Knowledge management - let's get it right

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Are we alone amongst Specific Interest Groups (SIGs) in thinking that our subject is the most widely misunderstood in project management? Probably not. 

Since creating the Knowledge SIG in 2012 we have met people who totally get knowledge management. We have also met many people who think knowledge management is a matter of capturing some ‘lessons’ at the end of a project. It isn’t – no matter what the APM Body of Knowledge says! More of this later...

Our good friend Victor Newman has two rather neat ways of explaining what’s wrong with thinking of knowledge management as an exercise in capturing ‘lessons’. “Grab a piece of paper and a pen”, he says. “Write down everything you know”.  Cue baffled expressions. “What’s so funny?” asks Victor. “What do you mean, you can’t write down everything you know? Do you need a bigger piece of paper? “

Of course you can’t write down everything you know. You can probably write down only a tiny fraction of what you know. Victor’s second message is equally direct. “When I started my last knowledge management job”, he explains, “there was a lessons learned database. I know it didn’t work because I found the same lesson in there twelve times”. What does this tell you about knowledge and knowledge management?

Frustrated by banging our heads against a wall of lessons learned thinking, in late 2014 we started a research project to find out how project-based organisations really manage knowledge – and to compare what we found with good knowledge management practice. Over the next few months, we are going to publish the results of the project here. This is an invitation to join in.

Each month we will post a short article on a specific aspect of knowledge management, along with the relevant results from the research (to illustrate how organisations do knowledge management in practice) and some questions to get you thinking about how your organisation measures up. Where do you fit in? We invite you to comment, ask questions, disagree with us and pick holes in our arguments. We invite you to post links to other knowledge management materials, share your experiences and tell us what would help you get better at doing knowledge management. More than anything, we invite you to join with us in raising awareness, building understanding and improving the practice of knowledge management in project environments.

Just one more thing: we invite you to join us in building a case for improving the knowledge management entry in the APM Body of Knowledge.   

This month’s topic is What is knowledge, anyway – and why does it matter? We hope you enjoy reading the article. Tell us what you think!

Judy Payne

Posted by Judy Payne on 7th Jul 2015

About the Author

Judy works as a management consultant and reluctant academic specialising in knowledge management, collaborative working and learning. Her work is positioned firmly on the boundaries between academia and practice. Not the most comfortable place to be, but there’s such a huge gap between the two that there’s a lot of bridging to be done.

Judy works with public, private and third sector organisations to improve their management of knowledge, with universities to develop and deliver online degree programmes and with master’s students to help them learn how to do management research. At APM, she co-founded the Knowledge SIG is co-chair of the K SIG committee. She has contributed new knowledge management sections to the next edition of the PMBOK® Guide and to P3O® Best Management Practice, and represents the UK as an expert on an ISO Working Group developing a knowledge management standard. She is writing a book on KM in project environments.

Judy is also known for introducing collaborative working and social software to the Henley Knowledge Management Forum and for being a member of the #teatowelclub on Twitter.

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