Knowledge Management
(Collison Parcell)

Knowledge Center





Summary, forum, best practices, expert tips and information sources.

Contributed by: Chris Collison


What is the Knowledge Management approach of Collison and Parcell? Description

The Knowledge Management method from Chris Collison and Geoff Parcell is a framework that can be used for learning, capturing, sharing and exploiting knowledge, experience and good practices.


Knowledge Management is an oxymoron – nobody can really manage an asset which resides in the heads of employees, and is shared primarily through conversation.

What you can do, though, is: to manage the environment in which knowledge can be created, discovered, captured, shared, distilled, validated, transferred, adopted, adapted and applied. To create business value.

For creating an environment within which knowledge rapidly flourishes we need:

  • The right conditions. A common reliable infrastructure and an organization that is willing to be entrepreneurial.
  • The right means. A common model, tools and processes for learning.
  • The right actions. Where people instinctively seek, share and use knowledge.
  • The right leadership. Where learning and sharing is expected and role-modeled.

The methodology provides a number of tools, interventions and facilitation techniques to help organizations to learn before, during and after activities.
The benefits from these learning interventions can be multiplied if they are shared more widely as good practices – either through people-networks (communities), or through the capture and codification into regularly updated “knowledge products”.


Origin of the Knowledge Management method by Collison and Parcell. History

Originally derived by the knowledge management team of BP in 1998 from good practices in the US Army and other learning organizations, the methodology was published in 2001 in the book “Learning to Fly, lessons from one of the world’s leading knowledge companies”, Collison & Parcell. Once published, the methodology produced a community of practice – now in excess of 700 people from a wide variety of public and private sector organizations. In 2005 a new version of “Learning to Fly” was published to demonstrate the transferability of the approach, carrying stories of application from ten other organizations. Applications range from the United Nations to De Beers, from the BBC to primary schools in New South Wales. Elements of this knowledge management approach can be found today in a large number of organizations and business schools. Including Henley and Cranfield Management Schools.


Collison Parcell Knowledge ManagementUsage of the Knowledge Management framework by Collison and Parcell. Applications

  • Preventing wheel reinvention, particularly in large, international organizations.
  • Accelerating the integration process following an acquisition or merger.
  • Identifying, capturing and sharing good practice in organizations.
  • Dealing with cultural barriers that hold back organizations – e.g. “Not invented here”
  • To build, nurture and support networks and communities of practice.
  • Creating a culture of continuous improvement and learning.
  • Involving leadership in the right behaviors to reinforce knowledge-sharing.

Steps in this Knowledge Management method. Process

See the diagram on the right.

  • People and teams agree on a set of goals. Then they use knowledge to deliver against their targets, ultimately creating value. Where do you begin to intervene with knowledge management?
  • Focus on the "Using Knowledge circle". What if you could inspire your organization to learn before, during and after any significant activity. Simple learning processes like assisting a colleague, retrospects (post project reviews) and after action reviews make their contribution here, and help to elicit new knowledge - knowledge which would have remained in the heads of the individuals concerned.
  • All this learning activity needs to be connected to some kind of "knowledge bank". If you want to learn before doing, you will want to make a withdrawal. And when you have learned lessons which you want to contribute, you'll need to make a deposit.
  • That's where the ability to capture and distil knowledge becomes important. But that's not the whole story. It is impossible to capture everything, so it's important to link the people and network who hold key knowledge and insights, and to encourage them to own and update any knowledge which is made explicit - captured as information.
  • The environment or culture within your organization surrounds the model, which is critical to get started and sustain knowledge-sharing. This will be reflected in the right leadership behaviors, and the way in which Knowledge Management becomes embedded into core processes so that ultimately it becomes an "unconscious competence".

Strengths of this Knowledge Management framework. Benefits

  • Delivering more, from less! Isn’t that what is being asked of all of us?
  • Improve identification and transfer of good practices.
  • Learning and improving leading to faster cycle times in product development and continuous improvement.
  • Preventing the repetition of mistakes, and wheel-reinvention.
  • To identify and overcome a not invented here culture.
  • To improve the level of sharing and take-up of new ways of working.
  • Credible approach. Proven in BP and a wide range of organizations, ranging from primary schools to corporate giants, from the UN to agile, networked non-government organizations.

Limitations of the Knowledge Management philosophy by Collison and Parcell. Disadvantages

  • Requires a willingness to deal with the underlying culture and process issues – it's not just a technology quick fix – it's a holistic approach.
  • Easier to demonstrate the immediate benefits in larger, distributed organizations. Although benefits are there for SMEs too.
  • Deceptively simple.
  • Knowledge management is often misunderstood by technology vendors peddling information management technology. There may be some management preconceptions to overcome.

Assumptions of Knowledge Management. Conditions

  • Organizations achieve benefits if they work more effectively and efficiently.
  • Companies that provide time-based services to clients may have to look more closely at where value is created to derive benefits from better management of knowledge.

Book: Collison & Parcell - Learning to Fly -


See also: Chris Collison's website


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