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.

Knowledge Management is not an Oxymoron

As a project manager, you may be too busy putting out new releases and fires to think much about knowledge management. I get it. However, from an organizational perspective, effectively managing the critical resource called, “knowledge” can make the difference between winning and losing in a competitive marketplace.

Serious thinkers have offered insight into the essence of knowledge over the centuries. For project management though, I particularly like this observation from Mark Twain, “A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.” Not quite true, Mr. Twain. Knowledge management processes help you learn without trial and error as your only guide.

Think of knowledge as data enhanced with context. For example, the values 35, 57, 25, and 10 are bits of data that are not particularly useful by themselves. However, when placed in a table called, “monthly number of user complaints,” with columns labeled, “January”, “February”, “March” and “April,” you have information. Correlate the table with another piece of information – that there was a new software version released in March — and you have some useful knowledge or at least a potentially significant correlation.








Why Knowledge Management

  • Shorten the time from needing information to finding it—for example, most knowledge workers spend from 15% to 35% (or an average of 25%) of their work time searching for information
  • Reduce the duplication of existing information—for example, in most organizations we spend 10-15% of our time duplicating existing information (that we don’t know already exists)Make training more relevant—experts believe that 80% of what people actually learn today is informal—collaborative, “water cooler” discussions, from a mentor, or from a work group
  • Identifying commonalities in failures and successes
  • Developing realistic costs based on experience
  • Improve customer service and help desk response times by tracking previous problems and resolutions for reuse
  • Recognize the value of employee’s knowledge by providing  tools such as My Sites that enable rich profile sharing, discussion groups, and internal blogs
  • Improve decision making by using accurate, timely information, as well as the wisdom of others
  • Transfer existing knowledge to other parts of the organization by making it more readily available and organizing it for easy access and reuse
  • Facilitate interaction with remote team members through collaborative portals and tools like discussion groups, forums, and blogs

Project Manager KM Support Activities

  1. Investigate knowledge management basic principles and techniques (see some resource links below).
  2. Take advantage of the expertise of a KM professional. Areas where a professional helps establish a useful knowledge management system include knowledge acquisition, adding context to documents, retrieving knowledge through queries, tool selection and training.
  3. Brainstorm with your team about concepts, information and data that help them do their jobs. Extract from this discussion key words and concepts to represent within the KM document index.
  4. Work with any internal KM initiatives to ensure that information relevant to project management is captured. Offer to help in adding context information that project managers need.
  5. Evaluate tools to facilitate KM tasks — creating, capturing, refining, storing, managing and disseminating — information. Many helpful tools may already be part of your existing tool base.
  6. Create a common schema for tagging document content to improve search and retrieval by adding context and relationship information. (Context information typically provides answers to the questions: who, what, when and where. Relationship tags may include qualifiers such as how much, how long, part of, similar to, owned by, causes and categorization.)
  7. Build or use a smart search capability that is able to use the context and relationship information stored with the documents. You can find tool options by searching the web for tools that claim, “intelligent search”, “smart search”, “ontology-based search”, “enterprise knowledge management.” Or, better yet, ask your KM consultant.
  8. Practice.


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