Knowledge management in practice
To explore this question further, we looked at organisations' knowledge management practices.
We would expect knowledge management practices – what people actually do to manage knowledge – to match their view of knowledge. Organisations with a process perspective, for example, should encourage people to build relationships, networks and trust. Organisations with a practice perspective should focus their knowledge management activities on creating groups of people doing similar work, with overlaps between the groups.
The more sophisticated an organisation’s understanding of knowledge, however, the less obvious it is what it should actually do. What exactly does process- or practice-based knowledge management look like? How can they be measured? How do organisations know whether they are working?
Knowledge is intangible and can’t be managed directly. Adrian Malone, a Knowledge SIG committee member, illustrates this with the wheelbarrow test. If knowledge was a tangible thing that could be managed directly, you could put it in a wheelbarrow. Even people with an extreme structural perspective would struggle with the idea that you can put knowledge in a wheelbarrow!
In practice, good knowledge management is mostly about creating an environment where people want to share what they know. It includes HR interventions, networking and simply giving people time to talk to each other. These practices are difficult to translate into the systematic processes that project managers are used to. There is no template for creating a knowledge-sharing environment.
Specific knowledge management methods do exist, but they are variations on two themes: connecting people to information and connecting people to other people. They only work if the environment is conducive to knowledge-sharing.
There is no universal ideal mix of knowledge management practices. The mix depends on the context and needs of individual organisations.