The ISO KM standard – news and explanations

The ISO KM standard is due for publication in September. Here’s the latest news, and what to expect when the standard is finally ready.

The international committee at work on the standard this week.
That’s me on the far right. Photo by Avigdor Sharon 

This week, in Paris, the ISO working group finished work on the final draft of ISO Management Systems standard. Here are some facts about the standard,  a description of its development, and a discussion of some of the benefits.

First of all, some reassuring words about ISO standards in general and the KM standard in particular.

About the standard

The standard will not try to tell you how to do KM.  This would be crazy – every organisation has to do KM in a way that suits their purpose, objective and context. What the standard does is makes sure you have set up a good management system, to provide solid foundations on which to build your KM solution.

The standard is not just for big companies.  We have tried to make it flexible enough work for organisations of all types and of all sizes.

The standard will not require you to be externally audited.  It’s primarily for your own guidance, with internal audit as a good practice if you so choose. Only a small proportion of the ISO standards are regularly audited  using external auditors, and 90% of audit work is against only 5 standards (9001, 14001, 18001, 27001, 45001); the other 22131 standards mostly never get audited. There would need to be a reason for external audit,for a KM standard and then a set of accredited auditors willing to do the work, and I can’t see either of these being viable for KM, which is relatively niche when compared to topics such as health, safety and quality. The KM standard will be an aid for self-audit and self-examination rather than a requirement for accreditation.

The standard will not take ages to implement. There are 49 uses of the word “shall” in the standard, each of which marks a requirement, but many of those are sub-requirements to a larger requirement. There are maybe 25 or 30 things you need to be able to demonstrate in order to comply with the standard, and the chances are you do most or all of these already.

The standard does not mandate how you implement KM. Top-down, bottom-up, middle-in-out, guerrilla KM, agile KM, or KM as a change program – implement it as you see fit and at your own risk. The standard describes requirements for the final product, not how you get there.

The KM standard will look very much like other ISO standards. That’s because all the ISO management systems standards use the same structure and much of the same text. You can see the mandatory generic text here. The introduction and annexes are unique to the KM standard, but these do not contain any requirements, but are instead explanatory.

The development of the standard

Work on the standard started in 2015 and was conducted by an international committee supported by mirror committees in the main involved countries. Several sessions through 2016 and 2017 created a  draft version of the standard, which was judged in late 2017 to be ready enough to open for public comment.  You can buy a copy of this draft standard here. It will cost you 58 Swiss francs.

The draft was made available for public review and comment over a 6 week period in Dec 2017 and Jan 2018. Hundreds of comments were received. The British site alone received about 350 comments – some of them one-liners pointing out spelling mistakes, others suggesting rewordings for entire sections. Many of the comments gave alternative views on the same points, and needed to be balanced and reconciled; others suggested alterations to the mandatory text which ISO requires to be used. The British working group went through each comment, identifying 270 suggestions to be referred on to the international committee.

This week the committee reviewed the referred comments from all 15 contributing countries – 420 comments in all – and discussed each one, making edits to the text as appropriate. We finished the job, and the standard now goes to ISO for proof-reading and for translation into French, German and Russian. We expect it to be ready for purchase in September, if all goes well.

You can “follow” the development of the standard here
You can read the draft introduction and see the draft table of contents here

Benefits of the standard.

I presented on the standard at KMUK this week, and in discussion afterwards we identified several benefits the standard will bring to knowledge managers:

  • It gives KM legitimacy as a profession. Several people said their management often look at KM as “not a real management discipline”. Now it’s real enough to have its own KM standard.
  • It gives the Knowledge Managers leverage in their organisation. You can say to your management “if we don’t do X, Y and Z our KM won’t be compliant with the ISO standard”.
  • It can be used in bidding for work. If you are bidding based on your organisational expertise, it might be useful to say “Our KM approach is compliant with ISO standard 30401” (provided your internal audit shows this to be the case, of course).
  • And naturally it provides a benchmark for your KM management system; a yardstick for you to measure against, and a guide for those organisations who are newcomers to KM to stop them falling into the common pitfalls.

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