Knowledge Mapping

Posted by Arjun Thomas

Why is establishing a knowledge map important for your organization (or project for that matter )?

Well, lets look at it this way, unless you had a travel map you wouldn’t know what was out there and more importantly you wouldn’t know how to get there. A knowledge map works in pretty much the same way. It tells the you where knowledge resides and where the gaps are.

However the most important thing to keep in mind when creating a knowledge map in your organization, or your project,  is to map it in the context of the business processes that you are trying to improve. Otherwise you end up mapping knowledge you have no idea what to do with.

It’s critical to understand that if you are starting a KM initiative you first create a knowledge map, this will establish a platform upon with you could build your KM approach. Since institutionalizing KM is such a mammoth task you will most definitely create unnecessary hurdles for yourself if you don’t know where the gaps and strengths are.

However this is a lot easier to accomplish within a project, so you should take heart in the fact that implementing small KM initiatives within your project do not take all that much effort. Just some thinking.

So why would you spend effort on Mapping knowledge? well….

  • to find key sources, opportunities and constraints to knowledge creation and flows.
  • to encourage re-use and prevent re-invention, saving search time and acquisition costs
  • to highlight islands of expertise and suggest ways to build bridges to increase knowledge sharing and exchange
  • to discover effective and emergent communities of practice where informal learning is happening
  • to reduce the burden on experts by helping staff to find critical solutions & information quickly
  • to improve customer response, decision making and problem solving by providing access to applicable information, internal and external experts

Knowledge maps can be either strategic or tactical depending upon the need and intent. The best way to start the mapping exercise is by targeting processes that need improvement, from either the enterprise or process level.

The highest level mapping – at the enterprise level – is whats known as an expertise review. This is a crucial area of mapping as it identifies the various silos of knowledge available in the organization as well as the key assets of knowledge. Unfortunately due to the nature of the knowledge this map quickly gets outdated.

The expertise tacit knowledge map focuses specifically on business units and other such entities. It’s purpose being to identify resources with specific knowledge.

The knowledge map gap analysis however is the most specific map of all. This map gathers specific information about what knowledge is needed, who possesses it, who uses it, where it is located, and what business issues it addresses. This however is a time consuming exercise as it defines the flow of knowledge in an organization.

When a process such as the one described above is completed it gives an organization amazing insight into the knowledge it possesses and how it can go about maximizing its use.

The ideas above apply in the same manner for projects ( both large and small ) as they do for organizations. So before you start a KM project you might just want to conduct a Knowledge Mapping excercise.

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9 Comments to “Knowledge Mapping”

  • Hi Arjun.

    Nice post and one I entirely agree with. Mapping knowledge in an organisation can b very enlightening. Take a look at this link for some real examples.

    Best Regards

  • Graham,

    Appreciate the comment and the examples.


  • [...] the past week or so I have put up posts on subjects like Knowledge Mapping, Communication Strategies for KM, Why KM is important and Web 2.0.  Knowledge Management is a vast [...]

  • Hi Arjun
    One of the drawbacks that I am experiencing in applying knowledge maps within a project is primarily coming from looking at knowledge as a stock, as maps fail in representing knowledge flows and relationships.
    But representing only flows and relations (like the ones Graham represents) does not orient/help a project to act on reducing knowledge gaps.


  • Murali,

    I do understand the draw backs of applying knowledge maps to projects when you look at knowledge as a stock.

    While Flows and relationships do not help you directly reduce knowledge gaps they do provide you with information that can help you do so.

    As I’m sure you know there is no formula you can apply to get the results you want. Each approach only gives you information that you need to put together in a manner you see fit.

  • Hi Murali,

    Excellent article. Knowledge maps have several applications and can be very useful in project management as well as in strategic planning. Knowledge maps also help identify experts and go to persons on a project, which is especially useful in a post merger scenario. They help reduce the level of effort and time spent on finding the right person to answer a question, which can be considerable (around 30%).
    Murali, you can build relationships into a knowledge map. I use knowledge flows and interactions in my maps.

  • Good post Arjun.

    I think it essential that at the project level knowledge AND skills mapping takes place. I have often found that the project team is not aware of the knowledge they have, the knowledge they need nor the skills within the team. Getting this right would make a real difference and delivery of project just a little easier.

    Ron Rosenhead

  • Hi all – these are a few discussions from This is the original URL – . The comments are not edited in any way, and are copied in full as they appear originally.

    Hemangi Vyas wrote:
    That strategizing is very important and is the first step towards building up the KM process is not understood. I found it totally absent or not strictly followed in some companies.Considering that KM as a concept was first initiated in such firms i found that surprising. Thanks for sharing the article.

    Daryl McCracken wrote:
    Knowledge Maps have been a key component of, and success factor in the development of our companies communities of practice. From the business side, it encourages a structured exploration of the information which needs to be created or gathered. And from the technical side it greatly improves the ability for developers to understand the scope of effort, to plan architecture and to more rapidly deliver web-based solutions.

    John Maloney wrote:
    Hi — Knowledge mapping is not recommended. KM is definitely not a process or a “web-based solution.” (Hunh?) It is disappointing to see these questions and remarks. It is 2009 folks!

    “…it tells you where knowledge resides…” What? Knowledge is not a resident. Knowledge is a dynamic flow. Knowledge inhabits networks.

    Data and information are modeled and mapped. It is important, but it is not KM. Please. It is information management, library science, data base admin and document control. Calling this KM is the origin of all the KM problems.

    Knowledge is social. Knowledge creates value and wealth. To visualize and optimize knowledge you must examine the value networks. That’s all. All the ‘web based solutions,’ document libraries, and processes (?), will take care of themselves.

    KM is a complex adaptive system. It cannot be controled or ‘processed.’ It can only be served. To understand and improve knowledge, do not waste time and resources on information administration, visualize value. More here…


    Nick Milton wrote:

    I agree with John that what Aleksander is suggesting is information mapping.

    An alternative approach is to map out the business-led knowledge needs. Ask the question “what knowledge do we need to deliver our business strategy and goals”? Then ask – “do we have access to this knowledge? If not, how do we gain it?”

    This demand-side mapping is in my opinion more powerful than supply-side information mapping.


    Nick Milton

    Naina Visani wrote:
    I am not sure that I totally agree. I agree that the mapping processes do map what is explicit and in this case information. But it can used to map the people or team who do actually hold the knowledge and what that knowledge topic might be. Such a map can be used to identify the experts within a company but we also use this to map out our knowledge domains or capabilities within our organisation so that we can track the health of this (by identifying indivuals or team sizes) to ensure we deliver against our strategic objectives. So mapping knowledge is possible and is not always just about identifying information.


    Alastair Stewart wrote:

    I agree with Naina; you can map knowledge, and it’s useful to do so in two ways:

    1) A knowledge structure map can show you the knowledge tree required to do certain tasks, i.e. just what you need to know to carry out a task, and how it is built up from other knowledge. These maps can show you the robustness of the knowledge within your organisation – e.g. how many people know a particular critical topic.

    2) A knowledge flow map can show you who has knowledge, who needs it and the mechanisms used to transfer it between them. These maps can show you how effectively knowledge moves around your organisation – e.g. is B out of the knowledge transfer loop between A and C, and does it matter?



  • All of them are valuable, practical and entirely within budget! If not anything, our Professional Consulting practice will know where you can get started.Where do we begin, why aren’t we not already connected? All our services are geared towards you.

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