Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to show that knowledge management (KM) practitioners usually describe implementation in ideal and positive terms, such as making KM strategy happen, putting ideas into practice or turning embryonic KM strategies into reality. Research has been mainly confined to failures or mistakes in implementation. Design/methodology/approach - This conceptual paper seeks to coalesce some of the scholarly contributions about implementation success and failure, by providing an overview and critical analysis of configurational theory as an alternative approach in research and thinking about KM implementation issues. Findings - This paper reviews the dominant approaches to KM implementation. It looks at the past academic and business practice literature on KM and calls for a radical change in the way of thinking and studying KM implementation, which incorporates configuration and contextual theories. Originality/value - This paper provides an understanding of implementation from a holistic perspective, which allows divergent paradigms and perspectives to co-exist, yet when able to recognise both strengths and limitations of each, it ultimately contributes to a more robust and coherent final analysis of KM implementation.