio decreases as bandwidth decreases from face-to-face to phone conversation to instant messaging to email to finally an artifact in a repository.

2 comments:

pg said...

gr8 so dose this issue is addressed in agile methods

Sriram said...

@pg

Hey, where did I say anything about Agile? :-P
Well, the agile manifesto does indicate a preference for individuals and interactions over processes and tools. Effective pairing helps in moving the dependency from 'person' to 'people'. Open workspace layouts encourage collaboration. Agile methods often advocate just enough and just in time documentation.

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