If You Aren't Knowledge Mapping, Say Hello to KM Failure

Ken Hayman's picture

Knowledge maps are powerful tools to inventory an organization’s critical knowledge and pinpoint areas that may be at risk. In many cases, thefigure of man on process map with ? above head simple act of creating a knowledge map reveals weak links and bottlenecks in the flow of knowledge. By articulating exactly how knowledge moves through the organization, teams can identify improvement opportunities and make targeted adjustments to ensure that the right knowledge reaches the right people at the right point in the process.

APQC has long advocated knowledge mapping as an important exercise that should be performed early in an organization's KM journey and then repeated periodically as KM capabilities and approaches mature.

A good launching point on your knowledge mapping journey is APQC’s Knowledge Mapping Concepts and Tools (Collection)*, which brings together key resources for knowledge mapping, including explanations of knowledge mapping concepts and downloadable templates you can use to create your own maps.

In its simplest form, a knowledge map is a visual representation of an organization’s knowledge resources. It acts as a “snapshot in time” to help the organization understand:

  • what knowledge is critical to a business process or focus area,
  • where that knowledge currently resides, and
  • how knowledge flows between people and systems in the course of doing business.

Teams begin mapping their knowledge by identifying the core processes within the organization that need improvement. A team can pose the following questions to identify processes that should be prioritized for knowledge mapping:

  • What are the critical business goals or capabilities that senior management or customers will focus on in the upcoming business cycle?
  • What are the strategies that management is employing to meet those goals or capabilities?
  • What processes link to those goals?

Process mapping is an important precedent activity for knowledge mapping because it ensures that knowledge links to the way people work. A knowledge map can explicitly denote the knowledge needed for successful business process completion, as well as the gaps in knowledge and connections that should be addressed as part of process improvement. It is not absolutely necessary to map a process when creating a knowledge map, but doing so will help ensure that the organization is focusing on the right areas and will provide a classification system for the knowledge and information being mapped.

If you would like to learn more about knowledge mapping, visit www.apqc.org.

*Please note that some pieces are available to nonmembers of APQC, while some are only available to members. APQC membership gives you access to so much more. See if your organization is a member and register today!

Follow me on Twitter @KFHayman_APQC or find me on LinkedIn.


Anonymous's picture
Mr. Hayman, Linking Process Improvement to Knowledge Mapping: I certainly agree with your assertion that that process maps can be “an important precedent activity for knowledge mapping. And, that process maps can ensure “that knowledge links to the way people work”. However, there is another type or category of mapping that is a closer match to knowledge mapping. Lean process improvement practioners use Value-Stream Mapping. The Lean Lexicon 5th Edition defines Value-Stream Mapping: as “A simple diagram of every step involved in the material and information flows needed to bring a product from order to delivery”. While process maps can have the knowledge (information) links, Value-Stream maps do have the information (knowledge) flows. Note: Value –Stream maps also can have considerable additional information (e.g., Value and Non-value added steps, process times, lead times). Value-Stream maps include an examination of the information flow: where the information (knowledge) is located, who needs it, and if the information is available when needed. Often, processes fail because of gaps or bottlenecks in the flow of knowledge. As we are all aware, different departments or groups, within large organizations, often don’t realize that they can support each other. They may not even realize that what they are doing may aid the other group. Let me suggest that the Lean Process improvement group may be a potential ally for the Knowledge Mapping group. When trying to map knowledge, a good starting point may be to check and see if the process (where the knowledge is used) has already gone through a “Value-Stream” mapping event. Likewise, the process improvement group could link to the Knowledge Management Group when they start their planning for Value stream mapping events. Robert Downing
Ken Hayman's picture

Hi, Mr. Downing:

Thank you so much for your insighful comments. Your points align to what we feel at APQC.

An organization can optimize business benefits by having the knowledge and process/improvement teams work collaboratively on their mapping efforts. 

Also, if the organization is Lean-focused, using value-stream mapping is an excellent foundation for the organization’s knowledge mapping. Value-stream mapping looks at the current state of work (including process steps, inputs, outputs, people/roles involved, and measures/performance) to determine the future state—all focused on optimizing customer value. The APQC knowledge map is built in a way that it can use several different formats for the row (e.g., value streams or PCF processes, groups, or categories). The knowledge map’s columns are a series of questions that help flesh out the information flow around a specific process element or value stream. For example:

• whether or not the knowledge is explicit or tacit;
• is the knowledge a skill, template, data source, etc.;
• who is responsible for the quality of the knowledge; and
• a rating system to determine if there is a knowledge gap for prioritization efforts.

Thanks, again, for your input!