Last updated: 2022-03-20
Conscious knowledge management is a main factor that supports
organizational learning. We want the organization, e.g. our company that
supports our projects and ourselves, to continuously improve. Here we
focus on aspects that are relevant for project management. Our
organization shall be a learning organization in a sense that it - as a
whole - improves its abilities to support the management of projects.
"Learning organizations are organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together."
"Organizations learn only through individuals who learn. Individual learning does not guarantee organizational learning. But without it no organizational learning occurs."
Both quotes are taken from Peter M. Senge: The Fifth Discipline. The art and practice of the learning organization, London: Random House (1990).
Lessons learned by the organization are based on lessons learned
by the people who belong to that organization. Since people carry the
learning it is vital to communicate what is learned. That counts as well
for all lessons we learn from our work on projects.
Consequently, we define knowledge of an organization
as the knowledge carried by the people working for that organization,
together with processes that coordinate and combine knowledge of
individuals in favor of the overall outcome of the organization.
To a large extent, communication of our lessons learned takes
place on a direct, face-to-face basis. A learning organization enables
this by creating an environment where people can meet personally, work
together, talk to each other openly, discuss their problems, and create
new ideas of solutions. Where ever possible, this calls for collocated
project teams; if we have to work in virtual teams then we should create
occasional opportunities to meet personally, at least for the major
Beyond these informal opportunities for exchanging information,
knowledge, best practices, and worst practices, we need a more
formalized process in order to benefit as an organization.
Knowledge Management Process
On a generic level, this knowledge management process could look as follows.
This knowledge management process is recursive, it never ends. Our picture explains it in its most generic form, thus giving us a holistic or systemic view. From this perspective, knowledge management does not require any specific IT solution, although we will show below that IT support is helpful.
Knowledge Management Process
We acquire initial knowledge in different forms:
- Through basic education: we acquire knowledge in school, college, or an apprenticeship.
- Through further training: our organization offers us participation in
seminars on technical or management subjects, in terms of hard and soft
After acquiring knowledge, we usually apply it,
individually and in team work. Here, we focus on application of
knowledge that takes place in our working environment by following
predefined processes, e.g. project management processes. In this step,
we implicitly obtain a lot of experience through learning by doing. It
is essential that we document what we plan, what works, what does not
work, and how we solve problems.
From application of knowledge, we gain lessons learned and best practices which we naturally share
in teams with our colleagues and friends. That includes detected errors
and mistakes we made, as well as their solutions. Let us point out that
this represents a fundamental shift of paradigm in our organizational
culture: the organization does not emphasize avoidance of errors and
mistakes (as long as they are not repeated), but rather encourages
detection of errors and mistakes in order to obtain solutions.
Project Management Training
The project management training system of the organization is
fundamental. Most new employees or members use it as their main, if not
only, opportunity in order to acquire necessary skill levels in the
beginning and further development of their career.
Best Practice Sharing
A lot of best practice sharing will take place in informal ways: members
of different project teams meet to have a cup of coffee or tea (smoking
cigarettes is not too popular anymore), go for lunch or dinner
together, chat about their work, and thus, share experience. As a
learning organization, we would structure and organize best practice
sharing. In terms of project management, the most important tools are
lessons learned workshops, e.g. for effort estimation, risk analysis, contract management, to name just a few.
Some of that best practice sharing, we can support by securing knowledge
gained by project managers and team members. This knowledge comprises
experience what works and experience what does not work, what we should
not do again. In order to secure this kind of knowledge we need an
IT-based project management information system
that supports project management processes, and is supported by project
managers and their teams. It requires that we document planned work,
actual work, desired results, actual results, deviations, problems, and
solutions (cf. the sub-section Project Records).