Whoever gets this question right, wins.

I am only slightly exaggerating. Of course, you need the best people. But your chances of being the best _firm_ are significantly dependent upon the way you manage their knowledge.

There is no way to sugarcoat this: managing knowledge in a consulting firm is fucking hard. See my first sentence.
Now let me share some insights with you:

  • Knowing who to ask beats finding lots of documents.
    Many firms implement vast repositories of project information. Store all their project data on a server, catalogue it, index it, make it searchable (within the firm, of course)… but this won’t get you all the way. Oftentimes, the documents tell only half the story. Why was this approach chosen? How did this benchmark value get calculated exactly? Did the organization really result directly from the workshop, or did some behind-the-scenes alignments with top management happen? ….. to really learn from past experiences/projects, you need to talk to the people who did them. Which leads me to the next point….
  • Retention. Yeah, what a bummer! I said retention. This means: Trying to suck the knowledge out of the heads and into the database is not getting you 100%. This is not the Matrix. You can make your consultants fill out “post engagement forms” and “case studies” and “one pagers” all you want. If the people who did the project do leave the company, the most valuable asset is still gone. Make sure that keeping your best heads happy and on board is the top priority.

  • Be smart in finding the right people to answer your question.
    I have seen tremendous success with two search strategies: a) walking around. b) using some sort of internal social network.

    • Walking around??? Yeah. There is Management by Walking Around (hat tip to Tom Peters!), and there is KNOWLEDGE Management by Walking Around (KMbWA). If you have a question you need answered, get out of your chair, go down the hall, ask the next colleague you meet. Works especially good in a boutique firm with tight focus on industries / topics. I have had tremendous success and fun with this. Nothing better than being amazed by the vast knowledge your colleagues have.
      How to enable this? Make it culture. Make sure that people are encouraged to walk around _not knowing stuff_. Crazy idea for consultants, I know. Happens all the time.
    • Asking questions 1:1 is really stupid, especially in digital communication. Sending one person a question, and they don’t know it? Here goes the chain of forwards and CC’s and email quicksand. Sending one person a question, and they DO know it? Almost worse! The answer you get will be hidden from view. Anyone who has the same question will start from the beginning.
      Thus: Make Asking transparent and (internally) public – and the answers as well. This is again, CULTURE CULTURE CULTURE. I had the pleasure of implementing this in my last firm. Within our internal social network, we opened a group “ASK COMPANY”. And we did. The goal was to use this more than google (for topics related to our firm’s focus topics, of course). That’s a stupid ambition, but it made the intention clear. Not only did this help to unveil vast amounts of “hidden” knowledge, it also documented all answers for everyone to see. Searchable. Indexed. Transparent. Can you spell game changer? In many cases, when having succeeded with KMbWA, the asker documented both question and answer online, to make sure everyone had access.

If you have all the above nailed down – if you have implemented a culture that rewards asking publicly – LEARNING publicly – then by all means you can set up that large database, crawl the thousands and thousands of powerpoint charts, hire that knowledge manager, create your case studies and abstracts.

If the above is missing, then you are wasting your goddamn time.

This post appeared first as a reply of mine on Quora.