by Ramiro Rodrigues
Years ago, I was invited to speak on project management trends to a group of entrepreneurs and businesspeople from small and medium-sized companies. When the subject of knowledge management in a project setting came up, I asked if people agreed that it was important for companies to retain the knowledge acquired for future projects. As expected, there was unanimous agreement.
I then asked people if they had already implemented some kind of system for lessons learned within their company. Only 15 percent of participants raised their hands.
This reflects a common corporate weakness.
Civil, architectural, marketing, research and development, and IT projects, among others, deliver products that rely on the intelligence and experience of those working on them. For these segments, the maintenance of this knowledge, or intellectual capital, offers a competitive advantage. After all, it’s this intellectual capital that allows the recurrence of new business transactions.
Imagine the case of a Brazilian construction company that has been awarded a contract for work in the Middle East. Geography, labor legislation and culture are complete unknowns for the company. The project is expected to experience a high number of challenges and errors. Even so, the project will be delivered. Now imagine that, years after the completion of that project, the same construction company is awarded another contract of similar size in a neighboring country in the region. Even though every project is unique, the knowledge acquired in the first project has immense financial value in helping avoid the same mistakes.
What we witness today is that the knowledgable worker is highly valuable. Imagine that, between the construction company's first and second project, its key leaders leave the company. If the organization has not implemented some kind of mechanism to retain the knowledge acquired during the first project, all the errors (and financial losses) that marked it are highly likely to be repeated in the second project.
And this, in some cases, can be fatal for the survival of the company.
This brings us to a corporate paradox. Most executives are likely to agree that it’s important to develop some kind of knowledge transfer structure. But at the same time, there is clear lethargy in freeing up resources to implement knowledge management systems for projects.
Not that it's simple — initiating any knowledge management process is inherently difficult. There is veiled resistance among workers to explain the knowledge acquired during projects. Either they don’t agree with its importance, find the process annoying or even fear it will make them less essential.
Leaders have to overcome this resistance. Neglecting the issue can put them at risk of being exposed to market volatility.
What challenges have you encountered with knowledge management? How do you make it work within your organization?