Knowledge management is the systematic management of information and learning. It turns personal information and experience into collective knowledge that can be widely shared throughout an organisation and a profession.
Organisations need to capture knowledge and experience, optimise their usefulness and make them available to improve decision-making. This way they can avoid repeating mistakes of the past. Knowledge management underpins organisational learning and maturity.
Knowledge is all-encompassing. It can come from both external and internal sources, ranging from published standards and methods to books and conferences. However, a primary source of knowledge comes from experience developed within an organisation.
An organisation will often document its own experience as ‘lessons learned’. These are captured both formally and informally but, all too often, are not distilled into a format that can be easily used by others.
The key steps involved in ensuring that knowledge is captured and shared include:
- establishing ownership of knowledge management and the systems that support it;
- implementing mechanisms for finding external knowledge and making it relevant internally;
- identification and extraction of key lessons from projects, programmes and portfolios, including contextual information;
- structuring and storing knowledge so that it can be accessed easily;
- maintenance of the knowledge repository to ensure it is up to date;
- embedding processes that ensure knowledge is used effectively.
Knowledge management may be a corporate function, with P3 management being simply one aspect of a broader organisational learning strategy. However, if P3 knowledge management is owned separately, then it may reside in a P3 support function or in communities of practice.
Wherever P3 knowledge management is located, it must be made easily available. This entails the creation and maintenance of a knowledge ‘database’ that can be interrogated for each project, programme or portfolio.
There are two key challenges: knowledge is difficult to assemble and it is difficult to encourage its use.
Many managers see it as a time-consuming distraction from their core role. This means that P3 management must include procedures for capturing knowledge at the inception of each new piece of work and as it is being undertaken.
Learning from experience must become second nature to all those involved and assurance processes should check that this is the case.
Knowledge capture should occur:
- during governance meetings (e.g. board and delivery team meetings);
- during reviews (e.g. gateway, closure and benefits reviews);
- during third party meetings;
- during an assurance audit;
- at any time that an important lesson is learned.
Knowledge should be used:
- at inception (e.g. to help develop a robust business case);
- during mobilisation to help define the governance approach;
- during reviews to identify solutions to problems;
- at all times to improve personal and team performance.
Good knowledge management can reduce risks and increase efficiency through the re-use of proven approaches and avoidance of known pitfalls. It can also produce a virtuous circle as individuals and teams see their contributions recognised and re-used, thus encouraging further participation in the process.
In a mature organisation, project teams will have access to a knowledge base of lessons learned and an accepted process for incorporating them into a new project.
Where a project stands alone, the project manager needs to take the initiative. This could involve simply speaking to other project managers to glean experience, or researching similar projects.
Simple actions, such as keeping a project diary with particular emphasis on lessons learned, can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of project management.
A programme, by definition, contains multiple projects. This creates the opportunity to capture lessons from earlier projects and apply them to the management of later projects.
The programme team should factor into their plans the overhead of managing knowledge and encourage the project teams to contribute.
Consistency of knowledge management across the portfolio is a significant contributor to developing organisational maturity.
A portfolio often includes all the projects and programmes within the host organisation. Implementing an effective knowledge management system at the portfolio level effectively improves the P3 maturity of the whole organisation.
Portfolio management teams should secure the funding for knowledge management within the portfolio where such a system does not already exist.
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