First things first—what is knowledge management?
Knowledge management by definition is the efficient management of information about a project, initiative or corporate knowledge. More specifically, it’s about taking the information that’s in people’s heads and making it available to the company as needed—by having a process and location to transfer and manage so much accumulated knowledge. It’s something that project managers need to have a hand in, especially if their projects are information- intensive.
Eventually, all of us feel the importance of captured and uncaptured knowledge—especially when team mates leave and take important insight and know-how with them. We’re left spinning our wheels and grasping for processes and information.
As a technical writer, I’ve seen knowledge management initiatives fail in a variety of business sectors—e.g., commercial, federal government and non-governmental organizations. Poorly conceived processes along with proprietary, complex toolsets (some bordering on Rube Goldberg) were the root causes of the failures. When knowledge management becomes a difficult task for busy project teams, you can bet they’ll skip over it or do it “when they have time” (translation: never).
Here are four ways knowledge management can help you run a high-performing project team.
1. Knowledge management and the cloud
The growth of cloud-based project management software and collaboration platforms is ushering in changes. Teams can now centralize their documents and project communications, and capture corporate, product and technology knowledge using a browser or mobile device as part of their natural workflow.
Project teams using these processes and platforms are already checking off some of the fundamental knowledge management boxes, including:
- Data and information governance, because project information is ruled by role-based security
- Information search and retrieval, through a platform-based search engine
- Document-versioning with an audit trail that identifies the last author, date modified and other relevant information
- Project and information workflow support that uses integrated wizards or add-ins.
However, while a team might have these tools in place, the project manager needs to institute and enforce processes with the team to use these tools appropriately. It’s not about instituting some “knowledge management initiative for 2015”; instead, it comes down to centralizing all of your project information in the cloud where it’s secure, searchable and retrievable by any project team member.
Coming from very traditional technical writer roots, I’ve broadened my views on knowledge transfer, as cloud-based project management and collaboration platforms become the central locations for project information. Formally or informally, if project teams document their work and centralize their communications in the cloud, then the cloud becomes a knowledge-transfer hub for other teams, partners and even new employees.
2. Knowledge management and your project plan
You’re not going to get to knowledge management nirvana by just implementing cloud and collaboration tools. Instead, you still need to weave knowledge management into your best practices and project plans.
There’s a lot to read about creating a full knowledge management strategy. But keep in mind that it’s not about making knowledge management a singular focus, or even a “box to check;” rather it’s about folding simple knowledge management practices into regular project activities.
Here are some easy ways to make knowledge management part of every project plan:
- Look for ways to include audit trails for business and technical tasks using cloud-based tools.
- Document software code so it becomes a defined and imperative task (not an “if you have time” task).
- Have teams make full use of story cards and related tools (in an Agile environment).
- Document project post-mortems and file them in a centralized location.
3. Knowledge management as part of team collaboration
Make sure to avoid the “oral history” method of project information and use cloud-based collaboration tools to capture and index team knowledge around projects.
Here are five examples of how team collaboration applies to knowledge management:
- Inserts project questions, answers and brainstorming into one location as part of the natural team workflow.
- Gives teams a centralize document storage in the cloud.
- Manages document creation and review workflows via the cloud.
- Lets teams record scheduled video conferences and conference calls, and file the recordings in a cloud storage account for later review and reference.
- Creates project archives that remain online (and searchable) after the conclusion of a project.
4. Knowledge management and contractors
With contractors holding increasingly important roles on project teams including project management, architecture and design, knowledge management becomes even more crucial since you don’t want the contractor’s knowledge to walk out the door when the contract ends.
During the course of multiple contract projects, I’ve seen knowledge walk out of organizations first hand. This is one of the reasons I recommend that organizations move to more lightweight documentation models like wikis and project management/collaboration platforms (with social tools like threaded discussions and newsfeeds). When those technologies are included in the project workflow, knowledge leaves a person’s head and is captured in the cloud. In other words, the contractor is committing a random act of knowledge management but may not even know it.
If your development efforts involve contractors to any degree, knowledge management is the way of centralizing and managing documents and capturing team and project knowledge at the core of the project. Making contractors document their work is just good business as fortunes can change for your business and the contractor in ways you may not foresee when the project begins.
Look toward the future
Knowledge management of years past floundered due to its complexity. Knowledge management of the future will thrive because cloud project management and collaboration tools make the process of capturing and documenting knowledge more accessible to more team members.
Tell us how you’ve integrated knowledge management into your team’s processes.