I am often asked ‘where is the best place to locate a Knowledge Management function?’ From my own experience on KM programmes I have observed that the organisational arrangements can have a significant impact upon achieving the desired level of adoption.
Typically, there are a number of options for ‘reporting lines’ for Knowledge Management. The option chosen is often determined by where the biggest business need has first been identified. Or sometimes it can simply be the result of an executive manager being given the responsibility to drive KM.
Common areas from where KM might be led are:
- Human Resource or Talent Management function; supporting for example, capability development, training, succession planning, or mentoring programmes.
- IT or Information Management function; where a KM team might have responsibility for bedding in document and records management systems, or co-ordinating the company intranet and adoption of collaboration tools.
- Technical specialist departments; facilitating, for example, the introduction of communities of practice for sharing and developing a technical knowledge base.
- Sales and Marketing function; deploying KM directed at customer and business intelligence, bid management or improving consistency of service delivery.
- Programme or Project Management function; improving lessons learned processes.
Another approach can be to set up KM act as a separate function altogether, providing knowledge services that are called upon by areas of the organisation as required.
There are pros and cons to each of these options. Associating Knowledge Management with a single function can limit company-wide uptake. Equally, building KM as a separate function can limit its impact if there is insufficient pull from the business.
Gaining traction for KM change will depend upon several factors. The existence of influential senior level sponsors is an important factor; as is a clear alignment with the overall business objectives. For change to happen KM must ultimately be identified as delivering real value.
It is also important to acknowledge that the locus of KM may change over time; as the organisation itself undergoes a transformation, or when business priorities shift.
Knowledge Management arrangements on the Moorside Project
The KM arrangements at NuGen illustrate many of these issues. At the outset of the Moorside project the coordination of KM was established within the Design Authority function. There were specific business reasons for this. Managing design knowledge was to be a key enabler for NuGen in establishing and maintain the Design Authority capability. Furthermore, that capability had to be set up early in the programme in order to meet regulatory expectations as well as move forward on other early ‘critical path’ activities.
Within the nuclear industry there are regulations that place formal obligations on a nuclear licensee’s Design Authority (DA). The DA has responsibility for ensuring that a design knowledge base is established, preserved and expanded with experience. Additionally, the DA is responsible for ensuring that the knowledge of the design needed for safe plant operation and maintenance is available across the operating organisation.
The design knowledge base encompasses a broad range of data, information and knowledge. This includes, for example, design rationale and assumptions, experimental and research knowledge, functional and safety requirements, as well as learning from operating experience (both within the organisation and from the wider industry).
The priority to set up the DA capability and to establish a design knowledge base provided the initial rationale for the KM arrangements. However, it was acknowledged we needed to balance the specific Design Authority requirements with broader business needs for KM. To this end it was likely that the KM reporting line would change as the Moorside programme progressed. Human Resources or the Programme Management Office were areas that were considered as a longer-term home for KM.
The Knowledge Management strategic framework (outlined in the previous Blog) was set up from the outset to address both design knowledge management as well as the broader business requirements. For example, a ‘KM Steering Group’ was introduced as part of governance. This group would draw upon membership from across the business to help identify knowledge risks and priorities. Furthermore, each of the business functions were mandated, through the management system, to produce and maintain ‘KM Plans’ for their area.
So the question ‘where is the best place to locate a KM function?’ does not have a straightforward answer. Rather, it is specific to the business context and business needs of the organisation. As with any change initiative, the effectiveness of the Knowledge Management programme should be monitored to assess whether it is achieving its objectives. If an existing programme is not achieving the desired impact then changes to the reporting line for KM may be considered.
Knowledge Management Consultant,