Knowledge management practices in IT projects

an exploratory assessment of the state of affairs in the Caribbean

School of Computing & Information Technology,

University of Technology, Jamaica

Abstract

This research examines the current knowledge management practices in information technology (IT) projects using three organizations. With mounting pressures to yield more successful IT projects, there is an essential need to build supportive infrastructure to effectively secure and manage the project expertise. Further, more empirical support is needed to aid research in providing more suitable solutions for the growing challenges faced in meeting strategic objectives. Effective management of project knowledge is one strategy that can be used to improve project and organizational competencies and thereby increase the occurrences of success among IT projects through better learning. Against this background, this research examines the practices in several organizations based in the Caribbean to better understand their experiences and share some of the current practices and key lessons learnt that can influence other projects and organizations, and motivate continued research in this domain.

1. Introduction

With growing demands on IT projects, their success is largely dependent on their ability to effectively marshal and manage its knowledge. The management of knowledge has been shown to influence value creation and as such is a key strategic asset (Alavi & Leidner, 2001). Additionally, projects have been shown to encompass considerable knowledge processing (Turner & Muller, 2003) and are therefore a requisite for success (Reich, 2007). However, despite this promise organizations have had several challenges in effectively managing this asset to achieve success, for the projects and organizations. Kasvi et al., (2003) noted that the management of knowledge in project organizations is underdeveloped. Notably, knowledge management (KM) within projects is often suboptimal because knowledge is created in one project and then subsequently misplaced (Love, 2005) or the capture and re-use of learning from projects tend to go no further than capture despite the fact that it is generally accepted that it should be done (Atkinson et al., 2006). Additionally, project information is rarely captured, retained, or indexed (Weiser & Morrison, 1998) and project techniques for learning from experience (e.g. lessons learnt) are not effectively utilized (Atkinson et al., 2006). This ineffectiveness may be explained in part by the complexity of the tasks involved or the transient nature of the project team (Burns & Stalker, 1961). Whatever the cause there seem to be a “knowledge crisis” as these projects do not adequately learn from past and is apparent in the continued perception of failure that has clouded IT projects (Agarwal & Rahtod, 2006; KPMG, 2005). As a consequence, solutions and explanations are urgently needed to help redress the insufficiency of current knowledge management efforts in projects.

In response to the current shortcomings, researchers have provided different approaches or solutions to improve the management of knowledge in projects. These can be categorized into various models, knowledge management systems (KMS) and theoretical or conceptual prescriptions. For example, Kasvi et al., (2003) proposed a Project Learning Model (PLM) that relies on iterative process of project workshops that systematically update the contents of two project documents (the project plan and the team contract). A conceptual framework for managing knowledge and learning was also proposed, which includes principles that relate to climate for learning, knowledge channels, levels and risks, and team memory (Reich 2007). Additionally empirical examinations in different contexts were revealed, and included the examination of social practices in managing knowledge in construction projects (Bresnen, et al., 2003), and the assessment of process knowledge in a hospital (Newell, et al., 2002). However, despite this important work, continued research efforts, in detailed examination of the actual experiences of organizations projects, are required if we are to bridge the need for specific prescriptions or methodologies that can impact the success of IT projects.

Against this background our research objectives are two-fold: (1) to examine the views of research that posits that there is insufficient emphasis on harnessing project knowledge, within a defined context and, (2) to better understand the experiences of organizations managing knowledge across multiple IT projects. This approach will allow us to uncover insights that may help other organizations and projects to better manage their project knowledge. We argue that through empirical investigations on current practices researchers can be informed and better equipped to offer suitable prescriptions to practitioners. We adopted a qualitative case study approach to examine the experiences of three organizations in different sectors namely, government, consulting, and financial services. The research shows that while there are indeed challenges, the organizations are on a path to address current known weaknesses. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that the outlook within this environment may not be as dim as research suggests. The remaining sections of the paper are organized as follows: the background to the research highlights the theoretical foundations to project knowledge management; the basis for the research methodology is made and research findings are discussed; some lessons from our investigations are summarized; and concluding remarks, including limitations of our research and proposed research directions, are made.

2. Research Background

Knowledge is new or modified insight or predictive understanding (Kock & McQueen, 1998). Within the project context, this may be new or modified approaches to performing specific project tasks, management of the project, or evaluation methods. Therefore with learning from the past, challenges in the execution of a project can be foreseen and overcome, or a particular methodology may be adopted by the organisation to manage its projects based on experiences. Knowledge can also be seen as relevant information for certain jobs, such as business information about customers, products, processes, and competitors (Alavi & Leidner, 2001), or organizational projects. Knowledge is usually classified into explicit and tacit knowledge (Nonaka, 1994). Explicit knowledge can be easily articulated, shared, and generalized knowledge; while tacit knowledge, in contrast, is more difficult to articulate and share, and encompasses experience and actions presented through metaphors, drawings, and various forms of expression that do not involve the formal use of language.

Few researchers have offered formal interpretations of project knowledge. However project knowledge can include explicit and tacit knowledge relating to new or modified insight from the execution or management of the organizational projects. It may be in the form of technical and nontechnical expertise knowledge. Conroy and Soltan (1998) described knowledge in projects as technical knowledge, project management knowledge, and project-related knowledge. Technical knowledge relates to the techniques, technologies, and work processes that are involved in specific disciplines within the project. Project management knowledge encompasses the methods and procedures required for managing the implementation of projects while project-related knowledge considers knowledge about the customer and other people or entities that are of significance for the future business of the company.

Irrespective of how knowledge or knowledge in projects is viewed, management of the asset is essential. Effective knowledge management includes the creation and integration of knowledge, minimizes knowledge losses and fills knowledge gaps throughout the life of the project (Reich, 2007). Alternatively, within the context of the project, knowledge management can also be viewed within the traditional process of KM. These are knowledge creation, storage and retrieval, and transfer and application (Alavi & Leidner, 2001). Knowledge creation involves developing or revising knowledge content. Knowledge storage considers securing memory to facilitate future access and reduce the risk of memory or knowledge loss. The organization and storage of knowledge content becomes the organizational or project memory and resides in documents, databases, expert systems procedures, and procedures and tacit knowledge (Alavi & Leidner, 2001). Knowledge transfer and application occurs across individuals and groups, and is implicit in Nonaka's (1994) knowledge spiral model: internalization (conversion of explicit knowledge to tacit knowledge), externalization (conversion of tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge), socialization (conversion of tacit knowledge to tacit knowledge among individuals), and combination (conversion of explicit knowledge to explicit knowledge). To fully harness the knowledge that is present in each project, awareness of these knowledge cycles could facilitate a critical assessment of how the asset can be effectively managed and thereby improve learning and performance over time.

3. Research Methodology

The case study approach is adopted to achieve our research objectives. This entails the exploration of the experiences of managing knowledge across different IT projects in different organizational settings so as to assess the current state of practice and extend the discourse in this area. The case study is an empirical inquiry that studies a phenomenon within its real-life context (Yin, 2003). The case study approach is well-suited for our investigations based on several reasons. Case study method allows researchers to better understand the nature of the organizational processes (Darke et al., 2003) thereby providing understanding of knowledge practices across projects in these organizations. Further, it was necessary to directly examine what is happening in organizations to better understand their experiences, visions, barriers, and practices of KM in projects. This allowed us to observe nuances of organizational and project dynamics that may not have been accomplished using different approaches, such as surveys. Hence, our investigation was motivated by the opportunity to retain the meaningful and holistic characteristics of real-life events (Yin, 2003) of the day-to-day occurrences in managing projects' knowledge as well as the issues with preserving them.

The principles of case study research described by Yin (2003) were followed to enhance the rigor of our study. These include the use of multiple sources of evidence that converge on the same set of facts or findings. Different organizations were included, and key decision makers within the different organizations were interviewed and pertinent data examined to collect relevant research data. Notes were carefully taken, transcribed, and maintained separately from the final report. Additionally, the interviewees were asked to confirm that the information presented in the research was factual and representative of our discussions. Finally, the chain of evidence was preserved to support our research findings.

3.2 Case Study Background

Structured interviews with executives and project managers were used to gather data. Project knowledge repositories (e.g. planning documents, archived files) and organizational repositories (e.g. websites, annual reports) were also used to support the research. The organizations were chosen to help obtain a range of perspectives, trends, and challenges as it relates to harnessing project knowledge and preserving it for future use. These organizations were well-established institutions in the country: the financial company is a leading competitor, the government agency is a key contributor to national development, and the consulting firm is well-respected in the industry with reputable clients. The organizational types were chosen to provide insights into the practices in different organizational and project settings. In two of the organizations, specific departments were chosen to help establish point of views from different perspectives with similar mandates. The consulting firm was comparatively smaller and had a flat organization structure. Thus, our scope of study encompasses an enterprise project management office, an IT department, and business and project development area of a consulting firm (Table 2). Key decision makers within the organizations were interviewed to gain insights into their approaches to project knowledge management, challenges, areas of possible improvement, and so forth. Multiple rounds of interviews were conducted to gather data and obtain improved understanding of the organizations and its project practices. Each set of interviews lasted an average of one hour.

Table 1: Organization Demographics

Organizations/Industry Scope of study Interviews Profile of Projects
Banking and Financial services Enterprise project management office (EPMO) EPMO director, project manager Business development, system implementation
Government IT department (GITD) IT director, IT team member Software development, network engineering, IT services
IS Consulting Project office specializing in software and business development projects(ISC) Owner/director, consulting team member Software engineering, project management

4. Findings: Management of Knowledge in IT Projects

The organizations were initially asked to assess or provide a perspective on their current project KM practices. They all recognized the importance of harnessing this asset but have claimed limited success in their achievement of effectively managing knowledge across their projects. Participants appraised that:

“We do not have any defined strategy to manage or preserve knowledge,”

“We are not doing well but are looking to change that,” and

“We have recognized the importance of managing project knowledge and have begun to build our databank.”

4.1 Project Knowledge Management Strategies

Hansen et al., (1999) described personalization and codification as methods to effectively manage knowledge. Personalization refers to person-to-person knowledge transfer or sharing. Codification refers to writing or transferring knowledge into documents or electronic repositories. This can be applied in several ways such as an 80/20 mix (Hansen et al., 1999) or a flexible strategy mix that evolves over time (Scheepers et al., 2004). While the organizations studied do not have a formal strategy, they do utilize a combination strategies to manage knowledge across projects and project teams.

Our study has found that learning from experience, learning from others, and learning by doing are the main personalization strategies used by the organization to harness knowledge in, about, and from the projects. For example, the EPMO utilizes informal coaching sessions as “time does not permit otherwise” to facilitate sharing on the projects and the organizational dynamics. They also establish and maintain a collaborative environment where team members can ask each other for guidance whenever faced with an obstacle. Several instances of interactive sessions were observed among the team as it discussed issues relating to current approaches. Formal and informal project meetings are also common among the organizations. The ISC uses weekly meetings to share information about the current projects, business development, and learn about other subjects. The consulting executive explained that

“Each week someone presents a topic of interest to the team, such marketing, strategic management, and so forth”.

These sessions and interactions embolden the knowledge-sharing process among team members and strengthens their individual knowledge on diverse areas. Less experienced team members are often initiated by a “baptism by fire” approach, which is when they are placed directly into an ongoing project. Therefore there is a high reliance on the individuals’ previous expertise and acumen supported by the use of existing knowledge repositories (individuals and document-based) in-house.

The creation and maintenance of standardized documents and methodologies to aid project teams in the management of their projects are approaches used in codification of project knowledge. This can range from the development of working templates and checklists to the creation of standard procedures and methodologies that become repeatable processes, i.e., project and knowledge management competency and maturity levels. An examination of the cases shows templates that illustrate the know what of certain project activities, i.e. task related or catalogue knowledge present in documents such as project plans, work plans, schedules, and specialized activity templates (e.g. checklists and logs). An EPMO project manager described his/her intention to incorporate more learning tools to help during the management of project activities, particularly among less experienced team members:

“We hope to develop a checklist of things[know-how, know-what] to be done throughout the full project cycle, anything else [the] team members can ask.”

These templates and documents from previous projects have positively influenced project activities through improved estimation of project work and understanding of the scope of similar activities. An executive explained:

“With the use of our timesheets we are better able to estimate the hours required for clients’ projects. This in turn attributes to better [client perception of] service through meeting expectations.”

The organizations studied do not currently use any specialized KM tools, however common productivity tools including emails are being used as creation tools and storage repositories.

4.2 Patterns of (Re)use

While some studies have indicated the low incidence of reuse among projects (e.g., Atkinson et al., 2006; Kasvi et al., 2003), our investigation tells a different story in part. The use of knowledge embedded in project-deliverables templates and documents is relatively high. These are used to help in the preparation and execution of current projects, including assisting in estimation of project work, comprehending the scope or boundaries of particular activity, or more specifically enabling the project member to understand the know what of the particular task. Common-deliverables templates include project plans, schedules, and work plans. An executive explained that:

“Persons reuse what is relevant to them,” and “The types of documents become [more] relevant based on the reference guide status.”

There is also a risk that reuse of these documents will diminish over time as project members feel that they are sufficiently knowledgeable in a particular area. However with strict procedures/methodology for managing these projects, combined with the opportunity for these documents to evolve, this risk can be mitigated.

Conversely, there are project items that have lower reusability based on their indirect or long-term impact. That is, these documents are not required to execute or manage the project processes based on the practices of these organizations. For example, referring to information on lessons learnt from previous projects is not deemed necessary when compared to referring to the standard templates to prepare an implementation project plan. Also another explanation for low reuse is the internalization of the knowledge embedded in these documents, so whilemembers may not reuse the actual documents, they have gained project learning (from the document) and this knowledge is transferred or used in their other projects. A participant explained that he/she did not need to always reference to documents, such as lessons learnt, because the same set of persons have been involved in the project and have “lived the experience.

4.3 Use of Project Management (PM) Standards

There has been recent criticism on merely following explicit knowledge guides instead of emphasizing the development of competence (Morris et al., 2006). Despite this, reliance on guides, particularly A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), is growing in the Caribbean based on the increased number of individuals being certified in the discipline. Two of the three organizations affirm their use of Project Management Institute's (PMI) methodology for their projects. The organizations have also recognized the need to enhance their standards to support the PMBOK® Guide. For example, the members of the consulting organization expressed their current vision to improve their quality of service through the establishment of quality standards and improvement in staff competency. Consequently, they are in the first phase of developing International Organization for Standardization(ISO) quality standards for delivering projects to their clients. The EPMO has developed or refined the current standards to support the full-cycle management of their projects across the organizations. These were documented and communicated to the other business areas in the organization for adoption. One organization does not utilize any set PM standards and primarily relied on the experience of the team members.

4.4 Toward Safeguarding Project Knowledge

Safeguarding knowledge is an important process that can help prevent knowledge leakage or loss. The organizations have utilized several approaches to safeguard their explicit and tacit knowledge. Securing explicit knowledge was comparatively easier for the organizations as they store project knowledge in documents and electronic repositories. Three approaches that were evident in the organizational project experience and practices are classified: resource management process, legal safeguards, and storage and sharing methods.

Knowledge loss has been shown to severely hinder the execution of project activities. The organizations recounted several incidences of losses brought on primarily through employees exiting the organizations. The GITD IT director said, “Our IT personnel do not stay very long so when they leave they leave with their knowledge.” Similar experience is shared by the EPMO and ISC executives:

“We have loss a lot of our resources over the last couple years. Life does go on but generally not as smoothly or as effective.”, and “We have already loss two personnel within the last year and we have to start over with others.” Also, “After grooming and investing in the development of the people we have encountered difficulties in keeping them because they are lured away by other attractive opportunities.”

Thus, while there have been personnel replacements, the projects are sometimes faced with resource constraints and knowledge gaps that can delay their completion.

Unfortunately, there have also been losses through the theft of intellectual property that was not legally secured. For example, the director of the ISC recounted a recent experience where one of his/her software designers, who was the sole in-house expert on a development project, left the company. It was a large investment (capital outlay and time) and the project client expected to integrate the product into their core processes. The project was progressing within its targets as client needs were being met; however,

“He[key team member] left and took all the intellectual property knowledge with him.”

The project has since stalled as the ISC has decided not to pursue continued involvement in the project. Alternative avenues to satisfy the client are currently being pursued. With these types of project and organizational risks, careful consideration into methods to effectively secure project knowledge is critical. The organization have therefore adopted certain strategies based on their experiences including the reliance on trust or intuition in hiring decisions, particularly relating to contractors and legal safeguards to mitigate against negative economic impact. This is similar to Norman's (2004) view, which stated that with more trusted partners, firms may lose less knowledge.

4.4.1 Resource Management Process

This involves hiring the right people with the right expertise as well as the right business and project ethics. As highlighted above, having trusted project team members can mitigate against knowledge theft.

The consulting executive was asked how he prevents the incidences of loss of intellectual property, i.e., knowledge theft. He admitted that it will be difficult but he will rely on “trust and instincts” in employing persons in the future. Further,

“We have decided to do all our design work inhouse and farm out our programming, and over time develop a network of programmers. Additionally, we are seeking to segment the programming into sections [i.e., clusters of expertise].”

This is an effort to reduce intellectual property loss while maintaining better control over the development projects.

4.4.2 Legal Safeguards

Organizations have turned to legal safeguards to help provide protection of the intellectual assets. The ISCconsulting firm having learnt from his/her recent experience has instituted confidentiality agreements and business contracts for all its employees and contractors with clear ownership arrangements of intellectual assets. Within the larger organizations (EPMO and GITD), they rely on their standard centralized human resources (HR) processes that include employee contracts with regards to their departmental employees. The issue of ownership of intellectual assets or non-compete arrangements are not explicitly address by neither of these two organizations with respect to their full-time employees. In the event that outsourcing is required for projects, the EPMO in particular have similar measures as the ISC.

4.4.3 Knowledge storage and sharing methods

Electronic and manual file storage repositories are common methods used to archive project knowledge. The organizations have files that store copies of project documents. Electronic methods include emails and central repositories used for shared information on the project. For example, the ISC has set up a Web-based collaborative environment, which facilitates the management of project documents and discussions among team members for each project. The director observed that among the project team,

a lot comes out of the discussion, especially in relation to how to do things.” During a recent software testing phase, the in-house team and client's team were able to actively discuss events and issues of the projects using the application. Particularly useful was the development of an “issues log” that was created and communicated in a real-time environment so the project team was kept abreast of the issues that arose during the project and were able to resolve them early. This type of project environment facilitated a process to detect early warning signs for the project, encouraged communication among team and enhanced team learning.

Project team meetings occur more often within these organizations while learning events, such as coaching and mentoring, happen less frequent. Training also occurs, but this is usually for specialized skills not currently held by the project the team, such as technical training for a particular software, risk management or software testing. GITD uses another effective method to share project knowledge through practice test labs. The GITD sets up test labs to test new projects’ products before the roll-out to other areas in the organizations. During this time the team will evaluate the product and conduct beta testing for a specified period. There is active participation among the team members; they collaborate, share experiences, learn about the product and how to resolve issues through “learning by doing”. This, in turn, provides added confidence to the team during the roll-out to the enterprise. As highlighted previously, one of the main challenge to more structured sharing/learning sessions is the issue of insufficient time hence the risk of knowledge loss is high.

4.5 Projects' Lessons Learnt

Research have suggested that techniques for learning from experience, including lessons learnt, are not effectively utilized by project teams (Atkinson et al., 2006). In examining the organizations' current practices, the general consensus was that there are opportunities to better leverage the creation and use of project learning events such as lessons learnt. A project manager recounted a recent symposium, which highlighted that their current practices in managing lessons learnt may be insufficient. “We do develop lessons learnt and we try to draw from it for other projects. We make a note of what went wrong in the project and how we can correct it. However we now realize that we have not been putting any plans in place to correct these errors.” This scenario emphasizes two critical areas for attention:

(1) The inconsistent creation/use of lessons learnt and (2) the lack of adequate planning to not only correct the errors from the projects, but to prevent reoccurrence of these events in other projects.

The project manager explained that he/she relied on lessons learnt more for his/her standard projects as he/she was able to plan these projects better and better manage risks. Another observation is that the lessons learnt are normally documented at the end of the project. An inherent risk in this practice is that some of lessons may have been forgotten and hence the learning opportunities diminished. He/she also explained that he/she relyed more on expertise and less on documentation in managing his/her nonstandard projects because he/she had less history to rely on.

The other companies admitted that the creation and use of project learning items were minimal to non-existent. ISC rationalized that:

“projects tend not to end, they fizzle away.”

This implies that there is a lack of formal or proper closeout and/or dedicated time to document the lessons learned. Another rationale given is insufficient time to stop and document. While documenting may be the sole method of extracting learning, absence of this requires project members to learn from the events and be able to apply the lessons in other projects. However, we argue that not creating time to learn from and about the project and carefully preserve its outcome is a fallacy because this can result in knowledge leakage, which in turn may have negative consequences that impact the bottom line.

4.6 Some Challenges in Managing Project Knowledge

Based on the foregoing discussion, the organizations have encountered multiple challenges in managing their project knowledge. Some of these include the management of tacit knowledge, safeguarding volumes of project data in central repository for easy access, minimizing organizational impact of loss of project expertise, and the continuous development of project teams' competency levels.

Table 2: Summary of Challenges

Challenges Organization Experience
Personnel attrition EPMO, GITD
Difficulty in storing information/data that can be retrieved easily EPMO, ISC, GITD
Preservation of intellectual property (internally and business-to-customer) ISC
Insufficient time to complete documentation (lack of competent resources) GITD
Lack of sufficient and up-to-date training in project management methodology GITD
Lack of sufficient and up-to-date training in knowledge management methodology EPMO, ISC, GITD
Lack of defined knowledge strategies EPMO, ISC, GITD
Insufficient priority on person-to-person strategies  

One decision maker explained that, “It is not what needs to be done but how it is done. This is not found in our documents and is difficult to explain. Therefore we rely most on ‘learning by doing.'” This is exhibited primarily through the carrying out of diverse roles in different projects where the less experienced team members can learn from the more experienced project managers and observe the dynamics of the operations and people in these projects. One executive further explained, “We cherish our team dynamics, and everyday and every project provides its own unique challenges to that extent that the key for the team now is how to navigate these ‘soft’ issues, deal with certain personalities, how to get the task done based on the project dynamics. These things are not in a document.”

Preparing teams members for growth and increased responsibilities is cited as a major challenge in managing resources. The EPMO director described this goal as “building competency levels for the team to become experts, not just for a specialized area but to become multi-skilled in diverse business areas and help in the transformation of our organization to the next level.” It was further explained that a vision of the organization is to have the team members exhibit high levels of expertise to facilitate the movement or promotion to key decision areas within the organization. Additionally, based on the risk of knowledge loss from team members exiting the organization, for example, team succession and replacement strategies are required coupled with approaches to strengthen the team competencies in managing these projects, business acumen, and other skills needed for growth.

The retention of skills and expertise in these projects is another critical issue for decision makers. The level of staff turnover has also influenced the level of impact that long-term visions/strategies can have in the organization. The EPMO explained that “We need to enable knowledge-based development. We (the organization) are not doing enough to retain the people because our current structure is not a good fit to the strategic direction of the organization.” This point highlights the lack of control or authority the department has in respect to the project choices and how its managed (specifically the team dynamics), and its involvement the department, or lack thereof. in the strategic decision making of the organization. As a consequence many of the team members are impacted by lack of opportunities or sufficient responsibilities as their expertise grows, which in turn influences their decision to leave.

Huge volumes of paper and information are used during the project and this necessitates repositories to store and index these for ease of reference in the future. The consulting firm explained:

“A lot of paper floats around during the project… so we are currently seeking suitable methods to store them effectively.”

Another issue is managing the volume of project emails and the difficulty in searching and indexing these emails:

“We are still experiencing a challenge in how to store email appropriately and securely for our projects.”

Further, filtering the volumes of project information into a central area is a difficult and challenging task.

“We need more PM tools to better manage tasks and monitor the PM process better across all the business units and project teams,” lamented the EPMO project manager. Each organization agreed that additional tools would be helpful in managing their projects, particularly as it relates to reporting and monitoring of tasks across multiple projects. As a consequence, knowledge management could be enhanced.

4.7 Knowledge-based Efforts in the Pipeline

The organizations have earmarked projects to help improve the effectiveness of their management of projects with varying degree of success. The EPMO is in search of a portfolio and knowledge management application. One such application is a Web-based budget management tool to assist in managing the project portfolio. This will provide timely financial analysis of individual projects, across programs and portfolios, which will also aid in improving the financial management and forecasting of new projects. The EPMO has previously attempted to implement a portfolio-based management and knowledge support tool; however, the system is currently suffering from non-use. The director asserted that “the software was a major disappointment.”. He explained that: “it was misfit for our environment and our needs, however, we are trying to leverage some of its capabilities to make best of the situation.”Additionally, “The software was oversold to us”. Hence upon implementation it did not meet the needs of the organization or expectations of the users. Their experience highlights the failed success implementation scenario of information systems (Shenhar et al., 2002), i.e., the project is successfully completed but the system is not used because of various reasons such as those highlighted. Another implication is the need for contextualized measurement systems that that take into consideration the project and product process to determine success.

The GITD has begun to explore adopting PM methodologies in the delivery of its projects. The organization has recognized that simply documenting designs or/and products of its project is not sufficient, and the inclusion of documenting the events of the projects and lessons from each can strengthen its KM efforts. The consulting organization has realized the under-utilization of its current Web-based collaboration tool. It is still in the learning phase hence all the features and functionalities are not being used. The software has the ability to facilitate blogs and wikis along with discussion threads, specialized templates, and document repositories. As discussed earlier the organization has experienced the benefits of using the repositories and discussion features of the tool. There are opportunities to utilize the blogs and wikis to support added learning and KM development for its project portfolio. This can become a successful project KM case. It is clear that these organizations are seeking methods to help better manage the projects and knowledge assets.

5. Some Lessons for Practice

The results of our examination can provide useful guidance for practitioners. There is little doubt on the importance of managing knowledge across the project portfolio to help eliminate risks and develop competence among team members. Also, decision makers need to be mindful that knowledge is embedded within their organizational processes and knowledge is created, renewed, and shared through performance of these processes that knowledge is created, renewed, and transferred (Newell et al., 2002), and is particularly relevant to IT projects. Further, it is essential not to separate KM activities from the management of project activities, but rather view and manage these efforts as separate but parts of a whole to help achieve better performing projects. Some of the important lessons garnered from our investigations are highlighted.

5.1 Effective safeguards of intellectual assets

Safeguards encompass the legal and physical protection of knowledge assets. It is necessary to provide clear ownership of intellectual assets so that there is some level of legal recourse if any party breaches the contract. This is especially important among knowledge workers, outsourcing, and contractor-client arrangements. Having support with proactive knowledge safeguards can provide security to organizations and their projects. More careful attention must also be paid to the storage and preserving process of KM. Electronic and manual storage are the common methods used by organizations. Securing and storing project documentation is essential not only to preserve the history of what happens during a project but can help team members in the management of other projects. Further, a storage process that incorporates usability issues, such as ease of use, suitable indexing, and organization and classification for users can assist the search process and influence adoption.

5.2 Supportive HR and management processes

Organizations that attempt knowledge management without an effective managerial support structure often discover that their investment in knowledge management fails to deliver the expected benefits (Nahm et al., 2003). It is therefore necessary to have the support of the decision makers to help facilitate effective approaches to leveraging knowledge from their projects. Our study has underscored the need to hire the right people to do the right job with the right business ethics. It is essential to hire employees or contractors that can be trusted with sensitive project information. Further, establishing processes that have institutionalized awards and penalties that correspond to the appropriate actions are useful.

5.3 Promote Knowledge Sharing

Apostolou et al., (1999) found a key challenge in its study was creating and nurturing culture that values knowledge sharing more than personal expertise. The participants in our study also experienced difficulties in effectively sharing knowledge. It is therefore apparent that a project or organizational environment that engenders sharing can promote expertise among the project team and create efficiency within the projects being managed.

5.4 Manage Project KM efforts

Project organizations need to manage their KM initiatives like other business projects. This may seem intuitive but our study revealed that these initiatives were given lower priorities and credence was not given to managing their implementation.

6. Concluding Remarks

Our research underscores that effective KM is a strategic necessity in IT projects. We argue that there is a need to learn from our projects to help facilitate better performing projects in the future, which can be facilitated by the management of knowledge embedded in the projects. In our research, an empirical inquiry of several organizations' experience in managing their project knowledge was conducted. A common thread in our findings is that the decision makers are actually cognizant of the importance of leveraging their project knowledge but they are often constrained by several factors such as inadequate or ensufficient supportive resources and tools, lack of defined strategy, or a general lack of will or commitment. Some of our results converge with other studies, especially as it relates to ineffective use of lessons learned, however current practices indicate that other types of project data and results are being utilized (e.g., project templates, work plans).

Our research is currently in its infancy, however the findings provide sound practical implications that may be useful in other project contexts. The future research directions include extending the length and breadth of the study to incorporate other methodological approaches and additional cross-sectional projects. Additionally, further exploration of the threats to intellectual property and its impact on the knowledge management effort, the storage and preservation of knowledge, and the attitude toward reuse in different types or categories of project documents are being actively pursued. The issue of knowledge management within IT projects and other business projects require continued examination and dialogue to bring about solutions that are beneficial to the field.

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© 2010 Project Management Institute

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