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Why You Need a Personal Knowledge-Management Strategy

As a knowledge worker, follow a personal strategy for knowledge management, regardless of your organization’s knowledge-management practices.

by Jim McGee

5/24/2005

The goal of knowledge work is to create the unique deliverable appropriate to a particular customer and context, not to reproduce the same deliverable we created the last time. Knowledge management is about making it easier to create that deliverable by taking better advantage of what has been done before.

You’re a knowledge worker. You need to write a proposal for a prospective client much like a project you did last year. Can you find that proposal in less than an hour? Can you find the cost estimate that went with it? What did you learn from doing that previous project that you should factor into your new estimates?

Whether your organization is being smart or stupid about knowledge management, you need to be thinking about a strategy for becoming a more effective knowledge worker. There are three essential elements of a personal knowledge-management strategy: maintain your portfolio, manage your learning, and master your toolkit.

1.Maintain Your Portfolio

A knowledge worker is more artist or writer than factory worker or plant manager. Defined by your body of work, rather than the quantity of output you produce or the empire you oversee. The better organized and maintained your portfolio of deliverables, the better you can display your qualifications and the better you can discern the patterns of your best work.

Maintaining your portfolio is a question of what to keep, what to throw away, and how to organize what you keep. At a minimum, keep copies of final deliverables. You should also keep the materials that will let you reconstruct why and how you created that deliverable, including project management materials such as scope definitions, work plans, risk assessments, and the supporting materials used to identify and resolve issues encountered along the way. Absent legal restrictions, dispose of everything else. Organizing around projects is simple and understandable. At the level of the individual, additional structure is likely more trouble than it’s worth.

2. Manage Your Learning

Maintaining your portfolio will make you more effective than the average knowledge worker. Further benefits accrue once you have the portfolio in place. An organized portfolio contains the raw materials to fuel learning. At the most rudimentary level, simply reviewing your portfolio from time to time will highlight your development and identify skills that wouldn’t otherwise be evident.

A portfolio also makes it easier to reflect on lessons learned and identify useful generalizations grounded in your work. Techniques such as After Action Reviews or documenting case studies can further identify and summarize lessons learned and approaches worth developing.

As you gain experience and learn by reflecting on your completed work, you might shorten the interval between action and reflection. Experiment with Weblogs or other journaling techniques to discover what you are learning that you can put back into your knowledge work practice. These reflection techniques let you ask what worked, what didn’t, and what caught you by surprise. Encourage your teammates to try the same techniques and learn more by sharing your reflections and questions with them.

3. Master Your Toolkit

Over the last 15 years, we’ve created an array of digital tools to make knowledge work easier. There’s an equally rich array of tricks and techniques to make work more effective. We’ve invested too little time in learning to use them to full effect. We need to be more systematic in looking at knowledge-work tasks and seeking ways to apply tools more effectively.

With portfolio in hand, you can explore questions of how your tools helped and hindered. That will lead you to insights about better ways to use the tools you have, and to search for tools that might replace the ones you are comfortable with. This implies that you need to acquire skill and discipline in balancing time between exploiting today’s toolkit and upgrading it over time.

Creating and maintaining a portfolio of your knowledge work is the linchpin of this strategy, providing the raw materials to make learning happen faster and improve your toolkit over time. With portfolio in hand you will have more control over your development as a knowledge worker and be able to better display your value to your organization.