How often do you get to build knowledge management into an organisation from the outset?
In many cases, KM is an afterthought to a transformation programme, or is an improvement initiative that struggles to get traction amongst established business functions, processes and practices.
It is unusual to have an opportunity to weave KM into an organisation that is itself starting from a ‘clean sheet of paper’ – designing the processes, systems and target operating model from scratch – and where a more intimate understanding of business objectives and drivers provides an opportunity for early integration of KM good practices.
Even more rare is the opportunity to develop KM in a start-up company embarking on a major infrastructure project with a vision to build a new nuclear power plant.
Nevertheless, this is the context within which I have had the opportunity to develop knowledge management strategy at NuGeneration (NuGen) over the past two and a half years.
Sadly, the momentum to ‘push on’ from the initial KM developments has been victim to the commercial problems that have hit the programme. The Moorside programme which was to see NuGen as licensee and future operator of a new UK nuclear power plant has come to a halt.
Before the recent cessation of the programme, NuGen’s objectives were to develop, licence and operate a plant that would generate almost 7 per cent of the UK’s electricity. It would have taken almost 10 years to gain the necessary regulatory licences, to build and to commission; and it would have involved participation of many stakeholders. The preliminary predicted cost of the programme was ~£18 billion and would have created up to an estimated 21,000 jobs over the life of the project. A ‘green field’ development, the power station in Cumbria would represent one of the largest construction projects in Europe.
Despite the overall programme outcome, working on the KM strategy has been a fascinating experience. In this short series of blogs I will share some insights into ‘what we did’, ‘why we did it’ and ‘to what effect ‘.
Starting with a Framework
The first step was to develop a ‘KM Strategic Framework’ (figure above). That Framework was based upon an assessment of KM good practice in the context of and aligned to NuGen’s specific business requirements.
The particular business drivers which provided a focus for knowledge management included:-
Supply Chain management
As a ‘thin’ (lean?) organisation (estimated to grow to around 250 people) NuGen needed to build the technical and operational capability to act as an ‘intelligent customer’ specifying requirements and overseeing delivery of work from a much larger supply chain. Sharing and retention of knowledge across the participants right along the chain, sustained along a lengthy timeframe, was crucial.
Design Information and Knowledge
As a nuclear site licensee and future operator, NuGen needed to establish, maintain and control the safety and design bases of the plant. This required investment in information and configuration management systems for managing ‘explicit’ knowledge alongside processes and practices that managed ‘tacit knowledge’ associated with design rationale and operating experience.
Establishing the competency management systems and processes for continuous improvement and learning were important in addressing the expectations of the nuclear and environmental regulatory bodies.
The resulting Framework consisted of 3 ‘layers’:
- A Strategic Principles Layer which helped define the scope, participants and required processes and tools that were delivered through the 2 other layers of the framework.
- A Governance Layer which covered policy and procedures, oversight from pan company representatives, and (KM) performance monitoring
- An Implementation Layer which included the tools, methods and activities that we utilised, on a ‘day-to-day’ basis, to execute KM.
The main value of this initial Framework was two-fold. It acted as a communication tool, providing a reference point for important conversations with internal and external stakeholders. It shared assumptions and set expectations. And the Framework provided the basis for defining a detailed KM programme of work against which to monitor and report progress.
As a communication tool the Framework was deliberately ‘kept simple’. The small set of (KM) strategic principles were key in this, emphasising, in particular, the need to integrate KM within wider business processes and functions – seeking to reduce the risk of KM being carried out as a silo activity separate from the day-to-day.
Having described the overall Framework the following 3 blogs in this series will explore in more depth some of the aspects associated with the early implementation of KM at NuGen.
2nd Blog – Where do you locate KM in an organisation?
3rd Blog – Working with Configuration and Information Management
4th Blog – Knowledge Management in our Supply Chain
Clive Bright, Knowledge Management and Strategy Consultant,
Previously Design Knowledge Manager at NuGen
29th December 2018
Please share your thoughts and feedback with Clive by commenting on this post.