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Knowledge management survey results

What we did

In late 2014 the APM Knowledge SIG 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. The main researchers were Dr Judy Payne and Dr Nicholas Silburn.

The survey was based on established knowledge management thinking and frameworks and included a mixture of closed questions and opportunities for respondents to comment in their own words. Each organisation received a report containing a summary of the results and a number of suggested improvement actions.

22 organisations from various sectors including engineering, consultancy, utilities, transportation, public sector and third sector took part in the research. Over 200 individuals from the participating organisations completed a comprehensive online survey to provide data about their understanding of knowledge management, their approach to knowledge management and their knowledge management practices.

What did we discover?

  • Most individuals understand that knowledge is deeper than information, and that knowledge can't be managed using a simple 'capture and disseminate' approach.
  • In a third of participating organisations, the approach to knowledge management doesn’t reflect this understanding of knowledge.
  • What organisations actually do to manage knowledge is often quite different from what they say their approach is – for various reasons. The most common reason is confusion with other knowledge and information.
  • Very few organisations have a working definition of knowledge management or a single name for knowledge management.
  • There is lots of evidence of different practices in different parts of organisations - often because knowledge management is left to individual teams to implement.
  • Many respondents commented that their lessons learned processes don’t work.
  • Knowledge management maturity varies a lot. A few organisations are excellent at knowledge management, some are self-acknowledged beginners and others are in between.
  • In many organisations, people share knowledge between projects only at the handover and closure stages.

What we asked and how we analysed the results

We asked people to tell us what knowledge management practices exist in their organisations, using their own words. We made it clear that we were looking for practices of different kinds, including HR interventions.

To analyse what people told us, we produced a standard list of knowledge management practices from the survey responses and classified each item on the list by underlying knowledge perspective: structural, process, practice or some combination of these. A few of the knowledge management practices were classified as ‘any’ perspective because they can be applied in different ways. 

For each organisation we produced a list of knowledge management practices, ranked by frequency of mentions by respondents. This list was used to compare the organisation’s most-mentioned practices with its stated approach to knowledge management: structural, process or practice.

The level of alignment between organisations’ stated approach to knowledge management and what they actually do in practice was variable:

  • Most organisations reported practices drawn from all three knowledge perspectives, regardless of their stated approach to knowledge management. 
  • Organisations with a stated structural approach reported a high number of process and practice activities.
  • Several organisations with a stated process approach reported a high proportion of structural practices.