Harnessing Project Knowledge

Every project provides opportunities to learn. The most successful project managers and organizations are adept at identifying the knowledge they need to complete a project, as well as sharing it to inform and improve future endeavors.

What is Knowledge?

What do we mean by knowledge, and how is it different from data and information? Larry Prusak, an expert in knowledge management, explains it this way. “Let’s say you invited a friend over for a good dinner and you’re a little unsure of yourself in terms of your cooking skills. If you look at a cookbook, the letters on the recipe are data. The recipe itself is information. Knowledge is knowing how to cook,” Prusak told PMI CCO Joe Cahill during an episode of the Center Stage podcast.

“You can’t just read ten books and become a good cook—you can learn by practicing, by doing it.” Knowledge comes as you gain experience through applying the information you learn in real situations.

Knowledge in Projects

In any project, you need people who have the knowledge to complete the project and ensure its success. Organizations that provide mechanisms for identifying where existing knowledge resides have an advantage. Even small organizations and small projects still need “an infrastructure that allows you to find out who knows what,” says Prusak.

Well-maintained archives of documentation and lessons learned also provide a rich repository of knowledge that can help members of a current project find the best ways to move forward, based on experiences in similar past projects.

“As projects become larger and more complex, however, the most effective knowledge comes from collaboration,” says Naoki Ogiwara, Managing Director of Knowledge Associates Japan.

“Especially in large-scale projects, situations change every day, and the core knowledge changes every day, meaning that, for instance, suddenly your client asks for new things or technology situations have changed. Hence codifying everything does not work very well. And hence interaction among project members would be more important,” Ogiwara explained on Center Stage.

Making Space for Knowledge

Collective intelligence doesn’t just materialize—it needs care and feeding. You need to “have nodes of knowledge, people who want to collaborate, who know what’s going on in their work space and who work together—and that requires work to do it,” says Prusak.

There are many ways an organization can facilitate knowledge sharing, including mentorship programs, communities of practice, networks and innovation centers, to name a few. These efforts often don’t require much budget, but they do require “incentive, governance, encouragement and acknowledgment,” Prusak adds.

This mindset ideally permeates the organization, but even individual project managers can undertake knowledge management and knowledge-sharing activities within a project. Create opportunities for team members to brainstorm, share insight and discuss alternative solutions. Support them in finding new knowledge that can inform the project. Encourage collaboration on tasks and activities, and avoid too much siloed or individualized work.

You’ll see benefits for not only the current project, but for those in the future as well. After all, “without knowledge we wouldn’t have anything,” Prusak says. “It has been the basis of all progress in mankind.”

Go deeper by listening to the full podcast episodes, Talking about Project Knowledge, with Larry Prusak, and East Meets West: Perspectives on Knowledge at Work with Naoki Ogiwara, only on PMI’s Center Stage hosted by Joe Cahill. 


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