Calling on Project Managers to Share Success Stories

The following is a great Lessons Learned post by Linky van der Merwe (Sr Project Manager at Microsoft Consulting Services) and founder of Virtual Project Consulting.

Calling on Project Managers to Share Success Stories in: Project Management
Lessons Learned but Knowledge Lost!
This was the title of an editorial that was published by David Pells in PM World Today in 2011. It was about the loss of experience and knowledge that was occurring as project managers retired.  While this is particularly pertinent in South Africa where skills shortage is considered an acute concern, it is clear that this is a global phenomenon.

The reality is that in spite of all the technology that is available to us today, we have not yet found a presentation format that captures the essence of this wisdom in a way that is relevant to future usage, readily searchable and easy to store.  It needs to be shared with present and future generations in a format that’s interesting and easy to use.  This highlights the significance of project management, knowledge management and the lessons learned process.

Lessons Learned Discussion
Recently there has been a lively discussion about Project Lessons Learned on the Association of Project Management (APM) blog.  A few key take-aways are shared here in order to understand how various individuals and companies have dealt with this requirement.

Some organisations have a more proactive approach and would gather in PM forum meetings specifically to share lessons learned from all projects from the whole PM team. This heightens awareness of problems, lets you see where the same thing is a happening and find solutions to prevent them from happening again.  It also allows you to highlight the good things and not just focus on the problems.

The documenting of lessons learned on most projects is not particularly good.  In many cases it isn’t done at all.  Where it is undertaken (often only because it is mandated by corporate procedures) it is all too often seen as a tick in the box exercise.  At least it sometimes is done.  What almost never happens is a review of relevant lessons reports by new projects.

Some individuals create a Lessons Log during Project Start-up and record anything that could help to create a best practice for my projects.  The Lessons Log is reviewed regularly along with the RAIDs (Risks, Assumptions, Issues and Dependencies) management documents at Checkpoint Meetings and Gate Reviews.  This really makes a difference when populating the Lessons Log and makes the job of writing the lessons into the End-of-Project Report so much easier.  (Colin Hewson, APM blog)

Lessons Learned a Contributor to Success
An interesting finding was published by Cranfield University School of Management. They conducted research to find out what helps projects to succeed or contributes to failure.  They have found that the biggest differentiating factor between organisations that generally succeed with their projects and those that don’t is “the willingness to publish and distribute lessons learnt”.

Therefore it’s not enough to close out the project and to create a Lessons Learned report – the reports have to be made available to others in a way that makes them want to read and apply. The key capability here is communication and some best practices could be:

organising the critical information in a way that makes it appear relevant and easy to understand,
making the different stakeholder groups aware that the information is available,
ensuring that stakeholder know where to find it,
arrange things so that they can quickly turn the information presented into useful actions.

Unfortunately, most lessons learned, although captured, are not being communicated out, and key learnings mostly remain with the individuals involved.  Also, for major complex projects, what you can actually capture in a report is only a small percentage.  The only way real learning gets shared is through conversation.

Certainly access to historical information in the form of validated lessons learned will be a valuable way of helping people who want to deliver successful projects. The challenge is developing a way to make the information accessible.

Case Study: London 2012 Olympics
An excellent example of capturing lessons learned, disseminating it and applying it immediately is the Learning Legacy Project of the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) who was responsible for the London 2012 Summer Olympics. The Learning Legacy Project was developed to share the knowledge and lessons learned from the London 2012 construction project for the benefit of industry projects and programmes in the future, for academia and the government.

Reports and related information from the Learning Legacy have been categorised into ten themes on this website. Each theme contains short reports, tools and templates, case studies and research summaries that document how this area of work was approached and the lessons that have been learned and the successes that could benefit others.

Another recommended resource would be the PM Lessons Learned blog from Stephen Duffield. He has completed his Masters in Project Management with the thesis theme: “Exploring factors that impact knowledge management dissemination of project management lessons learned”
His study focused on the significant factors that impact the dissemination of project management lessons between the project team and the organisation. The literature review focused on the areas of: knowledge; knowledge management; knowledge conversion; learning; organisational learning; lessons learned practices; and culture. His hope is to enhance the understanding of project technology, learning, process and people factors that will assist in the dissemination of the Project Management lessons learned practice being improved.

Learn Your Lessons

In conclusion, here are a few suggestions to ensure that we learn our lessons from past projects and that the knowledge is transferred across to future projects.

  • Create a plan for recording lessons learned at the end of each project life cycle phase.  This can be done in the form of formal team meetings, to simply requesting that people post to a discussion board, wiki, or some other form of media. Reference: “Learn your lessons” blog, Projects at Work by John D’Entremont.
  • If an ongoing process of capturing lessons learned cannot be followed, consider conducting a closing review once your project is complete. A post-project review can serve two important purposes.  It obviously aids in the collection of project historical data that can be shared, but it can also be a means of validating the work that your project team accomplished. The acknowledgement of work being done well provides good closure to the team members and a sense of achievement.
  • A more Agile principle is recommended by Anthony Mersino, founder of The Agile PMO, for teams to reflect at regular intervals, on how to become more effective, then to tune and adjust their behaviour accordingly.  The teams need to be communicating and collaborating on what works well, what doesn’t work so well, and then use that to make change. It is discussed, debated even, and it becomes part of the teams shared journey and collective memory.  The advantage of this approach is that you can immediately incorporate what you learned.

The PMO’s role in Lessons Learned is to make sure the teams are conducting retrospectives on a frequent and regular basis and incorporating the lessons learned into their planning.

Success Stories Shared Framework
As you can see from the Lessons Learned debate and the Learning Legacy project, this is a challenge that our current generation of project managers need to face and solve. In an attempt to capture the wisdom and transfer the knowledge to future projects, a framework is proposed. This is to collect Success Stories from experienced project/programme managers in order to share experiences and to promote learning across the project and programme management community of South Africa and abroad.

Would you like to become involved with the Success Stories Shared initiative? Please visit the Success Stories Shared page and send me an email should you wish to participate and to make a contribution in leaving a legacy to future projects and generations.

About the Author: Linky van der Merwe is a Sr Project Manager at Microsoft Consulting Services. She is also the Founder of Virtual Project Consulting, a project management blog where aspiring and existing project managers find project management resources relating to training, software, products and services, as well as practical advice on project management processes, templates and tools based on best practices.

………..Is it working, do PMs share their stories?

file ll here


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PM Lessons Learned is broken

A recent report from the Victorian Ombudsman (Brouwer 2011), finds that despite all the research, previous Ombudsman and Auditor-General reports, ‘…there are few signs that any lessons have been learnt in the public sector. A new and more disciplined approach is required if the government is to avoid being faced with continuing cost overruns and failures to deliver.’ The report highlights the difficulties and inconsistencies in ICT procurement with the Victorian Government Solicitor’s Office stating ‘…Government agencies tend to operate independently and there is difficulty in capturing and implementing learnings from ICT projects.’ What we see here is not un-common across the public and private sectors; it is just that the reporting of the public sector problems is open to the public via government reports.

Source: Mike Licht, reports.

The Project Management Institute (2008) Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) guide identifies the importance in collecting and documenting lessons learned, and implementing process improvements. The PMBOK knowledge areas reference the lessons learned process. However in practice it rarely happens and does not work well (Atkinson, Crawford & Ward 2006; Keegan & Turner 2001; Kerzner 2009; Milton 2010; Schindler & Eppler. 2003; Williams 2008; Wysocki 2004, 2009).

Milton (2010) has found that 80 per cent of 74 organisations that attempt lessons learned, 60 per cent are dissatisfied. Williams (2007) found that 62.4 per cent of 522 project practitioner responses had a process for learning lessons and of those only 11.7 per cent followed the process.

The project management PM World Today recently posted an editorial on Lessons Learned but Knowledge Lost (Pells 2011). In response Wideman (2011, p.1) a recognised project management global expert stated: ‘…in spite of all the technology that is available to us today, we have not yet found a presentation format that captures the essence of this wisdom in a way that is relevant to future usage, readily searchable and easy to store. …we have a serious cultural problem. …we are probably condemned to continue to throw away the valuable resources.’ This open discussion again highlights the significance of project management, knowledge management and the lessons learned process and the impact that technology, learning, process and people factors have on the problem.

So is the PM Lessons Learned process broken?

For another understanding of what is broken, you may enjoy the Seth Godin talk on ‘This is broken’

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PMLLblog summary of Lessons Learned Practices

O’Dell (2011, p. 68) states that the KM solution ‘…is to provide approaches to aid collective memory and capture lessons, experiences, and practices.’ The lessons learned practice is also commonly known as; after action reviews, project milestone reviews, post-mortems, event project debriefs, project close-out and community of practice events (Busby 1999; O’Dell & Hubert 2011; Schindler & Eppler. 2003). The lessons learned practice is called out in various project management guides, standards, methodologies and maturity models. Lindner and Wald (2010) note a gap in project management practice as there is a need for more research in understanding the role knowledge management lessons learned has with project management methodologies.

Reich and Wee (2006) report an extensive review of how knowledge management practices are embedded within the 3rd edition PMBOK Guide (Project Management Institute 2004). Table 1 highlights the changes over the last 14 years of how the term lessons learned has been referenced and used with all versions (up to 4th edition) of the PMBOK Guide. Reich and Wee suggest that the PMBOK Guide is an explicit knowledge document with a focus on creating and using explicit knowledge. The PMBOK guide is process focused on what and how to do it. There is no focus on the why to do a process. Reich and Wee also provide alignment of the PMBOK Guide with the SECI model and note that there is strong emphasis on externalisation and combination elements. Reich and Wee (2006, p. 24) recommend that the PMBOK Guide should be ‘…transformed into a true knowledge guide – both imparting and recognizing the knowledge needed to complete projects successfully.’ The Project Management Institute’s OPM3 Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (Project Management Institute 2008b), references lessons learned however there is less guidance than what is provided in PMBOK Guide (Project Management Institute 2008a).

The Office of Government Commerce PRINCE2 OGC (2009, p. 12) project methodology encourages project teams to ‘…learn from previous experience: lessons are sought, recorded and acted upon throughout the life of the project’. PRINCE2 has a single process for recording lessons learned (lessons learned log) and reporting on them (lessons learned report).

The Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) (Chrissis, Konrad & Shrum 2003) model provides for best practice organisational process improvement. Process improvement proposals and process lessons learned are key work products and sub-processes. Midha (2005) discusses the benefits of CMMI and identifies the classic approach of collecting and translating key lessons into processes. Von Zedtwitz (2002) developed a capability model for post-project reviews based on the standard five-stage capability model.

Milton (2010) and O’Dell and Hubert (2011) both reported the importance of a governance system with visible senior management support and KM leadership. The lessons learned process and activities also need monitoring through the provision of metrics and reporting for the process to be successful (Latha, Suresh & Mahesh 2010; Milton 2010; O’Dell & Hubert 2011).

What are your thoughts on Lessons Learned practices?

Have I missed something?

The next post will focus on Lessons Learned models.


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PMLLblog summary of Lessons Learned Models

O’Dell and Hubert (2011, p.69) stated that the lessons learned approach typically focuses on a few key questions:
    ‘What was supposed to happen?
    What actually happened?
    Why was there a difference or variation?
    Who else needs to know this information?’
The major challenge is to then get employees to participate and reuse the captured knowledge (Milton 2010; O’Dell, Grayson & Essaides 1998; O’Dell & Hubert 2011).

Literature on the lessons learned process model provides many variations on essentially three process steps (Williams 2007). The three components for an effective lessons learned process model are; creating, dissemination/transferring and application. Creating/identifying the knowledge consists of observing, collecting, and understanding the facts and information. A key element of this phase is to document the findings and provide sufficient information regarding the situation, action taken, results observed and recommendations. The next phase provides for the dissemination of information through codification, verification, storage, sharing for easy access and transferring knowledge to organisational members, improvements to standard processes and procedures to reflect changes in identified best practices. The final element is where we adapt and use knowledge (Bresnen et al. 2003; Bresnen, Goussevskaia & Swan 2004; Cowles 2004; Liebowitz & Megbolugbe 2003; O’Dell & Grayson 1997; Schindler & Eppler. 2003; Williams 2008).

Literature on knowledge identification and creation mention several ways project temporary organisations or individuals reflect on their experiences. Common techniques are: lessons learned sessions; after action reviews; project debriefings; close out meetings; post project appraisals/reviews; case study exercises; project reviews; project histories; project health checks; and project audits (Anbari, Carayannis & Voetsch 2008; Bakker et al. 2010; Busby 1999; Koners 2005; Maqsood, Walker & Finegan 2004; Reich, Gemino & Sauer 2008; Schindler & Eppler. 2003; Von Zedtwitz 2002; Williams 2007). Each method has many different features and characteristics however they all essentially capture-disseminate-apply knowledge.

Literature on knowledge disseminating and transfer often refers to codification, verification, storing, searching, retrieving, knowledge sharing and training (Boh, Wai Fong 2007; Cowles 2004; Firestone & McElroy 2003; O’Dell, Grayson & Essaides 1998; O’Dell & Hubert 2011; Schindler & Eppler. 2003; Williams 2007). Schindler and Eppler (2003) reports that if projects do not frequently disseminate their experiences, the project knowledge could be forgotten by the end of the project. The literature provides many technology ways of storing and recording the knowledge, the key is to identify what works for an organisation and constantly monitor, update and keep it current and relevant (Williams 2007, 2008). Technology is a critical element to knowledge dissemination. Quite often technology is blamed for failure in knowledge dissemination (Williams 2007). Most organisations maintain their lessons learned in house for competitive advantage, although some organisations make their lessons learned available to the public (Basili et al. 2002; Li 2001, 2002; Madden 1996; NASA 2011).

A number of methods are used during this phase to disseminate knowledge. Two methods of interest in literature are 1) process methods and 2) social based methods. Process based methodologies are those lessons learned where the knowledge is reflected in an organisations policies, processes and procedures. If projects follow the process then the chance of mistakes being repeated should be minimised (Keegan & Turner 2001; Midha 2005; O’Dell & Grayson 1997; O’Dell, Grayson & Essaides 1998; Schindler & Eppler. 2003; Williams 2007). Social based methodologies are those lessons learned that are not easy to break up and transfer knowledge from one person to another (Bresnen et al. 2003; Fernie et al. 2003). Fernie et al. (2003) argue that knowledge sharing is best performed through the communication of individuals. Two social-based processes are networking and mentoring (Bresnen et al. 2003; Huang & Newell 2003). A critical component of success for social methods is to ensure that an organisation’s culture and environment provide the support (Hoegl, Parboteeah & Munson. 2003).

Knowledge dissemination is an important step in the process, and the work of Dixon (2000) helps to understand different strategies when dealing with the transfer of tacit or explicit knowledge. Dixon identifies five types of knowledge dissemination strategies: Serial Transfer, Near Transfer, Far Transfer, Strategic Transfer and Expert Transfer (Dixon 2000; O’Dell et al. 2004).

Literature reviews on knowledge application and use often states that a significant effort, commitment, understanding of people behaviour is required for both the organisation and individuals, as this is the area where the process typically breaks down and fails (Duhon & Elias 2008; Keegan & Turner 2001; Williams 2007, 2008).

What are your thoughts on Lessons Learned models?

Have I missed something?

The next post will focus on culture around Lessons Learned.


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PMLLblog summary of Learning and Organisational Learning

This post will focus on the learning component of the lessons learned process. Maqsood (2006), Maqsood et al. (2004) and Duhon and Elias (2008) all highlight the need to understand cognitive psychology when examining the effectiveness of tacit knowledge in the learning process. Maqsood discusses how the human information processing occurs and the need to understand: ‘perception and recognition’; cognitive styles (Van Gigch 1991); heuristics and biases in judgement (Baron 1998; Best 1989); functional fixedness and mental set (Baron 1998); and mental models (Best 1989; Johnson-Laird 1983a). Maqsood further reports that every person has a distinctive learning technique and learning depends on an individual’s capability to effectively acquire and use in a timely manner. Maqsood et al. suggests that when capturing tacit knowledge it is important to ensure that it is not under any bias and is understood in the right context, as incomplete knowledge should be avoided.

Duhon and Elias (2008, p. 1) describe learning as ‘…any increase in knowledge or skills that enables the learner to be more effective’ in achieving their objectives. When faced with a problem, an individual should: collect and evaluate data, assess the situation; develop objectives and identify alternatives; evaluate alternatives, select the most appropriate; and then take action to implement. Learning will be impaired if there is a failure at any of these steps. Duhon and Elias developed a decision process model to understand the learning limits and describe how the fields of psychology, decision theory and sociology are important in understanding why learning is difficult. Duhon and Elias describe the influence of: heuristics and biases (psychology); sense making; team psychology and sociology; naturalistic decision making;

Source: Duhon and Elias (2008), (Argyris 1999)

and action science (theory of action) based on Argyris (1999) model I and II. Duhon and Elias summarises that learning on projects is difficult considering that most projects are complex undertakings (Von Zedtwitz 2002). Duhon and Elias note that project team members develop different views as to the learning’s and when they commence the next project their memories will fade.

Project teams often know they are in trouble however they take no or limited action to correct mistakes, as admitting faults may cause embarrassment (model I) (Von Zedtwitz 2002). Typically project reviews often don’t have an impact as the team becomes defensive and argues against problems rather than implement recommendations (Duhon & Elias 2008; Von Zedtwitz 2002). Duhon and Elias report that the same face-saving, defensive post-mortem attitude weakens the lessons learned process and hides the real problems of the project. When a problem is recognised they are biased to learning the least-threatening lessons (model I, single loop learning). Duhon and Elias (2008, p. 5) state ‘The more important a lesson is, the more difficult it is to learn’. They re-iterate that most of what we learn is unactionable and that many project problems are caused by model I behaviour (Duhon & Elias 2008; Von Zedtwitz 2002). Model II behaviour is seen as difficult to achieve as project team members are typically not open and trusting in difficult situations. Industry as a whole should be learning from others mistakes, however this is countered by in-group favouritism (Duhon & Elias 2008). If we view others as substandard to us, we then don’t believe we can learn from them. Another issue is that it is often hard to get relevant information on what went wrong. Duhon and Elias conclude that the current project management culture environment highlights that there is a need to examine if the aviation safety practice of just culture would have a positive impact on project teams learning.

Reflection learning has also been recognised as playing a key part in project learning (Julian 2008; Nonaka & Takeuchi 1995; Raelin 2001; Smith 2001; Williams 2007, 2008) and can also be viewed as double loop leaning (Argyris 1994). Senge (1990) presents the need for reflection reviews and states that unless those lessons change working practices no organisational learning has taken place (Atkinson, Crawford & Ward 2006).

The review of learning literature re-enforces that people factors influence the success of the lessons learned process and that a learning organisation culture is critical to successful dissemination of lessons learned (Fernie et al. 2003; Sense 2007). The shift from the individual to the organisation is not straightforward. The work of Senge (1990) motivated companies to become learning organisations. The other particularly influential author was Nonaka (1991, 2007) and Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995). Nonaka (1991) described how Japanese companies working in innovation created knowledge-creating companies. Simon (1991, p. 125) states that: ‘All learning takes places inside individual human heads; an organization learns in only two ways: (a) by the learning of its members, or (b) by ingesting new members who have knowledge the organization didn’t previously have. …What an individual learns in an organization is very much dependent on what is already known to (or believed by) other members of the organization and what kinds of information are present in the organizational environment. …Individual learning in organizations is very much a social, not a solitary, phenomenon.’ Simon further reports that cognitive psychology concepts used for human learning can and should be applied to organisational learning research.

Strang (2003) discusses the difficulties and provides a valuable insight into organisational learning theory. Strang recommends further research around organisational psychology factors that may explain why organisational learning methods are not applied even though the belief is that these practices would improve organisational project performance but rarely applied in practice.

Garvin (1993) discusses five main activities to becoming a learning organisation: 1) Systematic problem solving (based on quality plan, do, check, act cycle.); 2) Experimentation (use of demonstration projects.); 3) Learning from what went before (companies need to review both failures and success and document the lessons learned, unfortunately most fail to learn and allow knowledge to leave. Garvin sights the Boeing example of learning from the difficulties of different production lines.); 4) Learning from others (benchmarking and applying best practice), 5) Transferring knowledge (knowledge needs to spread rapidly and efficiently).

There are two themes that constantly surface from the literature as important; people culture and organisational structure. Duhon and Elias (2008) argue that an organisation knows something if just one person knows it and that the organisation culture and structure enables that knowledge event to be used effectively on an organisational issue. Duhon and Elias (2008, p. 5) define organisational learning ‘…as an increase in the knowledge or skills of individual members of the organization or a change in the structure, processes, or culture of the organization that enables the organization to be more effective at planning and implementing actions that achieve the organization’s objectives.’ They reference actions such as; individual learning; storage of knowledge that makes it available to others – checklists and work processes; organisational changes that re-focuses knowledge; culture changes to open and act on problems; and relationship building that enables skills and knowledge to deal with organisational problems.

Duhon and Elias (2008) state that people learn by processing information using the human central nervous system. An organisation does not have a central nervous system, so they need to create a structure to enable their personnel to learn (collect and analyse, transfer/disseminate and apply) as a group. Duhon and Elias find that individual learning is a cognitive (psychological) process and for an organisation the learning process is social. Duhon and Elias suggest that organisations collect and disseminate knowledge using organisational learning mechanisms (OLM)s (Lipshitz, Popper & Friedman 2007). Examples of OLMs are: lessons learned studies; after action reviews, communities of practice; work processes; procedures; standards; mentoring; team-building exercises; classroom training.

Individual learning is held back by many people factors and these same factors can affect organisational learning and in some cases there are significant increase effects. Culture continues to have a significant impact in organisational learning and usefulness of learning mechanisms (Duhon & Elias 2008).

What are your thoughts on Learning and Organisational Learning?

Have I missed something?

The next post will focus on Lessons Learned Practices.


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PMLLblog summary of Knowledge Conversion

A key element of KM is the knowledge conversion process. Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) developed four modes of knowledge conversion based on cognitive psychology known as the SECI model (socialization – tacit to tacit / externalization – tacit to explicit / combination – explicit to explicit / internalization – explicit to tacit). They also state that the knowledge transformation is interactive and spiral based. They further note that an organisations knowledge is produced in a active and continuous interaction between explicit and tacit knowledge. When consideration is given to the enabling conditions of the four modes of knowledge, Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) derived an integrated five phase model of an organisational knowledge conversion process. The difficulty of transferring tacit to explicit knowledge on projects is frequently discussed and most authors refer to the importance of externalisation mode of the SECI model (Bresnen et al. 2003; Fernie et al. 2003; Holste & Fields 2010; Keen & Tan 2007; Nonaka 2007; Nousala, Hall & John 2007; Reich & Wee 2006).

Firestone and McElroy (2003) indicate that the SECI model (Nonaka & Takeuchi 1995) may be incomplete. The oversight is that the SECI model neglects to consider ‘implicit’ knowledge. Firestone and McElroy (2003) maintain that tacit knowledge is inexpressible and there can be no conversion from tacit to explicit, whereas implicit knowledge can be converted to explicit. Keen and Tan (2007, p. 4) refer to implicit knowledge as ‘…what we take for granted, rarely think about and are surprised to find that others do not share’. Srikantaiah et al. (2010, p. ix) refers to implicit knowledge as ‘…knowledge that is not captured in documentary form but in practice could be’. Polanyi (1958) makes reference to implicit knowledge so it is interesting to note that Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) made no provision for implicit knowledge. Wilson (2002), Keen and Tan (2007) and Srikantaiah et al. (2010) propose to include implicit knowledge as the link between explicit and tacit knowledge. Additionally, Day (2005) states that implicit and tacit knowledge are often synonymous terms and he attempts to clear up the implications for KM. The challenge with knowledge conversion and the lessons learned process is the ability to capture and transfer/disseminate the tacit/implicit knowledge subject as the KM project management process is primarily explicit in nature.

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

The next post will focus on Learning and Organisational Learning.


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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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