Basex to Wall Street Journal: Successful KM Projects Are Not Cursed

On April 28, the Wall Street Journal, in conjunction with the MIT Sloan Management Review, ran an article on knowledge management projects entitled The Curse of Success.  It was written by Alton Chua, an assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.  My letter to the editor follows.

Dear Editor,

Alton Chua’s look at knowledge management projects (April 28 Wall Street Journal) will leave readers with the impression that such projects always have problems and need to be approached with caution.  Only the latter part is true, but this is the case with any company’s contemplated change in behavior.

Successful KM projects aren’t necessarily always cursed.  Managers do however need to employ common sense in the planning and implementation phases.  Just like a non-KM system that’s appropriate for a particular group or division might not work well in other parts of a company, the same principle holds true for KM systems.  Managers who assume that a successful KM system can easily be replicated from one department to another are overlooking basic tenets of planning, i.e. the need to perform a needs analysis and listen carefully to the stakeholders in the project.  Managers who bypass this step are usually responsible for the failure of a system implementation; the tools and the concept may be innocent bystanders.

Further, there are many software tools out there that are knowledge-economy ready, but that doesn’t make a company and its workers prepared.  The tried and true industrial age way we do things won’t work in the new settings.

In fact, it is critical that managers recognize that behavior patterns, i.e. how people play together in the new corporate sandbox, need to be monitored and modified.   Chua’s second case study illustrates the need for this – the knowledge workers at this company stopped using common sense.

Members of a community of practice assumed an inner circle-like stance?  This happens every day.  Based on Chua’s report, it sounds as if no one familiar with online community behavior spent any time managing this group.  Progress does not occur in a vacuum; communities require as much “management” as any division within a company.

My take is much simpler: the companies Chua writes about seem to have overlooked the need to nurture changes in behavior that are necessary as we move from the industrial age into the knowledge economy.

Perhaps the only “curse” is the KM label.  Many managers have a leftover bad taste from very early (and rudimentary) KM systems, which were doomed to fail.  It’s time we recognize the progress that has been made, while at the same time we must recognize the need not to throw the baby out with the KM bath water.


/s/ Jonathan B. Spira

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

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