Knowledge Musings

Musings about knowledge management as I go about my daily life

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Spring clean your knowledge

Spring (supposedly) is on its way. Now is a good time to reflect on what knowledge and information you hoard and what you can safely dispose of. What prompted me to write this piece was an article I wrote on knowledge auditing, that has been reprinted on KnowledgeBoard under the title Cleaning Out The KM Closet. Complete with a picture of a broom, it prefaces the article by pointing out that organizations often overlook what knowledge and information they already hold. It's not the heading I would have given the article, but it did prompt me to think about spring cleaning my knowledge!

First, let me say that I'm pleased that KnowledgeBoard regular emails have started again, under the new editorship of Louise Druce. It really is one of the best KM portals and their emails help keep you informed of developments - beyond the technical promotions that many so-called KM websites pump out.

Coming back to auditing, several that I have carried out typically reveal two contrary situations:
  • duplication of information - how many customer databases does your organization hold?
  • key information that people need - but which isn't there or difficult to find.
Information is continually being created. As volumes grow, it becomes increasingly costly (in time and resources) to store and retrieve efficiently. When we create a document, do we think through the lifetime ramifications - how long it should be kept, when it should be reviewed or disposed of. We may give it cursory attention, but when the time comes we're usually too busy doing something new.

Like many people, my email files have grown and grown. I have many emails that are more than 10 years old. I do occasionally go through a folder or two, keeping only ones that may be relevant in future (it's amazing how management approaches I used 20 years old have stood the test of time!). An alternative strategy would be to do a wholesale deletion of email folders relating to completed projects, ideas that never got off the ground, past visits etc. This would certainly improve the 'feel good' factor, until a day or two later someone asks a question and you knew you had just what was needed only it was dumped.

So is there anything we can learn from physical spring cleaning? Have a look at others tips and see how you might adapt to your office/PC environment - see Tips for Spring Cleaning and Ten Spring Cleaning and Organizing Tips. Here are some things to try:
  • Be tidy in the first place - think logically about where things should be kept
  • Distinguish work in progress from final results - I treat many emails as transient and do not tag them; at a project milestone I file tagged emails
  • Things can only go in three piles - I use it (keep it), I never use it (sell, give away or destroy), I'm not sure (I'm unlikely to use it but it may have historical value or there may be legal or social ramifications if I don't preserve it)
  • If you don't want to make a bad decision, then try putting it in the attic (a temporary archive file); then you can delete it after a few years anything you haven't retrieved, or when you depart, someone will ditch it for you!
  • Don't generate so much rubbish in the first place!
The big question is - do you do a room (file) at a time, or go the whole hog and do everything together? A lot depends on personal preference. Either way, it does take time, so you should allow for it, either 10-15 minutes a day, or take a few days out. As the Wikipedia entry on spring cleaning says "a person who gets their affairs in order before an audit or inspection could be said to be doing some spring cleaning." A knowledge audit should be the spur to do this housekeeping.

What are your tips for keeping your office and online files tidy this Spring?



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