Tuesday 14 July 2009

KM in projects - optional, or mandated?

There is a debate going on in comments to a post on Arjun Thomas' blog about whether knowledge management processes such as the After Action review should be made mandated in projects. Charles Parry suggests that

"unless learning and improvement is explicitly built into work processes so as to essentially be unavoidable, the collection and sharing of knowledge is a moot point. I know that’s harsh, but its pragmatic. It takes time, so if it’s not important enough to build in time for, it just doesn’t happen".

Arjun, on the other hand, worries that this will lead to a box-ticking mentality "as a lot of people will end up doing this for the sake of “doing” it"

I have to say, I agree with Charles. Even if people end up doing things for the sake of doing them, at least they get done! And providing you quality control the processes, then useful results will emerge. What in fact you find over time, is that at first people do these activities because they are required to, but then they pick up on the value, and begin to do them because the believe in them. That's if you ensure the processes deliver value, of course, which means closing the loop from the after actions reviews, acting on the input from the peer assists, and delivering the actions from the Knowledge Management plan. In BP in the 90s, one of the first Knowledge Management processes to be developed and deployed was the Peer Assist, and this came as a mandate from senior management that no project would receive sanction unless it demonstrated that it had (through one of these meetings) tapped into the knowledge from round the world. First people saw this as a box to be ticked, but you don't have to hold more than a couple peer assists to really see the value. the same is true of after action reviews, provided the learning loop is closed.

If these processes are not mandated and unavoidable, then they are effectively optional. And which project has time for optional activity? They are stretched enough delivering what's vital, without worrying about what's optional. So if we believe in the value of knowledge management, and we can demonstrate that value to senior management, then our request to senior management must be to embed a core set of Knowledge Management processes into the project management framework, to make them a clear expectation for projects and a clear accountability for the project manager, and then to track that they get done (and get done well). And if senior management grant this request, then our side of the deal, as knowledge management professionals, is to ensure that these processes deliver value to the projects - considerably more value than the time they took.

I know this sounds tough, but it works.

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