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Successfully Implementing Knowledge Management

  • ID: 42817
  • Report
  • July 2000
  • 200 pages
  • American Productivity & Quality Center, APQC
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This Best-Practice Report is based on a knowledge management (KM) consortium
benchmarking study conducted by the International Benchmarking Clearinghouse, a service of the American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC). Previous consortium studies include:
- Creating a Knowledge-Sharing Culture,
- Expanding Knowledge Management Externally: Putting Your Knowledge to Work
for Customers,
- Knowledge Management and the Learning Organisation: A European Perspective,
- Managing Competitive Intelligence Knowledge in a Global Economy: Emerging
Best Practices in Knowledge Management, and
- Using Information Technology to Support Knowledge Management.

Building on its successful predecessors, this study focuses on how some of the
most advanced early KM adopters implement a knowledge management initiative, mobilize resources, create a business case, and measure and evolve their KM programs. The goal of this report is to enable organizations to compare their own knowledge management initiatives with others and identify any performance gaps or opportunities for improvement. This Best-Practice Report also affords them the opportunity to gain a better understanding of issues faced and challenges overcome in implementing a successful knowledge management initiative. Forty-nine companies participated in this consortium by attending a series of planning sessions, completing data-gathering surveys, and/or attending or hosting on-site interviews. Of those 49 companies, 39 sponsored the study (“sponsor companies”). Ten companies, including two of the sponsor companies, were identified as having strong knowledge management initiatives in place and were invited to participate in the study as benchmarking partners (“partner companies”).


Drawing input from subject matter expert (SME) Dr. Carla O’Dell and research, the study team identified four key focus areas. These areas guided the design of the data collection instruments and were the basis on which the stages of successful implementation have been developed. A brief description of the four areas is provided below.

1. Creating a KM Business Case
- Building the business case for KM
- Justifying and gaining management support for the KM budget
- Developing a value proposition for KM that’s tied to the business strategy

2. Structuring a KM Strategy
- Aligning KM with business strategy
- Leadership and support needed to sustain a KM strategy

3. Implementing Your KM Initiative
- The advantages of a top-down or a bottom-up approach to KM
- Technologies to support KM
- Leveraging intranets to share and capture knowledge internally
- The roles organizations are creating to support KM strategies
- Determining staff size and how much time and resources to spend on KM
- The role of KM training

4. Measuring and Evolving the KM Efforts
- Soliciting feedback regarding KM products
- Evaluating the effectiveness of KM programs
- Understanding how and why KM programs evolve
- Developing global KM capabilities


There is widespread understanding of the value of knowledge management in
many organizations. One might think that mature knowledge management initiatives are widespread as well. In fact, the gap between organizations recognizing the value of knowledge management and those fully implementing it is large. As evidence, at the inception of this consortium study, more than 80 percent of the organizations in the sponsor group indicated that they have no formal plan or are just beginning knowledge management. Is our sponsor group behind the times? Hardly. They represent many forwardlooking organizations exploring and piloting KM. Only our knowledge management early adopters are far along the implementation journey. This study’s focus is to understand how the knowledge management initiatives in best-practice companies started and evolved, not to get a snapshot of where they are now. By understanding the process, and stages, practitioners will be better equipped to manage knowledge in their own organizations.

APQC has created a model that captures the stages of successfully implementing knowledge management. This emergent model, illustrated in later sections, was developed using data from all of the best-practice companies, as well as APQC’s experiences with many of the early adopters of KM. As described in the model overview chapter, the model provides us a framework to discuss the typical stages and characteristics; the model is not rigid, but fluid. Knowledge management implementation stages can serve as a road map to enable the reader to understand where his/her organization is in the KM journey, to see how others have successfully faced the same challenges, and to know what might be done to move on. Understanding the issues and knowing the tools and tactics of others can help at any stage. Learning from others is the opportunity to make new mistakes, not repeat those of others. The following are some of the key features of successful implementation discovered during this study.

Business Cases and Budgets
Communities of Practice
Information Technology Impact


The consortium benchmarking methodology that guided this knowledge management study was developed in 1993 and serves as one of the premier methods for successful benchmarking in the world. It was recognized by the European Center for Total Quality Management in 1995 as first among 10 leading benchmarking organizations’ models. It is an extremely powerful tool for identifying best and innovative practices and for facilitating the actual transfer of these practices. Secondary research conducted by APQC was used to help identify
innovative companies to participate in this study as best-practice partners.
In addition to this research, APQC staff members and the subject matter
experts identified potential participants based on their firsthand experiences and research. The data collection tools used to gather information are:
- Screening Questionnaire: qualitative questions designed to identify best practices;
- Detailed Questionnaire: quantitative questions designed to collect objective and quantitative data, and
- Site Visit Discussion Guide: qualitative questions designed to collect qualitative information about targeted aspects of knowledge management practices.

Five of the 10 partner companies hosted half-day or full-day site visits, allowing sponsors to meet with key personnel and share their knowledge management strategies and practices. A group of consortium members attended each site visit to participate in the discussion and to experience various programs firsthand. All partner companies responded to the Screening Questionnaire, and partners and sponsors responded to the Detailed Questionnaire. The total number of respondents to the quantitative portion of the study is 26 sponsors and 10 partners. Only five partner companies were asked to respond to the Site Visit Discussion Guide during the on-site interviews.
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- Sponsor and Partner Organizations

A listing of the sponsor organizations in this study, as well as the best-practice (“partner”) organizations that were benchmarked for their innovation and advancement in knowledge management.

- Executive Summary

A bird’s-eye view of the study, presenting the key findings discovered and the methodology used throughout the course of the study. The findings are explored in detail in following sections.

- Study Findings

An in-depth look at the findings of this study. The findings are supported by quantitative data and qualitative examples of practices employed by the partner organizations.

- Best-Practice Organization Case Studies

Background information on the partner organizations, as well as details about their innovative knowledge management practices.
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