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CHIPS Articles: A Practitioners' Guide to KM

A Practitioners' Guide to KM
By Cmdr. John Hearne and Christine Carobine - October-December 2007
Knowledge management must be flexible and adaptive to an organization's needs. A good KM plan is aligned with the strategic vision of the organization, supports its missions and enables its staff to more efficiently and effectively accomplish the mission. The KM plan must include the three tenets of KM: address the needs of people; improve on, or in many cases, capture the processes; and use technology that meets the requirements of the organization.

At NETWARCOM, the KM team used these principles and institutionalized knowledge management initiatives — often without calling them KM. Our simple philosophy is that if we help people to do their job better, then KM is successful. This is also the underpinning philosophy of the Air Force Knowledge Now Web site which states that "KM provides the greatest value by helping the organization do what it does — only better."


KM must align with the commander's vision and mission. At NETWARCOM, our portfolio includes information operations, space and network operations. Additionally, we serve as the information technology type commander, Naval NETWAR FORCEnet Enterprise (NNFE) chief executive officer, and sponsor for the Information Professional and Information Warfare communities.

The tasking is broad across these mission areas, and the environment rich for KM initiatives. But where to begin?

If you have worked with knowledge management projects, you know there is no end to the literature and the number of vendors who want to offer advice and applications that will enable you to find efficiencies, become more productive and revolutionize the way you do business. Buy this portal, build this knowledge base, transform your business processes this way — and you will have increased work productivity.

Obviously, nothing is that simple or easy. Further, we must accomplish our mission using the tools provided by the Navy Marine Corps Intranet along with other approved efforts that align with Department of the Navy Chief Information Officer (DON CIO) policy, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Communications Networks (OPNAV N6) directives, NETWARCOM guidance and the Cyber Asset Reduction and Security (CARS) initiative.

This article addresses how we approached the challenges at NETWARCOM to enable knowledge capture, sharing and collaboration. Notice we did not say knowledge management. Organizations don't DO knowledge management; they attempt to improve their performance using the people and tools available to them. That is the approach we used at NETWARCOM.


First, we defined knowledge management as a collection of processes, people and technology that govern the creation, dissemination and leveraging of knowledge to fulfill the mission of the organization.

Knowledge management is critical to integrating disparate functions and units, including functional silos, geographically dispersed domain members and critical strategic initiatives.

Second, we created a knowledge management vision, mission, goals and objectives for the KM directorate to accomplish. The goals were divided into three categories; outside the lifelines of NETWARCOM, inside the lifelines of NETWARCOM and a dotted line to collaborative tools. Figure 1 depicts these goals.

Knowledge Management Maturity Model

To gauge the level of work required and to begin with the end result in mind, we developed a Knowledge Management Maturity Model (KMMM). This model served as a road map to guide us through the process. The KMMM was based on the same concept as the Capability Maturity Model for Software. The purpose of our customized maturity model was to evaluate the state of KM using the three tenants of KM discussed earlier: people, processes and technology, over time.

We began with an initial evaluation of the current process and ended with the target — the knowledge-centric state consisting of knowledge workers, technology which supports learning, and open standards and open architecture with well-defined, repeatable, efficient processes.

HQ KM Support

Our strategy for collecting KM requirements was to look, listen and act. We surveyed the landscape. We listened to the staff as they articulated what needed to be done to make the organization more efficient, and the bottom line was: the organization could not move forward until it had a means to more effectively communicate and collaborate. This was not surprising.

Since its standup in 2002, NETWARCOM had grown from about 60 to a total workforce of 14,960 including, 10,079 active duty military, 1,507 Reserves, 2,008 civilian employees and 1,366 contractors. In addition to dealing with the sheer numbers, many in the workforce are geographically dispersed from NETWARCOM headquarters in Norfolk, Va., to Dahlgren, Va., and as far as San Diego, Calif.

From this assessment, requirements were generated and a method was devised to implement a KM solution for headquarters. Although we did not take a formal approach to surveying the organization to determine its readiness to accept and deploy a knowledge management system, we had a significant number of issues identified by staff members that suggested a strong need for some type of collaborative tool that would allow the headquarters staff to share documents and collaborate.

Another issue that was identified by several groups within headquarters was the lack of standardized administrative processes. Both issues fell squarely into our KM defined mission.

There were two focus areas identified that crossed multiple functional and directorate boundaries. This provided the opportunity to experiment with process identification and improvement using Lean Six Sigma (LSS). We believe KM and LSS can be complementary approaches to foster an environment of continuous improvement, innovation and learning.

Lean Six Sigma brings a rigorous project approach: the use of analytical and quality evaluation tools, and it is a model for measurement and results. KM strategies serve as a model for the transfer of best practices. KM uses communities of practice as cross-functional teams that can sustain change and focus on the quality of knowledge flows, assets and lessons learned.

There are many factors involved in technology selection. The tool must provide a collaborative environment and a degree of workflow that would allow repeatable processes across headquarters and, in the long run, for the NETWARCOM enterprise. Based on perceived movement toward an enterprise best of breed portal, we partnered with Fleet Forces Command (FFC) to implement the next generation of collaborative technology, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007.

MOSS provides an integrated suite of easy-to-use applications that boosts organizational effectiveness and optimizes the way people, content, processes and business applications interact. Since NETWARCOM HQ had never operated in a portal environment, the challenge has been centered on how best to use the tool to improve performance.

While a modern portal offers numerous collaborative capabilities, workflows and content management systems, it's the mindset of knowledge workers that must be adjusted to embrace change. Old habits die hard, so it's a slow process. But we have support from the top and from the deckplate, which is ideal in any situation involving change.

Called the NETWARCOM Enterprise Workspace, NEWS was designed to develop a community within NETWARCOM HQ. NEWS enables the staff to proactively manage, share and use knowledge to improve business performance. NEWS will also provide self-service opportunities using white pages, content management, search and an expertise locator.

Two Pilot Projects

Developing the virtual workspace that contains collaborative tools and a content management system was the easy part for the KM team. The hard part was identifying the building blocks that would ensure the project's success: the technology, people and processes.

We obtained the technology from the partnership with FFC and were confident we could develop training materials on the fly, not the best plan, but the best we could do with the resources available. The people, for the most part, were open to any change that would enhance their ability to get their jobs done.

We were able to get two teams off the ground almost immediately to identify stakeholders, review business processes, identify content and the way the organization currently captured, stored and shared its resources. The first team, the content management team, was chartered to develop an information architecture, information management plan, training plan and roles and responsibilities for managing NETWARCOM content.

The second team's goal was to improve the introduction of new employees to the command, its products, services and key resources for a smooth acclimation in less than five days. Both teams were focused on content and its usability, credibility and relevance, but they used different LSS and KM methodologies.

The content management team's objectives were critical to the success of the virtual workspaces. They developed roles, responsibilities and the governance framework. The governance framework ensures that content would always be relevant, timely and of a high quality. It would also ensure that the KM strategy was aligned with business objectives to continuously deliver value to the organization.

The check-in process team, using the DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, control) model from Lean Six Sigma, mapped the current check-in process for new military and civilian employees. They used pedometers to estimate the distance they traveled, date stamps on check-in sheets to measure timelines and conducted interviews to create spaghetti diagrams to illustrate the new employees' experiences.

The team then used process improvement tools to remove non-value added steps and designed an improved method for checking new hires onboard. The new process reduced check-in time by two days and identified information that should be provided to employees prior to and at check-in. Both teams are using communities to maintain and sustain changes in processes, behaviors and procedures.

Supporting Documentation

One of the outcomes of the pilot programs was to codify the KM guiding principles into a concrete set of business rules for the portal and provide a philosophy to ensure the entire organization, customers and shareholders understand how knowledge sharing and management support them.

A communications plan was developed that included educating and training the workforce, not only on the use of the application, but the value of capturing, sharing and transferring information in the day-to-day operations of the organization. The goal was to create awareness for NEWS — and then credibility for its value. Articles were published in NETWARCOM publications, such as the weekly Quarters Ashore, and quarterly magazine InfoDomain.

NETWARCOM has taken important first steps in defining repeatable processes, institutionalizing KM processes and rewarding those that contribute. The culture of knowledge sharing is improving daily and is being championed at all levels in the chain of command. With this type of commitment, the command is primed to improve its internal and external business processes and will improve the services provided to our customers.

Cmdr. Hearne is an Information Professional officer and the special assistant for knowledge management at NETWARCOM. He is a Master Certified Knowledge Management Professional and certified DoD chief information officer. Hearne served as the KM for Harry S. Truman Strike Group and on Task Force Web.

Ms. Carobine is the deputy knowledge manager at NETWARCOM, a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and certified knowledge manager. She previously served as the KM at the Human Performance Center in Virginia Beach, Va.

Special assistant for knowledge management at NETWARCOM, Cmdr. John Hearne and deputy, Caroline Carobine September 2007.
Figure 1. NETWARCOM KM Mission and Goals.
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