Knowledge maps – a practical project for PSLs


Knowledge mapping = a visual architecture of knowledge which enables and faciliates knowledge users to more easily and quickly access relevant knowledge and knowledge owners (Gomez et al 2000).


It sounds great to me – a visual, intuitive way to signpost people to important knowledge and/or relevant experts within your firm/department. And you get to identify “who knows what” and where your gaps are and future problems lie, at the same time.

Why then aren’t there more knowledge maps around in UK law firms?


I’ve come to the conclusion it is partly because people want a perfect map. They worry about the amount of work there would be in mapping out *all* the knowledge in their organisation. They plan to investigate fancy software, but get put off before they start. Or they don’t want to publish it until it is perfect, but the “knowledge” keeps changing and it is never finished. Or they simply don’t see enough value in it compared to the amount of work, to get it to the top of their “to do list”.

So, why not divide your knowledge map project into little sub-projects or mini-maps? Have a map for a single department (if it is fairly sizeable)? Or even, if your department is large, a map for an area of knowledge?

If the map was going to take less than a week, would you find time to squeeze it in?

Different knowledge maps have been used for different purposes. These are just the three main ones:

  • procedural maps or process-based maps visualise knowledge and knowledge resources in process-based projects, and are useful for planning and implementing effective KM
  • conceptual maps are used for content management of knowledge and used as a method of organising and classifying knowledge
  • competency maps document the skills, techniques, positions and job experience of individuals and can be used by HR for development and placement, as well as to enable knowledge users to find the right knowledge owners and experts at the right time


I think the competency map is a great place to start for PSLs.

Map out the main areas of knowledge needed by your fee earners to do their work in one department or team, then map against those areas the right subject matter expert for each one.  No doubt there’ll be politics in deciding who is an expert, but you are used to that particular minefield, I’m sure!

If it connects to your intranet/database or your White Pages/employees database … that’s great … but it doesn’t have to. A mindmap-style drawing on a whiteboard would do the job (and you could easily/quickly change it). If you are using a map for one department across a couple of offices, it wouldn’t be difficult or onerous to copy it out or photograph it.


What do you think? If you’ve experience of bite-sized mapping in your department, it’d be great to hear about your experiences in the comments.

If you like the idea of this bite-sized project, you may like my new book of KM Projects.

Some reading

p.s. I know there is a split infinitive in the first paragraph, but I tried it with and without and it was harder to understand without. Clarity is all. 🙂


I also talk about knowledge maps in my popular “KM: The Works” training sessions, which run three times a year in London (January, May and September). Find out more here.

I also run lunchtime in-house training sessions on each of the projects from “Practical Projects”.

Do you suffer from info overload? Do you want a monthly summary email with updates about my latest blog post and open training events? Sign up here.


About knowledge4lawyers

I am a lawyer and a Knowledge Management expert. Through The Knowledge Business I help law firms improve their efficiency and profitability through knowledge services - consultancy, training and implementation help.
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8 Responses to Knowledge maps – a practical project for PSLs

  1. Mark Gould says:

    Process mapping has recently taken off in law firms. I think there is a valuable link to knowledge mapping. If the firm is already mapping processes, there is an opportunity for PSLs to use those maps as the foundation for their work. If the firm isn’t doing so, PSLs can take the lead with knowledge maps linked to the flow of work.

    (I say ‘pah!’ to split infinitives.)

  2. Thanks Mark, great idea.

  3. David Edwards says:

    I do some basic mind mapping for my own thoughts (i.e. large scale, missing most of the interesting detail), and have found that to be a good way to understand how mind mapping works (and doesn’t work). There are a few mind mapping apps available. I use SimpleMind on Android so I can play with it away from work. In the process I have discovered that it’s quite easy, almost compelling, once you get the hang of it. Had I gone straight to mapping something complex and work-related, I may have found it less amusing. Perhaps playing with mapping in a personal context is a good entry point, not a complex scenario in which yours is not likely to be the only mind on the problem, and it would also be easier to encourage engagement if you can demonstrate potential based on a personal narrative?

    I was at a presentation, a few years ago now, by Brian Moon of Perigean Technologies, who has taken the mapping process to a whole new level of sophistication. See the links below. It was fascinating, and he did a live demo. It requires quite a particular ability in relation to facilitation, to be able to lead another person through their mindscape.

  4. Hi David, thanks for that, really interesting and useful. And I think starting with something personal is a great idea. Once you let go of the idea that the map has to be perfect and all-encompassing (or even “finished”) I think these have great potential.

  5. Just came across this “knowledge map canvas” via LinkedIn.

    It probably takes it beyond a bite-sized project for PSLs and is more for whole-firm knowledge maps, but is an interesting use of the knowledge map and worth a look.

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