Knowledge Management for Projects

Knowledge, a staple source of competitive advantage for thousands of years, so not exactly an innovative concept. But an area that is of utmost importance to programme and project managers (PPMs). You know “Knowledge = Power”.

We all work in project-centric environments. Organisations bring together the best of their talent and expertise into ad-hoc project-centred teams. For the singular purpose of delivering benefits to the organisation. Fantastic concept, works well and is repeated across the globe thousands of times daily.

There is a big disadvantage in this approach. On completion of the project the team disbands. Each team member moves on to their respective next assignment.  The team member takes their project experiences and learnings with them. A small proportion of these experiences and learnings may be utilised on the next project but much will be lost. Such a waste of knowledge for the organisation.

I came across this issue early in my project management career. In 1992, I was tasked to project manage a team to deliver a technical solution to a business problem, I identified the types of skills needed to achieve this and the team was selected from the pool of matrix managed resources from across the organisation.

During the initial phase it became apparent that there had been other projects which had delivered similar solutions previously. Not one for recreating the wheel, I tasked key team members to investigate and unearth what could be learnt from these past projects. Not surprisingly, very little useful information was uncovered, other than project documentation. It was known that there had been difficulties with various technical interfaces and complications with business suppliers. Although risks and issues had been raised nothing more was documented. Certainly no detail on how the various problems were solved, resolutions found, etc.

Even speaking to previous team members proved fruitless. They remembered aspects only, not enough to piece together the complete picture. They often directed to another member of the team “who dealt with the problem”. The setback was compounded as many of the team members had moved out of the organisation (always an issue, employee had highly specialised skills, shortage of their skills in the market, attracted to more rewarding opportunities elsewhere).

Despite investing time and effort to discover what had gone before it was apparent that the knowledge gained during the earlier projects was lost.

This challenge inspired me to invest time and effort in capturing more than just the standard project documentation. I motivated the team to capture uncharacteristic challenges and document them in a project knowledge base. These items were shared and discussed at project and team meetings. Remarkably this led to more effective problem resolution throughout the duration of the project. Also the project experienced significantly improved collaboration amongst the team members, fostering a knowledge-sharing environment. Risk identification and management was also enhanced.

An additional benefit was when new project team members joined. Typically they would spend time with other team members, shadowing or one to one time. But with the knowledge base they quickly got up to speed with what had been going on. Then the time spent with colleagues became more focussed and effective.

At the end of each project phase I produced a summary of the knowledge base as a “on-going lessons learned”. You can imagine how simple the lessons learned process was at the end of the project (certainly did not need a one day workshop for this project).

A little extra effort, but proved to be a resounding success. Interestingly, the knowledge management process was adopted by the business area and subsequent projects followed a similar process. Hopefully by now they have a substantial knowledge management system in place.

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