Applying knowledge management to projects

If you have followed Fear no Project for a while, you know that I believe knowledge management is a competitive discriminator, especially in the dynamic world of software development. (See: Knowledge Management is not an Oxymoron and SharePoint 2010 – It’s not just about the technology. Because I often speak with senior managers, industry groups and boards of directors about the value of knowledge management systems, I often use real-world examples that show how KM can help, like this one from CIO:

Think of a golf caddie. Good caddies do more than carry clubs and track down wayward balls. When asked, a good caddie will give advice to golfers, such as, “The wind makes the ninth hole play 15 yards longer. ”

Accurate advice may help the caddie get a bigger tip and from the golf course owner’s
perspective, the golfer is more likely to return. Sharing caddie knowledge, based on experience, helps all caddies and the organization. In reviewing a set of white papers on KM Best Practices from KM World October 2011, here are a few key insights shared by practitioners and companies offering KM products:

  • Use KM to document exceptions to standard processes
  • Help staff understand how they can benefit from KM in doing their job. (this will also help motivate them to make the effort to correctly categorize and tag their documents, spreadsheets and emails.)
  • Use the tools build-in to cloud-based computing to manage digital content by adding keyword properties and metadata.
  • When implementing a KM system, set up milestones and measure success. If the KM project is slow to reach the desired coverage, be willing to make mid-course corrections in comprehensiveness or complexity,.
  • Provide users with multiple paths to access knowledge, such as Q&A, FAQs and guided search.

When your company is considering using KM to support software engineering efforts, the “Report describing state-of-the art KM in Software Engineering” provides good background information on the subject. Here are a few more resources to checkout:

If your organization is adopting the use of ITIL V3, you will need to address the knowledge management function under the Service Transition core strategy.  ITIL suggests that knowledge management is designed to assist organizations with ensuring that the right information is available to the right person at the right time to enable that person to make an informed decision. Management decision making quality can be improved if reliable and secure data and information are available throughout the service lifecycle.

Best Practice Advice

  • Start small. Setting up and maintaining a KM system can be labor intensive and you need to learn the best way to categorize and make information available for your organization.
  • Remember that effectively using KM in software engineering requires a cultural change. People need to learn and adapt before a new process becomes business-as-usual.
  • It helps to get professional assistance in structuring and implementing a KM system to avoid common pitfalls and ensure value added.
  • Involve developers and users in creating the KM system requirements, taxonomy, topic relationships and training.
  • Align the KM software engineering system with organizational strategies; use those strategies to measure progress and return on investment.
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