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Definition - Essentials - Practices - Tools - CSFs

Knowledge Management is the explicit and systematic management of vital knowledge - and its associated processes of creation, organization, diffusion, use and exploitation - in pursuit of business objectives.

There are many definitions of knowledge management. We have developed this one since it identifies some critical aspects of any successful knowledge management programme:

  • Explicit - Surfacing assumptions; codifying that which is known
  • Systematic - Leaving things to serendipity will not achieve the benefits
  • Vital Knowledge - You need to focus; you don't have unlimited resources
  • Processes - Knowledge management is a set of activities with its own tools and techniques

It is important to note that knowledge encompasses both tacit knowledge (in people's heads) and explicit knowledge (codified and expressed as information in databases, documents etc.). A good knowledge programme will address the processes of knowledge development and transfer for both these basic forms.

The last phrase in the definition is important. If you cannot link the activities to the achievement of business goals, then it is not real knowledge management.

Not sure about the difference between explicit and tacit knowledge? Check out our glossary of KM terms.

The Essentials

Two Thrusts, Seven Strategic Levers

Many programmes start by focusing on the thrust of better sharing of existing knowledge e.g. sharing best practices. However, our research indicates that it is the second thrust - the creation and conversion of new knowledge through the processes of innovation that gives the best long-term pay-off.

Most programmes will leverage value through knowledge by concentrating on just a few of these seven levers:

  • Customer Knowledge - the most vital knowledge in most organizations
  • Knowledge in Processes - applying the best know-how while performing core tasks
  • Knowledge in Products (and Services) - smarter solutions, customized to users' needs
  • Knowledge in People - nurturing and harnessing brainpower, your most precious asset
  • Organizational Memory - drawing on lessons from the past or elsewhere in the organization
  • Knowledge in Relationships - deep personal knowledge that underpins successful collaboration
  • Knowledge Assets - measuring and managing your intellectual capital.

See also Ten Facts and Myths about KM, Developing a Knowledge Strategy, and The Seven Levers of Knowledge Strategy.


A wide variety of practices and processes are used in knowledge management. Some of the more common ones are shown in the table below:

Creating and Discovering Creativity Techniques
Data Mining
Text Mining
Environmental Scanning
Knowledge Elicitation
Business Simulation
Content Analysis
Sharing and Learning Communities of Practice
Learning Networks
Sharing Best Practice
After Action Reviews
Structured Dialogue
Share Fairs
Cross Functional Teams
Decision Diaries
Organizing and Managing Knowledge Centres
Expertise Profiling
Knowledge Mapping
Information Audits/Inventory
IRM (Information Resources Management)
Measuring Intellectual Capital

Tools and Techniques

A large number of tools, many computer based, are also significantly boosting the effectiveness of knowledge management. We have identified over 80 categories (often overlapping), including:

  • Infrastructure: groupware, intranets, document management, KM suites
  • Thinking: concept mapping, creativity tools
  • Gathering, discovering: search engines, alerting, push, data mining, intelligent agents
  • Organizing, storing:data warehousing, OLAP, metadata, XML
  • Knowledge worker support: case based reasoning, decision support, workflow, community support, simulation
  • Application specific: CRM, expertise profiling, competitive intelligence

Critical Success Factors

The report Creating the Knowledge-based Business highlights several recurring critical success factors:

  • Knowledge Leadership - a compelling vision actively promoted by senior management
  • Clear Business Benefits - tracking success and developing new measures
  • Systematic Processes - including knowledge mapping and IRM (Information Resources Management)
  • A Knowledge Sharing Culture - teams that work across boundaries
  • Continuous Learning - though pilots and learning networks
  • An effective information and communications infrastructure - groupware and other collaborative technologies, such as an intranet

It also highlights what distinguishes leaders vs. laggards.

Connecting to Knowledge

We are in the midst of a surge of interest in the knowledge agenda. Numerous books and articles are appearing and conference organizers are having a field day. In a recent survey 92 per cent of respondents said that their business was knowledge intensive. This Knowledge Connections web-site has many primary resources, navigation aids, and links to resources:

In addition our products and services will give you access to more in-depth knowledge about knowledge. Our consultancy services, workshops and publications can help you improve your knowledge management effectiveness. We hope you find these pages informative, and look forward to hearing from you with your comments and suggestions (

© Copyright 1999, 2007. David J. Skyrme. All rights reserved.

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