By Martin Fisher and Elisabeth Goodman
25 people attended the APM KSIG event in Birmingham on 14th May 2013 to explore what proved to be a very dynamic topic. Martin introduced the meeting and people spent a short time introducing themselves in their break-out groups, and identifying some common challenges.
This was followed by a short presentation from Elisabeth, and further break-outs around the key themes that had emerged earlier on.
Here is our synopsis of Elisabeth’s presentation, and of the break-out discussions. A full set of our slides is available below:
Every project management input and output involves both information and knowledge
We are all familiar with the many documents, whether on paper or in electronic form, that illustrate the governance of a project team: decision logs, meeting minutes, project plans, even lessons learned. But behind each of these tangible information assets, lies all the thinking, conversation and contextual knowledge that went into their creation, and are available from individual project team members should anyone have questions about their content.
As Patrice Jackson, Knowledge Strategist at Lockheed Martin, said in a LinkedIn exchange with Elisabeth prior to the seminar:
“The one thing I know for sure is that the human process is the bridge between them [information and knowledge.]”
“The bridge is a metaphor for how people behave. Their willingness to share, collaborate and learn brings information to life and gives knowledge its insight to then apply and innovate!”
Information and knowledge overlap in project management, and form a continuum
We may be unclear about where information management ends, and knowledge management begins precisely because they overlap and form a continuum. This is apparent in the overlap between the (admittedly limited) definitions of these 2 areas in the 6th edition of the APM Body of Knowledge where related words appear in both definitions. However, if you study the overlap between the definitions, then the distinction may be that:
1. Information management is to do with the collection, storage, dissemination, archiving, and destruction of information
2. Knowledge management is to do with the use that people put that to, how they apply their expertise to make decisions, how they tap into what they have learned and the translation of personal experience into collective knowledge
Models may help to frame the discussion about information and knowledge
As Elisabeth suggested, in the first of her two models to help frame the discussion, project governance is one of 3 contexts for the information and knowledge inputs and outputs of a project.
(1) The first context is the management and running of the project itself (what we define as its governance)
(2) A second context is the actual technical content of the project – be it around the development of a new drug, the erection of a new building, or the implementation of an IT system
(3) The third context is the governance at play within the operational organisations that individual team members may be come from: HR, IT, scientific departments, engineering departments etc.
Elisabeth’s second model suggested an approach that might help with the effective management of both information and knowledge:
1. A clear context that provides the goals and objectives for the project and for information / knowledge management (derived from the overall organisational goals, those of the project team itself, and those of the individual departments represented by the team members);
2. A framework of processes and systems that continuously improve and evolve based on new information and knowledge;
3. Active facilitation of information and knowledge management;
4. Some key enablers to drive the behaviours that make this all happen
There are numerous challenges associated with managing information and knowledge in projects!
A lively discussion ensued around the main themes identified by the delegates:
· Language barriers and key messages being lost in communication between the various team members
People will interpret what they hear based on the knowledge that they have, and so communication can become a game of Chinese whispers, not helped by the proliferation of three letter acronyms and jargon that people may be too embarrassed to say that they don’t understand. Technology can both help and hinder effective communication in virtual or even co-located teams.
· The risks to corporate memory associated with time and re-organisations
We talked about the impact of moving to shared services models and closing down local offices where one particular organisation carried out process mapping workshops and Kaizen events to help capture local knowledge around the processes and associated problems.
Another organization has very different working practices and legal constraints at its multiple international sites because each has been acquired and maintained as a separate legal entity. This will obviously make it harder to share knowledge between them and so limit the creation of a corporate memory.
· The importance of top down sponsorship and time to influence and sustain the right behaviours
There was quite lively discussion about the conflict of shared versus personal interests. A couple of people present maintained that – especially as professional Project Managers who move between successive contracts – it is not in their own interests to ‘go out of their way’ to expend their time and energy on sharing knowledge. Their success is judged on delivery (time, cost and quality) and once one project is nearing its end, they are looking out for the next one, keen to bring their current work to completion without generating more unnecessary work or loose ends.
The counter-argument says that a lack of attention to ‘proper’, conscious knowledge sharing will adversely affect quality and quite likely time and cost too. And if I’m looking to hire a PM, a commitment to knowledge sharing is a feature that would mark someone out as a valuable colleague.
This reflects a distinction between the views that
(1) Knowledge is power, and
(2) Sharing knowledge wields greater ultimate power.
If I [Martin speaking] assume the point of view of someone hiring a Project Manager, his or her value to me (‘power’) is not simply equal to a quantitative measure of the knowledge in their head (even if they are applying it for the benefit of my project); it also lies in how well they work together, problem-solve and share their know-how with the rest of the project team and ideally even wider.
· The evaluation and recognition of the value of information and knowledge: what is useful?
The ‘organisational glue’ idea is one that ‘hardcore’ KM advocates will often emphasise although this function of knowledge (management) is perhaps not always readily appreciated – or when we talk about ‘knowledge’ maybe people don’t realise that we’re talking about that sort of knowledge!
Martin was reminded here of Social Network Analysis and the understanding that if you were to map the ‘structures’ of influence, power and cohesion within an organisation, the picture would often look quite different from a standard chart or ‘organogram’ showing official hierarchies and formal lines of management.
Exchanging knowledge is an essentially social activity; it happens most effectively by means that are at least partly social. So, an organisation’s ‘glue’ and other social forces are inextricably entwined with knowledge sharing; and if you understand and try to work with this, you’re really exploiting a key and fruitful difference between managing knowledge and managing information.
Some organisations and many processes etc are set up – not necessarily consciously – in spite of these social forces and considerations rather than in sympathy with them.