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Time-Writing Knowledge Management Activities

Dr. Nick Milton
Director and Co-Founder, Knoco Ltd.
Special Guest Post

A common question from clients in professional services, legal or consulting  firms, which usually operate a strict time-writing regime, is “How do we  Timewrite KM”?

How do you timewrite, and therefore bill, time spent in  Knowledge  Management activities?

Is the time written and billed to the  relevant client? Or do you introduce Knowledge Management as a separate time  code, and therefore treat it as an overhead?

Approaches seem to vary,  with some companies allowing neither, therefore relegating KM to a “personal  time” activity.

Personally, I think KM should be billed to clients.  Knowledge Management should only be introduced if it is going to benefit  clients, and indeed the whole purpose of Knowledge Management within a  professional services firm is to “bring the whole knowledge of the firm to bear  on each client’s problems”. Therefore KM is part of providing a better service  (in fact you could see KM as a component of good business practice), and should  be paid for by the client. Therefore the time spent in Peer Assists, After Action reviews and even Retrospects should be billed to the client, by the logic of  “we provide a better service to you through KM, so KM is billed as part of that  better service”. (Of course, by the same logic, if KM is not delivering a better  service, then you should stop doing KM). Timewriting in this way keeps the focus  on KM as a means to support the clients.

Giving KM a separate  timewriting code implies that KM is an add-on, and an overhead, which is why I  don’t like this approach. KM should be seen as an investment, both for the  client and for the firm, and not as an overhead cost.

Not allowing  people to timewrite KM at all will kill KM, unless you can find a sneaky way  around the system. Last week I was discussing just such a sneaky way, with a  KMer from a company with no KM charge code, and where nobody would spend any  time on Retrospects or Lessons Learned. However one thing they do, on every  client project, is to assign a junior as part of the juniors’ Development  Activity.

Here they have the opportunity for KM by Stealth – to use the  Junior as the corporate learning resource. The junior can keep a “learning blog”  or “lessons blog” on which they can identify and publish all lessons and good  practices recognised on that project. This is analogous to the “commanders  blogs” used in the Army, which prove an excellent source of learning. The blog  allows the junior to reflect and learn, and through that public reflection  allows the firm to learn as well. The community of learners can take a role  similar to the “lessons learned integrators” but without the  supporting lessons learned system.

Of course KM by stealth is not a long term solution, and should only  be used to demonstrate the value of KM with sufficient clarity that it becomes  fully adopted, which means it then becomes a valid timewriting activity and a  cost/investment that can be passed to clients.


Dr. Nick Milton is director and co-founder of Knoco Ltd. Working with Knoco Ltd, Nick has been instrumental in developing and delivering KM strategies, implementation plans and services in a wide range of different organizations, many of them Oil-sector Majors. He has a particular interest in Lessons Learned programs, and has managed major lessons capture programs, particularly in the area of mergers and acquisitions, and high technology engineering. He is the author of “The Lessons Learned handbook” (Woodhead publishing, 2010) and “Knowledge Management for Teams and Projects (Chandos Publishing, 2005), and co-author of “Knowledge Management for Sales and Marketing (Chandos Publishing, 2011) and “Performance through Learning – knowledge management in practice” (Elsevier, 2004). Prior to founding Knoco, Nick spent two years at the centre of the team that made BP the leading KM company in the world, acting as the team Knowledge Manager, developing and implementing BP’s knowledge of “how to manage knowledge”, and coordinating the BP KM Community of Practice.