5 Steps to Organisational Knowledge Management
by Tony Cunningham – Tuesday, 20 June 2017
What is Organisational Knowledge?
One of the new requirements of ISO 9001:2015 includes the need for management of Organisational Knowledge (Clause 7.1.6). The challenge with this need is that most companies find the requirement rather ambiguous. Organisational Knowledge is not defined in ISO 9000:2015, which leaves both the auditor and auditee in a quandary.
Defining Organisational Knowledge
The business dictionary implies that ‘Organizational Knowledge‘ is an asset that we cannot quantify; a collection of individual knowledge that provides an advantage over others in the same field. This definition appears to at least agree with the position of Clause 7.1.6 under section 7. Resources.
A literature search will reveal that there is a limited consensus on the definition. From a conformance perspective, this leaves one with the choice to draw one’s own conclusions on how to define the topic.
Knowledge Management is an extensive body of knowledge that came to the fore during the early 1990’s. This elevated by the IT industry when electronic Knowledge Management tools were first developed.
“…facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.”
In a nutshell, one might say that knowledge management is the process by which knowledge is gathered, held and disseminated as ‘know-how’, to those who are accountable to achieve an objective. This description may not be accurate for a Knowledge Management Guru, but serves its purpose for this article.
The source of such knowledge may be held by electronic media or in the minds of people. Thus, it is safe to say that this is a resource, comprising all knowledge available to the organisation.
Why is Organisational Knowledge valuable?
Organisational Knowledge is important to all organisations but is typically leveraged by geographically dispersed organisations.
Organisations that do well at Knowledge Management often have powerful information technology systems. These are able to:
- mine existing data, irrespective of where it resides;
- combine this with real-time communication;
- and, deliver it to those who need it, in a timely manner.
Social media often has a role to play in accessing organisational knowledge, from subject-matter experts, within the organisation.
A Sales office in Toronto may secure a project, resourced from a team in London and, supported by subject-matter experts in Sidney and Tokyo. To bring the required knowledge together effectively, they may use a Knowledge Management software tool. This would mine data across geographies and databases – including emails, webinar recordings, presentation files, CAD files, CVs of people competent in the subject matter, lessons recorded from previous projects, nonconformities and costing files, etc.
Whilst this may work for the large multi-national, the smaller organisation may only have a central drive on a local server and a library in the training room.
Smaller organisations may not have the need or resources to deliver the best practice examples mentioned above. The clause certainly requires a deeper investigation to ensure that the ‘know-how’ is at the required points of action, throughout the organisation.
Using Organisational Knowledge in a Quality Management System
When considered in the context of the ISO 9001:2015 standard, the requirements of ‘7.1.6 Organizational Knowledge’ cannot be read in isolation, since this will minimise the usefulness of this part of the standard.
To develop a Quality Management System, the organisation is required to consider the context of its existence. This both in terms of the factors influencing it or that it can influence, including the needs of interested parties. This can be seen in Clause 4 of the standard. These strategic factors influence the definition of its objectives (including quality objectives), as well as the processes that it uses to achieve these objectives. This can be seen in Clause 6 of the standard.
Since “The organization shall establish quality objectives at relevant functions, levels and processes” (Clause 6.2.1), those who are accountable to achieve these objectives require the full ‘know-how’, to fulfil their obligations, or they may miss the mark.
The role of Communication and Organisational Knowledge
Communication (Clause 7.4) plays a significant role in association with the Organisational Knowledge requirements, as well.
The Organizational Knowledge clause, therefore, requires that the knowledge is determined, held in a current format, and shared with those who need it to do their job. This includes comparing existing knowledge to that which is required, obtaining new ‘know-how’ as circumstances change, and deploying it across all functions, through strategic, management and operational levels.
Synergy through Organisational Knowledge Management
Although the notes associated with Clause 7.1.6 are not auditable, there are strong suggestions that knowledge is sourced far and wide. This typically goes way beyond the traditional content of documented process procedures.
We know that knowledge gained by experience (tribal knowledge) is often lost when key players leave an organisation. Gathering such knowledge also forms part of the intent behind knowledge management. This really highlights that having the knowledge and being able to access it is not necessarily the end goal.
A knowledge management system will, through synergy, provide a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. It is reliant on leadership and culture along with the relevant tools. Developing a learning culture, where those with the knowledge and experience train, coach and mentor those who don’t is vital. This motivates those who don’t have the knowledge to learn from those who do.
5 steps to Organizational Knowledge Management
- Start by determining what Organisational Knowledge is needed.An audit that records the knowledge needed to achieve the objectives of each business process will be useful.
- Compare this to what is already available and consider how accessible the knowledge is to those who need it.
- Develop a system or improve any existing systems that deliver the knowledge.Remember that circumstances are constantly changing and that the organisation will need to keep Organisational Knowledge up-to-date.
- Consider both traditional Quality Management documentation as well as training, coaching and mentoring.
- Add to this where resources, such as software tools, are available.
The standard does not demand a formal Knowledge Management tool. It does require that the organisation pay sufficient attention to the knowledge at the heart of sustainability, as well as the achievement of product and service quality.
How one acquires the knowledge relating to requirements of interested parties, including knowledge relating to the customer, and how one internalises and operationalises all of this knowledge, could be as simple a matter as adopting the process approach. A systematic but simple methodology that steps through the process inputs, process activities and process outputs, whilst considering required knowledge, can yield valuable results without incurring unnecessary cost.
You can broaden your understanding of the new requirements of the standard and its inclusion of Organisational Knowledge by attending one of our online ISO 9001:2015 courses. Follow this link to find out more.
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