Harnessing Your Knowledge Potential
I have spoken in detail with dozens of architectural and engineering consultancies over the past several years about their desire to harness the vast knowledge resident in their firms. For most of them, knowledge management is a very high management priority.
And no wonder, since the A/E industry is confronted with ever-changing regulatory requirements, global competitive pressures, and the need to adapt to rising client expectations.
Business thought leader Arie de Geus succinctly summarizes the great necessity in today’s A/E marketplace as:
“The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be your only sustainable competitive advantage.”
So then, how do you learn well as an organization?
The most common response to satisfy this knowledge management need is to buy a tool or technology that can help gather and categorize your organization’s collective knowledge, thereby making it accessible and easy to leverage. Seems logical.
But, purchasing a software package and expecting it to solve your knowledge problems by its mere presence just does not work. You will not become a highly effective knowledge organization simply by completing a purchase order.
Over my next few posts, I will explain that leveraging the knowledge in your firm is not achieved at all by technology, but by a culture that meaningfully connects people.
And, since I do not want to expose a problem and not solve it, I’ll provide insights into how you can achieve this in your firm.
What is knowledge management?
But, before I talk about the place and power of culture in an organization, in this post let’s take a step back and clarify what we mean by knowledge management and how it fits into the A/E industry.
An intuitive way to think about knowledge management is to think about how we acquire and use knowledge personally. How do you come to know things? Well, you have experiences and you store them (learn), so you can recall or access them later (remember). What you learn and remember is what you know.
Knowledge management is the same thing for organizations, it is processes for retaining, accessing, and interacting with what an organization knows.
What defines knowledge in A/E firms?
For A/E firms, knowledge can be broken down into three main categories:
Qualifications: Including things like the educational background of employees, their certifications, and other credentials that convey to your current or potential clients that your firm has the knowledge to do the work you are promising. This is one of the essential elements of a project proposal, identifying the qualifications (requisite knowledge) of resources who would work on prospective projects.
Work Experience: This serves as proof that your firm has relevant work history to complete the kinds of projects you are promising and that you have resources who have successfully worked on those projects. Work experience validates your qualifications. Moreover, work experience helps your management to know what work your firm does effectively (e.g. what work do we perform profitably and with few defects)? In other words, how did you perform on your projects?
Practices: These are the methods and practices employed on your projects, and how those methods impact project success. Accessing these practices ensures that you consistently execute projects with the same level of knowledge and capability.
Where does knowledge management fit in with my business?
All A/E firms are obsessively focused on three things: money, clients, and employees. And rightly so, these are the pillars of a consultancy.
Because of their importance, each of these are professional disciplines (i.e. accounting and finance, sales and marketing, and human capital management). Moreover, you have professional investments in these areas: you have leadership (CFO, CMO, CHRO), and you have business solutions in place for each (ERP, CRM, HCM systems).
For the A/E firm, knowledge management must become another area of obsessive focus, and a fourth pillar. Knowledge management should be elevated to the same priority as all the critical processes in your firm, because for firms whose business is literally their knowledge, knowledge management is a critical process.
Every time you engage with a client, your knowledge and experience fuel everything, from the renderings and documentation you create, to the projects you execute. You must have intentionality around knowledge. You need someone to lead it, and you need solutions to help you execute it.
Follow along in the coming weeks as I dive deeper into the importance of knowledge management, and how you can successfully implement a knowledge strategy at your firm by developing an effective knowledge culture.
Author’s Note: This is the first in a series on knowledge management as it relates to the architecture, engineering, and environmental consulting industry.