Living memory


By Alma Bahman

Organizations tend to approach mentorship as a career development tool. But it can be an effective way to promote and facilitate knowledge transfer as well. When practitioners take on new projects, they may not always know where to look for relevant lessons learned. Partnering with experienced colleagues can help practitioners find the organizational knowledge that will drive project success.

Darline Giraud, project manager at global engineering and technology consulting firm Alten SA in Paris, France, works with organizations with varying degrees of project documentation. When a client's formal knowledge transfer system is incomplete—a situation Ms. Giraud encounters frequently—her mentor functions as an invaluable compass to point her in the right direction.

“I had a situation where the documented information in the knowledge transfer system was not up-to-date, but I had no other source of information to make estimates for a procurement contract,” she says. So Ms. Giraud turned to her mentor for help before providing numbers to upper management. “I reviewed the data with my mentor, who helped me identify misinformation and advised me to use benchmarking to solidify my estimates,” she says.


When Jody Pollack, PMP, former senior program manager, Ricoh Co. Ltd., Atlanta, Georgia, USA, was left to his own devices to get up to speed on a new project, he called on a mentor for crucial advice. Mr. Pollack took over the reins from another project manager who had been on the project since the beginning.

“The project manager and I met for about 10 minutes before my first weekly status meeting with the customer,” Mr. Pollack says. “We went our separate ways after the meeting, and a few days later the project manager told me he was too busy with his new client to fill me in. I was on my own.”

Without formal documentation or any other system to look to, Mr. Pollack turned to another source of knowledge. “My mentor suggested I reach out to other members of the team and learn as much as possible from them regarding the history of the project and to gain insight on the customer's team, especially their personalities.”

Ms. Giraud faced a similar challenge on an office telephone upgrade project she managed. A document stated that the previous upgrade project deployed and upgraded 30 phones in two days—but an important piece of information needed to replicate those results was missing. The staff working in the office had the tendency to move to different desks, and the updated employee seating map was nowhere to be found. This caused a problem, because Ms. Giraud's team needed to confirm that every staff member was in the right location and available at the right time. “Not having that detail impacted the execution of the project plan,” Ms. Giraud says.

After a rough ending to the project, Ms. Giraud turned to a mentor to help her glean lessons learned. The important takeaway:

“Follow up on the information provided in documentation with a face-to-face meeting with the people who were involved in the project,” she says.


In the case that there are a few holes in a team's knowledge transfer practices, conferring with a veteran practitioner can provide a patch. Mr. Pollack says his mentor helped him overcome what he sees as a common problem: when the process becomes “a rapid-fire transmission of information that has little or no context that the recipient can relate to,” he says. Knowledge recipients might nod in agreement and think they understand the information, but that's rarely true, Mr. Pollack says.

His mentor's advice: Provide context. “Instead of blasting team members with information, my mentor suggested I work out a form of knowledge transfer that allows them to learn in contextual ways,” Mr. Pollack says.

Mentors also can offer guidance on how to motivate team members to follow formal knowledge transfer processes. When Mr. Pollack sought advice about how to get his team to prioritize documenting lessons learned, his mentor offered a valuable leadership lesson.

The key, he said, “is to know them as people and understand what really drives them as people,” Mr. Pollack recalls. “There are members on the team who know more than you. To properly leverage their energies, you have to step back and be willing to recognize their talents.” PM


“My mentor suggested I reach out to other members of the team and learn as much as possible from them regarding the history of the project and to gain insight on the customer's team.”

—Jody Pollack, PMP, Ricoh Co. Ltd., Atlanta, Georgia, USA