Monday, March 9, 2009

Knowledge Management & SharePoint Best Practices: How to Get Organizational Value Out of SharePoint

Ross Freedman, Co-founder and Board Member

We've been spending quite a bit of time recently on our SharePoint projects to determine approaches and methods to transfer knowledge and enable individuals to learn - especially around project management effectiveness. We have found that SharePoint can improve organizational learning and project management effectiveness in some organizations because [if implemented properly] it links interested parties with those that have relevant information, and the information is put in a format that is easy and interesting to absorb and apply. 

We are finding that when we integrate certain types of resources into broader knowledge transfer (including a community of practice as an example), we seem to get much better usage and value (as indicated by the target individual).  It’s very hard to promote knowledge sharing on a "just in case" basis. People don’t know how to share what they know in the absence of a specific and immediate need to share. That should not be confused with the notion that people in the organization are unwilling to share on principle, which is the frequent conclusion from poorly thought through knowledge sharing initiatives. I believe that if you put experts in a room with someone who can benefit from their expertise, they will invariably share what they know in useful and constructive ways. What they are generally unable to do (regardless of whether they are willing) is to share in some generic way into a knowledge sharing system like SharePoint in advance of a specific situation.  Here are some thoughts and approaches on how to get the most out of SharePoint from an organizational learning and knowledge managment perspective:

1. There are some useful methods to help experts debrief from their own experiences in ways that can later prove helpful to others. For example, the After Action Review (AAR) process, developed initially by the US Army, is a very powerful technique to help experts take more out of their own experiences. That process can also be used as one input into systems that let others derive some of the benefits from the AAR process even if they weren’t part of the original projects. The AAR process is very powerful and is relatively easy to introduce. If you then share some of the outputs of the AAR process more broadly via SharePoint you can get incremental organizational value. This is one method that can provide important project management knowledge and skill for successful project delivery.

2. The ultimate way to get to organizational value out of SharePoint is to focus on adding value to the individual knowledge workers and subject matter experts. The notion is that you focus on benefits to the individuals and you get organizational value as a valuable side effect. If you go the other way - focusing on organizational needs before individual, you invariably fail on both levels.

3. Focusing on the individual level means that you need to be prepared to tolerate a fair degree of messiness. For example, people will get much more traction out of creating their own ‘tags’ for material than they will out of trying to decipher a taxonomy system that is organizationally sound but foreign to them. Better to get a degree of cacophony in multiple terms for the same idea that you need to ultimately rationalize after the fact, than to stifle participation by trying to impose order too early in the process.