A 17 July Federal Computer World article describes the need for effective knowledge management in the U.S. military:
Since the war’s beginning in March 2003, each day in Iraq has been a learning experience for U.S. forces trying to identify the best ways to ensure success on the battlefield. By applying the principles of knowledge management, U.S. troops can study and benefit from others. The Army is harnessing the experiences of individual soldiers and units and using that knowledge to support more informed and timely decisions.
Knowledge management has become an integral part of the Defense Department’s 21st-century transformation process. DOD has discussed the concept for years, but Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld put widespread implementation on a fast track in 2001. DOD’s goal is to capture, integrate and use organizational knowledge to gain an advantage over the enemy. The department is using knowledge management to address, in Rumsfeld-speak, the problem of “unknown knowns” — information that DOD doesn’t know that it has.
No military service has embraced knowledge management as strongly as the Army has. The service’s strategy to become a knowledge-centric organization — a program called Army Knowledge Management that the service launched in 2001 — appears to be taking hold and reaping benefits in Iraq.
The article goes on to discuss some of the details and successes of the Army’s knowledge management program. As Jack Vinson astutely points out Army Knowledge Management, or AKM as it is more commonly referred to, is very technology heavy. In most organizations, this is typically a bad way to go, trying to use technology as a means to get people to share knowledge. The problem is that in most organizations the culture is not one of sharing.
The military, on the other hand, has had somewhat of an opposite problem: the culture is, by necessity, one of sharing experiences; the physical dispersion and sheer size makes it hard to effectively (and quickly) share outside your small unit. In fact, it’s been my experience over the past few years involved with AKM that it was harder to get people to use the technology than it was to get them to share knowledge.
AKM is an excellent example of the convergence of top-down planning and strategy and bottoms-up implementation. Though based on certain constraints (as all large project must be), the AKM implementation allowed – encouraged – Soldiers to come up with their own ways of using the tools that were provided. Even more importantly, suggestions for new tools/capabilities were actually listened to and in many cases acted upon. A lesson that any organization trying to implement KM would be wise to learn.
Jack also mentions the Army’s After Action Review process, another technique that any organization can (and should) consider to help build individual mastery and high performance of teams. That discussion, howeve, is worthy of a post (several, probably) all its own, so I’ll save that one for later.