Conceptual Management Tools – A Guide to Essential Models for Knowledge Workers is a paper by Martin J. Eppler from the Institute for Media and Communications Management of the University of St. Gallen. This 38 pages paper provides an in –depth analysis of management tools in the context of knowledge workers.
In the executive summary it says Knowledge work consists of non-routine, complex tasks which involve the use of large quantities of (often incomplete or ambiguous) information, both as inputs and outputs of work processes. Thus, knowledge workers need tools that add value and context to information as they work with it. These tools should reduce complexity through aggregation, organize information through categorization, and make options for action systematically visible.
The paper introduces, explains and categorizes thirty-five conceptual management tools. The selection ranges from well-known tools such as mind-mapping and the Fife forces model to more special tools like pareto charts and synergy-maps. The tools are clustered according to their strength of assisting analytical vs. creative thinking and their use in individual vs. collaborative context.
Nevertheless, it goes far beyond a list of tools by providing a lot of background information. Hence, the reader learns about the nature of conceptual management tools, their conceptual principles which determine their purpose and benefits, quality criteria for such tools, and more.
In the first part, the paper provides a great background for working with such tools. Elements, goals and situations for use of conceptual tools are discussed. Then, the author develops and explains five principles on which such tools rely:
- Categorization: they frame issues into terms that separate the essential from the non-essential.
- Visualization: they transform abstract situations or temporal sequences into tangible, graphic forms.
- Aggregation: they combine many pieces of data into manageable chunks.
- Elicitation: they provide mechanisms to make implicit knowledge explicit.
- Guidance: they provide a step-by-step method to gain insights into a problem.
Following that, the thirty-five tools are introduced end evaluated. The evaluation part helps managers to prioritize the application of existing and new tools for their work. For this purpose, the author suggests four questions:
- What is your current mix of conceptual tools? (balanced, sufficient, beneficial?)
- What type of tool is lacking in your ‘management toolkit’? (reoccurring problems in information processing?)
- Can the tool be personally valuable to you? (preferences, specific information environment?)
- Is the tool applicable to your organizational context? (use in group situations?)
In summary, this paper helps managers to compile their individual kit of management tools. It provides them guidelines and examples of conceptual management tool application. For further reading, an extensive list of references is attached.
If you want to learn more about the topic of knowledge communication and visualization in management I recommend a closer look at knowledge-communication.org. There you will find a lot of additional information, e.g. a glossary, case studies, and more papers and publications.
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