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Project Management ABC: K for Knowledge Management in Projects

The key to efficiency and innovation

Project Management ABC: K for Knowledge Management in Projects

Every new project is unique and a complex endeavor that requires a huge amount of information and experience. However, this does not mean that you have to start from scratch for every new project. Instead, this is where knowledge management comes into play, which not only aims to organize existing knowledge but also offers a strategic approach to leverage this knowledge to realize the full potential of projects. We explore how effective knowledge management establishes the foundation for successful project implementations, enhances efficiency, and nurtures the soil for creative innovations.

What is knowledge and knowledge management?

To precisely understand how knowledge can be managed, there should be clarity about how knowledge is defined: Knowledge refers to information, facts, concepts, experiences, and skills that an individual or an organization possesses and understands about a specific subject or area. Knowledge goes beyond mere data and information, as it encompasses a deeper meaning and interpretation of facts. It results from the process of comprehending, connecting, and applying information to solve problems, make decisions, and carry out actions.
Such knowledge can exist in various forms, often referred to as “knowledge types” or “knowledge dimensions.” The most common forms of knowledge include:

  • Explicit knowledge: This is formalized knowledge that can be expressed in easily understandable language and is often recorded in documents, books, databases, or manuals. Explicit knowledge is easy to transfer and share.
  • Implicit knowledge: Implicit knowledge is hard to put into words and is often intuitive or experience based. It is the knowledge that people acquire through practical experiences without consciously formulating it. Examples include riding a bicycle or knowing how to solve a specific problem.
  • Tactical knowledge: Tactical knowledge is the knowledge of how to successfully perform certain tasks or activities in specific situations. It focuses on the practical handling of concrete challenges.
  • Strategic knowledge: In contrast to tactical knowledge, strategic knowledge refers to the understanding of an organization’s or a project’s long-term goals, visions, and directions. It involves knowledge of how different parts of a system collaborate to achieve set objectives.
  • Process knowledge: Understanding processes, procedures, and workflows is referred to as process knowledge. It encompasses knowledge of how things are done and how different steps are interconnected.
  • Social knowledge: Social knowledge relates to relationships, networks, and social interactions, including insights into how to communicate with others, build relationships, and work in teams.
  • Metacognition: This is knowledge about one’s knowledge and the ability to monitor, control, and adapt one’s thinking processes.
  • Contextual knowledge: This knowledge refers to the specific context or environment in which knowledge is applied. It considers nuances and intricacies that can influence the application of knowledge.

These different forms of knowledge are often interconnected and complement each other to enable comprehensive understanding and actionable capabilities.

Knowledge management refers to the systematic process of identifying, capturing, organizing, storing, disseminating, and applying knowledge within an organization or context. It aims to efficiently utilize existing knowledge to enhance performance, foster innovation, solve problems, and support decision-making. Knowledge management encompasses the entire lifecycle of knowledge, from creation and collection to distribution and updates, to ensure that valuable information is easily accessible and continuously contributes to improvement. This process can involve both technological tools and human interactions to preserve and maximize collective knowledge.

Why is knowledge management particularly important in project management?

Knowledge management plays a crucial role in project management as it contributes to making projects more efficient, effective, and successful. Every project is unique and thus a complex endeavour often associated with uncertainties, risks, and changing requirements. Here are some reasons why knowledge management is of great significance in project management:

  • Avoidance of repetitive mistakes: By accessing knowledge gathered from past projects, teams can avoid repeated mistakes and apply best practices more quickly.
  • Increase in efficiency: Knowledge management enables the effective utilization of proven procedures and established knowledge, thereby reducing time and resource allocation.
  • Enhancement of quality: Experience and best practices can contribute to improving the quality of work and reducing the likelihood of errors.
  • Promotion of innovation: Access to internal and external knowledge can foster innovation, making it easier for teams to develop and implement new ideas or approaches.
  • Risk mitigation: Knowledge about past projects and their challenges can help identify risks as well as opportunities early and develop strategies for risk mitigation.
  • Continuity during staff transitions: When team members leave the project, proper knowledge management ensures that the project team retains knowledge. This enables smooth transitions from one team member to another as well as consistent project execution.
  • Improved decision-making: Well-documented knowledge enables informed decision-making, as teams can access previous experiences and information.

Where can knowledge management be applied effectively in project management?

Knowledge management can be applied at various stages of project management to achieve optimal results:

  • Project initiation: Knowledge management can be used in project initiation to identify best practices and insights from previous projects and incorporate them into planning.
  • Project planning: Collecting, documenting, and transferring knowledge about resources, schedules, budgets, and risks can improve the accuracy of project planning.
  • Project execution: Teams can draw on documented knowledge about workflows, processes, and techniques to make project execution efficient and seamless.
  • Problem-solving and decision-making: Gathered knowledge can assist in solving emerging problems and making informed decisions.
  • Experience collection: At the end of a project, insights, experiences, and lessons learned can be captured to enrich future projects.
  • Continuous improvement: Knowledge management also enables continuous improvement, as teams can constantly refer to their work experiences to optimize processes and outcomes.

The process of knowledge management

The process of knowledge management involves several steps that aim to capture, organize, share, and apply knowledge within an organization. Here are the fundamental steps in the knowledge management process:

1. Knowledge identification:

The first step involves identifying relevant knowledge that exists or is needed within the organization. Project teams can generate knowledge from various sources, including experiences from previous projects, specialized literature, experts within the team, and external expert knowledge. Integrating these sources can expand teams’ knowledge and optimize their approach.

2. Knowledge generation and capture:

Generating new knowledge can be achieved through brainstorming, expert interviews, or internal training. However, this generated knowledge should be documented to prevent its loss. By recording insights, solution approaches, and decisions, future teams can access them and build projects on a solid foundation from the outset. The recognized knowledge is captured and documented in an understandable form, such as texts, diagrams, videos, or other media. You can also create comprehensive manuals, guides, best practice documents, or project reports. To gather the necessary knowledge for such documents, you can conduct interviews, surveys, brainstorming sessions, or analyse a project’s progress, for example.

3. Knowledge organization and structuring:

Captured knowledge should be structured and organized to ensure easy accessibility. This can be achieved through categorization, indexing, or tagging. It can be sorted by topics, projects, departments, or other relevant criteria. This way, a large amount of knowledge can be effectively searched for the right information.

4. Knowledge storage:

Subsequently, the organized knowledge should be stored in suitable storage solutions such as databases, wikis, or document management systems. This ensures that collected knowledge remains secure and accessible in the long term.

5. Knowledge sharing and dissemination:

However, collecting and storing knowledge is not enough. Rather, stored knowledge should be actively shared and disseminated to ensure that those who need it can access it. For this, it’s important to foster a culture of knowledge exchange and collaboration among employees and teams. This encourages employees to share their knowledge and learn from each other. Setting up communication platforms, as well as providing training or workshops, can contribute to active knowledge exchange.

6. Knowledge utilization:

The best knowledge is useless if it’s not applied. Therefore, teams should actively use mechanisms like training, mentoring, and collaboration tools to ensure that knowledge isn’t just present but also applied in practice. This enables them to make better decisions, solve problems, and carry out tasks effectively. Provide guidelines and resources to encourage employees to access the knowledge.

7. Knowledge update:

Stored knowledge should also be regularly reviewed and updated to ensure its relevance and currency. New insights and experiences can be continually incorporated. Review documents, update best practices, and add new information.

8. Feedback and improvement:

The effectiveness of knowledge management itself should also be regularly evaluated and optimized. This applies to the entire process. To do this, collect feedback from team members to optimize and adjust the knowledge management process.

9. Measurement of knowledge utilization:

The success of knowledge management can also be measured to ensure that knowledge contributes to increasing efficiency, promoting innovation, and improving the quality of results.
The process of knowledge management is cyclical and continuous. An organization should tailor the process to its needs to ensure that knowledge is actively used and contributes to project and business improvement.

Methods in knowledge management

There are various methods and approaches to knowledge management that organizations can use to support the collection, organization, sharing, and application of knowledge. Here are some common methods:

  • Lessons learned workshops: Regular workshops after project completion help gather and document experiences, insights, as well as best practices.
  • Knowledge databases: Digital platforms for storing and organizing knowledge allow employees to easily search for and find information.
  • Wikis: These are collaborative platforms where team members can collectively create and edit knowledge.
  • Expert directories: A list of experts within the organization who have expertise in specific areas and can be consulted when needed.
  • Best practice documentation: Documenting successful methods and procedures from the past to apply them in future projects.
  • Mentoring and coaching: Assigning experienced employees to less experienced colleagues to pass on their knowledge and experiences. This can be especially helpful during the onboarding of new colleagues.
  • Online collaboration tools: Collaboration platforms enable teams to exchange knowledge over long distances and collaborate in real-time.
  • Storytelling: Crafting stories can convey knowledge, experiences, and lessons in an engaging and easily understandable manner.
  • After-action reviews: Structured evaluations after activities or projects help analyze what went well and what can be improved. Valuable knowledge for future projects can be generated from this.
  • Community of Practice (CoP): Informal groups of employees who share a common interest or expertise and regularly exchange knowledge.
  • Knowledge audits: Systematic assessments of existing knowledge sources and practices help identify knowledge gaps and improvement opportunities.
  • Gamification: Integrating playful elements incentivizes employees to share and expand their knowledge.
  • Innovation management: Innovation management focuses on using knowledge to develop and implement innovative ideas.
  • E-Learning and training: Digital learning platforms offer employees the opportunity to continuously expand their knowledge and adapt to new challenges.

These methods can be adapted and combined based on your needs, goals, or organizational culture to create a tailored knowledge management system that best suits your organization’s requirements.

Conclusion

Knowledge management proves to be an essential driver of efficiency, innovation, and continuous improvement in project management. Through the systematic capture, organization, and application of knowledge, projects can be implemented more successful by leveraging best practices, avoiding mistakes, and making informed decisions.

A project management software like myPARM can support knowledge management and amplify its impact. myPARM not only provides the infrastructure for storing and sharing knowledge but also enables seamless integration of knowledge management throughout the project lifecycle. The software-assisted capture of lessons learned, provision of resources, and utilization of software for communication encourage proactive knowledge utilization. Based on the accumulated knowledge, for example, best practice templates for projects, project segments, task lists, or standardized risk registers can be created, incorporating previous experiences right from the initiation of a new project. Thus, knowledge is not only preserved but also becomes a central element that can lead projects to success.

Learn more about the project and portfolio management software myPARM:

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