The ISO standard is coming

Get your knowledge management ducks in a row

The first ever draft international standard on knowledge management has been released for comments.  If knowledge management isn’t already on your radar, chances are it soon will be.

ISO 30401 Knowledge management systems will be published in 2018. If ‘systems’ makes you think of technology, please think again. ISO 30401 is a management systems standard, like ISO 9001 Quality management systems.  My ISO Working Group colleagues and I have used a tried-and-tested management systems template and written the standard to help organisations develop, maintain and improve management systems that deliver value from knowledge. The standard can be used by organisations of all sizes in all sectors – and it covers project work as well as business-as-usual. Like ISO 9001, Knowledge management systems is a standard that organisations can choose to be certified to.

So what?

For knowledge management specialists like me and my colleagues on the Knowledge SIG Committee, publication of the standard will be a landmark event.  At last project professionals will have access to an internationally recognised definition of knowledge, clear explanations of what knowledge management is (and isn’t) and a list of requirements – the important things that make a difference to the success of knowledge management.

For organisations and project professionals, publication of the standard will present opportunities to improve understanding, practices and performance.  

There will be challenges, too. When ISO 9001 was first published, it led to a lot of box-ticking behaviour. Eventually it led to a much wider and deeper understanding of quality management. I hope we can all learn from this and focus on improving understanding of knowledge management, without going through the box-ticking stage. I hope too that project professionals will read the knowledge management standard with open minds. It might not be what you are expecting.

A sneak peek at what’s in the draft standard

Every organisation is different, so the standard doesn’t tell you exactly what to do – it tells you how to work out what to do. The draft standard is based on eight guiding principles, including the nature of knowledge (it’s a people thing); how knowledge management creates value (it helps organisations meet goals and improve performance by creating and using knowledge); and the need to focus on the working environment (because knowledge is intangible and can’t be managed directly). The ‘requirements’ part of the standard includes definitions and sections on the context of the organisation, on leadership and on planning. 

We have added three appendices to the standard to help readers understand knowledge management – and avoid common mistakes and misconceptions. Topics explained in the appendices include the boundaries between knowledge management and information management, different forms of knowledge and how to analyse and promote a knowledge management culture.

Get involved

Whether you want to get started in knowledge management, want to improve what you are already doing or want a glimpse of the certification requirements, you can read the draft standard by registering (free) on the BSI website, then search for ISO 30401. You can also comment on the draft.

The Knowledge SIG team will be facilitating discussions about the standard in the KM in Projects Community on the Knowledge Hub. Please join us.

Whatever your interest in knowledge management, now is a good time to get your knowledge management ducks in a row.


Judy works as a management consultant and reluctant academic specialising in knowledge management, collaborative working and learning. Her work is positioned firmly on the boundaries between academia and practice. Not the most comfortable place to be, but there’s such a huge gap between the two that there’s a lot of bridging to be done.

Judy works with public, private and third sector organisations to improve their management of knowledge, with universities to develop and deliver online degree programmes and with master’s students to help them learn how to do management research. At APM, she co-founded the Knowledge SIG is co-chair of the K SIG committee. She has contributed new knowledge management sections to the next edition of the PMBOK® Guide and to P3O® Best Management Practice, and represents the UK as an expert on an ISO Working Group developing a knowledge management standard. She is writing a book on KM in project environments.

Judy is also known for introducing collaborative working and social software to the Henley Knowledge Management Forum and for being a member of the #teatowelclub on Twitter.

Thanks to APM for supporting Judy’s membership of the ISO Working Group. 

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