Wednesday 27 November 2013

The stages of project learning

I blogged yesterday about the need for knowledge transfer between a project and an organisation.

This post goes a little further, and talks about the development of knowledge within a project.

The diagram here shows a progression of learning in a project, and is particularly applicable to product development projects or R&D projects.

  • In step 1, the project becomes clear about what it already knows (about the challenges, about the technology, about the market). These are the known knowns.
  • In step 2, the project becomes clear what is already known by others, which the project team doesn't know about yet. As far as the project team is concerned, these are the unknown knowns; things that others know, that the project team doesn't. Here the team needs to learn from the wider organisation, or learn from other organisations. By mapping out the known knowns, the project team can then limit their scope to the truly unknown (because if they start researching known territory. they are wasting effort and reinventing the wheel). (See for example Wilbur Wright's attempt to map out the known knowns when researching Powered Flight).
  • In step 3, the project steps into the unknown. They define what they need to learn about (the Known Unknowns), and put in place processes to gain that knowledge - R&D, Market Research, Business Driven Action Learning.  Through these processes, they fill in the Known Unknowns  as they become known.
  • In step 4 the project butts up against the Unknown Unknowns - the nasty surprises. They can only address these by a secure process of "Learning while Doing" - through After Action Reviews or some other process of project learning. They won't discover all the Unknown Unknowns, but can make some headway into this territory.
And then, of course, at the end of the project, they can share what they have learned with the rest of the organisation.

All of this should be covered by the project Knowledge Management Plan

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