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Introducing: ISO standard on knowledge management

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The first ever draft international standard on knowledge management has been released for comments. If knowledge management isn’t already on your radar, chances are it soon will be.

ISO 30401 Knowledge management systems will be published in 2018. If ‘systems’ makes you think of technology, please think again. ISO 30401 is a management systems standard, like ISO 9001 Quality management systems. My ISO Working Group colleagues and I have used a tried-and-tested management systems template and written the standard to help organisations develop, maintain and improve management systems that deliver value from knowledge. The standard can be used by organisations of all sizes in all sectors – and it covers project work as well as business-as-usual. Like ISO 9001, Knowledge management systems is a standard that organisations can choose to be certified to.

So what?

For knowledge management specialists like me and my colleagues on the Knowledge SIG Committee, publication of the standard will be a landmark event.  At last project professionals will have access to an internationally recognised definition of knowledge, clear explanations of what knowledge management is (and isn’t) and a list of requirements – the important things that make a difference to the success of knowledge management.

For organisations and project professionals, publication of the standard will present opportunities to improve understanding, practices and performance.  

There will be challenges, too. When ISO 9001 was first published, it led to a lot of box-ticking behaviour. Eventually it led to a much wider and deeper understanding of quality management. I hope we can all learn from this and focus on improving understanding of knowledge management, without going through the box-ticking stage. I hope too that project professionals will read the knowledge management standard with open minds. It might not be what you are expecting.

A sneak peek at what’s in the draft standard

Every organisation is different, so the standard doesn’t tell you exactly what to do – it tells you how to work out what to do. The draft standard is based on eight guiding principles, including the nature of knowledge (it’s a people thing); how knowledge management creates value (it helps organisations meet goals and improve performance by creating and using knowledge); and the need to focus on the working environment (because knowledge is intangible and can’t be managed directly). The ‘requirements’ part of the standard includes definitions and sections on the context of the organisation, on leadership and on planning. 

We have added three appendices to the standard to help readers understand knowledge management – and avoid common mistakes and misconceptions. Topics explained in the appendices include the boundaries between knowledge management and information management, different forms of knowledge and how to analyse and promote a knowledge management culture.

Get involved

Whether you want to get started in knowledge management, want to improve what you are already doing or want a glimpse of the certification requirements, you can read the draft standard by registering (free) on the BSI website, then search for ISO 30401. You can also comment on the draft.

The Knowledge SIG team will be facilitating discussions about the standard in the KM in Projects Community on the Knowledge Hub. Please join us.

Whatever your interest in knowledge management, now is a good time to get your knowledge management ducks in a row.



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  1. Richard Renshaw
    Richard Renshaw 03 December 2017, 08:18 AM

    Please give consideration for referencing to good practice as described below to published International Standards together with other documents under development. In this manner I am of the opinion that there would be a synergistic exchange for the advancement of shared knowledge as a learning legacy for the next generation of young professionals whom are considering a career path in the profession of project management. ISO 21500:2012 -Guidance on project management ISO 21503:2017 -Project, programme and portfolio management -- Guidance on programme management ISO 21504:2015 - Project, programme and portfolio management -- Guidance on portfolio management ISO 21505:2017 - Project, programme and portfolio management -- Guidance on governance ISO/AWI TR 21506 [Under development] -Vocabulary for Project, Programme and Portfolio Management ISO/DIS 21508 [Under develop.] Earned value management in project and programme management ISO/DIS 21511 [Under develop.] Work Breakdown Structure. I hope this is of help. Kind regards Richard Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia APM Member

  2. Martin Fisher
    Martin Fisher 04 December 2017, 06:38 PM

    This is a great development & should help people working to get the most out of knowledge on behalf of organisations, programmes, portfolios & projects alike. It will be enormously helpful to have recognised definitions from a highly credible source and a 'touchstone' to refer to for sharing understanding of key KM Principles. In particular, I hope that insights from the standard will promote (still too-rare) understanding that for knowledge to thrive relies more on cultural and personal issues - the ‘working environment’ reference - than on any given systems and tools. Bring it on!

  3. Judy Payne
    Judy Payne 05 December 2017, 05:46 PM

    Thank you Martin for your insightful and positive comment! Improving the understanding of KM (and busting all the myths and misunderstandings that exist) is what motivates all three of the UK experts to be on the ISO Working Group.

  4. Judy Payne
    Judy Payne 05 December 2017, 05:51 PM

    Richard, thank you for your comment. I should have pointed out in the blog post that the KM Systems standard is for organisations. It includes project work but it isn't written exclusively for project management professionals.

  5. Richard Renshaw
    Richard Renshaw 06 December 2017, 05:16 PM

    Judy, thank you - appreciated. Could you offer up your opinion if there could be envisioned a; for KM in a generic manner applicable for organisations. This to be in contrast to a project management taxonomy BOK for the domain of project, programme and portfolio management. I am curious to learn and would like to explore what could be appropriate as KM for the domain of P3 and how later to make pragmatic application of the forthcoming KM ISO Standard as a synergistic exchange. Thoughts? Kind regards Richard

  6. Judy Payne
    Judy Payne 08 December 2017, 11:27 AM

    Richard, I think the REAL 'body of knowledge' on any subject is a constantly evolving understanding, shared between academics and practitioners. No-one knows everything there is to know about any subject! The draft standard represents current good practice in KM and is the closest thing we have to a codified body of knowledge. Something more dynamic and detailed could be developed by a global 'KM Society', which doesn't yet exist - although there is talk of creating such an organisation. Publication of the standard might be the catalyst for creating it. Regarding your point about KM for the P3 domain, well KM in a project environment isn't really any different from KM elsewhere. The language might differ, and every situation is unique, but the principles (like the ones in the draft standard) and fundamentals are the same.

  7. Richard Renshaw
    Richard Renshaw 08 December 2017, 08:40 PM

    Judy, thank you - appreciated the rich insight... In respect of the good initiative 'development of a book on KM in project environments'... I wish you all good luck... As a suggestion for bibliography what may prove helpful...Creating Knowledge Services for Modern Technical Project Organizations: The REAL Knowledge Approach Edward J. Hoffman and Jon Boyle ...Gower Handbook of Programme Management, Second edition...ISBN: 978-1-4724-4577-3 An abstract of Strategic imperatives in the modern project knowledge environment ... It is a project world. Diverse organizations worldwide require a methodology allowing for rigour in managing temporary, unique initiatives towards the achievement of defined requirements, project goals and outcomes that are aligned to organizational strategy in an era of constrained resources... In this context, project management is uniquely positioned as an adaptable profession that fits these requirements and can maximise the use of knowledge and learning to promote effici.ency and effectiveness...The alignment of project goals to organizational strategy through good leadership is critical.

  8. Richard Renshaw
    Richard Renshaw 11 January 2018, 09:17 PM

    A recent webinar(24 minutes) and slide deck on the topic I found pleasing and informative, thanks, Judy and all members of the team for a job very well done! What does the standard mean for project management professionals? It's an opportunity to find out what KM is really about.