Even during this time of extraordinary change and economic uncertainty, knowledge management (KM) remains on the front lines as individuals, companies and governments strive to make key business decisions based on the quality of information available. Maintaining a high degree of situational awareness requires constant monitoring of information. As such, KM is not only a key ingredient for success across any organization — it is key for program and project success.
Setting the Stage
KM is identifying, collecting and sharing useful information to increase understanding and to improve organizational performance. It often involves aspects of business intelligence, business process management, organizational change management, human capital management, program management, collaboration, records management, as well as e-discovery (to name a few). Furthermore, core to KM is the structure of both explicit and tacit knowledge.
- Explicit knowledge is found in documents, procedures, specifications, recordings, manuals, data mining, business intelligence, etc. It can be readily transmitted to others and can be processed by a computer, transmitted electronically or stored in databases. You can assess the health of your explicit knowledge efforts by asking questions such as: Are your business practices processes and systems well known? Do you use the knowledge you capture? Do you leverage technology to retrieve and access knowledge? How easy is it to find information?
- Tacit knowledge (“know how”) is personal knowledge rooted in individual experience or personal belief, perspective, and values. It enables us to transform knowledge into understanding by teaching and applying judgment and, when applied to a specific situation, it enables a deeper awareness. Tacit knowledge dissemination is found mainly through networking, mentoring, peer assists, etc. You can assess the health of your tacit knowledge efforts by asking questions, such as: Do your people, policies, and practices emphasize learning, sharing and teaching? Is it easy to find and access subject matter experts? Does the organizational culture emphasize trust, win-win, excellence and innovation through collaboration?
How is this knowledge shared across an organization? A shared knowledge repository allows organizations to leverage technology to provide a gateway to this information in order to codify, store and aid in the retrieval of this knowledge. You can extend your portal knowledge platform via online social-based media tools to increase “people participation” or “collective intelligence.”
Motivations and Goals
To further clarify why KM is important, KM professionals and analysts have found:
- When an employee leaves an organization, 70 percent of their knowledge also leaves.
- Employees spend 30 to 40 percent of their time looking for information.
- Email, presentations, invoices, images, contracts, surveys and other unstructured information accounts for up to 80 percent of enterprise content.
How you leverage KM best practices (and supporting technology) depends on the goals or tasks you are trying to achieve. For example, are you seeking to accomplish any of the following?
- Improved collaboration for more transparency and open communication.
- Expertise location regarding who knows what.
- Knowledge captured from a retiring workforce.
- The establishment of communities of practice.
- Optimized information sources.
- Minimum fixed assets and overhead.
- Improved programs and projects.
If any of these tasks sound familiar, you need to take a closer look at the benefits of KM. None of this is possible without a continual focus on the creation, updating, availability, quality and use of knowledge by all employees and teams. However, ultimately, KM is important only to the extent that it enhances an organization's ability and capacity to deal with, and develop in, four dimension:
- Mission: What are we trying to accomplish?
- Competition: How do we gain a competitive edge?
- Performance: How do we deliver the results?
- Change: How do we cope with change?
Call to Action
How can an organization take advantage of KM? Is it achievable? It is if you have a plan. In a Gartner publication, “A Knowledge Management Maturity Model Explains Where You’re Going and How to Get There (2006),” Kathy Harris suggests that “KM succeeds through attention to three pillars.” Those pillars are:
- Strategy and Intent: An enterprise must intend to undertake KM by setting clear objectives and establishing governance, funding and other fundamental elements of a strategic initiative.
- Infrastructure: KM requires four areas of infrastructure: applications, business processes, management tools, and roles/responsibilities.
- Knowledge sources and uses (the "people pillar"): KM is about getting people engaged in knowledge sharing and collaboration, as well as supporting them with knowledge resources.
It’s important when getting started with KM to not only have a strategy and intent, but also to align your KM initiatives with goals and tasks. If your goal is to institutionalize KM, it’s also important to identify others to join the cause. It can’t be done in a silo. You need support from various department, division and organizational areas to provide standards for methods, templates, tools, repositories, best practices and collaboration.
Project and Program Management
How can you capitalize on collaboration to help ensure the success of your programs and projects? Can emerging tools and collaboration concepts improve project and program outcomes? If you can tap into the culture of collaboration and KM, you begin to fully understand what your knowledge workers know (or don’t know) and can assess daily obstacles or risks that are occurring — all of which impact your program or project. Ask yourself honestly if you are able to:
- Find hidden pockets of expertise,
- Open the doors of communication beyond email,
- Innovate at the speed of thought,
- Move on a new idea and build to concept quickly,
- Stimulate collaborative work,
- Easily support mobility within your program,
- Encourage sharing with an infrastructure to support open interactions,
- Know the real status or your project or program without relying on status reports, and
- Easily transfer tacit knowledge.
To effectively support a collaboration model, you need to have a successful project culture. A study published in BusinessWeek (April 2008) noted that 54 percent of workers prefer working in groups of at least three. Why? The motivation is to learn from others (46 percent) or to accomplish a task (30 percent). This study suggests that knowledge workers prefer collaboration rather than siloed working conditions. With the current economic downturn, companies will try to achieve more with fewer employees. Added collaboration on project teams is essential. Furthermore Donna Fitzgerald, research director for Gartner, clarifies that you must take into account multiple organizational and program cultures, which range from solidarity to sociability. Some are based on principles of change and being proactive, while others rely on rules and stability. These cultures can be defined as follows:
- Meritocracy (team): The focus is on problem solving. Projects are regarded as a natural unity of doing work — very project friendly. People are resourceful human beings rather than human resources. Being the best is important. Individuals in this culture operate with a high degree of flexibility and individuality by an open system that promotes a willingness to act. It is generally dynamic, entrepreneurial and creative and supports experimentation, risk and responsiveness. It tends to be mercenary in nature.
- Process (company): The focus is on “process solves everything.” It is deeply rooted in process-centric activity. It is project-friendly; however, the tendency is to focus on status quo. This culture places a high value on economy, formality, rationality and obedience and is typically found in large organizations, governmental organizations and businesses in regulated industries (e.g., banks). It tends to be more bureaucratic in nature.
- Networked (individual): The focus is on consensus. The emphasis is to discuss everything and never assume the right answer. It often pushes consensus toward the minimal deliverable. It communicates all reasoning behind all decisions. It is a society of peers, which tends toward fragmentation.
- Familial (group): There is little emphasis or focus on “projects.” People simply come together to get something done. It’s not project-friendly because of lack of structure. The focus is on social equality and fairness. Core values include cooperation and agreement. It’s typically found in small companies or family-owned businesses. It is more “follow the leader” and tends to be autocratic in nature.
These cultures span the spectrum from individualism to collectivism. It’s important to understand the various cultures you are supporting within your program, because simply setting up a team wiki, blog, instant message, social knowledge network or other collaborative tool may work for some (e.g., meritocracy), but may fail or not be seen as an enabler for others (e.g., process). Another important aspect to understand about your program culture is the degree to which your knowledge workers work in silos (individualism). The project team is a great vehicle for sharing tacit knowledge (collectivism); however, trends show we often have projects without teams. This stops the transmission of tacit knowledge.What can a program manager do? The following is a minimal set of tasks that will help you achieve improved collaboration — or at least open the doors for it to begin: 1.Create a virtual water cooler. Set up a virtual community of practice. Make sure everyone on the team knows about this with the only few rules being:
- Everyone is free to talk to anyone. Get those dialogs going!
- It must be locked-down to the team.
- You must proactively build community (ensure you capture the spectrum from wishing a team member a happy birthday to providing knowledge documents).
- Ensure this site has support with employee profiles, a team contact directory and other social tools.
2. Move beyond email. Besides the storage issue, its main weakness is its inability to organize interactions persistently. Leverage collaborative technologies (instant messaging, wikis, blogs and more). 3. Know the culture of your organization and program team. What about a program management office? A PMO should be in the business of supporting the communication of tacit knowledge, as well as open and free-form adaptive structure. What enables project success are good practices — not necessarily processes. The best practices are tied to the individual — someone needs to think about what the best practice or solution is for the right situation. Thus, it’s not surprising that in order to run a successful PMO, you need to maintain a cultural focus on open communication and collaboration to share these learning experiences. In the book The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization by Peter M. Senge, a key discipline is team learning. The PMO must support team learning backed by tools and effective shared learning experiences to establish open collective knowledge. Additionally, one of the many charters of PMOs is to provide a repository for project knowledge. These efforts should take a significant leap forward as the adoption of wikis, blogs and social networks have become accepted workplace concepts and tools.
Having access to the right knowledge as a shared resource comes at a cost — the cost of collecting, processing, distributing and storing information. However, the value of access to this collective knowledge and shared best practices has an incredibly high cost savings. In the case of information sharing around a common problem, the soft ROI is measured in savings from an understanding of efforts of what has or has not worked in similar situations. Gene Bellinger, in Knowledge Management – Emerging Perspectives, states appropriately: The value of Knowledge Management relates directly to the effectiveness with which the managed knowledge enables the members of the organization to deal with today's situations and effectively envision and create their future. Without on-demand access to managed knowledge, every situation is addressed based on what the individual or group brings to the situation with them. With on-demand access to managed knowledge, every situation is addressed with the sum total of everything anyone in the organization has ever learned about a situation of a similar nature. Effectively leveraging KM can move your organization to a higher maturity. Assess your corporate culture. Do you have a true project or program culture? What will you need to do to build one? Within the next 90 – 180 days, work on capturing tacit knowledge through communities of practice or lessons learned. Have a plan.
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