How to Implement a Knowledge Management System

Thanks to the prevalence of the cloud-based SaaS model, it is easier than ever to implement a knowledge management system. In contrast to the technical implementations required by previous generations of KM software, modern solutions offer simple, straightforward setup and implementation options designed to facilitate knowledge sharing, instead of knowledge storage.
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Regardless of whether you need to implement a solution for a team or for your entire organization, the process is the same: know your audience, make it easy for everyone to access what they need, and promote usage to drive high adoption. At its core, KM implementation is a change management exercise, but one that contains its own solution, as sharing knowledge makes change management easier.

When implemented correctly, a new knowledge management solution should make both explicit and tacit knowledge easy to find, update, and trust — a combination that leads to high adoption.

Knowledge management implementation plan

So, how do you structure your knowledge management implementation process for the best chance of success and long-term ROI? Who needs to be on your implementation team? What business processes will be affected? What are the success factors to measure?

As with any change management exercise, it’s imperative that you know what you want the outcome to be and work backward from there.

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1. Establish an objective for your knowledge management program

Before jumping into any project management, you have to establish what you want the end result of your KM improvement process to look like. Not only will this help you figure out how to measure success, but it’ll help you stay focused on solving specific business problems instead of something nebulous like “better knowledge sharing.”

Ask yourself (and your team) what does “better knowledge sharing” get us? Is it reducing support team call handle time? Is it fewer work interruptions or better efficiency? A quieter Slack or Teams instance? An easier benefits rollout process? Faster onboarding? You can certainly solve for more than one of these problems, but identifying them is the first step.

2. Assign a directly responsible individual (DRI)

While the end result of your knowledge management initiative should be better knowledge sharing for everyone, one person has to be the ultimate decision maker on starting the rollout and implementing the strategy. Determine who will have the final say for things like determining your technology needs, recommending the platform choice to the CFO, and setting and reporting on the success metrics. At smaller companies, it may make sense for this to be part of the CFO’s own responsibilities; at medium-sized companies, it might roll up to IT; and at larger companies, a dedicated knowledge manager can be necessary. Learn more about the role and responsibilities of a knowledge manager. 

3. Outline your KM implementation strategy

This is where the project management aspect comes into play, and it’s the place where the actual delivery dates and milestones, success metrics, and expected changes to business processes. Will you be rolling out to different teams at different times? Will you have a pilot program? Will you be porting or syncing knowledge over from a previous knowledge management system? Will the organizational culture need to change? Should individuals expect the overall KM process to change? What is your long-term roadmap?  Learn more about knowledge management strategies.

4. Prepare your team for change

Once everything is outlined and your DRI has signed off, it’s time to brief everyone else. Use change management techniques to ensure that you have adequate team buy-in before moving forward. Talk about the objectives you’ve established and how this will have specific impacts on work (again, avoid abstract and aspirational phrases like “work will be more efficient!” or “knowledge sharing will be frictionless.” Discuss the actual benefits people will see once this knowledge management system is implemented?

5. Train your team on your knowledge management system

This should be straightforward. Depending on the knowledge management software and plan you choose, you may have access to a customer success manager to help train your team on best practices. If you don’t have access to that see if there’s a self-serve academy, or help documentation. If you’re looking at a simple system like an internal knowledge management wiki, make sure everyone who is expected to contribute content knows where it should live. If you’re implementing a more robust knowledge management system, explain how various features can help save time.

6. Activate the implementation plan

Time to launch! Get your team into the live system and start using it. Grab your final baseline (before) metrics; keep track of what questions pop up; and make sure there are frequent check-ins with users.

7. Measure and improve adoption 

Once implemented, you’ll want to see how your knowledge management system is performing. Are you starting to see the results outlined at the beginning of the process (ex: call handle time decreasing; quieter Slack channels)? Are enough people using the platform to improve on your baseline metrics? Are they using the platform correctly? If not, talk to your DRI about creating a positive feedback loop for adoption and/or create an incentive for correct usage. Learn more about knowledge governance.

knowledge governance

When does knowledge management software implementation require cultural change?

Ultimately, a knowledge management system is just one piece of the puzzle. If your company is not bought in to the idea of knowledge sharing as a positive, you may have to work to change the culture. In some cases, the previous knowledge management platform may be partially to blame. If it suffered from low adoption or wasn’t easy to use, users may be disinclined to try and solve the issue again. 

If you can, ask your vendor for case studies showing how other teams solved the same issues your team is looking at, and consider using content templates to avoid starting from scratch. Ultimately, though, it’s imperative for the management team to buy in to the idea that a knowledge-driven culture can improve business functions and increase revenue, so they can lead, instead of making KM a lower executive priority.

Learn knowledge management best practices before you begin implementing at your company.