Project Management and Knowledge Management, Part 1: Collaboration as a Knowledge Management Activity

by Claudio Branch
photo by Claudio Branch

When Loyal first asked me to guest post on this blog, I said sure without thinking about it too much, I knew that Project Management and Knowledge Management went together, that’s what I do after-all as part of any project I do. Then I thought how am I going to explain it and make it interesting so that people will actually read to the end? I thought about this much harder and in the next 2 posts you’ll get my thoughts on the intersection of Knowledge Management and Project Management.

First though, a definition on Knowledge Management, I broadly define Knowledge Management as connecting people to the knowledge they need to do their jobs. This knowledge can be tacit or explicit (not written down or written down), so you might imagine that there are lots of tools in the toolbox, activities like mentoring programs, and Communities of Practice, to document management, and social networking, to name a few.

I won’t debate whether you can manage knowledge; we have been having that debate on my blog for the last few weeks, so I will leave that discussion there.

The first area of intersection between Knowledge Management and Project Management that I thought of was collaboration. Collaboration is not a new idea, or activity, but it is a knowledge sharing activity, so I thought it fit well in the intersection. What has changed about collaboration in the last 10-15 years is the part technology plays. As a project manager I want to know the about the tasks my team is working on, I also want them to know about what I am working on, e.g. the status of issues I’m trying to resolve, and upcoming deadlines. It used to be that project teams were primarily collocated and so knew what was going on because they saw each other every day, now teams are virtual, working in different regions and countries and time zones and languages, so collaboration and how best to share knowledge has to be thought about a little more.

Teams can have regular meetings, but time zones can impact that day-to-day knowledge sharing that used to happen because everyone was in the same place. Technology can help replace that: collaboration technology that includes task lists, email, document and content management, teleconferences, instant messaging can all help.

The question then becomes which methods to use and how to organize it. This is where some Knowledge and Information Management thinking come into play. As a project manager I need to talk to my team about how we want to work—understand their connectivity, and their location, as well as determining a common language/dictionary. If I’m working on a cross-functional, cross-regional team it is quite likely that each member will have a slightly different understanding of terms and processes so creating a common language and understanding becomes key, this will evolve as the project progresses so it is important to be vigilant about identifying disconnects throughout the life of the project and not to let them side-track the project progress. For example, if team members are disagreeing about how to do something it is quite likely that they have a different understanding of whatever the point of contention is, as a project manager I have to identify that and work to resolve the misunderstanding. I once worked with a manager who repeatedly told me that there was no data migration for a portal project we were working on and got quite angry when I tried to understand why, it took me two months to get through her anger and help her understand that in a portal project data is documents and other pieces of unstructured data, not debits and credits like the financial systems she was used to dealing with.

Project Managers lead many of the behaviours of the team, so if I use the technologies and processes that I’ve put in place there is a higher likelihood that the team members will too. I once worked with a team on a project, there were team members around the globe and we were good about using the technology and keeping each other up-to-date, at one point my manager put me on another project and replaced me with another project manager. The new project manager didn’t like technology and didn’t use it. The team stopped using the technology and the project failed.

I think that’s enough about collaboration and the intersection of KM and PM for now, next time: After-action reviews.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top