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

Offshore This! (Outsourcing Tech Support Overseas)

So I call my telephone company and someone picks up... Read More

Project Heroes

Project heroes. We've all heard of them. Some of us... Read More

Tales from the Corporate Frontlines: Coworkers Collaborate to Complete Successful Initiative

This short story, Coworkers Collaborate to Complete Successful Initiative, was... Read More

When Business Becomes A Battlefield

"We have to be careful it's like a minefield out... Read More

Top 5 Services Your Company?s Accounting Department Should Outsource

Accounting is one area which every company has to maintain... Read More

People Literacy

Every Manager has experienced the frustration of not understanding why... Read More

How to Hold Effective Staff Meetings

Many people believe that they conduct effective meetings, when all... Read More

Can Your Corporate Policy Pass the Monkeys, Bananas, and Water-spray Experiment?

Five monkeys were placed in a cage. A banana was... Read More

Structure Your Payment Offers to Sell More Products

The way you structure your payment offers can increase your... Read More

Five Ways to Increase Profitability By Doing The Right Thing

1. Base your business in the Magic Triangle. Honesty, integrity,... Read More

Taking Care of Middle Manager Bounce Off

How many times have the management consultants been 'in' and... Read More

Managing Meetings

Plan/prepare - lack of purpose causes aimless meetings. Know why... Read More

How to Dodge Distribution Difficulties

It happened again. I ran into an old friend while... Read More

Appraisal Interviews: What To Say & How To Say It

STEPS TOWARDS A GOOD APPRAISAL INTERVIEW:Don't say: "You just don't... Read More

Tales From the Corporate Frontlines: Diversity in the Workplace: Ethnic Considerations

This article relates to the Diversity in the Workplace Competency,... Read More

Another Use for Meetings

Every meeting is a laboratory where you can observe and... Read More

5 Questions Great Managers Ask (and they arent hard!)

However hard we try, we seem to make life more... Read More

ISO 9001 What Records Does My Business Need To Keep?

Which documents must I keep for ISO 9001?In addition to... Read More

Keeping and Motivating the Best Employees

Keeping and Motivating the Best Employees ... Read More

Get Down With OCP: Evaluating DBA Job Applicants in an OCP World

Not long ago, weeding through DBA applicants with a tech... Read More

Meaningful Diversity: Creating Cultures of Inclusion

In the fitness room the other day, I caught a... Read More

Innovation Management ? the Root of the Problem

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

Which ITIL Process Should We Implement First?

The following question is usually debated a lot amongst IT... Read More

How to Get Your Procedures Project Done

Wouldn't it be nice for business owners and executives to... Read More

Successful Managing Through Delegation

Managers should avoid the tendency to constantly delegate to the... Read More

Tales from the Corporate Frontlines: Employee Ideas Achieve Work Life Balance

This article relates to the Work/Life Balance competency, which investigates... Read More

Eight Key Steps to Building B2B Major Account Client Alliances

Audiences who saw the fabled Broadway musical, Chorus Line, marveled... Read More

The Ivory Tower Syndrome

"His cardinal mistake is that he isolates himself, and allows... Read More

When Change Is In the Wind...Heads Up!

In these days of takeovers and mergers, of downsizings and... Read More

Training and ROI (Return On Investment)

Statistics consistently reinforce that the biggest challenge in today's contact... Read More

Top Ten Tips About Communicating with Your Employees Effectively

Communication is the basis of who you are as a... Read More

How to Hire the Right People

One of the biggest challenges any business owner or manager... Read More

Four Ways To Make the Case For Outsourcing

How do you convert outsourcing leads into clients? You may... Read More