Managing Knowledge

Managing Knowledge

Cinda Voegtli writes for – a Ms.Money partner.

In your company, university, or government agency, how does past experience get harnessed for future good? Does your organization learn from its own successes and failures and those of others?

This kind of learning is termed knowledge management. “Knowledge is information combined with experience, context, interpretation, and reflection. It is a high-value form of information that is ready to apply to decisions and actions.” [Davenport, De Long, and Beers, “Successful Knowledge Management Projects,” Sloan Management Review, Winter 1998].

Companies initiate knowledge management projects to find ways to capture, interpret, organize, disseminate, and capitalize on what they’ve learned. For instance, at some companies project teams hold “lessons learned” meetings during and/or at the end of projects. They reflect on what they did well (“Manufacturing was involved early on, and we resolved manufacturing issues during design reviews instead of after prototyping!”). They also reflect on what they didn’t do so well (“But we didn’t invite the right field support people to our reviews, and ended up with a design that was difficult to install.”) These observations, and the resulting “lessons learned,” are often very detailed and thorough — a great source of recommendations for other project managers. But, these valuable new checklists seldom get to other managers who need them.

That’s where a more full-fledged knowledge management strategy comes in. For instance, the data from all “lessons learned” meetings can be categorized by project type, issue type, phase or activity of the project where it applies, and so forth, then compiled into a simple database. Now, any project manager has an information source of items to watch for that’s appropriate for the project type or project phase they’re currently planning or executing. Properly used and maintained, these repositories will provide a wealth of company-specific wisdom and ready-made reminders throughout the project. No good reason to repeat past mistakes, endure unnecessary (and usually painful) project setbacks.

Other types of knowledge management initiatives include:

  • Facilitating exchanges among technical experts who have vast company knowledge stored in their heads
  • Cataloguing the competencies of employees to help match them up with other individuals or project teams who could use their expertise
  • Enhancing the corporate training program
  • Discussion groups (either in-person or email) where participants share “best practices” they’ve picked up from outside reading, conferences etc.

I invite you to consider how your organization can capture and use its vital knowledge by managing it. The potential payoff in time and cost savings, everyone’s enjoyment of work, and ultimately the success of the organization are very significant–a benefit just waiting to be realized. is the leading Web-based resource for people who manage projects and teams. It provides access to practical information about project and team management skills and processes; forums where participants can interact with peers and experts; and comprehensive guides to tools and other project management resources.

©Copyright 2000 Emprend, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Republished with permission from Emprend, Inc.