PMLLblog summary of Knowledge Management (KM)

During the 1980s individuals and organisations began to value the role of knowledge in competitive business and industrial environments. A number of reports emerged during the late 1980s in the public domain focussed on how to manage knowledge explicitly (Wiig 1997). During the 1990s various KM journals and conferences started to appear with an exponential growth and the knowledge focus started to drive the development of KM frameworks and literature (Hasan & Handzic 2003; Hislop 2005; Wiig 1997). Some of the major approaches to KM frameworks were identified by Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) (knowledge processes), Nonaka and Kono (1998) (enablers framework), and Alavi and Leidner (2001) (six knowledge perspectives and ten knowledge area’s). O’Dell and Grayson (1998, p. 6) from the American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC) describes KM as ‘…a conscious strategy of getting the right knowledge to the right people at the right time and helping people share and put information into action in ways that strive to improve organizational performance.’

Edwards et al. (2003) conducted a survey of KM academics and practitioners which highlighted the following most influential authors in the domain of knowledge management: Nonaka; Nonaka and Takeuchi; Davernport and Prusak; and Snowden. Edwards et al. (2003, p. 60) further concludes that the single most important challenge to KM is ‘…to produce a coherent and cohesive body of theory, based on empirical evidence’.

Here in Australia, KM became very active early in 2001 when Standards Australia formed a technical writing committee to develop the Australian Knowledge Management Standard. The first edition of the Standard was released in 2003 (Standards Australia 2005) and provided clear KM definitions. There is a general feeling that a KM definition is difficult to achieve and that many avoid defining it (Firestone & McElroy 2003). Firestone and McElroy have identified a KM definition ‘specification gap’ and they prefer the term Knowledge Life cycle (KLC) as the new KM and are critical of many KM definitions by influential authors. Firestone and McElroy also conclude that publishing standards for KM are seriously premature as most of the KM literature fails to make the distinction between KM and knowledge processing. Burford and Ferguson (2011) researched Australian government organisations and found that most participants had not heard of the Australian KM Standard and identified a significant gap between KM practice and the Standard. An observation of the Australian KM Standard with respect to the lessons learned is that the Standard does not reference the lessons learned process. This does provide a problem and limitation in a project perspective when using the standard with other current PM knowledge sources.

Across the globe many organisations in the public and private sectors are now recognising KM as being of central importance to advanced economies and organisational performance (Hislop 2005; National Audit Office 2009). Nousala et al. (2009) reports that it is hard to implement the KM process in organisations that are project based, as setting up activities across stove-pipe organisations and profit cost centres is challenging. However it is clear that KM in project based organisations is critical to keep up the competitive advantage (Ajmal, Kekäle & Takala 2009; Love, Edum-Fotwe & Irani 2003; Nousala et al. 2009).

Prusak (2011) suggests that the knowledge management principles developed in the mid-1990s and early-2000s were developed with information in mind and not knowledge and that is one of the key reasons that knowledge management efforts have run into problems. Prusak (2011, p. xii) further states that we now know different things about working with knowledge:

  • Knowledge is better understood as a flow. It is highly dynamic, non-linear, and difficult to measure or even manage. Working with it entails new techniques that we are still learning about.
  • Although technology surely has its place, working with knowledge is primarily a human activity needing human organization and understanding.
  • Knowledge in organizations is profoundly social and best managed in groups, networks, communities, and practices.

O’Dell and Hubert (2011, p. 2) describe the new edge in KM based on APQC research and benchmarking activities and define KM as ‘…a systematic effort to enable information and knowledge to grow, flow, and create value’. The new forces affecting KM are: digital immersion (multitasking); social computing; evolving demographics and dynamics; mobile devices and video (O’Dell & Hubert 2011). O’Dell and Hubert state that a KM program needs to include the teachable moment (when a person is most open to learning) and the management of knowledge above and in the flow of work (which is focused on making KM part of the work process).

Snowden (2002) suggests that we are getting to the end of the second generation of KM (SECI model of Nonaka and Takeuchi). Snowden (2002, p. 2) proposes that the third generation of KM ‘…requires the clear separation of context, narrative and content management and challenges the orthodoxy of scientific management’.

Wiig et al. (1997) identified the lessons learned process as a key KM practice. The KM life cycle when applied describes the lessons learned cycle and it is therefore proposed that by understanding the KM theories we further develop our understanding of the lessons learned process around the areas of knowledge flow, people, organisation structure and technology.

What are your thoughts on Knowledge Management? Have I missed something?

The next post will focus on Knowledge Conversion.


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PMLLblog summary of Knowledge

‘What is knowledge?’ represents a question that humankind has grappled with for centuries at least back to Plato and Aristotle (Hislop 2005; O’Dell, Grayson & Essaides 1998). The current day knowledge exploration is attributed to Drucker (1993) (knowledge as management resource and power), Wiig (1997) (knowledge as a form of belief), Polanyi (1958, 2009) (distinction between tacit and explicit knowledge) and Davenport and Prusak (2000, p. 5):  Knowledge is a fluid mix of framed experience, values, contextual information, and expert insight that provides a framework for evaluating and incorporating new experiences and information. It originates in and is applied in the minds of knowers. In organizations, it often becomes embedded not only in documents or repositories but also in organizational routines, processes, practices, and norms.’

The Australian Knowledge Management Standard, Standards Australia (2005, p. 2) defines knowledge as ‘A body of understanding and skills that is constructed by people and increased through interaction with other people and with information’.

Polanyi’s work formed the foundation for the highly respected KM theory authors Nonaka and Takeuchi (Nonaka 2007; Nonaka & Takeuchi 1995). Tacit knowledge is subjective, environment-specific and personal. Tacit knowledge is difficult to communicate whereas explicit or codified knowledge is objective, easily communicated and transferred without in depth experience (Nonaka & Takeuchi 1995). Polanyi (2009, p. 4) stated ‘…we can know more than we can tell’ and contends that human beings create knowledge by involving themselves with objects through a process Polanyi calls ‘indwelling’. Nonaka and Takeuchi propose that tacit knowledge consists of cognitive and technical elements. The cognitive element is based on Johnson-Laird (1983) ‘mental models’ (schemata, paradigms, perspectives, beliefs and viewpoints) where humans create working models of the world in their minds. The technical element is the existing know how and skills. The cognitive elements are important as they form the mobilisation process in creating new knowledge. An understanding of people elements in the lessons learned knowledge process requires further work as Duhon and Elias (2008) reports that failure of learning valuable lessons from projects can be connected to a number of cultural, social and cognitive factors (Bresnen et al. 2003; Fernie et al. 2003; Holste & Fields 2010).

What are your thoughts on Knowledge? Have I missed something?

The next post will focus on Knowledge Management.


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Is an Organisation’s knowledge system like a washing machine?

As I search the literature for Project Management Lessons Learned, I often find some interesting reading material. I came across the following transformational learning discussion (cited by Schieg (2009)) noting that although we desire for divergent and new organisation knowledge, in reality it is not likely to happen. Blackman and Henderson (2001) describes the analogy of a washing machine:

   ‘If the clothes are to be really clean (attainment of new knowledge) and not reflect previous dirt (experiences) then all the water must be drained out of the system before new water is put in. Even if only a little dirty water remains it will taint the entire rinse. The learning organisation routines discussed in this paper define residual dirt as clean, or at least acceptably so. However, if the system is closed it will never be possible to get really clean water and so real new knowledge will be unattainable. Some incremental development may occur but transformation seems very unlikely.’

Interesting material, let us know what you think.

Regards, Stephen

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PM Lessons Learned Study

To the PM and KM world, I am currently close to completing (June 2012) my Masters Project Management (research). I have a strong interest in PM Lessons Learned. Over the last 12 months I have enjoyed learning about the KM World.

My final project/thesis will be ‘Exploring factors that impact knowledge management dissemination of project management lessons learned’.

The focus of this study will be to understand why the majority of projects do not disseminate lessons learned to organisations. Knowledge and project management literature suggests that the lessons learned process in practice rarely happens and does not work well and fails to deliver the intended results. The study will address the significant factors that impact the dissemination of project management lessons between the project team and the organisation. The literature review will focus on the areas of: knowledge; knowledge management; knowledge conversion; learning; organisational learning; lessons learned practices; and culture. So far, the literature review suggests there is limited research on how knowledge management, learning and culture impacts project management and project temporary organisations.

A review of the literature highlights project management literature gaps around people, learning, technology and process. The people factor is the most likely to negatively influence the dissemination of lessons learned in organisations. A conceptual lessons learned model has been derived and based on a swiss cheese model where the variables people, learning, technology and process need to align and be effective to disseminate lessons learned.

By undertaking this study it is expected that a better understanding of the significant project technology, learning, process and people factors will be established. This will assist in the dissemination of the Project Management lessons learned practice being improved. The findings will also contribute to the project management literature and provide an opportunity to improve project knowledge sharing ensuring projects achieve success.

I would be interested to know some of your thoughts on the Project Management world around ‘lessons learned’?


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