Personal KM vs Team Collaboration

Are you a person that is very well organised? Can you always find the books, CDs, or DVDs you are looking for? Are you doing the same for your digital information? By nature, I am rather a forgetful and chaotic person; therefore, I learned rather early to become structured and organised to overcome this shortcoming. I therefore engaged in something I would call “Personal Knowledge Management (KM)”.

Some people might relate Personal KM to Personal Information Management (PIM); typical the organisation of e-mail, contacts, calendar and tasks. I would rather expand this view and include management of documents, bookmarks, thoughts, interests, favourite spots, etc. Further, Personal KM is not limited to your private knowledge; this activity also reaches your personal information at work. Harold Jarche just recently has provided a simple overview on this topic.

The initial motivation for structuring your personal knowledge is a personal benefit: easily retrieve information you came across previously. For example, during a discussion you remember an article your read six month back and you would like to refer to it. With the right tools you can quickly find this article and share with your friends. But the benefits go beyond just your own person; your friends, your colleagues and any person with similar interest can take advantage of the structure you create in your personal knowledge.

Convinced to engage in Personal KM, to simplify your own work and sharing with others? I would like to suggest three principles to make your Personal KM efficient and effective.

One: Transparency

I think most of us have encountered the problem, when we start a job within a new company that we are overwhelmed with the amount of abbreviations we have to learn. These abbreviations seem to be a new cryptic language we have to learn; this represents a big barrier for ease of sharing: transparency. Try yourself, search for an abbreviation in the acronym list of The Free Dictionary and see how many results you will get. I think we should be more transparent in just writing the full expression.

When we bring structure to our knowledge we should be specific and clear; and maybe use English instead of a less commonly used language. This can be applied when you name files and folders, when you note down your thoughts, or when you define tags. I suggest to develop a general attitude, that when you engage in collecting your personal knowledge that you store information that any person can comprehend it.

When we store our own knowledge more transparent, that will help ourselves to remember and understand what we did six months ago, or three years back. Plus, our friends and colleagues will better understand it without the need to contact us for clarification.

Two: Central Storage

The second principle for effective Personal KM is storing the knowledge in a central location. Today, for most aspects of knowledge we can find a web application in the cloud. The four major tools I am using for my personal Knowledge Management are Google Docs (thoughts and files), Delicious (bookmarks), Google Reader (various news sources), and Remember the Milk (tasks). Furhter examples of tools are soocial (contacts), trip advisor (hotels, restaurants), or Google Maps (locations).

Compared to storing your personal information on your computer, these web applications have the big advantage that they are independent on location and device; you can access your information on your desktop at home, on your mobile phone on the road, or on any computer in an internet cafe while travelling. Further, these web applications also act as an automatic back-up of your information in case your hard disk crashes. When you store your knowledge in the cloud, then you can also easily share it with your friends and colleagues; most tools allow an automatic sharing.

Three: Common Tags

OK, we started to store our knowledge in a transparent manner on some tools in the cloud. But how shall we structure it? Every person should develop a taxonomy they feel comfortable with. Most of you might define a folder structure; me, I prefer to have a pre-defined tag structure because it provides more flexibility to apply multiple tags. I would like to share some tips how these tags could be designed; the same principles apply to a folder structure. Your tags should be specific and self-explanatory that they are easy to understand. But at the same time, they should be generic and commonly used; this helps that the tag structure can be used for a long time, across different tools and can be understood by friends, colleagues and even strangers (for social sharing).

My suggestion to start a tag collection is to first think about some categories which the tags should cover, this can be for example topics, regions, and sources. Then for each category define the attributes that apply for you; these are the tags. Here are two examples:

* region: asia-pacific, africa & middle-east, eastern europe, western europe, north america, latin america
* source: team, company, consultant, business partner, industry publication, general media

For myself, I have used the mind mapping tool ‘’ to develop a tag cloud I am using in various tools.

Team Collaboration: Dialogue & Consensus

One important environment where the above principles apply is at work with your team mates. These points explain how Personal KM influences team collaboration: information is easily understood by colleagues, storage that make sharing simple, and creating a structure that can be used by others.

When we start to make knowledge sharing in a team more efficient, then we should sit together and discuss three points: what to share, where to share, and how to structure the knowledge sharing. For instance, this is an important activity when a new team starts a project; the members might not be familiar with each others working style.

Personal KM has a primary focus on making an individual’s life easier; storing should be almost automatic and a day-to-day habit. But in an environment where people work together, these individual activities should be aligned to make sharing and collaboration more efficient. Therefore dialogue is important! All team members should provide their opinion and finally agree on a common approach, the consensus on Personal KM.

7 Comments so far

Nicholas John

Tom, in a team, would it not be better to apply interpersonal KM, rather than personal KM?

Rather than, for example, “Every person should develop a taxonomy they feel comfortable with” - why not have a team taxonomy, team tags, team folder names?

Posted on March 23, 2010 at 01:12 PM | Comment permalink

Simon Bostock

I’m interested in the transparency aspect of PKM.

One thing I’ve noticed is the injunction of the footnote. The premise of the footnote is sound for peer review: you leave a marker so your peers can fact check. It works because they use the same library system you do and optimises for refinding (as opposed to recreating).

What I’d like is more ‘vectornotes’. Harold Jarche is pretty good at this - if you follow his work you can see how his thoughts have developed.

This kind of transparency will have to be social in nature, I think - it occurs to me that you can optimise ‘specific and clear’ structures for location/refinding OR for vector/re-creation.

Any location-based optimisation will run the risk of Melvin Conway’s Homomorphism:

ie the only thing that’s really clear is the underlying power dynamics

Posted on March 23, 2010 at 05:56 PM | Comment permalink

Harold Jarche

@Nicholas PKM is part of interpersonal learning, but my experience is that people need to internalise the value of doing it before they become networked learners. I’ve called PKM “our part of the social learning contract”:

@Simon you’re always adding depth to conversations!

@Tim thanks for starting this conversation

Posted on March 23, 2010 at 07:25 PM | Comment permalink


I’m interested how these two concepts can work together. with Personal KM, you can keep yourself and your stuff organised to share with others and collaborate, correct? If you want to enhance your skills on either end, there are many solutions that can help you increase organisation and transparency for collaboration. Very good post.

Posted on March 23, 2010 at 09:31 PM | Comment permalink

Tim Wieringa

thanks to all for the comments; the topic is definitely worth to explore further: how can I change my information collection and storing? how can I let my colleagues take advantage of that?...

I came across a collection of tools related to personal KM; might give us some more input.

Posted on March 25, 2010 at 04:44 PM | Comment permalink

Patrick DiDomenico

Very nice post on PKM.  We have a similar approach, and you’ve described it nicely.  I am a big fan of some of the tools you mentioned, especially Google Docs, Delicious, and Google Reader.  I tried Remember the Milk.  It is OK, but it never “stuck” with me.  In my opinion, a good tasks application is the hardest to find.  What other tasks apps have you reviewed / considered?

Posted on March 25, 2010 at 10:00 PM | Comment permalink


Hi Patrick
I agree with you, finding a good task management tool is difficult. I try my best to organise myself with Remember the Milk; what I like it has many interfaces: mobile, on iGoogle, widgets, ... But after a while I realise that my task lists are everywhere: in the calendar, on different pieces of paper, in the notes on my phone, etc.
For projects I am using Basecamp, but that feels like an overkill for the every-day-tasks.
I know, not a good answer… I haven’t seen anything more suitable than Remember the Milk, but it’s not yet the tool we are looking for…
Here is a my collection of tools I looked at.

Posted on March 26, 2010 at 05:23 AM | Comment permalink

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