Business Knowledge Management

In the last few years a lot has been written about Business Process Management, and about technologies supporting it such as BPMS, SOAP and Web Services. Most of these theories, tools and techniques refer to processes of a highly structured nature.

Typically, BPM theorists and practitioners have focused on highly structured processes, like back-office processes of industrial or administrative nature. These processes are highly standardized and repeatable, produce a consistent output and are likely to be automated in part or end-to-end (STP). All process instances are executed in a very similar way and it is easy to draw a flowchart detailing the sequence in which tasks are executed. It is also possible to formalize the business rules that guide decisions, normally based on the evaluation of some process variables.

But recently other kinds of processes have caught the attention of process management specialists. They are known as knowledge processes, or knowledge-based processes. Knowledge processes can be defined as "high added value processes in which the achievement of goals is highly dependent on the skills, knowledge and experience of the people carrying them out". Some examples could be management, R&D, or new product development processes.

Knowledge workers carry out these processes by taking into account multiple inputs (generally a wide set of unstructured data and information) to perform difficult tasks and make complex decisions among multiple possible ways of doing the work, each one implying different levels of risk and possible benefits. They are dependent on individuals and it is not possible to automate them.

One example of a knowledge process is "Marketing a new product". The same steps are followed each time a new product is launched (benchmarking competitors, deciding pricing strategy, planning promotion, etc...), but it is the experience, knowledge and intuition of the people that drive the process to success.

* Multiple inputs to the process exist

Some of them would be competition, lifecycle stage of the market, brand image, budget, etc...

* Complex decisions are made

There are many possible ways to achieve the process objectives (reach planned sales, leverage brand image, etc...)

* Each decision implies different levels of risk and potential benefits

It is the responsibility of the worker to choose the best one (low price strategy, aggressive advertising campaign, etc...)

There are three main characteristics that make knowledge processes different from highly structured processes:

Focus is on communication instead of automation

The key to process improvement is to clearly communicate process definitions (the way in which the company wants the processes to be carried out) to the people in charge of their execution (through training, process descriptions publication, etc...). The better process participants understand the process definition, the higher the probability that the process is carried out according to it.

They are better implemented through obtaining buy-in than through imposing directives

They are more difficult to implement through discipline than administrative human-centric processes (although some discipline is needed). It is better to focus on obtaining buy-in from the people affected by the processes through early involvement, communication and expectations management. It is a known fact that knowledge workers are reluctant to change their habits. Some say knowledge workers don't like following procedures because they feel it limits their creativity; but most of the time they will be happy to follow a procedure as long as they see value in it, perceiving that it helps them work better and produce a better process output.

Process definitions are high level descriptions instead of rigid workflows

Processes can only be defined up to a certain level of detail, and it is difficult to provide low level work instructions or to automate decisions. Because they cannot be formalised in detail, process simulation is rarely possible. Decisions are highly subjective and too complex to be expressed in a formal language, as they are taken based on intuition and not on rigid business rules.

It is extremely important to continuously improve knowledge processes, by creating an environment through which they can evolve. This can only be achieved through coordination of diverse disciplines such as knowledge management, change management, expectations management, etc... It is crucial to establish an adequate process context (the combination of technologies, procedures, people, etc... that support the processes). The process context must incorporate feedback mechanisms, change evaluation procedures, process improvement methods and techniques and must be flexible, in order to be able to incorporate enhancements in an agile but controlled way.

If the process is instantiated frequently and the instances are homegeneous, it is possible to create great process models that dramatically increase the efficiency of the process. The best way to ensure process improvement is to generate an environment in which people are motivated, enthusiastic and passionate about process management.

Most of the time, knowledge processes are collaborative. By performing a process collaboratively it is possible that each task is carried out by the most specialised, experienced and knowledgeable worker in that specific area. Having a net of relations within the organization is a very important asset for people executing knowledge processes.

In the last years some organizations have emerged with the aim of creating professional communities around specific disciplines such as Software Development (SEI, ESI, etc...), Project Management (PMI), Business Process Management (BPMI), IT Service Management (ITSMF), etc... One of the objectives of these groups is to develop a body of knowledge that compiles the discipline's best practices in the form of reference frameworks, methodologies and maturity models. These assets should be considered by any organization interested in knowledge process management.

It is usual that knowledge processes take the form of projects to manage their execution. If the output of the process is a unique product, managing work as a project will result in obvious advantages.

There are certain guidelines that can help an organization willing to improve their knowledge processes:

* Provide process description on how to approach work

Try to figure out the best way to carry out a knowledge process, by making the best practices existing in your organization (or in your industry) explicit. Publish process definitions in a format that is easy to consult and understand.

* Provide tools that facilitate and standardize work

Decide which tools are best to help knowledge workers carry out their work. Involving all affected knowledge workers in the process of deciding which tools will be used is very convenient, in order to obtain user buy in. It is a good idea to choose a champion for each tool who will master its use.

* Assign owners to processes

Choose a person with leadership skills and the appropriate level of responsibility and influence and make him/her accountable for continuous improvement of the process. Give him/her a clear objective to achieve and an incentive to reach the goal.

* Encourage feedback for process improvement

To ensure that the flow of information between executors and the process owner is fluid, encourage people to contribute to process enhancement through incentives. Use your imagination to reward contributors (consider not only monetary incentives).

Lucas Rodríguez Cervera is founder of Nevant ? Process documentation software, a company specialized in delivering process solutions to knowledge based companies. They pioneered this concept with metoCube.

In The News:


pen paper and inkwell


cat break through


Performance Reviews That Actually Improve Performance

Employee performance reviews are one of the most dreaded tasks... Read More

Have You Fixed the Broken Window?

Left alone it doesn't take long for a building with... Read More

Tales from the Corporate Frontlines: Senior Management and Directional Change

This article relates to the Senior/Top Level management of an... Read More

Stop Waste, Fraud and Abuse

Each year, businesses write-off six percent of revenue to waste,... Read More

Mantra for Managers

What do organizations look for in a prospective employee with... Read More

How to Reduce Temporary Employee Turnover

The use of temporary services to stock a farm of... Read More

Creativity and Innovation Management: Generating Better Ideas

Creativity can be defined as problem identification and idea generation... Read More

The Golden Key to Meeting Success

We all attend many meetings. I'm sure you have been... Read More

Hows Your Company RQ (Reputation Quotient)?

In light of recent corporate scandals, from Enron and Global... Read More

Important Communication Tips For Managers

The following tips will help you communicate more effectively with... Read More

Take This Into Consideration Before You Write Your Mission Statement

What principles should a company keep in mind when developing... Read More

Better Manager Skills - How to Learn

When you first take over a department, expectations are usually... Read More

Knowledge Management: More Than Just Know-how!

People sometimes interchange the terms "know-how" and "knowledge", but there's... Read More

Doing More With Less

This is a bottom-line environment.Decreasing the downtime of revenue producing... Read More

Success at Work : People Skills : Dealing with New Ideas

Re-organizing, re-engineering, re-training, down-sizing, outsourcing, changing-changing-changing. Organizations today think they... Read More

Todays Employees and Their New Needs: What You Need to Know

Today's employees are not only interested in security or in... Read More

Time for Change - Clearing the First Hurdle

"Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump... Read More

The Ten Keys to Maximizing Employee Performance

1. Let people know what you expect. If people know... Read More

9 Tips for Getting the Most From Your Conference Investment

Tips for Getting the Most From Your Conference Investment All... Read More

The Challenges of Human Resource Management

IntroductionThe role of the Human Resource Manager is evolving with... Read More

Why You Should Hold One More Meeting

If you are completely happy with where you and your... Read More

Treat Employees Fairly, Car Wash Entrepreneur sets Industry Standards

I believe that whether corporations expense their stock options is... Read More

Big Company Intelligence on a Small Company Budget

Information is the lifeblood of the economy. That's especially true... Read More

Make Change Easy - Get Involved!

There are wild variances in how much involvement organisations are... Read More

Management Consultants, Creativity, Innovation

Most firms have intelligent, capable, knowledgeable managers who are very... Read More

The Four Key Steps In Hiring And Keeping Top People

"When you hire the best, the rest is easy!" We... Read More

Managing Dickheads

"We are so different and individualistic that we can't work... Read More

Business Innovation ? Core Competency and Competitive Advantage

Creativity can be defined as problem identification and idea generation... Read More

The Seven Cs: Partnership Danger Signs - Conflict Becoming the Norm ? Part 1

A series of articles exploring the seven critical areas that... Read More

Focus and Shoot

One of my earliest childhood memories is watching Lew Alcindor... Read More

Quick Tip - Effective Meetings Earn a Profit

Most people treat meetings as a free resource that can... Read More

Business Innovation ? Organizational Culture

Creativity can be defined as problem identification and idea generation... Read More

Think Twice Before Selling ROI

When we're selling to business people, our value proposition has... Read More