Knowledge Assessment and Prioritization System (KAPS)

A Methodology for Identifying Your Organization’s Most Important Knowledge

How do we identify what’s most important?

At a general level, it’s really pretty simple - the most important knowledge is that which is critical to sustaining and growing your business.  Put another way, it’s the knowledge that, if lost, could potentially cause serious damage.


Begin with business objectives

So where do we begin?  How do we determine what knowledge is important and what isn’t?  The long answer is a knowledge audit and the short answer is to start with your business objectives, critical processes and core competencies.  Answer these questions:

  1. What are the strategic objectives of your business in terms of products, customers and financial outcomes?
  2. What knowledge or abilities do you need to achieve these objectives?
  3. What are your unique capabilities? Core competencies?
  4. What must you do as well or better than the competition to survive?
  5. What must you avoid in order to remain competitive/profitable?
  6. In what areas do you feel most vulnerable?

As you begin to identify critical knowledge areas for focusing your knowledge capture activities, it is essential that you weigh each knowledge area, against how it supports business performance.  You’ll also want to outline specifically how the knowledge captured can be used to achieve business objectives and support performance.

The KAPS process is critical, even if you have a pretty good idea of where you want to focus, or if you’re not ready to immediately begin knowledge capture.  Why?  Because it serves as a clarifying and consensus building tool for decision makers.  Although “selling” the importance of capturing knowledge and protecting the organization from brain drain is generally a pretty easy sell, it is essential that all involved have a clear understanding of the real impact and ROI.   Rather than just a general “we have all these people retiring and we know we need to capture their critical knowledge” you should have a clear and definitive opportunity area and associated result identified, for example, we must capture and transfer ………knowledge because if we don’t, we risk  ……..”

The Strategic Interview Process

It is essential that critical knowledge areas (CKAs) are identified and tied directly to business objectives.  The best way to do this is to ask the people that are integral to the development and implementation of the organization's business objectives.

You want to interview not only managers and decision makers but also supervisors and important individual contributors to get different perspectives on which knowledge and people are most important.  The first step is to determine who you want to interview.  The second step is to map out the questions you want to ask.  Examples are shown below. 

Sample Questions for Determining Strategic Objectives and Critical Knowledge

  1. Help me understand the top priorities for you unit.
  2. What are your 2010/2011 goals?
  3. What do you have to do/ do well in order to succeed/meet your goals?
  4. How is success measured?
  5. What are the components or (processes or tasks) involved in (#3)
  6. What are the most important processes or tasks?
  7. How did you determine which were most important?  What criteria do you use?
  8. If X process doesn't go right, what happens? 
  9. How does that affect Y?
  10. What equipment is involved?
  11. What people/roles are involved?
  12. Who do you think are the top 2 or 3 people in the unit?  Why?  What is it they do/know that is so important?
  13. Who could you least afford to lose and why?
  14. What are the 2 or 3 most critical positions in your unit?  Why?
  15. What could happen if you don't have the best person in ……..job?
  16. What are your biggest headaches/challenges? (or what keeps you awake at night?)
  17. What do you fear could happen?  What would be the impact?  What do you do or need to do to insure it doesn't happen?

Two ways to Identify CKAs – Start With Process or Person

There are two ways to begin to identify your organization’s critical knowledge – by critical process or by critical person then working backward to determine the critical process.  We’ve included worksheets here to help you capture this information.

  • Identify the processes and work activities that are most critical to your organization’s success.

Process or Activity

Why Critical? What happens if not done or not done well?
















  • Think of the people in the organization that are the most critical.  Who could you least afford to lose?  After identifying the person, then identify what it is they do or know that is so important.


Critical Person

Why Critical? What do they do/know that is important?

Why is it important?  What happens if not done or not done well?










Think about the people who have key knowledge in your organization, and how their knowledge is used. Now imagine what it would be like if these three people were no longer around. What would it be like on a day-to-day basis if you didn't have access to their skills and knowledge?

Now take a look at the people you’ve identified and prioritize them in terms of your vulnerability for loss. Look at who’s nearing retirement age.  But don’t just look at those close to retirement.  Also look at which skills and knowledge are highly valued in the marketplace – people that could leave your organization for another job.

Also look at how difficult it is to replace the knowledge. Identify whether there are other candidates within your organization.  Look at the job market in your area.  How easy or difficult would it be for you to find and hire a skilled and knowledgeable replacement? 

Critical Person

Value of knowledge in marketplace + Replacement Factor








List & Rank Critical Knowledge Areas

In addition to simply identifying the subject matter experts, we also want o collect HR information to help us determine where we are most at risk.  We want to look at things like age demographics and the number of people with the knowledge in order to determine priorities. For example, we might have a different priority if knowledge loss is the heads of five 40 year olds, versus one 70 year old.

We will also use a variety of criteria to assess or rank our critical knowledge areas.  For example:

  1. Business Impact (explanation of what we look for)
  2. How much has already been documented in this area and/or is included in training
  3. How easy or difficult it is to replace the know-how based on the complexity of the knowledge and the job market

Begin by listing your critical knowledge areas below.  For each CKA, complete the CKA Evaluation & Prioritization which we are happy to send you via email, then enter the scores from each section.



Critical Knowledge Area