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Why Knowledge Management Should Embrace Budget Constraints

As budgeting time approaches, our thoughts turn to how to wrangle more money for knowledge management (KM). Think of all the things we could do if we had a few more bucks.

Maybe we should be careful what we ask for. 

Don’t get me wrong: while money won’t buy happiness, a bigger KM budget will buy lovely goodies such as better IT applications, communication and change management expertise, and full time KM facilitators. But more on that later.

First we should ask, is there value in the constraints that tight budgets put on us? Yes, according to Scott Sonenshein, an award-winning professor at Rice University, consultant to Fortune 500 and dot coms, and author of the new book Stretch: Unlock the Power of Less and Achieve More Than You Ever ImaginedHere are two reasons. 

Constraints Promote Creativity

First, Scott found that when we face constraints, the mind has freedom to think more creatively about how to use the resources around us. When we surround ourselves with abundance, the brain narrows. It thinks about resources only in conventional ways. Anyone can use a hammer to put a nail in the wall. But if you come up with a different way to do it (like using the bottom of a shoe or cast-iron skillet), it’s delightful. The human brain really likes it.There is a reason start-ups are creative: because they’re living these constraints. They’re literally in the garage. Once they a get a bunch of funding, they may forget what made them great and lose their creativity.

It Is Better To Over Deliver Than To Overpromise

Second, big budgets invite more scrutiny. The Japanese have an alarming saying: “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.”​ Cindy Hubert and I tell KM professionals to expect a lot of scrutiny if you get a big KM budget in advance of any results. Don’t ask for a big budget unless you’re sure it will pay off visibly to your internal stakeholders. Scott suggests you come in under budget early on. My advice is similar: “Over-deliver on a smaller (but not zero) budget and see what happens.

When Should You Ask For More KM Dollars?

During your initial proof of concept KM pilots. These lay the groundwork for expansion. Make a good business case for initial funding, be creative and resourceful enlisting other departments and budgets, and over-deliver. If you can’t do your proof of concept well with a small budget, do something else. Remember, always over deliver visibly to build credibility. 

When the business unit you are helping is stretched thin or is skeptical. The KM group and budget can provide scaffolding (usually in the form of IT, content management, training, and community of practice leaders) for those business units. Once they are successful, their story will help you make a case for more resources. And they may be willing to pick up more of the tab themselves.

When you are expanding your portfolio of KM services. Get a business partner to help you make the case for funding new KM services. If you can deliver a few of these new services (such as process facilitation) with existing resources, and a pent-up demand from businesses, your case for more budget will be stronger.

When you are expanding “territory” to serve new groups.  Remember, this replication should be cheaper than the first start-up phase due to economies of scale. 

Stretch is a cautionary tale about why some people and organizations succeed with so little, while others fail with so much. It’s full of techniques for someone who really wants to figure out how to do more with less – and have more fun doing it. There are lots of tips for KM practitioners.

You can read my entire interview with Scott Sonenshein full of fresh ideas and techniques from Stretch in our Knowledge base.

Check out the rest of my Big Thinkers, Big Ideas interviews on APQC’s Knowledge Base.

Subscribe to the Big Thinkers, Big Ideas podcast on itunes or on APQCPodcasts on Podbean.

You can connect with me on Twitter @odell_carla