We speak often about the knowledge strategist as the “go-to” manager in the company or organization, and it’s a valid description. As we pursue our careers in KM, knowledge services, and knowledge strategy development that “idea” (we might call it) attaches to us. Then the people with whom we come in contact pretty soon begin to count on us as the person to speak with, whenever the topic turns to a knowledge-related activity or situation.
It’s a good place to be and for many people, as careers move forward, this role in the organization becomes a first step in moving into a more formal consulting role. It can happen in almost any field of work, but in my experience I’ve seen it happen particularly well in what we usually refer to as “the knowledge domain,” that part of the company’s organizational framework that seeks to link information, knowledge, and strategic learning – knowledge services – to corporate success.
We have commented about this topic before. In March 2012 we took up the topic of Examining the Knowledge-Sharing/Management Consulting Connection, a post in which I (with good commentary from readers) responded to an essay by Louis Menand, a piece in The New Yorker in which Menand sort of related the issues of the up-coming presidential election to management consulting. Menand’s essay was about changes that have taken place in the field, and in the SMR Int’l post I tried to relate how management consulting – as a profession – has not so much changed as modernized. Many people agreed with us.
A little later, in July 2014, in Ready for Knowledge Services at Your Company? we moved on to the ideas and, well, some of the philosophy that my colleague Anne Kershaw and I try to bring to our students and consulting clients:
…knowledge services provides the foundation for success in all our knowledge development, knowledge sharing, and knowledge utilization activities (what we like to refer to as “KD/KS/KU”). As we put it all together, to get to knowledge strategy, a first question sets up the whole conversation: is the company, law firm, or organization that wants to do more with knowledge strategy ready to move to knowledge services. Does the client organization understand what it means to move forward with knowledge services?
That’s where our work as management consultants – specializing in knowledge services – comes into the picture. It’s pretty well understood that the purpose of consulting (regardless of the subject field the consultant is working in) is to help the parent organization or the company perform better. Usually that’s in terms of simply reaching established (and critical) growth targets, but sometimes it can relate to a more encompassing idea.
For example, in one of our recent assignments our team was brought in to assist management and senior leadership lead a company “re-think” with respect to KM and knowledge sharing. The atmosphere in the company had, over the years, slipped away from a knowledge-sharing environment. Indeed, among several of the company’s leaders, there was fear that instead of a functioning as a knowledge culture, they were dealing with an environment that was the opposite. They kept encountering situations (and even departments) that were almost antipathetic toward knowledge sharing, and a major culture change was required. So they called in outside help.
But whether the task at hand is “big picture” (as in the example just described) or has to do with fixing a specific problem or tackling an innovation for which the time is right, understanding the background of the situation and getting help in figuring out what to do is usually the responsibility of a management consultant. Sometimes it is an expert called in from an external consulting organization (or an independent consultant, working freelance). In other situations – depending on the requirement for the assignment – a choice is made to use an internal consultant.
Doing a little reading along these lines, I just came across an interesting article supporting a concept I’ve put forward on several occasions, that the fundamental “steps” in knowledge management relate closely to the framework for project management. The article is A Solid Foundation for Your Management Consulting Project, published at the Independent Consulting Bootcamp site. While the focus is obviously for consultants working as independent contractors, it’s a useful study for structuring a knowledge services initiative. Reading through these steps it is easy to connect knowledge services essentials with the guidelines suggested. The article is reprinted below, with permission.
A Solid Foundation for Your Management Consulting Project
The application of basic project management disciplines at all points throughout the management consulting project life-cycle will significantly improve the quality of the outcomes for the client and contribute to the effective management of the risks inherent to the assignment.
The purpose of this page is to provide an overview of the project management disciplines as they relate to the planning and delivery of a typical management consulting assignment.
Each management consulting project will be comprised of a number of generic phases or components which will typically include inception, initiation, planning and mobilization, delivery, testing, benefits realization, controlled close and post implementation review.
It is important to note that the project management disciplines and components outlined on this page are general in nature and quite separate and distinct from the specialist professional and technical skills and inputs that an independent consultant will bring to the client. However, the successful delivery of any management consulting project will always require a successful blend of core project management disciplines and specialist professional / technical skills.
Program or Project?
It is important to determine and agree with the client at an early stage whether the assignment is defined as a Program or Project. Typically a Program is significantly more complex to plan and deliver than a Project and fundamentally different management approaches and consulting skills will be required for each.
The most effective means of establishing the scale and nature of the consulting assignment is to create a preliminary Terms of Reference document. The areas covered will include:
Purpose A simple statement of the purpose of the assignment.
Background From where and whom in the organization did this initiative originate? Who is the lead client sponsor? Details of any related documents, reports or other materials that will provide context for the assignment. How does this initiative relate to the strategy of the client organization or division?
Objectives A statement of the intended outputs of the project, expressed in terms that are measurable.
Outline Deliverables A simple list of the Deliverables that are expected as outputs of the consulting project. Later in the life cycle of the assignment these deliverables will be defined in much greater detail.
Scope, Boundaries and Interfaces A summary of the organizational divisions, functions or processes that will be the domain of the assignment. It is important to document the elements that are in scope and also those elements that are explicitly outside of the scope of the assignment. A diagram quite often helps to establish and agree scope.
Another critical aspect is determining the domains that will be impacted by the assignment. These domains can be usefully categorized as either supplier or customer.
Supplier domains are those that are expected to provide inputs to the management consulting project. Customer domains are those that are expected to receive the outputs of the management consulting project.
Outline Benefits Case A summary of the Business Benefits that are expected to flow from the consulting project. The business case is a separate document which combines these anticipated benefits with the forecast costs of the assignment and includes an assessment of the key risks.
Risk Assessment An initial summary of the anticipated risks associated with the consulting project. A preliminary assessment of the potential severity of the risks will determine the level of time and resource that should be invested in further evaluation of the key risks. It may well be the case that some risks are judged to be so fundamental as to potentially undermine the rationale for the project.
Assumptions A summary of the key facts upon which the management consulting project will be planned and executed. The key assumptions should be documented and validated as early as possible during the lifecycle of the assignment.
Constraints A summary of any restrictions within which the project must be planned and executed, for example resources, immovable milestones, limits to funding and basic quality criteria.
Client Quality Requirements and Acceptance Criteria An outline of the quality characteristics that the client is expecting for each of the key deliverables. Quality requirements must be measurable and will be integral to the acceptance criteria against which the client will ultimately sign-off and accept the deliverables of the consulting project.
Outline Project Plan A summary of the intended start and end dates of the management consulting project; the main phases; the frequency and nature of interim progress reviews; basic arrangements for reporting progress to the client.
Budget & Funding A preliminary estimate of the financial budget required to plan and deliver the management consulting project should be prepared. The related assumptions should be documented. The first draft of the budget should be reviewed early in the life cycle of the assignment and at regular intervals thereafter.
© Independent-Consulting-Bootcamp.com 2014