The Knowledge Management Paradox

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Categories: Best Practices, Lessons Learned, Lessons Learned, PMOs

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?

Posted by Ramiro Rodrigues on: March 27, 2018 09:02 AM | Permalink

Comments (9)

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I remember KM was all the rage around the turn of the century. If anything, it seems to have subsided which is a real shame. Yes there are more systems creating information, and people are getting more knowledgeable, but this is a different thing to having effective KM initiatives within the organization.

Good Post Ramiro.

Knowledge MGT can be a wealth of knowledge if used and maintained properly. Maintaining the KM system is the most important part to ensure the info is up to date in every way.

I remember by previous employer had a full department for KM.

Knowledge Management is a practice to be instilled within an organization. KM is not a thing or simply encompassed by knowledge transfer activities. For true KM to be successful, a dedicated group is needed to establish the 'mechanism' and processes to integrate KM practices across the organization.

The challenge is garnering the necessary understanding of such and the buy-in required.

It is a challenge how to convince old school people to document KM and transfer it.


I have also seen instances where KM repositories existed, but were not really leveraged during Project planning - they were simply being updated at the end of the project as part of Lessons learnt exercise, primarily to complete a quality gate.

I believe this is an even worse problem than the absence of a KM strategy - just imagine the sheer criminal waste of man-hours of key personnel in developing the right Lessons learnt & its documentation, only to be never reused.

I have been told that one should focus on the essence of quality, and not simply on evidences to support process adoption. I am a big believer of this approach.

In-order to progress projects for long period without hitches KM is important. Many companies does not take KM seriously until they end up in a situation where they could not deliver something as before. This also adds pressure to the executives who newly joined the project team. KM repositories are valuable source. Very good post, thanks for sharing.

KM is a big subject. I think the practical way is to have someone assigned to collect and post lessons learned on the KM computer-based system at regular point in time (e.g. after Sprint Retrospective in Agile) or in the closing phase.

This is a very important aspect of project management and although there might be push backs from team with regard to keeping KM repositories updated it is worth implementing considering the greater benefit for the organization. Thanks for sharing.

It becomes an even bigger challenge when you want to integrate project management KM (i.e. Lessons Learned) with a wider KM framework (e.g. the operating experience in the nuclear industry)...

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