Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Risk, Knowledge and unknowns

Risk management and knowledge management both deal with the issues of unknowns, and are therefore closely linked.


In this blog post, Don McAlister reflects upon risk management in projects, and concludes that
"If the Project Plan represents the knowledge that must be applied to achieve the project objectives…and if risk is the uncertainty that matters in the knowledge that makes up the Project Plan,…then project and risk management work must be knowledge management activities"

Don shows this diagram, to explain how risk management maps onto the four risk domains
Picture from Don McAlister - reproduced with permission
Knowledge Management allows us to address these four domains one by one, and we can map the application of KM tools and techniques into a project as we seek to address the knowns and the unknowns, as I show in the picture below

In column one, a project maps out (perhaps as part of Knowledge Management Planning) the important knowledge needed for the safe and effective delivery of the project objectives. There are known knowns, known unknowns etc etc, and we have shown these as equal in extent.

The first area they address is the known unknowns – the things they know they don’t know, and know that they need to know. They put a set of learning activities (such as Peer Assists  of reviews of Lessons) in place to fill the knowledge gap. As a result, in column two, they eliminate this area, and increase the known knowns by “learning before doing”.

Then during the project they will encounter some of the unknown unknowns, which become apparent as nasty surprises. The fix these through learning from their own experience (eg using After Action reviews) or pulling in extra knowledge from the Communities of Practice.  As a result, in column three, they reduce this area, and increase the known knowns by “learning during”.

At the end of the project they do some reflection, go through a facilitated lesson-learning exercise, and may discuss their learning with other projects. Through discussion and dialogue, they become aware of some of the other things they have learned. As a result, in column three, they reduce the area of unknown knowns, and increase the known knowns by “learning after”.

Risk management can help identify the knowledge gaps and plan with them in mind, while Knowledge Management can close the gaps.

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