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Know-what / Know-how Map

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In many companies, managing and developing the abilities of employees is often the domain of Human Resources or Learning and Development, with Information Technology taking a keen interest at least in Knowledge Management technology. Yet people and their abilities are at the heart of what you do and if you seek to sustain the quality of the organisation's products and services then the Quality Department should also take a keen interest in this domain. This and subsequent articles offer some tools to help you in this endeavour.

Know-what and know-how

Abilities are often divided into knowledge and skills, although this is quite a mouthful, so it is often just called 'knowledge', as skills can be described as 'know-how' as opposed to the 'know what' of traditional knowledge. This leads to the Know-what/Know-how Map, which you can use to explore the shape of abilities in your organisation and so guide quality-related activity.



Know-what / Know-how Map


To use this map simply assess the jobs in your company as to how knowledge-based or skill-based they are and plot them on the chart. This can be done by person or role, depending on what best suits your purpose. Developing it in a meeting with others can be easily done with paper on the wall and Post-it Notes. This activity in itself can generate significant and valuable discussion and understanding.


A typical conversation might throw up more information about the type of knowledge in the organisation, for example where a customer manager suggests ‘Know-who’ as an additional dimension and the conversation leads to an understanding of this as a combination of know-what about customers and know-how in relationship management.


An extension of this map is to highlight where there are few or many jobs with this knowledge/skill profile. A way of doing this is to plot the point with a circle and use larger circles for more jobs. Another way of doing this might be to use different colours for different quantities.




The question 'so what?' should be asked of every tool and an answer here is that this map can help you determine strategies for such activities as recruitment, training, supervision, knowledge capture and succession management.

Knowledge (know-what)

Knowledge is acquired through study and experience, and can be increased with the use of classroom activities and after-action discussions. In some areas knowledge can go out of date very quickly, for example knowledge about customers which needs regular updating or knowledge about products that frequently changed.


A knowledge management system captures and organises knowledge and makes it easy to access and use. It is common in companies for knowledge to be held individually by people and departments, with little common ways of managing it. A significant effort here can pay dividends in improving the ability of the company to know what it knows and sustain its growth.


Too often, knowledgeable people keep it to themselves and are effectively able to hold the company to ransom. When they leave, this is often done without passing on what they know (and often with little requirement by the company to do so). Managing this handover activity when (or before) people resign can be an important activity.

Skills (know-how)

Skill is acquired through practice and experience and can be accelerated through targeted work activities and the use of such support systems as apprenticeships, buddying and mentoring, in which more skilled people take on roles to direct or support those less skilled than themselves.


It is difficult to capture skill in the same way as capturing knowledge (although some types of knowledge are also difficult to capture). Retaining staff with higher skills and knowledge thus becomes a critical activity and mapping this out can help you focus this work. One way to capture skill is to video it – seeing the expert doing something can we worth many thousands of words.


Next time: Knowledge Map


This article first appeared in Quality World, the journal of the Chartered Quality Institute


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