Organizing for knowledge management
In order to launch enterprise-wide knowledge sharing, some kind of organizational arrangements need to be put in place. Organizations are still experimenting with the right way to organize – some putting the function in the computing group, some putting it in strategy or finance, some putting it in operations, and some locating it as a function of top management. Whatever the organizational location, a pattern of arrangements that is becoming increasingly common includes:
a very small central coordinating unit with overall coordination responsibility, and spearheading the change process in the organization, making the case for change, solving problems as they emerge, measuring progress, providing support to communities of practice, and in general, doing whatever needs to be done in order for knowledge management to succeed.
decentralized implementation responsibility resting with line managers of the existing business;
communities of practice or help desks as the key instrument for sharing; and
some kind of capacity to make organization-wide policy decisions.
There is less agreement as to where to place the coordinating unit. Some organizations place it in the computer group. Some place it in the strategy or finance group. Some place it in general operations. No matter where the unit is located, there are risks and dangers:
The danger with placing the coordination unit in the computer group of an organization is that knowledge management will become associated with information technology, rather than being seen as a better way of pursuing the organization's business.
The risk of placing the coordination unit in strategy or in general operations, is that there will be inadequate coordination with IT.
The risk of placing the unit in the strategy group may be the lack of connection to day-to-day operations.
Ultimately, there is thus no absolute right answer as to where to place the coordinating unit. Each organization will decide where to place the coordinating unit, depending on the politics and preoccupations of the organization at the time. If the computer group provides a congenial and supportive home for the unit, that may be the best interim location.
The size of the coordinating unit, even in large organizations, is usually less than ten people. Larger units have been tried, but have mostly been dismantled, as they encourage excessive centralization of a function which should be decentralized.
It is important to keep the implementation arrangements light and flexible, so that they can be adjusted to deal with changes in the organization's business.
Stephen Denning, The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations. Boston, London, Butterworth Heinemann, October 2000.
Stephen Denning: The Leader's Guide to Storytelling (Jossey-Bass, 2005) chapter 8.