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Successful Knowledge Management Projects

In a study of thirty-one knowledge management projects in twenty-four companies, the authors examine the differences and similarities of the projects, from which they develop a typology. All the projects had someone responsible for the initiative, a commitment of human and capital resources, and four similar kinds of objectives: (1) they created repositories by storing knowledge and making it easily available to users; (2) they provided access to knowledge and facilitated its transfer; (3) they established an environment that encourages the creation, transfer, and use of knowledge; and (4) they managed knowledge as an asset on the balance sheet.

The authors identify eight factors that seem to characterize a successful project:

1. The project involves money saved or earned, such as the Dow Chemical project that better managed company patents.

2. The project uses a broad infrastructure of both technology and organization. A technology infrastructure includes common technologies for desktop computing and communications. An organizational infrastructure establishes roles for people and groups to serve as resources for particular projects.

3. The project has a balanced structure that, while flexible and evolutionary, still makes knowledge easy to access.

4. Within the organization, people are positive about creating, using, and sharing knowledge.

5. The purpose of the project is clear, and the language that knowledge managers use in describing it is framed in terms common to the company's culture.

6. The project motivates people to create, share, and use knowledge (for example, giving awards to the top "knowledge sharers").

7. There are many ways to transfer knowledge, such as the Internet, Lotus Notes and global communications systems, but also including face-to-face communication.

8. The project has senior managers' support and commitment.

An organization's knowledge-oriented culture, senior managers committed to the "knowledge business," a sense of how the customer will use the knowledge, and the human factors involved in creating knowledge are most important to effective knowledge management.

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