Originally published September 15, 2014

If you have decided (or been asked) to start a knowledge management initiative, the first thing to do is to determine what results you would like to achieve. Is there a challenge you would like to overcome or an improvement you hope to make? If not, ask people in your organization what is currently causing them the most pain in doing their jobs. Look for opportunities to help alleviate these pain points through sharing, innovation, reuse, collaboration, or learning.

If you can’t find any challenges to overcome or improvements to make, and no one is experiencing any knowledge-related pain, then don’t start a KM program. You will be trying to push a solution in search of a problem, and there will be no reason for anyone to adopt it.

At the other extreme, if you find lots of challenges and opportunities for improvement, you will need to narrow down the list. Pick three challenges or opportunities for which KM will likely provide the greatest benefit to the organization. These Top 3 Objectives represent the starting point for your program and the core of your communications. Use them to choose, start, review, adjust, and stop individual projects to ensure that they help achieve the desired benefits.

All organizations can benefit from their people sharing, innovating, reusing, collaborating, and learning. Based on an organization’s mission and objectives, specific goals for a knowledge management program should be defined. You can select from the list of 15 benefits to help define the Top 3 Objectives.

Getting user input

In order to determine what needs to address, it is important to get user input. Conduct surveys to identify current challenges and needs, identify opportunities, and request suggestions.

Use an Opportunities Survey to identify current challenges and needs, and request suggestions for addressing them. Use this survey to determine business needs which knowledge management can support.

Finding out what your users are struggling with, what they would like to see provided, and what they think should be done will help ensure that the Top 3 Objectives are based on real needs.


After you conduct an Opportunities Survey, compile and review the results. Here some examples of challenges you may find.

  1. Bad decisions: Poor decisions are made, it takes too long to make decisions, or it is impossible to make decisions. The impact is lost business, missed opportunities, and reduced profits.
  2. Poor search capability: It’s hard to find relevant information and resources when needed. As a result, people waste time searching, and can’t take advantage of information which exists but can’t be located.
  3. Reinventing the wheel: Employees have to start from scratch each time they start a new project. This leads to wasted effort, increased costs, delays, and suboptimal results.
  4. Repetitive mistakes: The same mistakes are repeated over and over. This causes cost overruns, losses, and unhappy customers.
  5. Don’t know what we know: It’s difficult to find out if anyone in the organization knows something, has done something, or has solved a similar problem before. Any potential advantages from reusing previous experience are squandered.
  6. Ignorance: Information is communicated slowly, to a limited subset of the organization, or not at all. The result is that people are unaware of what has been done before, what is happening elsewhere, and where the organization is heading. This is not good for morale, customer satisfaction, and business results.
  7. Inadequate standards: There is a shortage of standard processes, procedures, methods, tools, templates, techniques, and examples. This results in inconsistency, sloppy work, and poor quality products and services.
  8. Expertise shortages: Experts are hard to find, in great demand, and unavailable when needed. The effect is that scare expertise is missed rather than leveraged, and knowledge which could have been applied to solve a problem or exploit an opportunity is not.
  9. Poor reference capability: Your organization is unable to respond to customers who ask for proof that you know how to help them and that you have done similar work before. This causes bids to be lost that could have been won.
  10. Long cycle times: It takes too long to invent, design, manufacture, sell, and deliver products and services to your customers. The impact is missed markets, delayed revenues, and customers lost to competitors.


Use the results of the Opportunities Survey, the goals of your organization, and your knowledge of what other firms are doing to help compile a list of opportunities. Here are some which you may identify.

  1. Speed and agility: Enable rapid decision making. This optimizes the use of resources, increases the win rate, and positively affects the state of the business.
  2. Findability: Make it easy to find relevant information and resources. This takes advantage of available intelligence at the time of need.
  3. Effectiveness: Take advantage of existing expertise and experience. If you know what you know, you can apply it appropriately.
  4. Learning: Communicate important information widely and quickly. An informed work force can act in accordance with company strategy and direction.
  5. Repeatability: Provide standard processes, procedures, methods, tools, templates, techniques, and examples. The result is consistent products and services of high quality.
  6. Opportunism: Make scarce expertise widely available. Applying key knowledge from one part of the organization when it is needed by another can make the difference in winning a deal, satisfying a customer, or resolving a crisis.
  7. Efficiency: Accelerate delivery to customers. The sooner the customer gets what they ordered, the sooner you will get the revenue. And the more likely they are to order again.
  8. Leverage: Enable the organization to take advantage its size. Being larger than your competition is not an advantage unless you take steps to exploit this fact. And it can be a disadvantage if it results in delays, suboptimal resource assignments, or inconsistent treatment. The benefits of large size include increased responsiveness, greater range of expertise, and better backup capabilities.
  9. Reliability: Make the organization’s best problem-solving experiences reusable. The fact that someone has already solved a problem allows the same approach to be used the next time it arises. This speeds up resolution, reduces negative impacts, and keeps customers satisfied.
  10. Innovation: Stimulate growth through invention, process improvement, cycle time reduction, and creative new ways of doing things. Benefits include market leadership, revenue growth, and improved brand equity.


From challenges and opportunities such as these, choose the ones which are most compelling to your organization and relate them to desired business results. Here are three sets of examples.

1. Non-Profit Organization

  1. Lower costs by preventing people from reinventing the wheel all the time.
  2. Eliminate deficits caused by repeating the same mistakes.
  3. Increase contributions by innovating and creating new capabilities.

2. Manufacturing Company

  1. Increase orders by better collaboration between sales, services, and back-office functions.
  2. Increase revenue by stimulating a flow of ideas for new products and services.
  3. Increase profits by sharing and reusing lessons learned.

3. Consulting Firm

  1. Increase win rate by improving the proposal development process.
  2. Lower sales and delivery costs by reusing proven practices.
  3. Increase engagement quality by collaborating with customers and partners.

A KM program must respond to the fundamental needs of an organization. If it helps address these challenges and opportunities, it will succeed. If it is not tightly coupled to core business objectives, it will fail.

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