STEP 2: Develop a KM Strategy

What Is a KM Strategy?

A KM Strategy is a written document that defines what the agency hopes to accomplish through KM techniques and how. The strategy should support the agency’s overall strategic plan and reflect what is learned in the assessment of risks and opportunities. The strategy need not be lengthy or elaborate – it can fit on a single page.

Why Develop a KM Strategy?

The process of developing the KM strategy allows key players in the organization to get engaged and aligned. It provides an opportunity for the agency leadership to set a clear direction and commit to holding staff accountable for moving forward.

How to Develop an Agency KM Strategy

A KM Strategy can be developed either as a follow-on activity from the agency’s broader strategic planning process, or through a stand-alone effort. A small working group of 3-5 individuals can be designated to develop the strategy. These individuals can be drawn from the following functions: central office business units (e.g., planning, maintenance, design, construction), field offices (e.g., district or regional maintenance, traffic operations, project delivery) and relevant support functions (e.g., human resources or organizational development, information technology, research/ library, public affairs/ communications). Each working group member can be responsible for seeking input from a broader group as part of the process. A single individual should be designated to lead the effort and serve as the liaison to the executive team.

The charge of the working group is to (1) establish KM goals based on the agency’s strategic plan and the priority focus areas identified in the assessment step; (2) identify appropriate KM strategies to pursue; (3) identify resources required for the first 6-12 months; and (4) seek executive team endorsement of the strategy – and commitment of resources.

Linking to Agency Strategic Plans

Many transportation agencies have developed strategic plans and/or business plans that include organizational values or goals related to KM. Here are some examples from current state DOT strategic plans:

The KM strategy can “hook into” these values or goals that have already been articulated. KM strategies can also consider more externally focused agency goals related to safety, mobility, infrastructure preservation, economic development and environmental stewardship. For example, pending loss of key individuals in the agency’s safety function may impact the agency’s ability to select and deliver the most effective set of safety improvements for the available dollars. Lead managers from key functional areas of the department can help to identify situations where KM strategies are needed to mitigate risks of employee departures or to build capabilities in emerging skill areas.

KM Goals

A KM strategy document should begin with a statement of goals for KM, which may include one or more of the following:

These examples are fairly general, but can be tailored as needed to the agency’s specific areas of concern. For example, one agency may choose to emphasize strengthening knowledge sharing across staff serving in similar roles in different field offices. A second agency may want to focus on fostering innovation in areas such as context-sensitive design, public-private partnerships or traffic management.

KM Strategies

The next step is to identify a set of strategies that will achieve the goals that have been established. For example, if the goal is to address priority risks associated with pending retirements, strategies might include a mix of analyses (to identify unique expertise), training and job shadowing (to bring other employees up to speed), documentation and targeted recruiting.

KM strategies can be considered from each of the categories outlined above in the section on Key Elements of KM:

As illustrated in Figure 4, a balanced set of KM strategies will target People, Process, and Information Management/Technology:

These three elements combine to provide the motivation, the means, and the opportunity for knowledge sharing in an organization.

Figure 4. KM Strategies

Table 1 below displays elements of agency-wide KM, classified by People, Process and Information Management & Technology. Descriptions of each of these elements are provided in the next section. Note that many elements fall into more than one of the three categories – for example, Communities of Practice fit into all three: they reinforce knowledge sharing behaviors, provide opportunities for problem solving related to ongoing work processes, and may be supported by online collaboration tools.

Table 1. Elements of Agency-Wide Knowledge Management

Agency-Wide KM Elements



Info. Mgmt. & Technology

KM Leadership & Direction

Strategic Planning & Policy Development

KM Education/Training

Knowledge Assessment

Knowledge Mapping/Social Network Analysis

KM Metrics

Social Learning & Communities

Communities of Practice

Peer Review

After Action Review

Social Networking and Collaboration Platforms

Expertise Locator/Smart Org Charts

Recognition and Reward for Collaboration

Knowledge Codification & Dissemination

Lessons Learned Repository

Organizational Narratives/Storytelling

Knowledge Books/Continuity Books

Business Process Documentation/Automation

Contractor Knowledge Transfer

Content Management/Portals/Wikis

Common Vocabulary/Content Classification

Personalization/Role-Based Subscriptions

Succession & Talent Management

Talent Tracking

Desk-side Reviews

Mentoring, Shadowing and Job Rotation

Phased Retirements

Leadership Training

Moving the Strategy Forward

Once strategies are identified, the working group needs to consider who will be responsible for KM implementation, and which resources will be required. A detailed implementation plan isn’t required at this stage – just enough information to enable the senior leadership of the agency to decide to endorse the strategy and approve moving it forward.

Keep in mind that an agency-wide approach to KM may not require significant new investments, since most organizations are already doing elements of KM. Agencies can start with a modest effort and expand as appropriate once benefits are clearly demonstrated.

Importance of a KM Lead

In addition to strong top management support, an essential element of any agency-wide KM strategy is identifying a single KM lead person. While different elements of KM can be carried out by staff in multiple divisions, the KM lead is responsible and accountable for making sure the entire collection of activities is meeting the established goals. They are in a position to best understand what combination of strategies would work best to address identified gaps – and to adjust priorities as new needs arise or as availability of resources changes. In order to ensure that KM is sustainable in the organization, the KM lead should work closely with 1-2 others who would be in a position to take over KM lead responsibilities in their absence.

It is important to recognize that the success of KM initiatives will depend on the capabilities of the designated KM lead, and the level of upper management support they are given. Ideally, the KM lead will have the necessary knowledge and personality to serve as a champion for KM techniques across the organization. Because KM involves working across organizational silos, the lead should be perceived as neutral and have good communication and negotiation skills.

There is no single best organizational location for a KM lead. Possibilities include: Research, Training, Human Resources, Risk Management, Performance Management or Business Support. Because KM should not be a technology-centric initiative, the Information Technology (IT) unit is not generally the best choice for locating the KM lead. However, the KM lead will need to develop a close working relationship with IT.

Example KM Strategies

An example outline of a “modest KM strategy” for a fictitious DOT is shown below. This strategy allocates 50% of a full-time equivalent (FTE) employee to serve as the KM lead and orchestrate implementation. Figure 5 shows a second example from a real organization. This example illustrates a useful format linking agency strategic goals, KM goals, KM strategies, and implementation steps.

  1. Business Case for KM
    • Within the next 2 years, four of the six district administrators are likely to retire. The next level of management in the districts has less than 5 years of experience.
    • There is a need to strengthen the support system for newer staff – encourage them to learn from the existing core of senior, experienced
    • There is a need for consistency in core work processes across districts.
  2. Goals
    • Increase opportunities for collaboration across districts.
    • Capture critical institutional knowledge from senior district staff before they leave the agency.
  3. Strategies
    • Establish and support communities of practice for district construction engineers and district maintenance engineers.
    • Map standard business processes and use as part of the orientation process for new employees.
    • Conduct knowledge interviews with senior district administrators and document key lessons for their successors.
  4. Implementation and Resource Needs
    • Designate a KM lead – allocate 50% of an FTE for overseeing all KM activities.
    • Train two individuals in business process mapping.
    • Brief managers on KM strategy and gain buy-in for staff participation in Communities of Practice
    • Establish quarterly reporting on progress to executive team

Figure 5. An Example KM Strategy

Source: Adapted from Reference 25


NASA’s KM strategy was shaped, in part, as a result of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. The agency recognized that while it had many written procedures and “knowledge databases,” improvements were needed in NASA’s culture of knowledge sharing.
A Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO) position was established to address these concerns and develop a KM strategy. This strategy focused on creating stronger collaboration networks and online communities of practice, building a culture of openness and sharing, infusing lessons learned into the project development life cycle, and holding project teams accountable for capturing and leveraging lessons learned.
NASA’s recognition and reward structure was revised to encourage learning and knowledge sharing proficiencies.

A KM Strategy must align with the mission of the organization. Establishing a clear linkage between the KM strategy and existing organizational goals puts the KM strategy on a solid foundation.

KM at Caltrans

Caltrans developed an enterprise risk profile, following Risk Management Standards from the International Standards Organization (ISO 31000). Through this process, workforce development was identified as one of the top agency risks. The Chief Risk and Ethics Officer led the development of Knowledge Transfer initiatives as a key risk management strategy – including development of a Knowledge Transfer Guidebook.

See reference 26

KM Is Not a Content Repository

“Although IT is a wonderful facilitator of data and information transmission and distribution, it can never substitute for the rich interactivity, communication, and learning that is inherent in dialogue. Knowledge is primarily a function and consequence of the meeting and interaction of minds.”

– Fahey & Prusak (1998)
See reference 29

Remember to consider a holistic approach to KM—this is more sustainable and more effective than a set of disconnected initiatives. Designating a single KM lead with the right set of capabilities is a critical element of an agency-wide KM strategy. Use Technology as an enabler rather than as the centerpiece of the KM strategy.

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