Knowledge management planning – key objectives

THIS ARTICLE will discuss three steps needed to plan a knowledge management (KM) programme - Create a top three objectives list of challenges and opportunities that your KM programme will address. These objectives should align business direction with the programme goals; Provide nine answers to questions about people, process, and technology. This information defines who will participate, which processes will be required, and how tools will support people and processes; and Define the KM strategy. These are specific actions which will be taken to implement the programme.

Identify the top three objectives

The first thing to do is to determine what results you would like to achieve. Is there a challenge you would like to overcome or an improvement you hope to make? If not, ask people in your organisation what is currently causing them the most pain in doing their jobs. Look for opportunities to help alleviate these pain points through learning, sharing, reuse, collaboration, or innovation.

If you can't find any challenges to overcome or improvements to make, and no one is experiencing any knowledge-related pain, then don't start a KM programme. You will be trying to push a solution in search of a problem, and there will be no reason for anyone to adopt it.

At the other extreme, if you find lots of challenges and opportunities for improvement, you will need to narrow down the list. Pick three challenges or opportunities for which KM will likely provide the greatest benefit to the organisation. These top three objectives represent the starting point for your programme and the core of your communications.  Use them to choose, start, review, adjust, and stop individual projects to ensure they help achieve the desired benefits.

Goals of knowledge management

All organisations can benefit from their people learning, sharing, reusing, collaborating and innovating.  Based on an organisation's mission and objectives, specific goals for a knowledge management programme should be defined. Here are 15 goals from which to select in defining the top three objectives.

1. Enabling better and faster decision making

By delivering relevant information at the time of need through structure, search, subscription, syndication, and support, a knowledge management environment can provide the basis for making good decisions. Collaboration brings the power of large numbers, diverse opinions, and varied experience to bear when decisions need to be made. The reuse of knowledge in repositories allows decisions be based on actual experience, large sample sizes, and practical lessons learned.

2. Making it easy to find relevant information and resources

When faced with a need to respond to a customer, solve a problem, analyze trends, assess markets, benchmark against peers, understand competition, create new offerings, plan strategy, and to think critically, you typically look for information and resources to support these activities.  If it is easy and fast to find what you need when you need it, you can perform all of these tasks efficiently.

3. Reusing ideas, documents, and expertise

Once you have developed an effective process, you want to ensure that others use the process each time a similar requirement arises. If someone has written a document or created a presentation which addresses a recurring need, it should be used in all future similar situations.  When members of your organisation have figured out how to solve a common problem, know how to deliver a recurring service, or have invented a new product, you want that same solution, service, and product to be replicated as much as possible. Just as the recycling of materials is good for the environment, reuse is good for organisations because it minimises rework, prevents problems, saves times, and accelerates progress.

4. Avoiding redundant effort

No one likes to spend time doing something over again. But they do so all the time for a variety of reasons. Avoiding duplication of effort saves time and money, keeps employee morale up, and streamlines work. By not spending time reinventing the wheel, you can have more time to invent something new.

5. Avoiding making the same mistakes twice

George Santayana said, "Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it." If we don't learn from our mistakes, we will experience them over and over again. Knowledge management allows us to share lessons learned, not only about successes, but also about failures. In order to do so, we must have a culture of trust, openness, and reward for willingness to talk about what we have done wrong. The potential benefits are enormous. If NASA learns why a space shuttle exploded, it can prevent recurrences and save lives. If FEMA learns what went wrong in responding to Hurricane Katrina, it can reduce the losses caused by future disasters. If engineers learn why highways and buildings collapsed during a previous earthquake, they can design new ones to better withstand future earthquakes. If you learn that your last bid or estimate was underestimated by 50%, you can make the next one more accurate and thus earn a healthy profit instead of incurring a large loss.

6. Taking advantage of existing expertise and experience

Teams benefit from the individual skills and knowledge of each member. The more complementary the expertise of the team members, the greater the power of the team. In large organisations, there are people with widely-varying capabilities and backgrounds, and there should be a benefit from this. But as the number of people increases, it becomes more difficult for each individual to know about everyone else. So even though there are people with knowledge who could help other people, they don't know about each other. The late Lew Platt, former CEO of HP, is widely quoted as saying "If only HP knew what HP knows, we would be three times more productive." Knowing what others know can be very helpful at a time of need, since you learn from their experience and apply it to your current requirements.

7. Communicating important information widely and quickly

Almost everyone today is an information worker, either completely or partially. We all need information to do our jobs effectively, but we also suffer from information overload from an increasing variety of sources. How can we get information that is targeted, useful, and timely without drowning in a sea of email, having to visit hundreds of web sites, or reading through tons of printed material?  Knowledge management helps address this problem through personalised portals, targeted subscriptions, RSS feeds, tagging, and specialised search engines.

8. Promoting standard, repeatable processes and procedures

If standard processes and procedures have been defined, they should always be followed. This allows employees to learn how things are done, leads to predictable and high-quality results, and enables large organisations to be consistent in how work is performed.  By providing a process for creating, storing, communicating, and using standard processes and procedures, employees will be able to use them routinely.

9. Providing methods, tools, templates, techniques, and examples

Methods, tools, templates, techniques, and examples are the building blocks supporting repeatable processes and procedures. Using these consistently streamlines work, improves quality, and ensures compatibility across the organisation.

10. Making scarce expertise widely available

If there is a resource who is in great demand due to having a skill which is in short supply, knowledge management can help make that resource available to the entire organisation. Ways of doing so include community discussion forums, training events, ask the expert systems, recorded presentations, white papers, podcasts, and blogs.

11. Showing customers how knowledge is used for their benefit

In competitive situations, it is important to be able to differentiate yourself from other firms. Demonstrating to potential and current customers that you have widespread expertise and have ways of bringing it to bear for their benefit can help convince them to start or continue doing business with you. Conversely, failure to do so could leave you vulnerable to competitors who can demonstrate their knowledge management capabilities and benefits.

12. Accelerating delivery to customers

Speed of execution is another important differentiator among competitors. All other things being equal, the company who can deliver sooner will win. Knowledge sharing, reuse and innovation can significantly reduce time to deliver a proposal, product, or service to a customer. And that translates into increased win rates, add-on business, and new customers.

13. Enabling the organisation to leverage its size

As an organisation grows, the increasing size is only a benefit if it can use the knowledge of all of its employees. Through the use of tools such as communities, expertise locators, and repositories, the full power of a large enterprise can be exploited.

14. Making the organisation's best problem-solving experiences reusable

Consistently applying proven practices, also known as best practices or good practices, can significantly improve the results of any firm. For example, if a manufacturing plant in one part of the world has figured out how to prevent the need for product rework, and all other plants around the world adopt this practice, savings will flow directly to the bottom line. By establishing a process for defining, communicating, and replicating proven practices, an enterprise takes advantage of what it learns about solving problems.

15. Stimulating innovation and growth

Most businesses want to increase their revenues, but it becomes increasingly difficult as industries mature and competition increases. Creating new knowledge through effective knowledge sharing, collaboration, and information delivery can stimulate innovation. If you achieve this and the other 14 goals enabled by knowledge management, you should be able to achieve growth.


From challenges and opportunities such as these, choose the ones which are most compelling to your organisation and relate them to desired business results. Here are three sets of examples.

Non-Profit Organisation

  • Lower costs by preventing people from reinventing the wheel all the time.
  • Eliminate deficits caused by repeating the same mistakes.
  • Increase contributions by innovating and creating new capabilities.

Manufacturing Company

  • Increase orders by better collaboration between sales, services, and back-office functions.
  • Increase revenue by stimulating a flow of ideas for new products and services.
  • Increase profits by sharing and reusing lessons learned.

Consulting Firm

  • Increase win rate by improving the proposal development process.
  • Lower sales and delivery costs by reusing proven practices.
  • Increase engagement quality by collaborating with customers and partners.

Provide nine answers

After defining the top three objectives for the KM initiative, the next step is to determine who will participate in the programme, which basic processes will be required, and how tools should support the people and processes.

The programme may apply to everyone, or to a subset of the population. There will be different roles for different job types. And leaders need to be aligned to the programme direction.

Existing processes and policies will have to be modified, and new ones created. And tools will need to be used, created, obtained, and integrated.

To identify these details, answer the following nine questions about people, process, and technology.

People Questions

1. Which people in your organisation need to participate in the KM programme? In some programmes, everyone will participate in some way.  In others, you may target a specific type of participant. The top three objectives you defined will help answer this question. The following dimensions should be considered.

2. What are the different roles that participants will need to play? For each type of participant in the KM programme, define what they are expected to do. Some will be providers and some will be consumers of knowledge. Most people will be expected to perform multiple roles.  Specify the most important tasks for each type of participant which support the top three objectives.

3. Who are the key stakeholders and leaders to line up in support of the new initiatives? The success of the programme will depend on having leaders and respected individuals playing active roles in communicating, inspecting, and reinforcing its goals.

Process Questions

4. What existing processes need to be modified to incorporate KM activities? From the following list, identify all processes which already exist and need to be part of the KM programme.

Here is the list of processes:

  • Methodologies
  • Creation
  • Capture
  • Reuse
  • Lessons learned
  • Proven practices
  • Collaboration
  • Content management
  • Classification
  • Metrics and reporting
  • Management of change
  • Workflow
  • Valuation
  • Social network analysis
  • Appreciative inquiry and positive deviance
  • Storytelling

There may be existing methodologies. Some collaboration methods may already be in use.  Workflow may be performed using some technology. Compile a list of all processes currently in use which you can include in the KM initiative, either as is or by adapting them.

5. What new processes need to be created? In answering the previous question, which processes don't currently exist, but are needed? From the above list, identify all additional processes which are needed but are not currently available.

For example, there may not be any process for capturing and reusing knowledge. Lessons learned and proven practices may not be collected currently. The organisation may not be aware of appreciative inquiry as a technique.

Choose the most critical missing processes for inclusion in the programme. Consider the potential difficulty in implementation and the anticipated benefits of each in making your selections.

6. What policies will need to be changed or created to ensure desired behaviors? Adopting, enhancing, and creating processes will be of limited value unless there are associated policies which require their use. For the most important processes, plan to create policies to enforce adoption.

For example, a content management policy may be required to specify how content is created, stored, and reused. A classification standard which defines the organisation's taxonomy and how it is to be deployed may be needed. A standard procedure for how intellectual property is to be valued may need to be enforced.

Technology Questions

7. What existing tools can be used in support of the new initiatives? From the following list, identify all tools which already exist and need to be part of the KM programme.

Here is the list of tools:

  • User interface
  • Intranet
  • Team spaces
  • Virtual meeting rooms
  • Portals
  • Repositories
  • Threaded discussions and enterprise social networks
  • Expertise locators and ask the expert
  • Metadata and tags
  • Search engines
  • Archiving
  • Blogs and microblogs
  • Wikis
  • Podcasts and videos
  • Syndication and aggregation
  • Social software
  • External access
  • Workflow applications
  • Process automation applications
  • E-learning
  • Subscription management
  • Incentive points tracking
  • Survey and metrics reporting automation

For example, your organisation will likely already have an intranet. It may be using a tool for virtual meeting rooms. An e-learning system may already exist. There may be a tool for subscription management. Using all such existing tools as part of the KM programme will save money, accelerate implementation, and demonstrate the important concept of reuse.

8. What new tools will need to be created or obtained? In answering the previous question, which tools don't currently exist, but are needed? From the above list, identify all additional tools which are needed but are not currently available.

For example, there may be no suitable technology for team spaces. Discussions may currently be taking place using standard email, and thus not archived for future searches. Emerging technologies such as blogs, wikis, and podcasts may not be available.

Select the most important missing technologies for inclusion in the programme. Analyse the likely costs and benefits of each in making your choices.

9. What integration of tools and systems will be required? Purchasing or developing a series of standalone tools which are disconnected will pose problems for a KM programme. Users will complain that there are too many sites to visit, redundant data entry required, and overlapping and confusing technology.

To avoid these problems, plan to integrate as many tools and systems as possible. Automate data flows to avoid the need for redundant entry.  And purchase or develop suites of products which work well together.

For example, add a data feed from a business system to a knowledge repository. Design a web site which pulls information from multiple sources to provide a unified view. Ensure that the incentive points tracking system automatically detects all desired actions and doesn't require manual entry.


Here is an example of how these questions might be answered in a consulting firm:


1. Which job families in your organisation need to participate in the KM programme?

  • Consultants
  • Project managers
  • Managers

2. What are the different roles that participants will need to play?

  • Consultants: need to collaborate as members of project teams and communities of practice
  • Project managers: need to reuse content from previous projects an contribute details about new ones
  • Managers: need to ensure that consultants and project managers perform their expected roles
  • KM leaders: need to provide the required people, process, and technology components

3. Who are the key stakeholders and leaders to line up in support of the new initiatives?

  • Senior executive: sponsor programme, provide funding, communicate regularly, establish goals, and inspect ongoing performance
  • Management team: lead by example, ensure goals are defined, and reward good performance
  • Thought leaders: lead communities, endorse processes, and use tools


4. What existing processes need to be modified to incorporate KM activities?

  • Project team collaboration: replace ad hoc email and file sharing with use of standard team spaces
  • Employee goal setting and reward: add KM-specific goals and rewards

5. What new processes need to be created?

  • Capture: collect project information and documents
  • Reuse: search for existing content and contacts from previous projects and employ as much as possible in new projects

6. What policies will need to be changed or created to ensure desired behaviours?

  • Collaboration: ensure that all project teams use standard team spaces
  • Capture and reuse: ensure that the capture and reuse processes are followed


7. What existing tools can be used in support of the new initiatives?

  • Threaded discussions
  • Virtual meeting rooms

8. What new tools will need to be created or obtained?

  • Collaborative team spaces
  • Structured repositories

9. What integration of tools and systems will be required?

  • Threaded discussions with email and search
  • Collaborative team spaces and structured repositories with email, search, and workflow

Define a knowledge management strategy

There are nine basic categories of KM strategy: motivate, network, supply, analyse, codify, disseminate, demand, act, and invent. Use these as a guide for formulating the desired list of actions for a KM initiative.

1. Motivate

To enable knowledge-related actions, it is usually necessary to provide incentives and rewards to your targeted users to encourage the desired behaviors. Often, the first step will be a management of change programme to align the culture and values of the organisation to knowledge management. Setting goals and measurements which individuals and managers must achieve is also important. And establishing formal incentives and rewards will reinforce the goals and measurements.

The means of motivating employees include communicating to them, modeling expected behaviours, establishing standard goals to be included in all performance plans, monitoring and reporting on progress against organisational goals, recognising those who demonstrate desired behaviors, providing incentives for meeting objectives, and rewarding outstanding performance.

Examples include town hall and coffee talk sessions conducted by senior leaders, notes from senior leaders to employees who contribute reusable content, standardized performance goals, monthly progress reports, and awards for those who set the best example of sharing their knowledge.

2. NetworK

A fundamental way for knowledge to be shared is through direct contact between people. Connecting to others who can provide assistance or who can benefit from knowledge sharing is a powerful way to leverage each person's individual knowledge. Communicating across organisational silos allows good ideas to be exchanged between groups who might otherwise be unaware of each other. Collaborating within communities allows the members to learn together, which is enabled by community events, threaded discussions, and team spaces.

Building and expanding social networks creates valuable links between individuals and groups. Emerging social software supports these networks through adding friends, identifying shared interests, and tagging resources.

Conversations between people are the basis of building trust, gaining insights, and sparking new ideas. Storytelling ignites action, builds trust, instills values, fosters collaboration, and transmits understanding. The World Café method ( ) "helps us appreciate the importance and connectedness of the informal webs of conversation and social learning through which we discover shared meaning, access collective intelligence, and bring forth the future."

3. Supply

There must be a supply of knowledge in order for it to be reused. Supply-side knowledge management includes collecting documents and files, capturing information and work products, and storing these forms of explicit knowledge in repositories. Tacit knowledge can also be captured and converted to explicit knowledge by recording conversations and presentations, writing down what people do and say, and collecting stories.

Examples of supply strategies include project databases, skills inventories, and document repositories. The content which is captured represents the raw materials. These can then be analysed, codified, disseminated, queried, searched for, retrieved, and reused.

A supply-only strategy will not be very useful to an organisation. Even if every possible document and knowledge object is captured and stored, there is no resultant benefit unless there is significant reuse of all that content. Be sure to keep supply and demand strategies in balance.

4. Analyse

Once there is a supply of captured knowledge, it is then possible to analyse it so that it can be applied in useful ways. Before drawing any conclusions from what has been collected, the content should be scoured to verify that it is valid. Confidential data may need to be scrubbed, or the content may need to be further secured. Lengthy documents may need to be summarised, encapsulated, or condensed.

Reviewing collected information may reveal patterns, trends, or tendencies which can be exploited, expanded, or corrected. Distilling data to extract the essence leads to discovering new ideas and learning how to improve. Knowledge can be harvested in the form of lessons learned, proven practices, and rules of thumb.

Sense-making is the way in which we make sense of the world so that we can act in it. Dave Snowden ( ) describes technologies that process large volumes of data with a view to weak signal detection and pattern recognition. Another kind is naturalistic sense-making, derived from an understanding of the cognitive processes that underpin human decision making.

People can also be analysed to reveal useful facts. Social network analysis maps and measures relationships and flows between people, groups, or organisations to improve communities, identify missing links, and improve connections between groups. Positive Deviants ( ) can be found, whose special practices, strategies, and behaviors enable them to find better solutions to prevalent problems than their neighbors who have access to the same resources.

5. Codify

After collected knowledge has been analysed, it can be codified to produce standard methodologies, reusable material, and repeatable processes. Data can be consolidated, content can be collated, and processes can be integrated to yield improved business results.

Codifying knowledge also involves establishing the value of intellectual property, adding metadata to documents stored in repositories so that they can be easily found, and tagging content so that users can discover useful views, connections, and collections.

Examples include designating documents as standard templates, identifying processes and proven practices, and producing a catalogue of official methods. Refining knowledge after it has been captured so that it can more readily be reused renders it in a more valuable state.

6. Disseminate

Even if captured knowledge has been analysed and codified, it will not be of value unless potential users are aware of its availability. Thus, its existence must be disseminated, both widely to inform all potential users and narrowly to inform targeted consumers.

A variety of communications vehicles should be used to distribute knowledge. Newsletters, web sites, and email messages can be used to spread awareness. Blogs, wikis, and podcasts can be visited online or subscribed to through RSS feeds. Content can be dispersed through syndication and collected through aggregation, including the ability to personalise web sites to display only relevant information.

Examples of knowledge dissemination strategies include providing customized notifications of new or changed content, weekly newsletters featuring new submissions to repositories, and a KM corner on the organisation's home intranet page listing the top 10 most-reused documents for the current month.  Monthly podcasts featuring interviews with thought leaders, weekly con calls featuring conversations about lessons learned, and email messages sharing proven practices are also good ways of increasing awareness.

7. Demand

Demand is the other side of supply. It involves searching for people and content, retrieving information, asking questions, and submitting queries.

Demand-driven knowledge management takes advantage of networks, supply, analysis and codification. It is stimulated by dissemination and enabled by making it easy to find resources.

Examples of demand strategies are expertise locators, ask the expert processes, and search engines. User assistance and knowledge help desks can help connect supply and demand by answering questions, providing support, and searching for content. Specific tools and techniques which enable demand for knowledge are e-learning systems, threaded discussions, and appreciative inquiry ( ).

Focusing more on just-in-time knowledge management and less on collection, content can be provided at the time of need through networks such as communities. By only supplying information which is actually required, unnecessary knowledge capture can be avoided and time and resources used more efficiently.

8. Act

Peter Drucker is widely quoted as saying "The knowledge that we consider knowledge proves itself in action.  What we now mean by knowledge is information in action, information focused on results." The payoff for motivating, networking, supplying, analysing, codifying, disseminating, and demanding knowledge is results through action.

Making better decisions is supported by networks and analysis. Implementing changes to replicate proven practices and improving processes based on previous experience are also enabled by analysis.

Incorporating knowledge into routine workflow and utilising processes and procedures can be done as a result of codification. Disseminating what has been learned allows it to be applied to new situations. Responding to requests, answering questions, and using and reusing content are actions which result from demand.

Responding, deciding, and reusing are good examples of acting as part of a knowledge management initiative. Another form of action is the next strategy – invention.

9. Invent

A special kind of action is invention. Creating new products and services, coming up with new ideas to try out, and developing innovative methods and processes can help transform an organisation, industry, or a nation.

Generating new sources of customer demand, stimulating personal and organisational growth, and rethinking the existing rules of the road can help an organisation develop, thrive, and endure.  Failure to do so may lead to stagnation, decay, or death.

Knowledge management can help trigger the imagination by providing a continually replenished source of ideas and experiences. People help bring out the best ideas in each other through their interaction as a part of networks. Publishing white papers stimulates creative thinking. Analysing collected knowledge reveals patterns and opportunities for new developments.


Here are three examples of KM strategies.

1. Non-Profit Organisation

Top 3 Objectives

  • Lower costs by preventing people from reinventing the wheel all the time.
  • Eliminate deficits caused by repeating the same mistakes.
  • Increase contributions by innovating and creating new capabilities.

KM Strategy

  • Motivate: provide incentives for sharing and reusing proven practices.
  • Network: create communities of practice to enable sharing and to stimulate new ideas.
  • Supply: collect stories on both failures and successes.
  • Analyze: look for patterns and trends in previous work, and select proven practices from the collected stories.
  • Codify: develop standard processes to follow.
  • Disseminate: publish standard processes to the intranet, and distribute proven practices in a monthly newsletter.
  • Demand: use communities to ask questions about how to perform tasks, and allow searching the proven practice repository.
  • Act: follow the standard processes, and reuse proven practices on new opportunities.
  • Invent: create new sponsorship opportunities, and develop improved fund-raising techniques.

 2. Manufacturing Company

Top 3 Objectives

  • Increase orders by better collaboration between sales, services, and back-office functions.
  • Increase revenue by stimulating a flow of ideas for new products and services.
  • Increase profits by sharing and reusing lessons learned.

KM Strategy

  • Motivate: reward collaboration, submitting new ideas, and sharing and reusing lessons learned.
  • Network: enable cross-functional collaboration.
  • Supply: capture lessons learned and suggestions for new products and services.
  • Analyse: select best lessons learned and suggestions.
  • Codify: categorise and tag selected lessons learned and suggestions.
  • Disseminate: send out lessons learned in email messages, and publish blog entries about new ideas.
  • Demand: provide query capability for lessons learned database.
  • Act: reuse lessons learned.
  • Invent: develop new products and services through collaboration and submitted ideas.

 3.     Consulting firm

Top 3 Objectives

  • Increase win rate by improving the proposal development process.
  • Lower sales and delivery costs by reusing proven practices.
  • Increase engagement quality by collaborating with customers and partners.

KM Strategy

  • Motivate: measure and reward collaboration, sharing, capture, and reuse.
  • Network: get all consultants and project managers to collaborate on projects, actively participate in communities of practice
  • Supply: capture proposals and other project documents for all projects.
  • Analyse: select proven practices from contributed project documents.
  • Codify: ensure metadata is attached to submitted documents, and cleanse proposals to use as standard templates.
  • Disseminate: make it easy for everyone to find reusable content, methods, tools, templates, techniques, and examples.
  • Demand: search for proven practices and proposal templates for each new project.
  • Act: reuse proven practices and proposal templates on each new project, and employ customer and partner feedback to improve project quality.
  • Invent: use customer and partner feedback to improve existing services and create new service offerings.

 By Stan Garfield



Stan works for Deloitte as the Community Evangelist in Global Knowledge Services. He is based in Detroit, Michigan,
He spent 25 years at HP, Compaq, and Digital Equipment Corp. Stan launched Digital's first knowledge management program in 1996, helped develop the corporate KM strategy for Compaq, and led the Worldwide Consulting & Integration Knowledge Management Program for HP.
Stan holds a BS in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science from Washington University in St. Louis.  He published the book “Implementing a Successful KM Programme” in 2007, leads the SIKM Leaders Community with over 500 members globally, and is invited to present at numerous conferences, most recently at KMWorld 2013.