Every now and then we are asked by clients or potential clients whether we can help them conduct a KM Maturity Assessment. We are always very cautious about this, for the following reasons.
We have used KM maturity models in the past, but I (along with others) am quite sceptical about their utility as KM assessment and planning tools at the start of a KM journey. There are two major reasons for this:
(a) A generic assessment instrument takes a very templated approach to what is a very unique set of needs in any given organisation and so it tends to focus attention on generic steps and solutions that may not be appropriate to the context of a specific organisation at a given time, and it tends to miss “outlier” activities that may be important to that organisation at that time. For example, a typical framework would stipulate the need for senior management buy-in. We have worked with organisations where senior management buy-in would have indicated as a positive in the assessment, but when it comes to intangible levels of support, the management culture of walking the talk is weak, yet not easily observable in a formal assessment. On the other side, we have seen organisations where senior buy-in was not present at the outset, but where solid KM progress was made in portions of the business, leading to the scaling up of support (and more progress) later on. It is very hard for a generic KM maturity framework to pick up these nuances in a formal assessment, and the sequence of stages in a KM journey varies widely across different organisations.
(b) The KM maturity landscape in large organisations tends to be uneven, with peaks and troughs – some parts are more mature than others. An organisation wide maturity instrument tends to even these out and produce an averaged out assessment that is not representative of the ground realities in the organisation, or the the peaks and troughs in the landscape. This means that the overall KM assessment may not be representative of the ground realities in the different parts of the organisation. On the other hand, trying to get a partitioned set of maturity assessments for the different parts of the organisation is a complex and onerous exercise. A knowledge audit is a much more effective instrument for identifying different needs and possibilities.
For our upcoming book, The Knowledge Manager’s Handbook, Nick Milton and I discussed at some length whether we should include KM maturity assessments as part of our section of measurement and evaluation, and decided in the end it was better to leave it out, for the reasons given above. For KM planning and monitoring purposes, they simply don’t function very well. Nick has a couple of nice blog posts giving his perspective on this. I suggest you start here.
Maturity assessments can be useful in some circumstances. For example, they can be useful to trace the maturity of specific KM initiatives such as a community of practice, where there is a great deal of data on the different stages that communities of practice go through – far more stable and consistent data than KM implementations in general. We have also built customised maturity assessment frameworks for clients based on their KM strategy and roadmap – in that case, the maturity instrument is customised to track what the KM strategy and vision intends to achieve over a given period, and so overcomes the “one size fits all” issue. However you still have to be careful about the “averaging out” effect where you might miss uneven levels of progress in different parts of the organisation.
In short, I don’t recommend using maturity frameworks at the start of a KM journey – a knowledge audit is much more effective at supporting a structured needs analysis and determination of goals and objectives. Maturity frameworks can sometimes be useful as part of a monitoring framework once the strategy is developed, but should be used with some caution.
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