Reuse of Knowledge – Understanding What It Means: Charting a New Destiny For KM

ACIES Innovations
November 5, 2020
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Is it a mature KM culture when a project reports 20% reuse of knowledge? Does an Organisation have a mature KM practice, if there is extensive sharing between the employees? Well, the answer is ‘no’. If the reuse percentage in an Organisation is very high or if there is extensive knowledge sharing, most probably the Organisation will be suffering from an inability to get the most out of knowledge. It will be essentially under-utilizing knowledge of the Organisation.

Let us understand the working of reuse and analyse why a high level of reuse may reflect a weak KM culture and application.

What does reuse mean?

Reuse means applying existing knowledge or information again to do an activity. In a typical Organisation, reuse happens when an employee seeks and applies knowledge or information to do work. Reuse can also happen at a team level for example when a project team reuses knowledge and information that is there with another team.

Knowledge reuse is the reuse of procedural knowledge (know-how) and reasoning/causal knowledge (know-why). This keeps happening on a regular basis in Organisations, through various means like knowledge sharing sessions, mentoring activities, handholding by SMEs etc. Reuse of information involves reusing work-related information that will improve the way any task is performed. For example, Project Managers focus a lot on connecting with peer members who have worked in similar projects to gather information related to risks, assumptions, estimations, contingencies that may be involved in a project. Reuse also happens in the form of virtual assets, which can be a PPT, a piece of code, checklist or template. For example, a consultant regularly reuses his or her previous slides or reports. An architect will always be on the lookout to reuse previous architectures created.

Why high reuse percentage reflects weakness in the practice of KM?

To understand why a high level of reuse means weak KM practice, let us take the case of two Organisations. One Organisation has a high level of reuse, while the second does not have.

Let us examine the first Organisation. In the case of the first Organisation, the reuse levels are high since the managers and employees are aware of the benefits of reuse and are constantly looking out for ways to reuse knowledge. For this, they are supported by a well-structured database of reusable knowledge and information, available in the form of documents and assets. It also has a very mature knowledge sharing and collaboration practice enabling reuse of knowledge with employees. Due to the proactive nature of employees and managers, the reuse levels are very high.

However, we should understand that a high level of reuse is possible because there is high scope for reuse. This typically happens in the case of Organisations which has got the uneven distribution of knowledge and are working in silos. There will be high knowledge deficiency. The high level of knowledge deficiency to perform any activity results in the need to find relevant knowledge to perform those activities. These knowledge are acquired through knowledge sharing sessions, discussing with SMEs, reading through documents or reusing assets.

The Organisation will also have processes that are not standardized. As a result, the level of maturity in performing the tasks will be low and within the same Organisation teams, will be performing at different levels of maturity. This results in an opportunity for teams to learn from another team.

This actually is a reflection of a weak KM practice. To understand this better let us consider the second situation

Low scope for reuse may actually mean a very mature KM practice

The focus of the second Organisation also revolves around capturing knowledge and information which has got high scope for reuse. However, unlike the first Organisation, the second Organisation focuses on embedding learning into the way tasks are performed. Here knowledge and information gets embedded into the tools, processes and employee skills. In such an Organisation scope for reuse will be the lowest, because all the knowledge and information that needs to be reused is already accounted for. They will be running at better performance parameters.

Here the KM work is lot invisible. The KM function will be focusing on generating new knowledge and ensuring the knowledge gets consumed by institutionalizing it. It does not depend on employees to ensure reuse. While a typical KM framework will not consider this KM function as running at the highest level of maturity, but in reality, the Organisation will be getting the most benefited from such an approach.

Do we need knowledge and information reuse or not

So the key question is whether knowledge and information reuse is required or not. The answer is that it is required. However any approach to reuse, that is not driven through processes and standardization will not help in leveraging knowledge to the extent it should be. Definitely, there will be situations like where work cannot be standardized as they are very complex, however in those situations promotion of reuse through embedding will help in improving standardization.

What is required is to understand the Organisation as performing a mix of tasks and role of the KM function as to improve maturity in the way the tasks are performed. This will help Knowledge managers visualize the Organisation and the tasks they are performing as done through processes, tools and employees. Once that kind of visualization comes in, it becomes easy to promote reuse.

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