Unavoidably, some knowledge is lost, but your project team members can skip “reinventing the wheel” if you employ knowledge management. Although this comes at an extra cost, your team does not need to retain all knowledge because most of it becomes outdated or just impractical sooner or later. You want to retain the essential knowledge that can help you run smoothly your current and future projects. Since the team’s composition during a project’s lifetime may vary, knowledge transfer is imperative.
Project Information and Data vs. Knowledge
Unlike project data and information, which are part of project documentation, project knowledge includes all the team’s proved and effective methods of executing the project. Project knowledge is the team’s know-how. While project knowledge is specific to the project, you can extrapolate and apply it to other projects in your organization. In time, project knowledge becomes your organization’s competitive advantage.
In many cases, you can duplicate raw data and information (interpreted data). Recreating knowledge, however, requires much more time for the team members to refine available information through a combination of their intelligence, intuition, and experience, but also through innovation, practice, trial and error, and more. This is why project knowledge requires management: acquisition, retention, and transfer of knowledge within a project team.
Knowledge acquisition requires time and experience. For effective knowledge acquisition, the team needs a suitable environment where there is no blame culture and where management promotes informal communication, innovation, and trial and error.
Knowledge retention is more complicated than just creating a well-organized document repository available to all team members. This is because knowledge is more than just explicit know-how that you can easily index as a document. There is also tacit knowledge, or knowing how to do something, usually a prerogative of a few experts in your team. Knowledge, especially tacit knowledge, is transferred through people, not spreadsheets or slideshows.
Transfer the explicit knowledge in your databases through passive sharing (searchable databases and user manuals) or active sharing (newsletters, briefs etc.). Transferring tacit knowledge is more complicated. Tacit knowledge is by definition not recorded and, in many cases, is embedded in practice. While you can identify tacit knowledge up to a certain point through questionnaires, group interviews, focus groups, transferring tacit knowledge is conditioned by the willingness of the experts to share their knowledge.
The experts’ knowledge can, in most cases, be transferred through mentoring, networking, or informal communication. But you should not exploit the experts for their hard-earned knowledge, nor should you make the newcomers feel like the experts must provide them with “shortcuts”. This is where organizational culture comes into play. On-the-job training, mentoring programs, reward programs (monetary and non-monetary) are ways of motivating the transfer of tacit knowledge from experts to newcomers.
Focus on retaining essential knowledge. Put it into practical, reusable format accessible to all team members. Promote networking and training, and reward experts. And, finally, keep your team members with your organization for as long as you can. If your employees are continuously coming and going, you have a bigger problem than knowledge transfer – your team may soon be left out of knowledge.
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