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Project teams and KM – Part 2
Using communities and networks to share knowledge across products

This article appears in the issue November/December 2017, [Volume 26, Issue 9]
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The first article in this series discussed reasons why leading organizations should encourage project teams to exchange insights and experiences as part of a comprehensive knowledge transfer strategy. Next, we explore the role that virtual communities and networks play in facilitating cross-project collaboration and learning.

Most organizations realize that collective knowledge is a powerful thing. If everyone enterprisewide had access to the know-how and experience of everyone else, then the organization as a whole would be able to operate better, faster, cheaper and with many fewer mistakes. That is especially true in a project-oriented environment where many different teams are engaged in similar or related endeavors.

According to 2017 research by member-based nonprofit APQC, organizations that want to transfer knowledge across projects have several options to get their teams exchanging information and learning from one another. Some use formal, top-down approaches where leaders prioritize topics and then arrange formal sessions to document or transfer the relevant information. Others, however, rely on more organic processes where it is up to individual project managers and teams to decide what knowledge is worth sharing and then make that knowledge available to others.

Across the organizations APQC studied, virtual communities and networks are among the most common—and effective—mechanisms for project teams to share knowledge without the need for top-down processes. Knowledge sharing groups allow project participants to advise one another and share new insights in the context of their day-to-day work. They can also become hubs for project teams to access reusable practices, tools, templates and intellectual property that allow them to shorten cycle times and minimize the unnecessary risks that come from reinventing the wheel on each new project.

Virtual communities allow project teams to ask questions and share experiences

For organizations that want to improve knowledge sharing among project managers, launching a community of practice or enterprise social network focused on project management is perhaps the easiest option. It’s also an almost ubiquitous component of a project-oriented KM strategy, with five of the six organizations featured in APQC’s research using some kind of community structure to disseminate project information and facilitate discussion among project-focused employees.

Communities and networks allow project teams to answer one another’s questions and share a range of useful information and documents, from new ideas and methods to work examples and outputs. Assuming the community is well-designed, sharing can occur naturally in the flow of daily project work (instead of only at key milestones), which encourages a continuous stream of fresh, relevant knowledge.

Among the organizations APQC studied, global IT and communications equipment and services company Fujitsu has the most robust community of practice for project managers. All employees involved in Fujitsu projects are encouraged to join the community, which is a gathering point for project-related knowledge sharing and learning. The community uses a Facebook-like social networking site as its hub, and any member can submit information, post relevant news, ask and answer questions, share ideas and practices or propose changes to the organization’s project management approach. The organization does not monitor or police what is posted to the community, which facilitates immediate, open sharing among members. Members are particularly encouraged to share tools, templates and examples that other project teams can reuse.

“What I like to see are really good examples of types of delivery that we can share with other people,” said Paul Jones, Fujitsu project management community lead. “For me, it’s all about building on lessons that save time, effort and money.”

Faithful+Gould, a consulting firm focused on project and program management, has a similarly strong culture of community-based knowledge sharing among project managers. The organization has a formal enterprise network for each service the consultancy offers. The networks are focused on continuous improvement through process improvements/tweaks, project delivery and professional development.

Although SharePoint is the main repository for project knowledge at Faithful+Gould, project managers have gravitated to Microsoft’s Yammer social networking service for in-depth discussions and peer-to-peer sharing. Employees choose which of the organization’s hundreds of Yammer groups to subscribe to, and project teams receive weekly reminders to update Yammer with any relevant information. This helps keep the information on the platform up-to-date.

Joseph Mooney, lead project manager, described Faithful+Gould’s workforce as tech-savvy and happy to embrace Yammer as a collaborative tool. “That seems to be a better tool for generating ideas,” he said. “Yammer has become very popular with the various groups here.”

In addition to Yammer groups, Faithful+Gould has global communities of practice focused on specific project tools. For example, a closed Oracle community includes 10 members who share information about projects and technologies focused on Oracle software. Each community has its own SharePoint site, along with weekly calls.

A global charitable foundation that APQC studied, which chose to participate in the research anonymously, leverages both Yammer enterprise social networks and a more structured project management community of practice to share project-related knowledge and lessons. Yammer is used informally by project team members to raise questions and seek answers from colleagues across the organization. The community hosts calls, panel discussions and special events to encourage knowledge transfer among project managers, especially around topics that have been identified as common project management challenges. The community also encourages networking among members; for example, it hosts regular “speed dating” sessions where attendees circulate and talk to various colleagues for 10 minutes each about their project and personal experience.

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