As the chair of the APM Knowledge SIG, I get to see many project/programme managers who have issues around establishing the differences between data, information and knowledge. As a result, they struggle to define the best way to manage each of them.
In the run-up to the APM Knowledge SIG Conference and AGM, to be held on 6 July in London, I would like to give you a taste of what is to come and try to clarify the differences between these concepts using an example from my home country of Spain, how to make a Spanish omelette (Tortilla de patatas).
In this case, the list of ingredients could be regarded as data:
· 3 small potatoes
· 4 eggs
· 1 onion (optional)
· olive oil
Data alone will not be enough to prepare it. We need a recipe to understand the process we have to follow. In this case, the recipe will give us the information we need.
1 Peel the potatoes.
2 Cut potatoes and onion into very thin slices.
3 Add salt (to taste) to potatoes and fry them very slowly, until they are lightly crunchy, in olive oil.
4 About the last 5 minutes of cooking, add the onion to the potatoes. When tender, transfer potatoes and onion to paper towels to drain.
5 Beat the eggs with a pinch of salt.
6 Lightly coat frying pan with olive oil. Add the eggs, potatoes and onions and cook over low heat, flipping omelette once to cook other side.
If we attempt to prepare a Spanish omelette for the first time following this recipe, it is very likely that the result will not be as good as we wanted. As we prepare it several times and share tips with other people, we gain a better understanding of the unique characteristics of our cooker and identify little variations in quantities, cooking time, temperature settings, etc. which lead to better results.
The knowledge developed with this experience may be used to prepare a more detailed recipe (explicit knowledge converted into detailed information). However, it would not be possible to capture the totality of tacit knowledge developed.
Now we can go further with this example and pay attention to the fact that one of the ingredients (the onion) is regarded as optional, which brings ambiguity to the data. Another piece of information required to understand this is that 50% of the Spaniards prefer tortilla with onion and the remaining 50 per cent prefer it without, so it is down to personal preference to add it. Therefore the recipe has two options, depending on whether we decide to add onions or not. Then the knowledge is about who the person you are making this for is and whether they like or dislike onions in their tortilla.
With these concepts in mind, we can see how the current changes in technology and the new ways in which we work and communicate are opening up new possibilities for analysing data (e.g. data mining and big data), sharing information (e.g. information repositories and search engines) and managing knowledge (e.g. online forums, webinars and virtual workshops).
The key benefits of knowledge management are:
It enables better decision making; avoids reinventing the wheel (bringing cost reductions); prevents the team/company from making the same mistakes over and over again; and allows to get the right information to the right person at the right time. This can only be achieved by developing a knowledge-sharing environment that facilitates connecting people to information and connecting people to other people. Those project/programme managers who take advantage of the latest and future developments in the area of knowledge management are more likely to succeed.
The world of work, the nature of organisations and people’s expectations are all changing, and knowledge management is changing too. What does this mean for Project Management?
If you’re a project or knowledge management professional, join us to find out more about current and emerging knowledge management ideas and how you can improve the way you work at the APM Knowledge SIG conference on the 6 July in London.