Manage Project Knowledge: an Area of Focus for the PM

manage project knowledge

While we learned how to execute a project in the previous lesson, the PM has to do something else too in parallel –  collect, store, and mange the knowledge on the project. Manage Project Knowledge is the new process introduced by PMI in PMBOK version 6. What does this process do, and how you, as a project manager, can do a good job at this? And how knowledge management is done on Agile project? Let us look at these in this lesson.

Every project is a vast learning experience for everyone involved in it. Even when a project very similar to a previous one is managed, due to multitude of variables such as environmental factors, people factors, stakeholder behavior and so on, we gain new knowledge. Thus while we use existing knowledge to manage a project, a vast amount of new knowledge is gained.

It would be crucial to document this knowledge so that we can improve our processes and gain better productivity, not just in the current project but also in future projects.

This knowledge is also used in Operations work that may follow the successful completion of the project. For instance, consider a product created by a project. During the project few common causes of failure of the product and remedies for them would have been identified. This information will help the Operations team that manages or maintains the product after the completion of the project.

In the 6th edition of PMBOK guide, PMI introduced this new process, Manage Project Knowledge, and gave few tools and techniques that are used in successful projects in different domains the world over.

As you can imagine there is a document for that. Lessons Learned Register.

But first, let us learn a bit more about knowledge itself.

There are 2 types of knowledge.

Explicit knowledge

The knowledge that can be expressed in words, numbers or letters. This can be put on paper and taught to others. Even here, it needs to be ‘codified’ in such a way that the knowledge cannot be misread based on a different context, or by the way it has been documented.

Tacit knowledge

The knowledge that is internalized by work and cannot be explained easily to others. Insights, beliefs, experience – things that are contextual, and you know ‘it works’ but probably don’t know why or when and as such you cannot document it easily.

Sounds familiar?

The scope of this process is to manage both these types of knowledge.

Tacit knowledge is shared in conversations or by giving a ‘hands-on’ experience.

How?

Not everyone on the team is expected to be keen to share their knowledge, or worst, be open to learn from the knowledge readily available.

As a project manager how do you ensure sharing and absorbing (and documenting where it makes sense) of knowledge happens in your project?

The answer is, by creating a conducive environment – an environment that builds mutual trust among its members so they are open to express themselves without the fear of rejection or ridicule. In fact, team members are to be motivated by the environment that they are in to naturally share what they know, and learn from others.

In order to create this environment, the project manager must know about team members, their positions and responsibilities, stakeholders, their level of expertise and ability to influence, about organizational policies around knowledge/information sharing, and her own authority to take necessary actions to create the environment in the team.

Some organizations have individuals, teams, or even departments that help in knowledge management. In such cases the PM can work with them to manage knowledge on project.

Managing project knowledge in Agile projects

The success of Agile methodologies lies in leveraging each others’ knowledge and producing deliverables. And hence some of the practices have inbuilt knowledge-sharing mechanisms.

For instance, pair-programming is one of the practices in XP (eXreme Programming) where two programmer sit together and develop a module. They brain-storm the logic and best way of implementing the features, and thus learn from each other’s knowledge.

Some of the practices used in agile projects are –

  • Release and Iteration planning (a release contains multiple iterations)
  • Daily scrum (or stand-up) meetings – a 15mins exercise to share progress and blockers for individuals
  • Retrospective meetings – held at the end of each iteration to discuss lessons learned

Such practices automatically bring the best out of individuals and encourage them to share their knowledge.

In projects where cross-functional teams work together to produce deliverables, the setup is a great way to share knowledge with each other.

These practices have a ‘social’ angle to it, wherein two or more people work together closely towards a common goal and the rapport they share brings down any hesitation in communication, which in term facilitates free sharing of tacit knowledge.

Agile teams also accommodate the practice of members working remotely, and the main reason this succeeds is because of the rapport team members have built with each other – which is an important factor in knowledge sharing.

Project manager’s skills

The project manager needs to be able to do the following in the context of managing knowledge on the project –

Networking

Networking is a great way to understand who knows what, and what makes individual team members comfortable and open to express themselves.

Active listening

This skill plays a big part in knowledge management. When one listens actively and becomes receptive, the other gets positive signal to feels more comfortable and express their thoughts more easily and fluently. This also builds rapport and mutual trust which are important to gain cooperation and collaboration.

Political awareness

Being able to know individual’s needs from the project and their behavior based on these needs, is important for the project manager to plan communication strategies effectively.

Work shadowing & Reverse shadowing

Tacit knowledge needs to be learnt on the job. When employees are teamed up so one leans from the other (expert) it’s work shadowing. For Reverse shadowing (although there is no official definition from PMI) the understanding is the scenario when the expert watches the newbie doing the work to validate if they are doing it right (as you can imagine, this is the next step after Work shadowing).

There is a related term called Reverse mentoring (which is also knowledge sharing) – which is when a senior employee learns from a junior employee about some aspect of work.

For instance, when a senior manager has to negotiate a contract they need to know high level understanding of the technology/architecture being proposed as part of solution. To learn this the senior manager may come to the (hands-on) engineer to get a high level understanding of this.

Conducting meetings, workshops, knowledge-capsule sessions

These are called by various names. But the objective is to encourage people to share the knowledge with a group that stands to gain most out of the knowledge. Even training can help in this regard.

Hands-on learning

Activities such as buddy-system and pair-programming help people gain tacit knowledge of the other person.

In agile environments it is common to have teams geographically dispersed, and some of these activities will work well for such teams as well. Communication tools and techniques such as video conference, virtual conference rooms, recorded videos, and wiki sites will help collect and manage knowledge.

While remote participation is effective, it is proven that face-to-face interaction is more effective – not just in knowledge sharing but also building relationship of trust and respect.

Few organizations have a policy that allows getting all team members together in one location and have such exercises as mentioned above helping them gel well and build relationship, and then let them go back and work out of their own locations.

The information gained is stored in Lessons Learned register, e-library, wiki sites, or PMIS.

Lessons Learned Register

This is usually created in the form of situation-driven knowledge-capture document.

Each situation that arises on the project is documented along with the knowledge gained.

These situations can be categorized for easier access to specific knowledge. The knowledge can be written in the form of challenges, risks and opportunities realized, and remedial actions taken with specific links to further documents created.

Knowledge can be documented in the form of videos, audios, transcripts of interviews, or in essay-form documentation with images and illustrations.

At the end of the phase or project this register is pushed into Lessons Learned Repository of the organization.

Now that we have seen how Manage Project Knowledge process is conducted, let us see next what the PM should do to monitor & control project work.

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