Metaknowledge Part III: The 4X4KM knowledge management framework

The Metaknowledge Guide offers a concise, practical guide to knowledge management for both newcomers and experienced practitioners.

Part III provides an overview of the 4X4KM framework, based on the four core activities of knowledge management. This framework is an invaluable tool in organizing your KM, and keeping your efforts focused and productive.

Before we dive in, let's address a common question: what am I supposed to do with a framework? Isn't that all just theory? 

It might not seem like it at a glance, but knowledge management is a project. And, as any project manager will tell you, the biggest reason projects fail is due to unclear scope and governance. That is, lack of clarity on what the project is supposed to achieve, and lack of discipline and focus in achieving it. When confronted with a frustrating problem, it's tempting to dive right in and start fixing. Even more so in professional environments that encourage doing over thinking - that reward being busy over being productive. Don't fall into this trap (even when it's called "Agile"). When it comes to knowledge management (KM), that mindset is a guarantee for failure. Not only are you dealing with a subject matter that is vague to most people at the best of times, but the problem is not the problem, the behavior causing the problem is the problem. The problems that KM seeks to solve and prevent are often caused by a "do first, think later" way-of-working. You can't solve these problems with the same mindset. 

The framework below helps you identify what you should do, and clarify what you will do. Most importantly, it will help you establish what you will not do. Without a clearly defined end-state, the expectations for the project remain vague. You can't measure progress if you don't know where you're going. If you can't show progress, the project will fizzle out. And if there is a vague sense of progress by these vague expectations, you will soon be burdened with more and more vague requirements, straining your resources until the project inevitably fails. 

A framework like this will help you avoid that. However, a framework is not a plan. It’s a design – a description of what your KM looks like, what is needed, and how it will keep going. We will discuss the KM project plan a following part of the Metaknowledge Guide. 

The 4X4KM Framework

There are four core activities that KM seeks to support, facilitate, and optimize:

  • Connecting people: direct knowledge sharing between people through conversation, mentorship, and observation.
  • Capturing reusable knowledge: turning the knowledge in the heads of people into clear, reusable information through the creation of documentation, designs, videos, and other forms.
  • Keeping it accurate and relevant: combining old and new information into a “one version of truth”, and ensuring the available information is accurate, relevant, and useful for those using it.
  • Ensuring reuse: ensuring the information can be found when it is needed, by the people that need it, and that they actually use it in support of their work.

KM does not create these activities. They usually already already take place in your organisation. They just happen ad-hoc and without proper consideration, creating the problems that KM is designed to solve and prevent. Think of it this way: your company doesn’t need a financial manager to operate. It would likely still sell to customers, and buy from suppliers. But nobody would have a clear picture on how much money there is, what it is being spent on, and where it is going. A lot of that money will be lost, or spent on the wrong things. It will all add up to ever bigger problems, that will inevitably cripple the company. A financial manager’s job is to prevent that. Knowledge management does the same, but for your company’s knowledge instead of money.

For each of the activities, there are four contributing elements:

  • Roles: who will do what to facilitate the KM activity? What are their responsibilities?
  • Process: how will the activity be structured? What will be done when?
  • Technology: what are the tools we will use?
  • Governance: how will the activity be managed? What are the policies and templates to be put in place? How will the activity be implemented, and improved?

This leads us to a 4x4 matrix structure - hence the 4X4KM name. Here's an example of what that looks like, including a selection of different practices, methods, and tools. We'll go into greater depth of each part in following articles.

The 4X4KM approach is based on The Knowledge Manager’s Handbook (2nd edition), written by Nick Milton and Patrick Lambe. Their book is built on years of experience, and highly recommended to anyone seeking an extensive guide to practical knowledge management. Their work is in turn is based on the SECI model, developed in the 1990’s by Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi, which is considered a foundational paradigm of the field of knowledge management. And so we see the field of knowledge management practices what it preaches – to learn continuously, and build on the experience of those who came before.

What does this mean for each kind of KM?

Different kinds of knowledge management have different goals. This also affects their implementation, and what parts of the framework you should emphasize. 

In process knowledge management, the goal is continuous improvement of the way-of-working of the organisation. In this context, the framework should be applied to a single process (ex. recruitment and onboarding, sales, or application development). If the process is particularly large of complex, it might be better to split it into smaller pieces and setup a KM project for each. For example, in the case of product or application development, you could have a KM project for the analysis and design process, another for the manufacturing process, and a third for the testing and quality assurance. However, these different projects should always stay connected and seek to improve the end-to-end process as a whole. In process KM, the four activities reflect a cycle of employees sharing experience with their peers, which is captured and used to improve a common process guide that offers an ever improving guide for those same employees. In other words, the information is created by and for the same group of people.

In knowledge service management, the goal is reducing the dependency on experts. As such, the knowledge sharing is more one-way - information is created by one group of people, and used by another. However, there also needs to be a feedback mechanism to constantly improve the value of the information to those who use it. The base activities remain the same, but the emphasis lies more on the Capture, Combine, and Find & Reuse activities. 

Note: there is a specialized framework for knowledge service management called Knowledge-Centered Service (KCS). KCS has overlap with 4X4KM, but offers some practices and tools that are uniquely tailored to the knowledge service context. We’ll look at KCS in a later part of the Metaknowledge Guide.

In Research Knowledge Management, there is usually less focus on the Discuss and Capture activities, as most of the information will already have been made explicit. However, this puts all the more emphasis on the Combine and Find & Reuse activities, and the challenge of optimizing the usefulness of your central knowledgebase, so that it might best support the organisation's research. However, we cannot fully discount the Discuss and Capture activities. It is a rare organisation that is entirely dependent on only external information, and employees and staff often have useful insights to contribute to the organisation’s intellectual capital.

Deep dive

Now that we have the outline of our 4X4KM framework, we can discuss each part in greater detail.

  • Click here to go to the page about Processes.
  • Click here to go to the page about Roles (coming soon).
  • Click here to go to the page about Technology (coming soon).
  • Click here to go to the page about Governance (coming soon).

23 December 2023

Metaknowledge Part VII : Governance

This part provides an overview of the different methods and tools to ensure a successful KM program.

Metaknowledge Part VI: Technology

Metaknowledge Part V : Roles

A deep dive into the different roles involved in each of the knowledge management activities.

Metaknowledge Part IV: Process

An in-depth examination of the processes and practices related to the four knowledge management activities, with examples for each.

Metaknowledge Part II: The three kinds of knowledge management

This part of the Metaknowledge Guide outlines the the three kinds of knowledge management, and how knowledge management relates to learning & development.

Metaknowledge Part I: Knowledge, Information, and Data

A practical, intuitive interpretation of "knowledge", and how it compares to information and data. This will help you position knowledge management in relation to information management and data management in your organisation.

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