KM Chicago: Being an Information Plumber

Dave Simmons, who has a wide variety of KM experience, spoke at the March KM Chicago meeting on "Working with KM Building Blocks: Starting and Sustaining a KM Initiative at the local level."  He's currently at the US General Services Administration and has been at Chicago's Children's Memorial Foundation and at LEGO.  He is a information maven at heart, and it became even clearer in his presentation.  He loves figuring out information flows and then helping others get what they need.  He's an "information plumber."

Dave's essential story was fairly straightforward.  If you are starting a KM initiative, it should fit the overall purpose of the business.  And there is an overall flow for getting into new KM work:

  1. Gather Information
  2. Build Your Toolbox
  3. Identify Projects
  4. Build the Case
  5. Work the Plan

But as he was describing these steps in greater detail and covering his extensive rules of thumb, I kept thinking to myself, "I should be doing that!"  And I am not formally doing KM in my new position.  But all of the things Dave talked about are critical to learning any new Knowledge Work position in business today.

Note that Dave doesn't mention knowledge in that list.  He figures that "knowledge" shows up as you walk through those steps.  He is particularly interested in the information that gets handled a lot within the company.  If it's getting reported and analyzed and massaged, then it must be high-value, and there must be knowledge in the processing of that information.  That is where a KM initiative could have some value.

Dave uses a framework from Carla O'Dell's If Only We Knew What We Know, which suggests that any KM effort addresses at least one of Operational Effectiveness, Customer Intimacy, or Market Leadership & Innovation.  And within these broad business propositions, one can work on aspects associated with people, process and information.  At least one of these "KM Business Propositions" should align with the business direction, so that you know how to drive and frame the purpose of the KM Initiative. 

What happens if your pet KM project is a Customer Intimacy project, but the company's drive is really around Operational Effectiveness?  Then you get a stealth KM project, where the profile (and budget) are much lower.  But stealth KM isn't necessarily less effective or important.  Dave said that about 2/3 of the KM work he does is of the stealth variety.  That can range anywhere from things he does by himself to time he borrows from developers or other contributors.  The other thing about these stealth initiatives, from Dave's perspective, is that as the corporate direction shifts, this may create alignment with those underground initiatives.  If you've already made some headway on the stealth end of things, it might be possible to get some quick wins in an area that has become more important in the organization.

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