ABCs of KMPersonality types and acceptance of technical knowledge management systems (TKMS)

Implications of knowledge management [Personality & TKMS series]

This is part 3 of a series of articles featuring edited portions of Dr. Maureen Sullivan’s PhD dissertation.

Implementing knowledge management (KM) allows many companies to gain a competitive advantage over their competitors. However, many KM initiatives and projects have failed, causing many organizations to lose a significant amount of money.

Chua and Lam1 discuss that, to gain competitiveness and improve business processes, many organizations have included KM as a business strategy. They noted that reports of successful KM implementations have resulted in financial savings, increased revenues, and increased level of user acceptance. For example, the implementation of the Eureka database (KM database) in 1996 saved Xerox an estimated $100 million2. In 2000, sharing knowledge about packaging improvements allowed Hill‘s Pet Nutrition to reduce pet food wastage, and another KM implementation allowed Hewlett-Packard to successfully establish and standardize consistent pricing schemes and sales processes3. Moreover, Holder and Fitzgerald4 reported that in June 1996, the Center for Army Lessons Learned knowledge base received almost 100,000 weekly hits, showing strong acceptance of the knowledge base.

Lucier and Torsiliera5 asserted that although 84% of KM programs show no considerable impact on the adopting organizations, reported cases of KM project failures are negligible. The media rarely mentions the names of organizations experiencing KM project failures whereas the names of organizations with KM project success stories are widely distributed. Although the modern economy highlights organizational learning and active experimentation as corporate values, failures are unmentionable. As Norton6 specified, a failed information technology (IT) project can be defined as a project that has missed the deadline by more than 30% and the final information system of which does not meet the users‘ requirements.

In fact, Peters7 said that failures are difficult for people to digest. However, Thorne8 asserted that the beliefs of organizational learning and continuous improvements should supersede the fear of and intolerance for failure. That is, if failure is suppressed, ignored, or denied, users will not be able to learn from past mistakes. However, Thorne stated that success could be achieved when a key part of learning and development includes the acceptance of failure. Starting knowledge groups, creating best practices internally, developing technical libraries, discussion databases, and lessons-learned databases are part of many KM projects9. However, reasons for KM project failure or success are rarely discussed in these groups or discussions. The results of this study could, potentially be included in organizational best practices and discussion groups.

Many organizations implement KM initiatives based on other KM success stories and with the view that having success factors and their best efforts will increase the use of their knowledge assets and produce better management10. Dixon11 indicates that KM project success factors are linked to an organization‘s knowledge and goals as well as their focus on employees who require a specific knowledge. Moreover, Trussler12 stated that KM project success factors relate to comprehensive communication and commitment to KM by companies and organizations. Furthermore, Davenport and Prusak13 list nine factors that contribute to KM project success:

  1. Knowledge-oriented culture
  2. Organizational and technical infrastructure
  3. Senior management support
  4. Link to industry or economics value
  5. Modicum of process orientation
  6. Clarity of vision and language
  7. Nontrivial motivational aids
  8. Some level of knowledge structure
  9. Multiple channels for knowledge transfer.

Acknowledging these success factors and incorporating them into organizational initiatives are important to organization operations.

Chua and Lam‘s14 review of KM projects showed many success factors. For example, in a manufacturing company, KM projects were constructed with the objective to cut corporate costs. In addition, a global company developed a KM project with top management approval and a focused population of users that caused a reorganization of the company‘s structure. However, these KM projects failed because they experienced difficulties related to culture, project management, technology, and content. Consequently, Chua and Lam stated, “the success of a KM project is not only contingent on the presence of success factors, but also on the absence of failure factors.”

As a result of KM not being defined properly in industry, many organizations and companies have mistakenly separated critical IT infrastructure needs such as change management, e-learning, process improvement, performance support, reengineering, and KM. In an effort to increase performance, leaders of the organization KM initiative sometimes compete for valuable few resources in a knowledge arena full of other strategic efforts. More importantly, most employees and managers are lacking in knowledge about KM. KM can only enhance organizational performance when understood and intelligently applied, including integration with other improvement initiatives. Understanding basic knowledge process allows researchers to understand KM15.

Next edition: Research in KM, KM in business strategy, evolution and role of IT in KM.


  1. Chua, A., & Lam, W. (2005a). Knowledge management abandonment: An exploratory examination of root causes. Communications of the Association of Information Systems, 2005(16), 723-743.
  2. Brown, J. S., & Duguid, P. (2000, May 1). Balancing act: How to capture knowledge without killing it. Harvard Business Review, 78(3), 73-80.
  3. Wenger, E. C., & Snyder, W. M. (2000). Communities of practice: The organizational frontier. Harvard business review, 78(1), 139-146.
  4. Holder, L. D., & Fitzgerald, E. J. (1997). The center for Army lessons learned: Winning in the information age. Military Review, 77(4), 123-128.
  5. Lucier, C., & Torsiliera, J. (1997). Why knowledge programs fail. Strategy and Business, 4, 14-28.
  6. Norton, R. C. (2003, May 20). Projects that succeed: Seven habits of IT executives who understand how to prevent project failure. The E-Business Executive Daily, Retrieved from
  7. Peters, T. (1987). Thriving on chaos. London: Guild.
  8. Thorne, M. L. (2000). Interpreting corporate transformation through failure. Management Decision, 38(5), 305-314. doi:10.1108/00251740010340481
  9. Chua, A., & Lam, W. (2005b). Why km projects fail: A multi-case analysis. Journal of Knowledge Management, 9(3), 6-17. doi:10.1108/13673270510602737
  10. Chua, A., & Lam, W. (2005b). Why km projects fail: A multi-case analysis. Journal of Knowledge Management, 9(3), 6-17. doi:10.1108/13673270510602737
  11. Dixon, N. M. (2000). Common knowledge: How companies thrive by sharing what they know (1st ed.). Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press. Retrieved from
  12. Trussler, S. (1998). The rules of the game. The Journal of Business Strategy, 19(1), 16-19. doi:10.1108/eb039904
  13. Davenport, T. H., & Prusak, L. (2000). Working knowledge: How organizations manage what they know. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
  14. Chua, A., & Lam, W. (2005b). Why km projects fail: A multi-case analysis. Journal of Knowledge Management, 9(3), 6-17. doi:10.1108/13673270510602737
  15. Weidner, D. (2002). Using connect and collect to achieve the KM endgame. IT
    Professional Magazine, 4(1), 18. doi:10.1109/6294.988697
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Maureen Sullivan

Dr. Maureen Sullivan is an information technology official in the US federal government workspace. She also teaches technology courses at a Maryland community college. Dr. Sullivan is continuing her research in technical knowledge management systems.

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