Towards a project knowledge management maturity model



Maturity models are widely used in the project environment to define, assess and improve the capability to carry out projects successfully. When dealing with maturity models, a key project issue is still now “missing in action”: knowledge! Projects are unquestionably a dramatic source of knowledge. Every project offers several learning opportunities to generate knowledge and increase both individual competencies and organizational assets. However knowledge is not yet formally considered and well-managed like other project management main themes. A PKMMM – Project Knowledge Management Maturity Model should be expressly designed to understand, measure and enhance the maturity of a project-based organization for creating and managing project knowledge. This paper is aimed at introducing a starting proposal of PKMMM, to support project sponsors, project managers and project teams in capturing and sharing the deep value of knowledge for the success of current and future projects, according to an intended, structured and common knowledge-based approach.

Projects and Knowledge

The project value

The value of a project should be evaluated globally, according to different perspectives. Typical evaluation perspectives are: a) “project performance”, focused on a delivery complying with requirements; b) “team performance”, concerning collaboration among project team members, and personal development of each member; c) “business results”, related to benefits achieved by the ongoing use of the solution created by the project; d) “project experience”, in terms of lessons learned to be used to accomplish the project and to be shared inside the organization for prospective reuses. The more positive are the feedbacks from these perspectives, the higher is the value generated by the project.

Knowledge and Knowledge Management

Traditionally, knowledge is defined as a “justified true belief”. This definition points out the “absolute, static and nonhuman nature of knowledge, typically expressed in propositions and formal logic” (Nonaka, I. & Takeuchi, H., 1995, p. 58). However knowledge is a more complex matter: “knowledge is a dynamic human process of justifying personal belief toward the truth. Knowledge is essentially related to human action. Knowledge is about beliefs and commitment” (pp. 58-59). This wider perspective of knowledge encompasses its own epistemological and ontological dimensions. The epistemological dimension (meaning of knowledge) underlines the distinction between tacit and explicit knowledge: “tacit knowledge is personal, context-specific, and therefore hard to formalize and communicate. Explicit or codified knowledge, on the other hand refers to knowledge that is transmittable in formal systematic language. Knowledge that can be expressed in words and numbers represents only the tip of the iceberg of the entire body of knowledge” (p. 59). This is exactly what happens in the project environment. Explicit and tacit knowledge are “the basic building blocks of a complementary relationship” ( p. ix): both are essential for creating and managing knowledge within a project-based organization. The ontological dimension (existence of knowledge) refers to different entity levels. The individual level is the essence: “in a strict sense, knowledge is created only by individuals. An organization cannot create knowledge without individuals” (p. 59). The group level is a wider space of interaction for sharing and exploiting individual knowledge. In turn, organizational level supports individuals and groups in creating and managing more complex patterns of knowledge. Finally the inter-organizational level provides contexts for additional development and diffusion of knowledge.

During the mid 90’s Nonaka and Takeuchi developed the Theory of Organizational Knowledge Creation. This theory presents a spiral model for creating and managing knowledge, based on the iterative conversion between tacit and explicit knowledge at individual, group, organizational and inter-organizational levels. This paper assumes that the Nonaka – Takeuchi model fits well the project environment and its knowledge issues. Moreover, the paper will use the term KM - Knowledge management with the wider meaning of “knowledge creation”, because KM is commonly used in speaking about knowledge.

Knowledge Management as a Critical Success Factor for project value

Doubtless knowledge is a Critical Success Factor (CSF) –for project value. Knowledge is tightly related to each of the evaluation perspectives mentioned earlier. A planned management of knowledge, along the project life cycle, strongly improves the project performance. For example, knowledge produced at time-now is a precious resource for the progressive elaboration of the remaining part of the project (WBS updates; cost and time estimates; analysis of performance measurements and forecasts, assessment of change requests; responses to priority risks, issues resolution). In addition, the knowledge dimension of the project offers daily opportunities to project team members, such as sharing points of view, acquiring a wider understanding of the project, “learning by intrusion”, testing and improving personal competencies. Knowledge is also a key driver for business results: the knowledge developed accomplishing the project is the basis for settling and implementing an effective change business process. Knowledge acts like a bridge from project deliverables to business benefits. Finally project knowledge, if well managed, feeds the organizational knowledge base. Starting from positive and negative project events, lessons learned are documented. In turn, lessons learned from single projects supply helpful insights for developing company best practices.

Nowadays an increasing number of project-based organizations must cope with the knowledge dimension of projects. Whether desired or not, knowledge, tacit and explicit, is strongly embedded in each ontological level of the project environment. Existing knowledge is used for carrying out project activities. At the same time, new pieces of knowledge are created during project execution. Project management process groups are the places where knowledge is both consumed and created. Thereby the challenge is “how to make knowledge an essential driver for project success?”. A maturity model, expressly knowledge-focused, is crucial for taking up this challenge.

PKMMM at a glance

PKMMM scope

Maturity is defined as “the state of an organization’s effectiveness at performing certain tasks” (Crawford, 2002, p. 1). Maturity encompasses two key concepts: stage and path. Stage refers to a certain state reached by the organization in performing its activities. Path refers to the organization’s evolution from the current stage to a higher target stage.

In a strict sense, Project Management Maturity is defined as “the ability of an organization to successfully initiate, plan, execute and monitor and control individual projects. The focus of project management maturity is doing projects right” (PMI, 2008b, p.186). Broadly speaking, Organizational Project Management Maturity is defined as “the degree to which an organization practices organizational project management” (p.185). Organizational maturity aims at doing the “right projects right”, according to a wider perspective, extended to program and portfolio levels.

A PMMM - Project Management Maturity Model is a framework (structured collection of elements) for defining, assessing and improving the project management practices of an organization. Similarly, a PKMMM - Project Knowledge Management Maturity Model should be a framework focused on the ability of a project-based organization to create and manage knowledge inside and among its projects. PKMMM may be considered as a knowledge extention to PMMM. For example OPM3® defines some Organizational Enablers focused on KM (PMI, 2008b, p.63, 95, 101). Starting from them, PKMMM exploits the knowledge dimension of projects. PKMMM aims at defining, assessing and improving the project KM practices of an organization. Therefore, the scope of PKMMM is the company set of projects. This projectized subsystem may be more or less broad, according to the business relevance of projects within the organization.

PKMMM profile

The proposal of PKMMM described in this paper, is based on a logical configuration, divided in 5 maturity levels, 6 knowledge domains and 20 knowledge components. Maturity levels depict the evolutionary stages a project-based organization may reach during its knowledge journey. Each stage provides a high-level description of the overall project KM maturity. For example “Level 2 – Emergent” qualifies an organization with occasional successful knowledge experiences, but without a planned approach to project KM. Knowledge domains focus on topics considered essential for enhancing the project knowledge dimension. For example the knowledge domain “Project knowledge roles” refers to knowledge roles and responsibilities within project team and across permanent structures. Each knowledge domain is broken down into specific knowledge components. For example the domain “Project knowledge processes” is deployed into four knowledge components: socialization, externalization, combination and internalization processes. Knowledge components are the places where the current maturity level is measured and where improvement actions towards the target level are implemented. In turn, each knowledge component may be further broken down into KM best practices. This step is not included in this paper.

PKMMM maturity levels

There are 5 levels that portray maturity in creating and managing knowledge in projects. Each level identifies an evolutionary stage of maturity. Level 1 qualifies the lowest grade of maturity, while level 5 represents the highest. An organization does not necessarily need to accomplish the highest level of maturity: the target level depends on company profile, business strategy and return on investment. By combining topics from well-known KM Maturity Models such as Infosys, KPMG, Siemens ,(Hsieh P. J., Lin &Lin C., 2008, pp. 2-3), descriptions of project KM maturity levels are derived.

Level 1 – Unknown. At this stage knowledge is an unknown dimension of projects. Knowledge is individual and tacit. Project teams are usually unaware of the meaning and the importance of knowledge for project success. Sharing knowledge within projects is an unexpected event. There are no formal processes for managing project issues from a knowledge perspective. The organization’s strategy doesn’t suggest policies and guidelines regarding project knowledge. Each project is left free to decide if and how to manage its own knowledge. There aren’t roles and responsibilities focused on knowledge within the project organization and across permanent structures. Successful knowledge practices are lucky breaks. Knowledge is unmanaged in the project environment. Project stakeholder attitudes towards knowledge are paltry. At this stage project knowledge is present occasionally at the individual level, and project KM has no direction.

Level 2 – Emergent. At this stage a few projects show awareness towards the relevance of knowledge for project value. In these projects, the project manager and the project team perceive knowledge as a CSF and perform tentative actions to socialize tacit knowledge and translate it into explicit and transferable formats. Some knowledge experiences emerge from isolated projects, but are not necessarily exploited at an organizational level. If successful, these experiences capture the attention of the project sponsor and senior management, and arouse the curiosity of other project teams. Knowledge created inside a project remains within its boundaries, without cross-fertilization with other projects. No knowledge roles are regularly active in project teams and in central staffs (i.e. PMO). Project stakeholders show their instinctive attitudes towards knowledge issues, but without conscious behaviours. The flowers of project knowledge come up lonely on the organizational lawn. Some knowledge pathfinders seed and water these flowers. Sometimes the flowers are picked, more often they are left to fade. At this stage knowledge is present at the group level, and project KM has an accidental bottom-up direction.

Level 3 – Intended. At this stage senior and middle management recognize knowledge as essential for project delivery, business results, and the development of project management best practices. The organization issues a deliberate strategy regarding project KM. Knowledge roles regularly operate in central functions and knowledge responsibilities are assigned to project managers and project team members. The project mandate formalizes specific knowledge goals. Formal processes are in place for enhancing knowledge within projects. Moreover knowledge-based technologies are fully operational for storing and disseminating explicit knowledge. Each project team must deploy and adapt the company project KM framework to its own local project environment. Insights from single projects are fostered and used for improving the organizational framework. Stakeholder attitudes towards knowledge are carefully investigated and influenced to produce supportive behaviours. There are tangible evidences of the business value, due to project KM. At this stage knowledge is present at the organizational level, and project KM has a regular top-down direction.

Level 4 – Shared. At this stage knowledge is fully recognized by the entire organization as a CSF for business results. The value of project KM is declared at strategic level and is communicated at every organizational level through multiple and repeated formats. Project sponsors are directly involved in supporting KM activities. Project stakeholders are supportive towards knowledge issues during project execution. Project KM is regularly performed on most projects. Project managers firmly harness the knowledge dimension of their projects and project team members are actively engaged in planning, executing, and controlling specific KM activities. New elements of tacit and explicit knowledge are produced in every project. Project teams provide rich feedbacks to central roles (i.e. PMO) to improve the organizational KM framework. Knowledge technologies are pervasively used and knowledge databases are constantly updated with project lessons learned. Project teams share their own project knowledge experiences. Cross-fertilization is a common practice. The organization formally rewards successful project management experiences. At this stage knowledge is present at the inter-organizational level, and project KM has a “compressive” direction (both top-down and bottom-up).

Level 5 – Endless. At this stage the continuous improvement of project KM is a strategic goal for the organization. Doubtless, project KM is recognized as a key driver for business results. Organizational project management standards encompass a specific KM subset, effectively and regularly performed. Specific initiatives are launched for disseminating project KM principles and practices across organizations: upwards to customer organizations and downwards to supplier organizations. Project knowledge crosses organizational boundaries and catalyzes resources, competencies and energies around the common interest of creating and managing knowledge in the extended project environment. Specific innovation teams are focused on the evolution of KM maturity models in order to adapt up-to-date trends to the organization’s environment. A change of paradigm portrays this stage: from a “cost/benefit perspective” related to the application of project KM, to an “investment perspective” referred to the innovation of project KM. Proper spaces are reserved for individuals for internalizing new knowledge. At this stage knowledge is present at every ontological level (individual, group, organizational, inter-organizational), and project KM has a pervasive direction.

PKMMM domains and components

The six domains of PKMMM are proposed here . Each domain represents an organizational topic to be taken into consideration for implementing effective project KM. Knowledge domains refer to hard elements (strategy, roles, processes, technologies) and soft elements (attitudes, enablers) of the organizational system. Knowledge components spring from domains. Components describe how to put the domain into action. Component descriptions are used for understanding, planning, assessing and improving project KM maturity.

1- Project knowledge strategy. Knowledge and strategy are strongly linked. Because of the investment at stake for making knowledge indispensable for project value, a deliberate knowledge strategy is necessarily required. “The knowledge spiral is driven by organizational intention. Effort to achieve the intention usually takes the form of strategy within a business setting” (Nonaka I., & Takeuchi H., 1995, p. 74). The project knowledge strategy is aimed at fostering individuals’ commitment to create and share knowledge within and among projects. This knowledge domain may be broken down into three components: 1.1 – Project knowledge strategy definition: the process of conceptualizing a picture of the future (vision), formulating goals and guidelines (strategy) concerning knowledge in projects, realigning the project knowledge strategy, in response to feedbacks emerging from single projects. 1.2 – Project knowledge strategy communication: the process of presenting, deploying and supporting the organizational knowledge intention towards project stakeholders. 1.3 – Project knowledge strategy evaluation: the process of monitoring and controlling the impacts on project value due to the application of KM in projects, and rewarding project KM best practices.

2- Project knowledge roles. To be effective, project KM entails: a) the engagement of many individuals, qualified under the general term “knowledge-creating crew”: “all the individuals engaged in knowledge creation within the company” (Nonaka I., & Takeuchi H., 1995, p. 151); b) some specific knowledge roles, otherwise named “knowledge activists”: “mayor players in the knowledge creation steps” (Von Krogh G., Ichijo K., & Nonaka I., 2000, p. 147). Focusing on the typical project environment, this knowledge domain may be broken down into three components: 2.1 – Project knowledge catalyst: it is a temporary role, responsible for creating an effective project knowledge context and for facilitating the regular execution of KM processes (Knowledge domain n.3) inside the project team and towards project stakeholders. This role may be held directly by the project manager or may be delegated to a project team member, a PMO specialist or an external consultant. 2.2 – Project knowledge engineer: it is a permanent role, responsible for developing the organizational project management framework (model and techniques), spreading its application in projects, verifying the real uses, updating the framework (continuous improvement or redesign) based on feedbacks from projects, strategy changes and new trends in KM. This role is usually held by a senior specialist from central staffs (PMO, etc.). 2.3 – Project knowledge officer: it is a permanent role, responsible for optimizing the overall value of project KM for the organization or part of it. Specifically: promoting the organizational knowledge strategy, fostering knowledge cross-fertilization among projects, coordinating knowledge-creation initiatives, evaluating business benefits deriving from project KM investments. This role is typically held by a senior manager (Head of PMO, Business Unit Director, Portfolio Manager, etc.). Regardless of these knowledge roles, it must be underlined that the project manager is accountable for costs-results of KM activities, and that each project team member is responsible for directly performing knowledge activities.

3- Project knowledge processes. This domain is the engine of project KM. Knowledge processes are the places where “human knowledge is created and expanded through social interaction between tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge” (Nonaka I., & Takeuchi H., 1995, p. 151). This knowledge domain is based on the spiral of knowledge creation and consists of four components: 3.1 - Socialization: the process of sharing tacit knowledge among individuals. It happens through face-to face interactions. 3.2 - Externalization: the process of translating tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge. It happens through dialogue and collective reflection. 3.3 - Combination: the process of merging different explicit objects into a more complex explicit knowledge system. It happens through media such as databases, IT communications infrastructures and organizational networks. 3.4 – Internalization: the process of transforming explicit knowledge into tacit knowledge. It happens through personal learning by doing.

4- Project knowledge technologies. Specific technologies must be active to support the spiral of knowledge creation, especially the externalization and combination processes. This knowledge domain consists of three components: 4.1 – Project Management Information System: “an information system consisting of the tools and techniques used to gather, integrate, and disseminate the output of project management processes” (PMI, 2008a, p. 435). 4.2 - Organizational knowledge database: a company repository for archiving and retrieving lessons learned from completed and underway projects, and project KM best practices. 4.3 Knowledge social media: different types of internet-based applications (web 2.0) that allow information sharing, interactive collaboration and professional networking, beyond the formal project boundaries.

5- Project knowledge attitudes. Individuals are the foundation of knowledge. Tacit knowledge is subjective and based on experience. It’s also simultaneous and context sensitive: “it is created here and now, in a caring context where knowledge can be nurtured and shared” (Meloni, G & Villa, T. 2007, p. 1). Finally it’s analogical and not easily transferred: “because tacit knowledge is bound to the senses, personal experiences and bodily movement, it cannot easily be passed on to others. In fact, it requires close physical proximity while the work is being done” (Von Krogh G., Ichijo K., & Nonaka I., 2000, p. 83). Therefore project stakeholders must be fostered in practicing KM, starting from their own attitudes. This knowledge domain may be broken down into four components: 5.1 – Project knowledge training: the process of developing and running educational initiatives for different types of stakeholders, focused on project KM skills. 5.2 Knowledge communities of practice: the process of launching, managing and evaluating organizational communities focused on the application and the improvement of KM in projects. 5.3 – Project intellectual capital: the process of defining rules and managing, protecting and rewarding individuals’ intellectual capital in projects. 5.4 – Knowledge stakeholders engagement: the process of managing relationships with project stakeholders to capture their attitudes towards knowledge and foster supportive behaviours.

6- Project knowledge enablers. Project KM might be more effective if it can rely on specific organizational enablers. This knowledge domain may be broken down into three components: 6.1 – Management oversight: direct involvement of managerial roles of the organization in sponsoring knowledge activities in projects. 6.2 – Autonomy: self-organization, individually allowed within the project environment regarding knowledge issues. Autonomy fosters the holographic model: the whole (organization) and its parts (individuals, teams) share the same knowledge. 6.3 – Redundancy: a wilful overlapping of information that exceeds for amount and variety the immediate needs referred to a specific operational situation. Redundant information fosters the sharing of tacit knowledge. “an intentional redundancy enables individuals to better understand the “big picture” and consequently to be more proactive in developing informal non-hierarchical communication channels where tacit knowledge can move around easily” (Meloni, G & Villa, T. , 2007, p. 4).

PKMMM in action

The implementation of PKMMM consists of three broad activities, cyclically performed: definition, measurement and improvement. Definition is aimed at understanding the logical configuration and the specific elements of PKMMM, and at planning the target KM maturity level for the organization. Measurement is aimed at assessing the current maturity level of the organization, compared with the levels provided by the model. Improvement is aimed at defining and implementing specific actions to reach and maintain the target level. The first part of this paper has been used for understanding PKMMM.

Measurement can be performed using narrative evaluation scales, one scale for each knowledge component. The evaluation scale consists of five descriptions, one for each knowledge maturity level. Descriptions are cumulative: for example, the Level 4 description assumes that the Level 3 description has been fulfilled. Assessing a Level 4 maturity means that all the items of Level 3 are in place. If not, the current maturity is Level 3. By collecting measurements from all the components relating to a knowledge domain, the maturity level for that domain may be determined. The domain maturity level is equal to the lowest level reached by its components. Similarly the overall knowledge maturity level may be determined, by picking the lowest level of domain measurements. Independent assessors or company assessing teams may use these scales for evaluating which description better represents the current status of each knowledge component. Narrative scales may be more effective if combined with other assessment techniques such as interviews, focus groups, observations. Inside the PKMMM, measurement is a bridge between definition and improvement: therefore it must be engaging, consistent and repeatable.

Improvement must be focused on gaps between current and target maturity levels. The higher the gap, the higher the priority. For example measurement may reveal a gap in “Project knowledge roles” domain: target level is 3 and current level is 2 for the components “Project knowledge engineer” and “Project knowledge officer”, and 1 for the component “Project knowledge catalyst”. Thereby a priority improvement action towards level 2 must be put in place for this last component. A specific project must be planned, organizing the different improvement actions. An improvement plan should combine long-term and short-term goals: the full path towards the target level must be clearly defined and communicated, at the same time short-term milestones (six months) must be planned and checked. In this way, the organization can gradually verify ROI from knowledge maturity improvement actions, and individuals engaged in carrying out the plan can draw motivation from quick wins. More in general, periodic re-assessments enhance the results achieved, refresh the organizational knowledge vision, reinforce individuals’ commitment, refine actions towards target maturity level in managing knowledge within and among company projects.

Some guidelines must be followed for an effective implementation of knowledge creation, such as “create a knowledge vision”, “develop a knowledge crew”, “build a high-density field of interaction at the front-line”, “piggyback on the new-product development process” (Nonaka – Takeuchi, 1995, p. 226). These guidelines might be adjusted and adopted for implementing PKMMM, according to organization’s profile.

Final Words

Knowledge is a CSF for project value. Project knowledge is both tacit and explicit, and is embedded in every ontological level. KM is a very complex matter, especially in projects. The lessons learned represent only the tip of the iceberg. The iceberg of knowledge is looking for its own project maturity model. The model presented in this paper could represent an initial step towards the definition of a PKMMM.


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Nonaka I., & Takeuchi H. (1995) The Knowledge Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation. New York: Oxford University Press.

Meloni G., Villa, T. (2007, May) Uncovering Tacit Knowledge in Projects. PMI Global Congress 2007, Europe, Budapest, Hungary

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© 2010, Tiziano Villa, PMP® CMC®
Originally published as a part of 2010 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Milan, Italy