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Is it better to be Reactive or Proactive?

You have heard many times that it is better to be proactive than reactive. After all, you want to be prepared for whatever life throws at you. Being reactive is like living a life of constantly firefighting. You must stop what you are doing to respond to an unexpected need. In business, you desire to be more proactive than reactive. You want to be prepared to serve our customers. This is not the case with Knowledge Management. Organizations need to adopt a reactive knowledge management strategy to capture and improve knowledge, and a proactive knowledge management strategy to create knowledge.

Reactive Knowledge Management

Reactive knowledge management captures knowledge as a byproduct of responding to a need, such as incident management. When problem solving occurs, knowledge is created based on an immediate need. The knowledge created may be based on the experience of one person or a team of people collaborating. It is used to satisfy the immediate need and then should be captured and structured to be findable and usable should the same need arise in the future. Otherwise, the organization experiences knowledge loss. The knowledge created for the immediate need is discarded and must be rebuilt in the future should a similar need arise again.

The knowledge article captured under the reactive strategy is based on a single experience which satisfied one need. It may not be complete. It may not be accurate. It may not be perfectly written. But it is based on an actual customer need and it was good enough for that need. While the quality may be questioned, the cost of creation is low because it is captured as a byproduct of satisfying a need. As these knowledge articles are reused, they are improved by the people who interact with the knowledge articles. When they interact with a knowledge article, they must review it to ensure it is appropriate for the current need. If they discover the article needs to be improved, they accept the responsibility for improving it by either flagging it or fixing it. Flagging can be the simple act of adding a comment to the article while fixing is the act of modifying the article.

Proactive Knowledge Management

Proactive knowledge management creates and tests knowledge articles in preparation of a need. By forecasting potential needs, knowledge is made available to minimize the business impact of future needs. If forecasting is done well, then the return on investment begins when the first need arises. Like business continuity planning creates disaster recovery plans for potential disasters, proactive knowledge management creates knowledge articles for potential needs.

To minimize risk, the knowledge article is tested and verified. The cost of this strategy is higher per knowledge article than in reactive knowledge management. Some knowledge articles created may never be used, therefore there will be no return on that investment. That is one of the risks of proactive knowledge management. Additionally, the knowledge articles created under the proactive strategy lack customer context which improves findability.

Blend Them Together

Organizations can benefit from a blend of reactive and proactive knowledge management strategies. Once a proactive knowledge article is made available for use, reactive knowledge management will improve it. As these knowledge articles are reused, customer context can be added to improve the findability and usability of the articles. Reactive knowledge management is done by support professionals who respond to the customer needs and disruptions to services, generally in the incident, request, and problem management processes. Proactive knowledge management is part of the release and deployment process. It is commonly a task of the technical writers, quality assurance team, and developers as they prepare to release a new product or service.

Together they share a common purpose - improve the quality of services through shared knowledge.

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