KM in Practice

What Does It Mean to Implement KM?

KM includes a range of simple and relatively low cost actions that DOT executives can consider to reduce risks, leverage available opportunities for innovation, and ensure that what employees have learned in the course of their careers is shared with newer employees and contemporaries in other organizational units. Techniques include:

  • Workforce planning to identify and close gaps between needed skills and existing capabilities;
  • Communities of practice that enable less experienced employees to learn from their peers;
  • Expertise directories that employees can use to identify who to contact if they have a question;
  • Capture of specialized knowledge from employees before they leave the organization;
  • Project management methodologies that ensure project teams learn from prior experience and document lessons learned for future efforts; and
  • Use of information management methods to ensure that employees can quickly find the information they need to be effective.

Aren't We Already Doing KM?

It can be argued that many organizations – including DOTs - are already managing knowledge to some extent: through employee training, mentoring, team meetings, business process documentation, updates to manuals, etc. Nevertheless, such activities are often carried out by individual organizational units with a narrowly defined perspective. The effectiveness of these activities can be greatly enhanced through a more strategic, agency-wide and organized approach to KM – drawing upon the rich base of KM experience from both public- and private-sector organizations.

How Do We Get Started?

There are many practical steps that can be taken to ensure that existing employee know-how is well-utilized and to grow the agency’s knowledge base to meet anticipated future needs.

Key activities include: (1) Assessing the organization’s strengths, weaknesses and vulnerabilities with respect to knowledge for critical business functions, (2) developing a strategy that involves people, process and information management/technology elements for leveraging existing expertise and mitigating anticipated knowledge losses, (3) implementing a set of KM techniques, and (4) tracking results and adjust techniques as needed, while allowing room for flexibility and experimentation.

Aligning KM activities with the agency’s established objectives and strategic initiatives provides DOT leaders with an opportunity to ramp up support for what they are trying to achieve within their limited tenures. KM techniques can be focused in priority areas (e.g. safety, asset management, or innovative finance) to get some easy short term wins, while creating a sustainable longer-term foundation. Agencies can start small with a pilot effort, track costs and results and expand as appropriate based on the payoff they are seeing.

Purpose of the Guide

This Guide was developed because KM offers promising solutions to DOT challenges, yet relatively few DOTs have implemented agency-wide approaches to KM.

The Guide is intended to help DOT leaders examine the business case for undertaking or strengthening KM in their agencies. It introduces a variety of KM tools and techniques that a DOT could apply, and provides a roadmap for DOTs wishing to experiment or get started with implementing an agency-wide approach to KM. Finally, it provides links to resources that agencies can use to develop and strengthen their KM activities over time.

Throughout the Guide, key points and quick tips are highlighted with this lightbulb symbol:

Using KM to Reduce Risk

As DOTs cut costs and downsize workforces, this often leads to a loss of expertise and experience in key functions. The erosion of staff capabilities can take its toll on organizational effectiveness and the track record of the chief executive.

Key KM Activities

Using this Guide

The Guide can be used to get an overview of: