Jumpstart KM in your Professional Services Organization
Knowledge Management (KM) can be a competitive differentiator in any industry but it is especially potent in professional services where knowledge is the most important product. With the right KM techniques, firms can maximize the success and profitability of every proposal and engagement by making it easy and intuitive to bring their collective experience and knowledge to bear. In professional services, KM solutions can support consistent information capture and reuse, displaythe right content to the right people at the right time without requiring them to search for it, and create valuable, knowledge-based connections—both ad hoc and long term—among colleagues across a diverse organization.
In working to build and enhance KM at Microsoft and now at Milliman, one of the world’s leading actuarial firms, I have found it particularly useful to focus on the following areas:
1. Integrate KM with company culture: The right technology is important to support KM, but company culture is even more important. Focus on the processes and the people first and then find tools to fit. One way to integrate KM into company culture is to show employees how it will help them do their jobs better and more efficiently. In our orientations for new employees and new leaders at Milliman, we discuss how KM provides efficient access to information, content, and people, increasing their capabilities and offering opportunities for connection, learning, and career growth.
To minimize cultural conflicts, look for areas that have already seen success or broad adoption. For example, Milliman has emphasized a culture of peer review for many years, and today consultants feel that having others review their work is a critical driver of quality. We build on this culture of quality with communities of practice, supporting collaboration within and across business lines to achieve greater results than one group could alone.
2. Develop a common language: A mutually understood vocabulary and process model is critical to enable different functions or departments to understand and use what others are doing. At Milliman, we created a tailored view of the American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC) process model, which provides a framework to share simple and concrete guidance aligned with our business processes. Disparate practices with common business problems can learn from each other’s solutions. This approach is becoming a critical tool to help practices and corporate decision makers identify areas of need, support, and collaboration.
“Start with existing, successful KMlike processes that could be enriched, and continue to demonstrate the value associated with the initial KM initiatives”
3. Create a single source of truth: Ensure that information is consistent and correct by finding a single location that allows the right people access and displays in all of the appropriate places. For example, at Milliman, consultant biographies have many consumers but one location: a single database for consumption by marketing, IT, and other business functions. In the past, this information was duplicated in many areas of the business, causing versioning issues and confusion. We now leverage strong content management and library sciences skillsets to support proper content organization.
4. Show value as early as possible: KM initiatives often have long gestation periods before the business or users see much tangible value. To establish and maintain momentum, findquick wins to show incremental value and build enthusiasm. At Milliman, we focused right away on user experience by providing a significant facelift to tired SharePoint sites. We improved the look and feel while displaying information in rich ways. This demonstrated the vision and value of using technology to share and promote relevant information and made communicating the value of KM to the leadership more effective. Other areas we have had success in are, in supporting proposals, analyzing and providing insights on user search behavior, and publishing simple KM-centric guidance for common business activities.
5. Emphasize proactive collaboration: In most organizations, people will collaborate only when there is a problem to solve. However, a key goal of our KM program is to encourage proactive collaboration, where people seek information and expertise from one another at the beginning of any proposal, project, or other business activity. Collaborating proactively is more efficient, improves work quality, and encourages innovation. At Milliman, we created communities of practice for topic-specific collaboration within and across business lines that started with a few innovative groups. This has proved to be an excellent case study for others within the company and is a key driver of knowledge sharing and innovation.
One step at a time
It can be overwhelming to consider all the potential capabilities and challenges of KM in professional services. It is also easy to oversell when presenting the business value to decision makers. When establishing a new KM capability, don’t lose sight of the long-term vision of what can be done, but keep things specific and incremental to avoid disruptive cultural and process change. Start with existing, successful KM-like processes that could be enriched, and continue to demonstrate the value associated with the initial KM initiatives. As the KM program matures, the ultimate business value will grow.