3 Knowledge Base Failures That Can Teach You About Its Implementation

Knowledge BaseThere are many things that can label a project as a failure, like missing a deadline for 30% or exceeding the intended budget, or if your product simply does not meet users’ requirements. So, let’s start by saying which criteria needs to be met for a knowledge management project to be considered a success, so that it makes it easier to define failure.

There are a few indicators that we can use to define knowledge management projects as a success:

  • Increase in resources and team growth
  • Increase in knowledge content and possibility for its implementation
  • Increased likelihood of project survival without external support (additional resources or necessity to outsource)
  • Evidence for ROI

In other words, if KM itself is successful, then you increase the chances for the project as a whole to achieve its goal. So, one way of securing KM success is by learning from history or from other company’s mistakes. Here we will go over five failed attempts of knowledge base implementation and see what we can learn from them.

Global Bank

The goal of this KM project was to rely on intranet technology in order to develop a global knowledge network. This was done so that the bank services could be integrated, and the project also had a great strategic value, since it supported the shift towards a more decentralized organizational structure in the company’s branches.

The most important stakeholders of the project were OfficeWeb, Iweb, and GTSnet. The project also received major financial support, as well as an abundance of external IT consultants. However, the project still failed for these reasons:

  • During test trials, the bandwidth of the infrastructure was inadequate and unable to support network traffic.
  • Target end users were not involved during the project development stage and they were not informed about the importance of project success. Moreover, the external IT support lacked the necessary business knowledge, which hindered the launch.
  • Stakeholders failed to change their attitude towards knowledge-sharing behaviour, and there was no initiative to either share or access the knowledge of others.

Pharmaceutical company

A global pharmaceutical company that specialised in high margin lifestyle drugs wanted to speed up its drug development process via knowledge management initiative. There were three KM projects that received major funding and they were “lessons learned”, “warehouse”, and “electronic café”.

“Lessons” had the purpose of archiving corporate lessons that were learned during the development stage. “Warehouse” was and organisation-wide groupware with content which was based on debriefings, and it had the purpose of capturing problems and providing solutions. “Café” had the purpose of linking websites that contain stories of people involved in the development programmes. It was meant to spark discussion about hypothetical issues and to explore solutions and alternatives.

Again the project did not succeed, and these were the reasons for failure:

  • “Lessons” did not have a searchable database and users could not sift through compiled content. Moreover, “lessons” became a list of complaints directed at the standard operating procedure and their application instead of a critical reflection on those procedures.  
  • “Warehouse” lacked a specific purpose and was deemed irrelevant as such, therefore people lacked the initiative to contribute here at all.
  • “Café” was too open-ended, so its practicality and relevance were questionable.  

Manufacturing company

A European manufacturing company tried to implement three district KM projects called “production project, “supply-chain project” and “design project.”

The purpose of the KM project “Production” was to gather, and share knowledge related to the production process and methods, like machine maintenance, safety protocols etc. in an effort to lower production costs.

“Supply” was designed to share knowledge about the product that was distributed, in order to improve the understanding of its functionality.

“Design” was created to boost the efficiency of the product prototype construction and to consume less raw materials.

It didn’t go exactly as intended and these assets were underutilised, so here are some of the major downfalls:

  • “Production” remained unused by 25% of the plants that were studied, because they did not see any reason to use it. They claimed how it won’t have any impact on their production, and saw no value in implementing this knowledge base. However, it turned out later that the remaining 75% that used KM witnessed a spike in productivity.
  • “Supply” was underutilised because users felt like the knowledge base software did not bring anything new to the table. It failed to increase the number of sales and it failed to improve product design.
  • “Design” was too confusing and difficult to understand, and it did not reduce the production cost as intended. This simply resulted in designers neglecting it and it became obsolete.

Failure analysis

Judging from these three cases we can deduce that the following factors are crucial for KM implementation:

  • Connectivity – In case 1, the technical infrastructure failed to support the intended number of users due to bandwidth limitations.
  • Usability – In case 3 we had poor software design, and users failed to see how it can be useful, even if it turned out it was, yet without visible incentive users neglected to use it.
  • Knowledge sharing initiative – In cases 1 and 2, people were hesitant to share their experiences due to trust issues. Users need to be informed that their information is safe and to be encouraged to share by making this process more convenient. Also, the staff perceived that accessing the knowledge of their peers would make them look inadequate and less competent.
  • Knowledge distillation – In case 2, there were no effective features to help users search the knowledge base and fetch the information they need.
  • Lack of understanding for intended users – In cases 1 and 3, developers failed to include users in their production process, and as such failed to understand their needs and demands.

To conclude, you should always take the time to consider various aspects of KM before going into a huge project, as this foresight can help you reach your goal rather than becoming a cautionary tale.

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