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Expert Reference Series of White Papers

Applying Knowledge
Management to Project

Applying Knowledge Management to
Project Management
Stephanie Simon, PMP, Global Knowledge Instructor

With the advent of the Internet, we have access to an overwhelming amount of information on a daily basis
- and the volume of information available is growing at a rapid pace. It is easy to get lost in the data or experi-
ence that we call “information overload.” One of the biggest challenges for individuals and organizations is
how to best manage and utilize knowledge and information, particularly with limited resources. How can we
make the greatest use of this knowledge and information to operate more efficiently, improve decision-making,
and sustain a competitive advantage.

There is a growing, interdisciplinary field known as knowledge management, that is dedicated to how we ac-
quire, organize, manage, share, and utilize knowledge and information. This white paper will discuss:
• What knowledge management is
• Why it is important, particularly in a knowledge-based economy
• How you can apply knowledge management to project management
• H
 ow Communities of Practice can support the implementation of knowledge management in your

What Is Knowledge Management?

The concept and evolution of knowledge management (KM) has its roots in the work of management theorists
such as Peter Drucker, Paul Strassmann, and Peter Senge. Knowledge management can be difficult to define,
because it encompasses a wide range of practices, tools, concepts, and techniques. According to Jatinder N.D.
Gupta and Sushil K. Sharma, in their book Creating Knowledge Based Organizations, “Knowledge management
for the organization consists of activities focused on the organization gaining knowledge from its own experi-
ence and from the experience of others and on the judicious application of that knowledge to fulfill the mission
of the organization.”

For purposes of this paper, it may be best to define knowledge management in terms of how it applies spe-
cifically to project management. Knowledge management is defined by Gerard Hill in his book The Complete
Project Management Office Handbook as “coordinating organizational knowledge and information to enable
increased project management capability and to achieve business value from that capacity.” Hill goes on to say
that with KM, we move from simply transferring data to “the conveyance of ideas, perceptions, experiences, and
interpretations that transcend the simple exchange of information.” What he means by this definition is that
knowledge management takes project management communication to the next level. It is the process whereby

Copyright ©2009 Global Knowledge Training LLC. All rights reserved. 2

information is converted into knowledge that is used as an asset to the organization. The knowledge, for
example, can be used to create more efficient business processes and advance the practice of project manage-
ment. Knowledge management is complimentary to and may enhance other process improvement practices or
learning management initiatives in your organization.

Why Knowledge Management?

As we know, projects have a defined start and end date, and are temporary in nature. In order for the learnings
associated with projects to become part of institutional memory, there has to be organizational support for
knowledge transfer to occur. This support is necessary, because it takes time to capture and record our learnings,
especially in real time, and transfer that knowledge and information. We often lack the motivation to do so as it
is considered time away from working on the specific task at hand, and our performance may be measured on
timely completion of those tasks and deliverables. Management has to recognize and support the benefits that
knowledge management can bring to the organization so that project practitioners feel comfortable taking the
time to properly engage in KM.

Without management support and KM tools and processes in place, knowledge assets are routinely lost during
the project lifecycle. For example, we may capture lessons learned, but not apply them on future projects. The
loss of these knowledge assets can lead to costly rework and repetition of mistakes, gross inefficiency, and, in
the long term, a loss of competitive advantage.

In some organizations, it may take a cultural shift to recognize the strategic importance and value of knowledge
and information. It is a shift away from associating knowledge with individual power to knowledge as an orga-
nizational benefit that is an essential component of project management. Organizations that make the greatest
use of their knowledge assets understand the competitive advantage they can develop as they manage projects
smartly and more efficiently. Knowledge-based or learning organizations are leveraging knowledge by system-
atically applying and reusing existing data and information on future projects.

People, Process, and Tools

Knowledge management is about how to systematically develop and share knowledge throughout the organiza-
tion. Adopting KM in an organization involves the consideration of three major items.

People: The people aspect includes a shift in the thinking about and understanding of the importance of
knowledge and information to organizational success. In order for this cultural shift to occur, the organization
may need to take on small pilot projects to demonstrate the effectiveness of knowledge management practices.

Process: Process involves having a framework for knowledge management in the organization and embedding
that framework into project management processes and methodology.

Tools: There are different tools and technologies that can be used to facilitate the process of managing and
sharing knowledge and information. Examples include document management systems, online communities
through the use of web portals, data repositories for storing and retrieving lessons learned, and Web 2.0 tools

Copyright ©2009 Global Knowledge Training LLC. All rights reserved. 3

such as wikis and blogs. The success of these tools is dependent on such factors as ease of use, widespread ac-
cessibility, and key word search capabilities.

How To Apply Knowledge Management to Your Projects

Knowledge management and project management are complimentary practices that can work hand-in-hand
to improve organizational performance. The key is to first demonstrate the value of knowledge management
practices to the organization, and then introduce KM practices into the project management process and
methodology. Ginger Levin and Parviz F. Rad, in their paper titled Moving Forward with Project Management: A
Knowledge Management Methodology, introduce a number of ways to integrate knowledge management tools
and practices throughout the project management lifecycle.

According to Levin and Parviz, in the initiating process, the importance of knowledge management is defined in
the project charter. The charter indicates that each project team member is responsible for creating knowledge
assets during the course of the project. In addition, a process is established during initiation for how this infor-
mation will be collected, organized, tagged, stored, and retrieved. Also, a determination is made regarding what
tools and technology will be used for storing and retrieving the knowledge assets. A team member is assigned
the role of “knowledge broker,” who has responsibility for reviewing the content created by team members
and posting the information to the portal, repository, forums, blogs, wikis, or other tools used for data storage,
review, and retrieval. One of the keys to success is making the knowledge management process as streamlined
as possible and ensuring the technologies employed for managing the data and information are easy to use. If
you utilize a Responsibility Assignment Matrix (RAM) on your projects, according to Levin and Parviz, the RAM
can be used to reinforce roles and responsibilities associated with the creation, review, approval, and posting of
knowledge assets.

As you move forward into the planning process, Levin and Parviz suggest that knowledge management activi-
ties be included as a work package that is part of the work breakdown structure. The work associated with
identifying, capturing, and storing project learnings are then viewed as part of the project work, and included in
the project schedule or workplan. This is a more formal way of embedding knowledge management processes
into project management practices.

According to Levin and Parviz, during Executing, Monitoring and Controlling, what they refer to as the “Interme-
diate Phases” of a project, the creation of knowledge assets is occurring as a continuous process. They suggest
ways to ensure that learnings are being identified and captured.
• Discuss and reinforce the importance of capturing this information at project team meetings.
• C
 onduct after-action reviews focused on capturing and documenting lessons learned at the end of each
phase of work or after key milestones are reached.
• Track and monitor the number and quality of postings to the portal, forum, or data repository.

In addition, look for opportunities to use and apply learnings during the course of the project. Once team mem-
bers experience the benefit of knowledge sharing, they may be more inclined to participate in the process. Up-
date the project schedule to reflect all the work activity associated with KM on the project. According to Levin
and Parviz, the project manager can serve as a mentor or change agent to establish knowledge management

Copyright ©2009 Global Knowledge Training LLC. All rights reserved. 4

activities as part of the project work. Project managers can also lead by practicing and facilitating knowledge
sharing during the course of the project.

When closing out a project, don’t forget to store important project artifacts that may serve as templates for
future projects. Examples of artifacts include the project charter, work breakdown structure, schedule, commu-
nication plan, risk and issues log, and change control documents. According to Levin and Parviz, when closing
out a project, the post-project review will serve as a vehicle for reviewing the knowledge assets captured during
the project and for capturing any remaining learnings for the knowledge repository. There are different ways
to conduct these reviews, either through formal or informal interviews, debriefing meetings, surveys, or some
combination of these methods. The knowledge assets collected should be reviewed and a determination made
as to whether some of these learnings should be moved forward and recommended as project management or
organizational best practices. Knowledge assets that are ideal for implementation are those that provide long-
term benefit in terms of improving organizational performance and fostering a learning organization.

Initially, you may need to offer some incentives to encourage individuals to participate in identifying and
documenting project learnings. Examples of incentives may be cash or prize awards for the number of times the
learnings were shared and reused, peer group or company-wide recognition, or performance evaluations that
are tied to participation levels. The reward system should be standardized across the organization and built into
a larger knowledge management initiative.

Communities of Practice
One way to support the cultural transformation to knowledge management in the organization is to introduce
the concept of Communities of Practice (CoP).

According to Wenger, McDermott, and Snyder in their book, A Guide to Managing Knowledge, a Community of
Practice is defined as “a group of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic,
and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in an area by interacting on an ongoing basis.” Communities
of Practice have been established to support the development and dissemination of project management and
knowledge management practices in an organization.

One well known example of a project management CoP is at The Boeing Company. Boeing established the
Boeing Project Management Interest Group (PMIG) in 1997. This virtual community of interest is a forum for
education and training, career development, knowledge sharing and networking. NASA also has a Community
of Practice in place to enhance the capabilities of program and project leaders. According to Tina M. Chindgren
and Edward J. Hoffman in their paper, “Project Management Learning at NASA: The Intersection of Projects and
Communities of Practice,” the purpose of the NASA CoP is to promote leadership development through mentor-
ing and teaching, encourage open communication and dialogue, and capture and communicate the knowledge
and wisdom of program and project leaders.

Communities of Practice provide an opportunity for individuals with similar interests to share knowledge and
information and promote the dissemination of best practices in an organization. An additional benefit that CoPs

Copyright ©2009 Global Knowledge Training LLC. All rights reserved. 5

offer is a forum for networking, problem-solving, and developing professional skills. There is also the residual
benefit of improving employee morale and retaining talent through the creation of a social support network.

The essentials of knowledge management involve the ability to capture knowledge and learnings from proj-
ects as close to real time as possible, transfer the data and information, and apply those learnings to future
projects. Many organizations have come to realize the benefits of knowledge management, particularly in our
knowledge-based economy. Knowledge is increasingly being valued as a strategic asset essential to sustaining
a competitive advantage. Applying knowledge management techniques to project management practices can
result in enhanced communication and better project integration, improved decision making, reduced risks, and
continuous improvement in project performance. Ultimate benefits to the organization include improvements in
efficiency and productivity, increased profitability, and more opportunity for market innovation with the ability to
capitalize on the power of knowledge.

Learn More
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Project Post Mortems as a Positive Experience
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About the Author

Stephanie Simon, MHA, PMP is a training and project management consultant. She has over 15 years of experi-
ence in managing projects, mentoring, consulting, and teaching project management and professional skills
courses. Stephanie has worked primarily in the health care and pharmaceutical industries for companies such
as Kaiser Permanente, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, and GlaxoSmithKline. She has managed
increasingly complex projects working with geographically dispersed, cross-functional teams. She teaches and
utilizes tools, methodologies, and best practices in project management. Stephanie has a Bachelor’s degree in
Communication from the University of Michigan and a Master’s degree in Health Administration from the Uni-
versity of Washington. She enjoys building collaborative working relationships and developing high performing

Copyright ©2009 Global Knowledge Training LLC. All rights reserved. 6

Baker, Christine E. (2008). Leading Projects in a Changing World: Stepping Up to the Challenge – A Boeing Case
Study. Presentation at the 2008 International Project Management Day Webcast, Leading Projects in a Changing
World. Retrieved on November 6, 2008, from
Chindgren, Tina M. & Hoffman, Edward J. (2006). Project Management Learning at NASA: The Intersection of
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Fung, Kenneth. (2004). Improving Project ROI with Knowledge Management. Conference paper presented at
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Idea Group Publishing.
Hill, Gerard M. (2004). The Complete Project Management Office Handbook. ESI International, Inc. and Auerbach
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Oxford, UK: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann.
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Methodology. Conference paper presented at the PMI Global Congress, Atlanta, GA.
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Global Congress, Denver, CO.
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Julians, Malta.
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to Managing Knowledge. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.
Wenger, Etienne & Snyder, William M. (2000, January-February). Communities of Practice: The Organizational
Frontier. Harvard Business Review, 78(1), 139-145.

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