Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Book Review: Knowledge Management Lessons Learned

Martin White praises the work of the editors on the 32 essays covering how KM initiatives can deliver tangible outcomes and takes a practical and balanced view of their overall value.

The problems of being an editor of a multi-author book probably do not escalate as the square of the number of contributors, but nevertheless it must be quite a significant function. You have the problems of selecting the authors in the first place, replacing those that drop out, coping with the 80% of contributors that miss the original deadline and then carrying out remedial work on authors that have failed to abide by the scope notes. On that basis alone, the co-editors deserve considerable credit that the book exists at all. For a reviewer there are also challenges, because the individual contributions are usually quite variable, and rarely long enough to deserve more than passing reference.

The Easy Bit

The editors state that the objective of the book is to assemble in one publication the experiences, perceptions, knowledge, and wisdom of a number of KM practitioners and theoreticians. Among the wide range of topics covered are KM strategy, KM costs and economics, taxonomy, standards, roles in KM and KM applications in government. Those you might expect. Then there are contributions on content management, portals and visual design, and competitive intelligence in KM. One of the neat aspects of this book is the way that the editors have diligently set out these themes and then guide the reader as to how the themes are then covered by contributors beyond the basic chapter categorisation. This 'road map' has been well devised, as you would expect from two editors with such a distinguished record as authors and academics in KM.

In addition to the chapters, most of which are around 20 pages long, there is a select bibliography of articles and Web sources on the lessons learned from KM initiatives. The production quality is good, and the book is readable from a design viewpoint. However the index is variable! Why is it that indexers rarely seem to ask themselves whether any one is going to look up the Journal of Universal Computer Science in order to locate a passing reference to the extent to which the journal published articles on KM?

The Difficult Bit

Is it worth buying?

There is much that I like about this book. I have to say that I am somewhat sceptical about KM, mainly about the 'M' bit. I'm not sure you can manage knowledge, but I do think you can manage an environment that fosters the exchange of knowledge. In general this is a very practical book, full of insights from people who have struggled to make KM work in their organisations, and 20 pages is about right to set the scene and then discuss the problems, benefits and challenges. Mary Durham (Genzyme Corporation) on 'Three Critical Roles for Knowledge Management Workspaces: Moderators, Thought Leaders, and Managers' is one good example, and Jack Borbely (Towers Perrin) on 'Lessons from Five-Plus Years of Knowledge Management' is another.

However there are also some chapters which seem to be out of place in a book with this title. Steve Arnold writes well on 'Content Management: Role and Reality', and Frank Cervone and Darlene Fichter do a good job on 'XML: Data Infrastructure for Knowledge Management', but neither chapter, nor the three chapters on KM and competitive intelligence, seem to fit into the overall theme of the book's title. I get the sense that the book is designed more for a student text than for a knowledge/information manager.

What is missing is any contribution on KM from outside the USA, with the exception of a chapter on 'Interpersonal Knowledge and Organizational Foresight' from Elisabeth Davenport, which is about her work on the Online Partner Lens Project. Interesting though this project is, the chapter is largely a rather dry report of the project and is not integrated by either the author or the editors into the overall section on Communities of Practice. There is no reference to the work done by Angela Abell and her colleagues at TFPL, or to Anne Jubert and her team at the European Commission, just to give two examples. Indeed the issues of KM and business culture are scarcely mentioned, especially as they arise in multi-national organisations.

One final concern that I have is that most of the literature references are no later than 2002 and the Web sources in the bibliography were checked in April 2003. This is always a problem in hard-back publishing, especially in multi-author works, so I won't mark the book down too hard on this basis. However I am intrigued as to why European Web sites of the quality of Knowledgeboard are not listed, and there are no articles cited from UK magazines such as Knowledge Management and KM News.


On balance this is a book that is a useful addition to the literature, but mainly for experienced practitioners who will gain much from dipping into individual chapters for ideas and inspiration. It is that sort of book, rather than one that should be read cover-to-cover and adorned with multiple-colour marker pen ink. I can also see it being a good student text so long as the US bias in contributors and in the bibliographic coverage is recognised. If you want to meet Michael Koenig in person then he will a speaker at Online Information 2004 [1].


  1. Online Information Web site http://www.online-information.co.uk

Author Details

Martin White
Managing Director
Intranet Focus Ltd

Email: martin.white@intranetfocus.com
Web site: http://www.intranetfocus.com

Return to top