Knowledge management and projects' capitalization

a systemic approach

Introduction

All along our experience in implementing management by projects—especially in state-owned companies—we realized the imperative necessity, beyond the technical, organizational, and procedural dimensions, to cope with change management. We conceptualized the fact that management by projects has a cognitive dimension (Leroy 1994, 1996) and that we must integrate the learning aspects in MbP’s implementation programs (Leroy 1999). As soon as management by projects modifies the work routines in the organization by enhancing transversal and temporary cooperation, transforms the relationship between projects and functional departments, the theory in use (Argyris and Schön 1978), the mode of supervision and control, the staff career progress, and so on, it becomes obvious that organizations must adopt a broader approach in order to succeed in their organizational change.

According to Lawrence and Lorsch (1967), if the degree of differentiation must increase (by adopting project structures), the degree of integration must be correlated with, by designing and implementing new forms of coordination and control (management by projects). The flexibility and versatility of project structures must be compensated by new ways to assure the knowledge management process and skill management. Project-based organizations have to answer to the following challenge: how to learn by project experience? (Turner 2000). Our research demonstrates (Leroy 1998) that project learning has to be considered at four levels: knowledge, know-how, to know-how-to-make-it-done, and to know how to be—“savoir, savoir faire, savoir faire faire, savoir être”—at individual and group extent as well as organizational one. But it is also obvious that many project-oriented organizations are failing to obtain it (Pinto 1999; Gibson and Pfautz 1999).

Thus project-based organization must adopt a broader approach by considering the global system integrating management by projects, knowledge, and competencies management.

Part 1: The General Model Integrating Management by Projects, Knowledge, and Skill Management

Management by projects can be defined as the whole processes of orientation, organization, animation, and control that enable to make effective the use of project structures (Leroy 1994).

Skill management is composed of all procedures and processes who permit to identify, evaluate, maintain, structure, adapt, and develop company’s staff competencies in order to run efficiently, effectively, and relevantly its present and future activity processes.

Knowledge management caters to the critical issues of organizational adaptation, survival and competence in face of increasingly discontinuous environmental change. Essentially, it embodies organizational processes that seek synergistic combination of data and information processing capacity of information technologies, and the creative and innovative capacity of human beings. (Malhotra 1998)

The intersection areas between these three domains are the most important to investigate.

Management by Projects Interferes with Skill Management

Because of the peculiar and innovative nature of projects, the actors experiment new know-how originated in solving new problems in new situations mobilizing collective cooperation with people of different services or external partners. These temporary “practice communities,” are challenged by deliverables to produce within constraints of time, cost, and performance. New competencies are created; others are adapted or are transformed by the iterative nature of projects between theory and practice (praxis). The final transition from projects to operations and stable processes requires the transmission and the routinization of these new competencies, identified, experienced, tested, adapted, and designed during the project. The Nonaka and Takeuchi’s model (1995) is particularly relevant to explain this phenomena.

Exhibit 1. An Integrative Model

An Integrative Model

It’s also important to assure this capitalization for the whole ongoing projects in the organization knowing that some data research reveals less than satisfactory use of end project reviews (Turner 2000).

Management by Projects Interacts with Knowledge Management

Nothing is better than Argyris and Schön’s assertions that influenced a lot research about organizational learning:

Organization learning occurs when members of the organization act as learning agents for the organization, responding to changes in the internal and external environments of the organization by detecting and correcting errors in organizational theory-in-use, and embedding the results of their inquiry in private images and shared maps of the organization. In organizational single-loop learning, the criterion for success is effectiveness. Individuals respond to error by modifying strategies and assumptions within constant organizational norms. In double-loop learning, response to detected error takes the form of joint inquiry into organizational norms themselves, so as to resolve their inconsistency and make the new norms more effectively realizable. In both cases, organizational learning consists of restructuring organization theory of action. When an organization engages in deutero-learning, its members learn about organizational learning and encode their results in images and maps. The quest for organizational learning capacity must take the form of deuteron-learning; most particularly about the interactions between the organization’s behavioural world and its ability to learn. (Argyris and Schön 1978)

Facing new situations, new environments, confronting cognitive models of others specialists—internal and external—cooperating in the project, project actors will respond by using theory-in-use; but the transversality and the confrontation of different logics and diverse stakeholders’ interest will oblige, very often, to construct new model of understanding, to adopt an understanding system different from the one of the beginning. Thus, by defining a new purpose for a project rather than recurrent operations and processes, the system of representation of what we have to solve and act upon will change. We noticed that for the great majority of internal projects, they will emerge and take consistency when the usual theory-in-use is ineffective and the problem’s urgency will impose to modify the theory of action. In order to get it within resources and time constraints, the organization will authorize to function, for a specific perimeter, by project, i.e., by exception. In these particular situations, the actors’ project must face with “meaning complexity” (Riveline 1991). As Koenig noticed, the works relative to learning organization are developing into two directions. By one side, they are still interested about the management of cumulative experience, by the other side, they are investigating the experimentation understanding (Koenig 1994).

Exhibit 2. A Five-Phases Model of Creating Process of Organizational Learning

A Five-Phases Model of Creating Process of Organizational Learning

By the way, management by projects interacts with knowledge management by defining procedures that enables to capture the single-loop learning (projects metrics embedded in work breakdown structure (WBS) and planning, documentation and configuration management, and so on) when there will have a relative similarity between previous, present projects, and future ones. The problematic is not very different from knowledge database management. Most important, is how MbP can help to capture also the double-loop learning, to encode it in “images and maps” and how it could be used by the rest of the organization (classical functions of this particular information system must be fulfilled: information gathering, information storage, information diffusion and interpretation, information coding, information retrieval) (Globerson and Ellis 1994). The very difficulty comes from the fact, as Koenig noticed, that to well understand the project learning, it’s necessary to take into consideration the important recursivity between practice and thinking during project’s cycle. In fact, the object’s learning is not only transformed in reason of its historical characteristic, but it is transformed by the learning process itself. By example, what is learned from the dynamic of cooperative relationship is immediately rein-vested in the practice of the relationship that inspired the original thinking. Part of the best learning is dissolved in the project action itself. Consequently, it’s fundamental to remember that learning by experience must be done, at least partly, in real-time, in live. The deutero-learning is referring to the evolution and constant adaptation of organizational project body of knowledge and meta-rules project management corpus and how, concretely, project leaders can adapt it in the peculiar context of their own project without losing relevancy and effectiveness.

Skill Management Overlaps Evidently Knowledge Management

Knowledge will not bring competitive advantage to the organization unless it will be embedded, internalized in know-how applied inside operational processes by the functional staff and by customers, providers, and stakeholders. How learning occurred during temporary cooperation with others companies experimented during projects and how it is transferred to the rest of the organization? How external recruitment permits really to enrich the knowledge capital of the firm? How the operational know-how of the personal is capitalized and transmitted, especially when experts are going to be retired?

In the other sense, how is optimized the training politic in function of strategic reorientation due to environmental major changes? Which is the part of external training and internal one? Does it exist pairing or coaching procedures?

Finally, there is a very core area where management by projects, knowledge, and skill management are overlapped each other. Very often, in numerous companies this area isn’t realized instantaneously during projects trajectory when it happens. Organizational inertia, the impact of group dynamics defensive reactions (Argyris and Schön 1978), tends to disconnect the different learning processes that become erratic and inconsistent. Pinto (1999) emphasized this phenomena to explain the poor record of failure that dogs information technology projects. Particularly, the author blames the lack of institutional learning on a failure to conduct post implementation reviews. The learning transfer during the project trajectory is rarely managed. According to Argyris and Schön (1978), “the double-loop learning requires that the learning process of Discovery-Invention-Production-Generalization be applied to each step of the larger learning process. Thus one of the most basic conflicts is that Model I theories-in-use inhibits double-loop learning and consequently produces individuals who are not competent to discover-invent-produce-generalize in this area. These people hide systematically their personal causality by projecting the blame for their inability to double-loop learns onto the environment. […] it is our assumption that changes can be made in O-I learning systems if individuals first learn to behave according to model II theories-in-use and then strive to create O-II learning systems.”

Another very important question is about how the learning project experience can be retrieved from one project to another in the present on going project portfolio of a company, especially when it is heterogeneous.

Continuous change implies that the organization gets a capacity to learn from its environment, its various stakeholders, and itself. Systemic change implies that its major components—strategies, technologies, human resources, and internal structures—require simultaneous transformation. Implemented together these different forms of change should generate a learning organization. Although it is only a metaphor, it reveals a vision of individuals, groups, and networks within an organization committed to continuous learning across the organization through information exchange, experimentation, and consensus building?

So the main point is: how a project-based organization can be a learning organization?

In our paper, we will explain, in the particular case of our post graduation project management program how we tried to operationalize the general integrative model above using some of the so-called “new technologies of information and communication.”

Then we’ll show the particular system that us permits to convert tacit knowledge generated during project activity in explicit knowledge at organization’ s disposal based on partly on A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) from the Project Management Institute (PMI®).

Part 2: Mobilizing the N.T.I.C. to Operate a Dynamic and Systemic Project Learning System

Transforming the D.E.S.S. Management by Projects as a Project-Based Organization

The post-graduate program in project management of the University of Sciences and Technologies was created in 1980. It was designed at that time with a very advanced pedagogy emphasizing the “learning by doing” under form of real projects performed by teams of students already with work experience or not (Navarre and Declerck 1982; Leroy 1996). During the first decade, projects realized were only external, i.e., contracted by external owners. After, internal project have been introduced in parallel contracted by the pedagogical staff. Progressively, more than three hundred projects were performed inside the university structure in very different fields and of very different nature. As the program has one year duration, every year we have a new portfolio of fifteen projects to be realized by students. Partly because of the tremendous rhythm that this peculiar pedagogical system imposed, partly because, fortunately, the students were hired by companies at the end of their studies, the organizational memory of the program was very poor, composed of a collection of written reports relative to the different projects and the personal remembering of pedagogical staff who was coaching the students projects. So the individual learning during the project activity of every student was quite entirely lost, the group learning of every team project was diluted in written reports getting dust on University library and the organizational learning at the level of pedagogical staff was very poor due to professional mobility. Consequently, the experience learning acquired during 300 hundred projects was going to vanish and the same project mistakes could appear on latter projects.

Exhibit 3. A Dynamic and Systemic Project Learning System

A Dynamic and Systemic Project Learning System

Three years ago, the pedagogical staff reacted and launched a several year program aiming to cope with this prejudicial waste of knowledge capital explorating which potential solutions the N.T.I.C. could offer. The model presented below is the result of three years of iterative experience in that field. Its present performance convinced the pedagogical team under agreement of upper level of university authorities to transform our program of project management in the first French university post-graduate program in management by projects, responding also to French companies expectations and basing on the ultimate years experience and research results.

A Dynamic and Systemic Project Learning System

The big idea is to combine a virtual campus, educational online platform based on web technology with a Computer Support Collaborative Work system also based on web technology.

Every team project has a specific project office in an intranet system for internal project or extranet in case of external project (Level 1a). As the projects are geographically dispersed, the team members can interact online and off-line, store temporary project work and make it accessible for people they have given the access right, they can program workflows, planning meetings, and collective activities. Project coachers and project stakeholders can also monitor off-line the project progress and take the relevant corrective actions. Beyond the classical advantages of CSCW systems like virtual project office based on web technologies, our system permitted to mobilize previous students that became experts in a particular project experience field and affect them as coachers on projects where they are fully experienced. They already shared a common project management culture and value systems with the students project teams because they are laureates of our program. They can optimize their coaching time in function of on going project priorities and according to their own work.

When the students projects are developed enough, project teams have the possibility to create a project website by using the Primavera P3E® software. When the project tasks are validated, project team members can store the documentation associated on the basis of the project WBS. Thus, the main project metrics information is capitalized by this way and can be put on disposal for future similar projects needs. Beyond all this software functionalities, we develop a research engine in our global program intranet to find relevant information on ongoing projects by key words. This contributes to solve a specific difficulty on project-based company, which is how to make possible information diffusion between projects. Establishing organizational procedures across project teams is difficult because of project diversity, organizational structure, and the independence of project teams (Globerson and Ellis 1994). With the keywords research engine we develop, any project actor can be awarded if any other actor is working on similar tasks or is concerning about similar topic. After that, they can meet each other, decide to share documentation and information, or interact each other by the ways considered by both parts like the most relevant. Another advantage is that system enables to improve communication between functional expert line staff and project teams. In the big French state-owned companies where we are used to help them implementing management by projects, upper executives are often complaining about project teams poor openness, (funneling effect), their “black-box” behavior. Consequently, when a new general or specific orientation has to be applied by everyone or by such category of personal inside the company (technical, juridical, financial, managerial, and so on), they didn’t know how transfer this new order to the right project team members. Modifications are taking into account inside the projects too much later and at a high cost. In fact, knowing what the different project teams are concerned about, the functional experts, in our case, the University professors, can transfer at the right moment and to the right persons the right information.

Symmetrically, (Level 1b), every project team member in our program is also a student. From the educational point of view, every course of our program for such students group can be assimilated to a project. Our virtual campus is based on a powerful multimedia information system based on extended mark up language (XML) that permits to store all the pedagogical resources on different frameworks: academic knowledge domains, list of current courses offered by our program, and so on. The dynamic of our university laboratory research, of the previous and current courses, the pedagogic work of the professors can be integrated on this information system. The professors who don’t belong to the same institution can work in a more cooperative and synergetic way. The functional barriers that plague private companies are unfortunately very prevalent in the University.

So, by this way, every project team member as a student in our program can access to our knowledge information system and find the relevant knowledge to integrate to his project when necessary. The project coachers as member of the pedagogical team can do the same and guide this process (Interaction level 1).

At level 2a, we develop a specific software that enables to capitalize learning experience during projects life cycle and also from already ended projects. We’ll precise later the procedure framework in part 3. Nonetheless, the procedure consists, at every general project control milestone, that implies an evaluation from the project’s owner and pedagogic team, to capitalize by exception some processes of project management that are considered to be the most relevant for future others project teams. At this stage, the question is not to memorize the project metrics with an exhaustive point of view, in other words to memorize single-loop learning. This dimension is treated at level 1. The problem is to select few processes performed by the project and to characterize them according to a conceptual framework shared by all the project members, the project coacher, and the professors. This conceptual framework is reflecting the theory of action of our program.

So the question is, which processes, during project phase life, have got the opportunity to learn at the team level in order to modify, better embed the meaning of these processes inside the common conceptual framework. This option enables to evaluate the potential discrepancy between theory in use and theory of action. The selection of the processes capitalized is oriented by a predefined list of criteria focused on the concept of capital according to Irving Fisher’s definition: the value of a capital is equal to the actualized sum of its future incomes. The capitalized process must be validated by all the project team members that can introduce their own point of view as well as the project coacher opinion. So the same project process capitalized is viewed from different lightings, different dimensions associated with context elements. The capitalization is about project management processes and is an attempt to define double-loop learning. The control realized by the academic staff enables to determine the degree of deutero-learning capacity of the students-project actors.

Concerning level 2b, this is more a question of pedagogic engineering, each professor having the possibility to integrate the different knowledge units from level 1b into his own lecture, for his own purpose. If he finds it relevant, he can integrate these pedagogic units into workflows in case of remote teaching.

Most original is the interaction level 2 that enables to associate to the pedagogic material of the professor concrete project processes coming from real project situations. By doing so, the instructor can illustrate concepts, methods, and tools with the relating context. He can go deeper into the concept’s understanding by various illustration, variables of contextualization, precautions of use, and so on. Thus, he can enrich his own experience by the examples of our project database. This functionality is particularly relevant for all project coachers who can take advantage of all the projects program cumulated experience.

The level 3 is commonly shared for project team members as well for students or professors. It’s concerning a project management encyclopedia with remote access according to the rights attributed. This encyclopedia is composed of different tools and methods used in project management structured by project phase and by PMI’s nine PMBOK® Guide knowledge areas. This is the core of our program knowledge with hundreds of tools and methods that were experimented in our past projects and validated at the academic point of view. This encyclopedia is continuously fuelled and updated in function of the project processes capitalized and academic research work.

Exhibit 4. A Systemic Model of Project Processes Capitalization

A Systemic Model of Project Processes Capitalization

Part 3: A Systemic Project Management Processes Framework of Capitalization

Presentation of the Model

The software we developed was designed with a systemic approach of project management. This systemic approach explains the logical framework we used to structure the project processes capitalization. Every potential actor has a relative good understanding of this general model, which is taught in our program.

Every past or ongoing project that will be capitalized has to be characterized according basic parameters that will enable to facilitate the research by future users. Thus, a project card will be fulfilled by name, year, location, and duration.

The type of the project will be defined in function of a taxononomy established during our benchmarking research study about French companies project practices (Leroy 2000).

Furthermore, the user will precise if the project has an external or internal origin. A lot of implications will depend of this fact and will enable to better analyze the project context. This is one of the greatest variable of project management variable of contextualization according to our research.

In the same way, it will be defined whether the project has a top-down origin or a bottom-up approach. Specialists of strategic management emphasized this distinction and its consequences on the projects destiny and trajectory (Burgelman 1985; Mintzberg 1994). Its obvious that top management attention, resources allocation, procedures of control, degree of autonomy, type of organizational structure, and so on will depend on this difference.

A general description of the project is also necessary, completed by its WBS developed until the third or fourth level.

The actors of the project will be identified with their main characteristics. Finally, on this project card will appear the list of its project management processed capitalized, at least one.

The project process will be capitalized by fulfilling different files. Conforming to a systemic approach, the software user will be situated at any time inside the whole system. The subsystem where he is located will be enlarged on its computer screen and detailed but keeping the relationship with the others subsystems.

Exhibit 5. A General Systemic Vision of a Project Process

A General Systemic Vision of a Project Process

Exhibit 6. Types of Projects Capitalized

Types of Projects Capitalized

The process entry card (a process can have various entries) requires to precise the name, the nature (to chose in the following list: material, financial, human, software, external, web resources; intermediate deliverable; meeting; report), and the knowledge associated field (to chose inside a item list established in function of the structure of Level 1b—virtual campus). This ultimate field is very convenient to evaluate the relevancy of the general knowledge data base and if it will be necessary to update it and enrich it.

The tool and method card (a process can mobilize, adapt, or create various tool or method) requires to define its name, its nature, and its state (to chose in the following list: already used by our program and available in the present project management encyclopedia, already existing but adapted for the specific process necessity, created by the team project, found out of the project management encyclopedia, imported but also adapted for the peculiar process necessity). These items are completed with the URL address location and a description. The process context card requires to describe the general process context, its objectives, its beginning and ending dates, planned and real-time, comments in case of gap between these two dates, and eventually some process particularities.

The out of control process variables card (a process can be submitted to various ones) requires to precise the name of such variable and an understanding description. The problems encountered must be described, the corrective actions that have been decided, and their effects. This information is particularly relevant to better analyze for future users the real context of the process and the faced difficulties by the project team.

The outputs process card (a process can obviously have various outputs) requires to define the name of every output and its description. Furthermore, its nature (to chose in the following list: intermediate deliverable, project deliverable, comments or decision from the owner, comments or decision from the coacher, project contribution, advices for project team, report), and the knowledge associated field always structured in function of level 1b of the virtual campus. The URL location of every output is evidently fulfilled.

Exhibit 7. Processes Capitalized by Project Phases

Processes Capitalized by Project Phases

The process black box is evidently the core stage of the capitalization process.

The team who capitalized must define the process name, the activities executed, and writing the reasons why such process was chosen to be capitalized.

The process must also be located on the project WBS. The project team must indicate which PMI’s knowledge areas the process is related to.

The project phase must also be stated according to a generic project life cycle that structures the encyclopedia: formulation, feasibility, design, execution, and closing.

Furthermore, the process group is also stated (initiating, planning, executing, controlling, closing).

The nature of process standards is also required. The list is based on the PMI’s PMBOK® Guide but completed with systematic capitalization process for each knowledge area and for the project team group dynamic—process required by the students themselves! In order to help the user, didactic action guides are provided at the moment he fulfills the process black-box items.

Finally, we especially pay a great attention to project team dynamic. The group must describe how he is organized and how he managed the potential conflicts. Most important, every team member will tell his own appreciation about what personally has brought to him the process that is capitalized.

Some Results Coming from the Use of the Model

In order to validate the model and the software associated, the students of the previous promotion were invited to capitalize their projects and to integrate the capitalization in their post completion academic review. Fifteen projects were also capitalized both internal and external. At the beginning of this year, we wanted to test the capacity of the model to be used for past projects by people who didn’t participate to their execution. We selected a sample of one hundred previous projects that we personally coached in order to see if the students on the basis of the documentation stored could detect the best learning experience that occurred in each one. They capitalized twenty-two past projects with a relative good quality, with a preference for processes that seemed to cause more difficulties for them at the moment.

The first results are confirming the study of Lundin and Söderholm (1994) pinpointing that project learning was higher in the earlier stages of the project due to a “funneling effect” linked with the degree of openness of project team that decreased with the project progress. Double-loop learning appears when project members have to rebuild an understanding model that is able to reach the project objectives, i.e., during the initial phases of the project life cycle. The technical learning that occurs during design phase and particularly during execution phase is more relative to single-loop learning.

Even with this little sample of forty-six processes capitalized, we can observe that PMI’S PMBOK® Guide is a relevant framework to capture project knowledge. All the nine knowledge areas are quite equally represented. Furthermore, to reinforce the above results, among the process groups, the planning process is the more represented when the executing is the less one. The closing process are well represented because of the reinforcement we introduced in relation to the PMBOK® Guide’s list for specific capitalization in every knowledge area. This “perspective learning” according to Lundin and Söderholm’s expression is very important for general organizational learning, and reveals the necessity of “internalization” to convert tacit knowledge in explicit knowledge according to Nonaka’s theory.

Exhibit 8. Mapping of Capitalized Processes

Mapping of Capitalized Processes

Exhibit 9. Enrichment of Project Management Toolbox

Enrichment of Project Management Toolbox

Finally, these first results were important to appreciate the quality and diversity of learning of our organization. In which degree the experience learning gained during the project can enrich our capital knowledge encapsulated in our project management encyclopedia.

Two thirds of the tools and methods used to perform the different processes came from the existing encyclopedia, although 9 percent have been adapted. Twenty-one percent of the methods have been imported from other sources, showing the importance of benchmarking procedures and openness of project members. Most important is to notice that 13 percent of methods and tools were created especially by project members themselves, knowledge that could be definitively lost without this capitalization process.

References

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Gibson, Lesley R., and Suzan Pfautz. (1999). Re-engineering IT project management in an R&D organization—A case study. Managing business by projects. Proceedings of the NORDNET Symposium in Helsinki. Karlos Arrto (Ed.).

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Turner, J. Rodney, Anne Keegan, and Lynn Crawford. (2000). Learning by experience in the project-based organization. Proceedings of PMI Research Conference in Paris.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

Proceedings of PMI Research Conference 2002

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