Working smarter not harder

Huskies How many times you have wondered about the knowledge and the experience of everyone that works within your company or division? How many times you have wondered if someone in the company has already solved the problem you are currently dealing with, asks George Sifri.

There are probably very few problems or challenges where we do not already have the solution to. Our real challenge is to make the best use of our corporate level knowledge. This requires engaging everyone in the process of creating, capturing, and sharing this valuable asset.

Knowledge management is a strategic initiative

We are working in an increasingly competitive environment. Every company is striving to enhance its profitability, control risks and manage uncertainty. The future trend is to deal with increasingly complex projects, with tighter budgets, and shorter durations.

We are continuously being challenged to do more with less. Unless we leverage our corporate knowledge we will not be able to survive in the future. Intelligent people learn from the mistakes of others.

We need to learn before doing the work, we need to capture the learnings as we are doing the work, we need to transfer the knowledge that we have gained to the organisation after doing the work, and we need to continuously improve the quality of the knowledge as it is being recycled. In simple words: we need to work smarter not harder. How we apply our collective knowledge will have a profound impact on our success in tackling future project challenges.

Knowledge management is a strategic initiative which is directly linked to the profitability of the company and its ability to control risks and manage uncertainty. This requires establishing a vision for knowledge management at the executive level.

Our vision for knowledge management

  • We need to manage our knowledge as an asset.
  • We need to use our knowledge efficiently and effectively in the same way as we try to use our physical assets.
  • We need to protect our knowledge as we protect our physical assets.
  • We need to make sure that we capture knowledge as it is created and make sure that it is available when it is needed in a usable format.
  • We need to learn before doing the work, as we are doing the work and after doing the work.
  • We need to continuously improve our learnings.

Understanding knowledge and knowledge management

In order to have a comprehensive understanding of knowledge and knowledge management, we need to define certain terms and explore the critical elements needed in order to achieve our vision.

Definitions

Data is defined as unorganised and unprocessed facts; static; sets of discrete facts about events. For example, data points in a project progress report.

Information is defined as data processed and organised in a specific form needed to make informed business decisions. For example, data points organised into a project progress report.

Knowledge is defined as understanding gained through experience or study know-how. For example, ability to read and interpret a project progress report which is gained from experience in reading and interpreting projects' reports. It is knowledge not information that may lead to a strategic business advantage,

Wisdom is developed as we continuously recycle and improve our knowledge. The leadership of an organisation should identify the strategic knowledge areas that the company needs to master (develop wisdom) in order to achieve its strategic objectives. Each of these strategic knowledge areas should be associated with a custodian. The main responsibilities of the custodian are:

  • Responsible for the development of the organisation’s expertise in a particular knowledge area.
  • Responsible for providing functional leadership advice to the organisation for the subject matter of this knowledge area.
  • Responsible for quality control of lessons and best practices
  • Responsible for developing and maintaining templates and examples of key documents.
  • Responsible for reporting on the capabilities and the effectiveness of the organisation in the specific knowledge area.

Knowledge management (KM) is simply defined as doing what is needed to get the most out of the collective knowledge resources in a company. KM is highly related to the concept of intellectual capital of an organisation. It focuses on:

  • Capturing and organising knowledge as it is created.
  • Making important relevant knowledge available wherever and whenever it is needed.
  • Continuously improving the quality of knowledge through recycling.

Elements of knowledge management

In order to achieve our vision of KM, we need to focus on the following three elements:

  1. People (workforce)
  2. Processes (organisational)
  3. Technology (IT infrastructure)

People

KM is 80 per cent organisational culture and human factors and 20 per cent processes and technologies. Knowledge is first created in the people's minds. We must first identify ways to encourage and stimulate the ability of employees to develop, capture, and share new knowledge. 

KM is about connecting people who know things with people who need to know the same things. The people element of KM should focus on the followings:

  • Identify who in the organisation has relevant critical knowledge and expertise that needs to be available to others.
  • Provide KM training in tools, and processes.
  • Define KM roles and responsibilities for positions such as strategic knowledge area custodian, project knowledge manager, and subject mater experts.

Processes

The KM processes should enable us to achieve our KM strategic objective of learning before, learning during, and learning after. KM processes must enable effective and efficient ways to elicit, represent, organise, recycle, and renew this knowledge. These processes have to be fully integrated with project management processes.

The knowledge management plan (KMP) is designed to integrate KM processes with project management processes. It describes how KM activities will be structured and performed during the project life cycle. It is a subset of the project execution plan.

It is established early in the first phase of the project life cycle and revised at the beginning of each phase. Like any other plan, the KMP is designed to answer questions such as why, what, how, who, when, how much, and so on. As a minimum it includes the following sections:

  • Project information. General information about the project such as project name, project phase, originator, revision, and date.

  • Knowledge needs for this phase.

 

Project phase critical knowledge areas Key areas of knowledge required by the project within the current project phase. These are the knowledge areas that are critical to the successful completion of the deliverables of the current phase.  They may overlap with the strategic knowledge areas of the corporation.
Specific knowledge needs for this phase Within each critical knowledge area the precise subject or objectives being sought to address the requirements at this stage.
Potential sources The list of individuals, companies, institutions, projects, or documents that can be accessed to address the specific knowledge needs for this phase.
Roles and responsibilities Assigns the lead, and support for actions. Assigns ownership of the specific knowledge need.
Action The specific actions the project management team will undertake to access the learnings relevant to the specific knowledge needed for this phase. For example, hold a peer assist or search the corporate knowledge repository for relevant lessons and examples.
Due date The date the actions are to be completed against each knowledge area or specific need. Larger events should also show up on the project schedule.
  • Project specific KM tools and processes. The KMP should document the KM tools and processes that the project management team will use for managing their knowledge and accessing the knowledge of others.

  • KM key roles and responsibilities. The project manager (PM) is accountable for the development and the implementation of the KMP. The PM should provide the resources needed to develop the KMP and drive to engage the project management team in developing and implementing it. The KMP should document KM key roles and responsibilities such as:

    • a. Who will be accountable for creating, maintaining, and administering the KMP and any major sub components of the plan during the project life cycle.

    • b. Who is responsible for specifying and securing training in the KM tools and processes.

    • c. Who is responsible for the provision and maintenance of KM tools.

    • d. Who will be monitoring the KMP progress and performance against the objectives.

    • e. Who is responsible for validation of the project lessons and where relevant, communication of such to the designated strategic knowledge areas’ custodians for possible inclusion as an organisation wide lesson.

    • f. Who is responsible for KM coordination, such as the primary contacts in the project for the strategic knowledge areas' experts; individuals serving as KM interfaces between functions within the project and external to the project

  • Level 1 schedule (milestone chart). A level 1 schedule showing key KM events.

Peer Assist (PA) (learn before). It is a very powerful tool that the project management team can use in order to assist in the resolution of an upcoming significant challenge. It is a facilitated workshop where peers from outside the host team are invited to provide feedback on specific challenges. The invited peers have already tackled such challenges on previous projects.

The participants apply their experiences, insights, and knowledge to the challenge and recommend future courses of action. Conducting a PA is appropriate when the value of the additional knowledge brought to the team exceeds the logistical costs of accessing the experience of others. It is a very popular tool and numerous resources are available on how to plan, and conduct a PA.

Post action review (PAR) (learn during). It is a learning process intended for individuals or teams to immediately improve their performance by gathering, and analysing learnings from either the success or the failure of a planned activity. This activity will be repeated in the very near future by the same or a different team in the project.

Examples of activities that merit a PAR could include the negotiation with a partner, the award of a contract, the commissioning of a piece of equipment, and the preparation of a report. The main objective of a PAR is to improve performance the next time we are doing this activity. The PAR is conducted for the team’s internal benefit. A PAR should not take more than an hour to complete.

A common misconception regarding PAR is that it is only conducted at the end of a project phase or at the end of the project. A PAR is designed to aid individuals and teams to continuously learn and enhance their performance. It should be conducted immediately after performing the activity when memories are still fresh, participants are available and learnings can be applied straight away.

Lessons Learned (LL) (Learn After). It is the process of documenting and synthesizing knowledge and experience gained during a project phase in a format useful to others. A project lesson is only relevant to the project. A corporate lesson is relevant to other projects in the organization. A validation process for local lessons should be defined in the KMP. A lesson should have the following attributes:

  1. It contains new knowledge or experience that is relevant and significant to the project team (and in the case of an organization lesson to other projects)
  2. It arises from a favorable or an unfavorable variance  between what was planned and the actual
  3. It stands alone in its own context, expressed as a single lesson
  4. It is clearly articulated including what was supposed to happen, what really happened and the root causes for the variance between expectations and results
  5. It contains a firm recommendation for others which might be in the form of a doable actions, process or procedure 
  6. It has been validated as a lesson via the local lesson validation process, in the case of an organisation lesson, validated by the designated strategic knowledge area
  7. custodian

Technology

There are numerous technologies available for KM activities. In this section we will focus on the general characteristics of applications that are needed to achieve our vision for KM.

  • An application that enables the user to connect to other individuals within the organisation. The application should enable the user to create his/her record indicating contact details, experiences, expert qualifications, previous projects he/she worked on and areas of interest. A user should be able to search the database in order to identify individuals with particular skills, experiences or areas of interests. It enables the user to gain more information about a particular individual before a PA.
  • A centralised repository of lessons learned at the organisation level indexed per strategic knowledge area. The user of this application should be able to search the database using full text search capabilities to identify lessons that are relevant to his project.
  • A question and response forum that enables the user to post a question related to a particular knowledge area and get responses from others across the company. The user can also review existing threads of discussions related to a particular knowledge area.
  • A centralised repository of local lessons learned (relevant to a specific project) indexed per knowledge area. The user of this application should be able to search the database using full text search capabilities to identify lessons that are relevant to the work he is assigned to.

Ignoring knowledge is sickness. We need to make sure that we are leveraging the corporate knowledge that we have gained in order to enhance our performance. Knowledge should be treated as an asset. KM is not a luxury, it is essential for our survival.

September 2007