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Managing Organizational Knowledge

Insights offered from the Southern California aerospace industry for
managing knowledge assets.

Mark Chun, PhD, Mike Williams, PhD, and Nelson Granados, PhD

Graziadio Business Report, 2007, Vol. 10, Issue 2
This article is copyrighted and has been reprinted with permission from Pepperdine University

 

continued from page 1

A Knowledge Management Exchange Forum

Despite technological advances and recent experience of firms in the implementation of knowledge management systems, the practice of KM remains more of an art than a science. For aerospace firms, the additional challenges presented above only exacerbate the complexity that they face to place the right knowledge in the hand of the right decision makers, at the right time.

Since 2005, several Southern California aerospace firms and local universities have engaged in a forum to exchange best practices for knowledge management. Participating organizations include Pratt-Whitney Rocketdyne, Northrop Grumman, NASA-Jet Propulsion Laboratories, and Pepperdine University, California State University-Northridge, and University of California at Irvine. Participants benefit from participation by benchmarking their own knowledge management efforts against those of other firms, and from the opportunity to share knowledge management approaches.

The Southern California Aerospace Industry Knowledge Management Exchange (SCAIKME) meets several times a year to support KM and share key lessons. Additionally, SCAIKME provides a variety of electronic resources to foster collaboration between the KM staff of participating firms. Through face-to-face and virtual networking and collaboration, knowledge management executives at participating firms have gained new insights to the practice of knowledge management. In particular, they aid each other to retain knowledge assets and reduce the potential risk of knowledge loss as experienced employees and experts retire.

Some Guidelines for Effective Knowledge Management

During several SCAIKME seminars and roundtable discussions, KM officers were asked to share best practices in leading knowledge management initiatives. The strategies they discussed can be described as focused on 1) internal strategies aimed at identifying, capturing, and reusing the knowledge assets within the firm; and 2) external strategies aimed at building, measuring, and improving organizational KM competencies.

Below is a list of the top internal and external strategies for effective knowledge management that we have identified. This list is not exhaustive, but it is rather a set of guidelines that are potentially applicable and useful to KM initiatives in many industry contexts.

Internal Strategies

  1. Identify business challenges related to knowledge management and then craft a response using KM solutions. Realize that the challenges more appropriate for knowledge management efforts are those that are more integrated and heavily dependent on the knowledge of the firm. It is impossible to capture every piece of knowledge, and it is easy to get distracted by trying to do so. Focus on knowledge that is important to capture and feasible to maintain.

  2. Obtain executive support. Executives in the organization should support knowledge management initiatives from both a strategic and a financial perspective. The probability of success increases when the knowledge management effort is a top priority. Executive sponsorship provides the resources necessary to maintain expensive and politically sensitive KM programs such as shared knowledge repositories, mentoring programs, and lessons learned databases.

  3. Be patient. Creating a knowledge management environment takes time. Managing knowledge is a difficult task with no hard-and-fast rules. Initially, employees may not understand the objective of the knowledge management activities or they may not have excess capacity to contribute to the effort. It is appropriate to set a realistic timeframe for the project, including opportunities to measure and readjust the project's delivery methods and measures of success.

  4. Get buy-in and input from the users. A well-known precursor to success is the user's perceptions of the usefulness and ease-of-use of a KM system. Many KM initiatives have failed because the system designers neglect user feedback. Successful KM initiatives often involve key users at early stages in the design process and iterate through several versions in order to incorporate user input on system design requirements. After all, the objective is to implement a system that users appreciate and willfully use, not one that is technically sound but remains underutilized due to lack of buy-in from potential users.

  5. Celebrate small wins. Small pilot projects reduce implementation risks and small successes help promote larger knowledge management implementation projects. A "Control Tower" approach, where managers are mandated to develop knowledge management action plans, is a favorable approach to ensure small wins. On the other hand, KM leaders should remember that smaller pilot projects need to contribute to the overall objective and goals of the KM project.

  6. Manage employee behavior. One of the signals of successful KM initiatives is evidence of change in employee behavior. Mandating new technology and business processes rarely works and often creates resentment and dissatisfaction. Rather, project leaders should champion changes in KM practices and ensure that the technology provides added value. Moreover, employees should be actively involved in the knowledge management efforts, because it is their knowledge that will be leveraged and retained for future.

 
External Strategies
  1. Attend KM-oriented training sessions and conferences. KM is a new frontier for many firms. Consequently, there is a steep learning curve for even the most experienced manager who is tasked to lead a new KM initiative. Attending training sessions and discussing knowledge management problems and solutions with others will serve as an introduction to the key challenges ahead.

  2. Establish a near-peer network. One of the best opportunities to hear of the latest and most effective knowledge management techniques and tools can be identified and found through discussions with colleagues at other firms. Establish informal conferences or technical forums, where colleagues are able to demonstrate the latest knowledge management tools and discuss the implications, consequences, and benefits of knowledge management tactics and strategies.

  3. Benchmark your knowledge management practices. Benchmark your own company's knowledge management process against competitors to identify areas of strength and weakness. In addition, benchmarking may provide anecdotal evidence to support ongoing and emerging projects.

  4. Hire a knowledge management expert. Knowledge management experts provide credibility to the firm's knowledge management efforts. Traditional management consultants may be insufficient because they lack the appropriate expertise needed to address KM issues. Firms should seek out consultants who specialize in knowledge management tactics and strategies.

Using information systems to manage the knowledge of the firm is often a difficult, time-consuming, and tedious task. The strategies enumerated above should help to ensure effective implementation of KM systems and make knowledge a strategic differentiator.

 

** The authors would like to acknowledge and thank Kiho Sohn (Pratt-Whitney Rocketdyne, Chief Knowledge Officer), Jeanne Holm (NASA-JPL, Chief Knowledge Architect), and Scott Shaffar (Northrop Grumman, Director, Knowledge Managment, Systems Support, and Integration) for access to their knowledge management exchange forums and for their contributions to this article.

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Mark W.S. Chun, PhD, is an assistant professor of information systems at the Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University. He earned his PhD in information systems from the University of Colorado at Boulder and received his MBA from the University of California at Irvine in international business and strategy. He holds a Bachelor of Business Administration degree with an emphasis in management information systems from the University of Hawaii. Prior to entering academe, Dr. Chun worked for companies such as Intel Corporation, Pepsi Co./Taco Bell, Coopers & Lybrand, and the Bank of Hawaii. His research focuses on the use of information technology to create value and to transform organizations. mark.chun@pepperdine.edu

Michael Williams, PhD, is an assistant professor of information systems at the Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University. Dr. Williams earned a PhD in Information Systems from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. He received an MDiv and an MA from Abilene Christian University. Prior to entering academe, Dr. Williams was an IT consultant in the Washington, D.C. area. michael.williams@pepperdine.edu

Nelson Granados, PhD, is an assistant professor of information systems at the Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University. He received his PhD in information sciences and decision sciences, M.S. in applied economics, and MBA from University of Minnesota. His research on the economics of information systems has been published in the Journal of the Association for Information Systems, Information Systems and e-Business Management, and Electronic Markets. He has presented his research at the Hawaii International Conference on Systems Sciences and the INFORMS Annual Meeting, among others. Prior to his academic career, he worked as an airline revenue manager in Japan, U.S., and Europe, and was also a product manager for enterprise systems at IBM Colombia. nelson.granados@pepperdine.edu

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[1]D. Leonard and D. Kiron. "Managing Knowledge and Learning at NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory," Harvard Business School Case #9-603-062, (2002).

[2]M. Alavi and D.E. Leidner. "Review: Knowledge Management and Knowledge Management Systems: Conceptual Foundations and Research Issues," MIS Quarterly, 25, no. 1 (2001/3): 107-136.

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This article first appeared in Graziadio Business Report, 2007, Vol. 10, Issue 2

 

  

 

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