Communities of practice

Definition

Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or passion for an aspect of P3 management and develop expertise through regular interaction.

General

P3 professionals are often spread throughout an organisation and rarely form separate departments or functional areas. This combined with the continual movement of project and programme staff from team to team and location to location, means that those involved in projects and programmes are less able to learn from shared experience.

Establishing a community of practice (CoP) enables P3 professionals to be part of a virtual department that shares experiences and contributes to improving future practice.

The three characteristics that are critical to a CoP are:

  1. the domain: The CoP has an identity defined by a shared domain of interest. It may be very broad (e.g. P3 management) or more specific (e.g. project control). Membership implies a commitment to the domain. The members value their collective competence and learn from each other;
  2. the community: In pursuing their interest in their domain, members engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information. They build relationships that enable them to learn from each other;
  3. the practice: Members of a community of practice develop a shared repertoire of resources – experiences, stories, tools (e.g. tools for risk management, knowledge management, scheduling, etc.) and ways of addressing recurring problems.

There are a number of benefits to a CoP. It:

  • provides a home for the profession by allowing potentially isolated people to come together;
  • assists in the dissemination of knowledge (e.g. new practices, lessons learned);
  • motivates its members, as they feel part of a community of like-minded people, rather than part of a team from different disciplines;
  • provides mutual support and encouragement between members of the community and an opportunity to test ideas;
  • helps generate new knowledge (e.g. from the formation of special interest groups);
  • helps accelerate an organisation through its maturity journey by sharing best practice.

Communities of practice can take many different forms. They should be constituted according to the needs of the organisation.

Some CoPs relate solely to an organisation, while others are sector-based, such as the Pharmaceutical Industry Project Management Group (PIPMG). The APM’s own specific interest groups (SIGs) are examples of communities of practice that focus on particular aspects of P3 management.

Some corporate CoPs are formally constituted and ‘own’ the profession and discipline of P3 management within their parent organisation. They may be responsible for professionalism and take responsibility for learning and development, knowledge management and maturity development. Others are simply informal communities of people who want to share experience.

In order to make a difference, communities of practice need to be actively supported. Regular meetings, social media groups and events promote knowledge sharing and embed the sense of professionalism.

 

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