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What is knowledge mapping? We walk you through the basics and benefits

By: Leanne Armstrong


As a business professional, you may not always have the necessary expertise or the right information to carry out a project successfully. But chances are good someone in your company has the knowledge you need to move forward. With the help of knowledge mapping, teams and organizations can visually catalogue the large amounts of complex, collective knowledge they hold as a group so it can be easily accessed by everyone.

Knowledge Mapping 101

Knowledge mapping is the visual representation of where an organization’s information resides, and how employees can access it.

A knowledge map is a simple visual aid that points the way to a company’s information resources.

Knowledge maps are more than just powerful tools for organizing internal information around products, processes, applications, and outcomes, however. Companies large and small use them to facilitate their knowledge management processes, guide strategic improvements, standardize best practices, and identify areas where vital information may be missing.

What is knowledge mapping?

If knowledge management is the process of creating, sharing, using, and managing an organization’s information for greater success, knowledge mapping is the visual representation of where all that know-how resides.

At the practical, everyday level, a knowledge map is a simple visual aid that uses interconnected nodes to point the way to a company’s information resources. Those resources may be files and other documentation, or they may include personnel with specific knowledge or skills.

Either way, knowledge mapping can quickly show project managers and team members where to find the information they need – and who to turn to as the most relevant source of expertise.

Knowledge mapping benefits for users

There’s nothing worse than having an objective stall right out of the gate because you’re unclear on where to find the product, client, or procedural data to support it.

Tracking down the information you need to stay productive can be achingly time-consuming – especially if it involves endless back-and-forth messaging, or a search through dozens of marginally helpful data files. Worse, there’s no guarantee you’ll fully understand the information you’re after once you have it in hand.

Knowledge mapping not only assists with knowledge translation, it does away with the need for team members to sift through and rely on incomplete or incohesive data that may be new to them.

Below you’ll find of a spider diagram created in MindManager that maps out a website design process.

By creating knowledge maps around key products and processes, you can create direct informational pathways to resources and people who can help with a specific problem or task.

Knowledge mapping benefits for organizations

At the macro level, knowledge mapping allows companies to build up their store of intellectual capital as internal roles, technologies, and infrastructures evolve.

Many organizations use knowledge maps to determine how key information moves between people and systems, as well as to pinpoint and address barriers or gaps in that knowledge. Others leverage benefits that include the ability to:

  • streamline procedures and production with standardized workflows,
  • apply the most relevant knowledge to a business problem,
  • enable organizational learning that can improve performance and promote innovation, and
  • avoid the knowledge loss that commonly results from outsourcing, job-hopping, leave, or retirement

Knowledge maps can also serve as a learning tool to speed up the competency process for new recruits, and can help define company career paths.

It’s a subtle point, but well worth noting that the success of knowledge mapping lies in the sharing of knowledge – including the communication and integration of lessons learned – rather than in the simple documentation of data.

With that in mind, here are a couple of related information mapping techniques and knowledge mapping tools that many business professionals use to facilitate sharing of thoughts, ideas, and concepts.

Mind mapping

Mind mapping (sometimes referred to as idea mapping) relies on simple spider diagrams to structure or organize thoughts and ideas around a single concept or goal.

Starting with one word or image at the center of a page, an objective can be quickly fleshed out by connecting that central concept to related ideas, which may branch out in turn to form a visual web.

Mind mapping is useful in business environments for taking notes during meetings, in brainstorming applications, and to help summarize ideas, make decisions, or solve problems.

Concept mapping

Concept mapping is another way to depict ideas through diagrams. Rather than focusing on a single concept however, concept maps are used to illustrate relationships between different ideas.

Concept maps are frequently employed by engineers and designers to codify, structure, and document knowledge, and to help resolve issues where perspectives diverge.

They also come in handy for teams tasked with designing new products or processes, and for helping to develop shared understanding of an unfamiliar concept.

How to use knowledge maps

In addition to fast-tracking projects, the knowledge mapping process is a great way to gain insight into the information a group already possesses versus the knowledge it doesn’t yet have, but would benefit from developing.

You can create a simple but practical knowledge map for your team or objective in 4 easy steps:

  1. Identify a topic for your knowledge map and set up the framework. One easy way to accomplish this is with the pre-designed templates provided by knowledge map software. Start with a topic (like brainstorming, for example) that’s essential to your project or goal.
  2. From your knowledge topic, branch out to various nodes representing related and relevant information resources. In our brainstorming example, your nodes might include: agendas, ideas, logistics, or preparation. Identify all necessary resources, and figure out who you’ll need to consult with to collect the information for each node.
  3. Continue branching out to more specific nodes if and as needed. In our brainstorming example, your preparation node might lead to sub-nodes like the problem being solved, the target consumer, or the minimum number of ideas required.
  4. Make a point of including keywords that explain how your nodes relate to one another as you capture the data required for each.

Now a complete and cohesive resource, your knowledge map can be reviewed to ensure it contains all the critical information for your chosen topic, and that any barriers to sharing have been addressed.

Basic knowledge mapping tips

As you build out a collection of knowledge maps, you can systematically connect them to streamline the flow of knowledge across your group or organization.

Just remember that, while knowledge mapping can be a highly efficient platform for showcasing and sharing knowledge, it’s also susceptible to information bloat.

New maps should be kept as clean, lean, and user-friendly as possible by:

  • avoiding the introduction of excess or irrelevant data that may prevent users from easily accessing the content they need, and
  • sticking to high-worth information that can be applied directly and immediately to a decision or the next course of action

Finally, to derive the most value from all the work that goes into them, it’s important to keep knowledge maps relevant by updating them every time new resource materials related to them are created.

Sharing group knowledge generously, and illustrating it clearly and consistently, is the best way to get the benefits of knowledge mapping working for you.

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