ASQ - Energy and Environmental Division


Total Quality Knowledge Management can be described as the application of knowledge management practices to achieve quality management principles that include

  • customer focus,
  • leadership,
  • involvement of people,
  • process approach,
  • systems approach to management,
  • continual improvement,
  • factual approach to decision-making, and
  • mutually beneficial supplier relation.

A growing Number of quality practitioners are applying their talents and experience to the field of knowledge management. How can we as quality practitioners apply our extensive background to contribute to the field of knowledge management?

At the risk of over-simplification, the substance of knowledge management breaks down into the following elements:

  • identify knowledge requirements,
  • obtain existing knowledge assets,
  • identify knowledge gaps,
  • address knowledge gaps to fulfill requirements, and
  • continually preserve and expand knowledge to reflect dynamic requirements.

I propose that the quality management standards be applied as reference guides. In particular, I believe that the ISO 9001:2000 standard and the ISO 9004:2000 guideline are effective tools that can draw out the knowledge needed for an organization to plan, develop, prepare, deliver, and maintain its products from start to finish.

The ISO 9004 guidelines provide many examples of how particular requirements can be addressed. These examples effectively prompt an organization to disclose whether or not the knowledge requirements are available. ISO 9004 was never intended to be a compliance tool but an internal management tool. One such application for this tool would be to apply it to a knowledge management initiative.

Identify knowledge requirements
An organization seeking to understand its requirements would be well served by the whole-business viewpoint of ISO 9004 and its adherence to the plan-do-check-act model. Knowledge in the earlier process stages establishes the foundation for the later process stages. For example, product verification and validation outcomes are dependent on clear product requirements, which were determined in design and development, and on objective standards determined as part of quality planning.

Obtain existing knowledge assets
There are two types of knowledge: tacit and explicit. A protocol like ISO 9004 forces the organization to identify the responsible individuals and the extent to which those individuals are qualified and competent in their respective roles. The other concern is the extent to which knowledge resides within a few key individuals or within a system.

Knowledge comes in many forms: qualifications, experience, background, participation, documents, records, contacts, intuition, exposure to similar practices, etc. Each asset has a value and a level of importance. This importance must be accurately stated so that it can be applied to the subsequent steps.

Identify knowledge gaps
Any audit will reveal deficiencies or areas for improvement or attention. These gaps should be identified and prioritized. It is also important to determine the contextual importance of these gaps. If the gap is in a critical area affecting many other areas (e.g., good laboratory practices in a clinical facility), that should be addressed immediately. Where possible, a cost should be assigned to justify the importance and urgency of obtaining those particular knowledge resources.

Address knowledge gaps to fulfill requirements
There are many ways to expand the levels of tacit and explicit knowledge. The ISO 9004 can be converted into a balanced scorecard, where knowledge levels are tracked continually. Such a scorecard would also be a useful reference for auditing and accountability, measuring the impact of each initiative. For example, a training course in occupational health and safety could address multiple categories, and its value could be demonstrated objectively.

Continually preserve and expand knowledge to reflect dynamic requirements
We are working in dynamic environments. Our employers and clients are constantly introducing new products and services, entering new industries and markets, and expanding the complexity and reliability of deliverables. The knowledge base must continually adapt or it will be rendered obsolete. Imagine a computer consultant who did not advance his/her knowledge base since 1992. He/she would have no clue about the Internet, wireless devices, operating systems, or other trends of the last 10 years.

The fields of quality management and knowledge management complement each other and serve the best interests of each. Training, awareness, and competency are necessary requirements of a quality management system that is compliant to ISO 9001. I hope that this article expands the perception and application of the ISO 9000 standards beyond auditing, so that better knowledge may result. This approach effectively synchronizes quality management and knowledge management, achieving objectives for both areas.

If knowledge management can be oriented to achieve quality management principles, a world of opportunities will be opened.

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