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

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Volvo Group Trucks, which produces trucks, construction equipment and buses, uses a formal lessons-learned process to capture and transfer project-related knowledge. But to supplement that approach, the organization also encourages project participants to share knowledge via formal and informal networks. Volvo has approximately 350 networks focused on technical topics and is in the process of launching a series of communities of practice for project managers to share project management knowledge. For example, a network focused on time management connects experts and project managers on a regular basis to share questions, guidelines and best practices. With three such communities already in operation, Volvo is launching five more aligned with strategic priorities during 2017.

At NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, more formal knowledge capture and transfer activities are supplemented by knowledge-sharing events such as brown-bag science talks, systems engineering discussions, project management panels and presentations. Goddard’s KM office also encourages collaboration via the NASA Engineering Network, an agencywide set of multidisciplinary communities.

“This is really good knowledge sharing and makes the contextualized learning possible,” said NASA Goddard CKO Edward Rogers. “There’s a lot of sharing going on, like an academic environment of learning.”

How community-based sharing translates into meaningful change

It’s important to give project teams places to communicate and share, but on its own, that is not enough for an organization to fully benefit from collective project knowledge. Just as critical is designing a mechanism for filtering community conversations and identifying the important best practices that need to be disseminated more broadly or developed into official process changes. Faithful+Gould and Fujitsu both provide examples of organizations doing that well.

Faithful+Gould uses a leadership committee to help discern broadly applicable knowledge from the ongoing flow of insights, lessons and examples generated by projects. A worldwide knowledge network composed of senior leaders from various areas is tasked with guiding content capture and generation in line with the firm’s strategic plans. However, when the group recognized how thoroughly the organization’s project professionals had adopted Yammer enterprise social networks for project management discussions, it decided to use Yammer as part of its knowledge filtering approach. The result is a collaborative process that takes project team feedback into account.

The worldwide knowledge network encourages Faithful+Gould employees to post content and ideas for improving projects in Yammer groups, which it monitors. The network tracks topics trending in Yammer discussions, as well as direct questions and answers posted, to ensure that the organization has made available whatever information employees are seeking. Based on those trends, a working group for a relevant topic (e.g., energy or health sectors) generates content and posts it to the firm’s idea management portal. The network then conducts peer reviews of the new content to verify its quality, and the marketing and legal functions check for proprietary information. Finally, the formalized content is standardized for enterprise adoption.

Vetted content from Faithful+Gould’s idea management portal then is posted in the firm’s delivery work site for use throughout the project management process. The delivery work site is a formal portal for disseminating project information that has been approved for use. Examples of published content include project tools, forms, templates, papers, process diagrams, technical checklists, notes, job aides and specifications for each sector of the business.

That approach allows Faithful+Gould to proactively identify gaps in project knowledge, as well as source answers, tools and examples that should be validated and incorporated into the delivery work site. Community involvement helps the organization tap into what project teams need, whereas the worldwide knowledge network ensures that the content generated focuses on the organization’s core services.

“People may have great ideas, but it has to be part of our strategic plan,” said Faithful+Gould lead project manager Mooney.

Fujitsu has an even more user-driven process to pinpoint vital nuggets of information that all project teams should take note of. Any employee can post knowledge, ideas, tools or examples to the project manager community site. A rating system then allows community members to evaluate peer-shared project support materials such as templates and spreadsheets by assigning them zero to five stars. That helps other members determine which tools are most worthy of use; it also allows the community leader to declutter the community by removing unhelpful tools.

To institutionalize significant changes at Fujitsu, the community hosts events to validate submitted best practices and templates. For example, the community gathered its subject matter experts on standard exit plans to vet a process for handing over contracts to clients’ third-party vendors. The experts reviewed and validated the practice before the community then disseminated it to members. Fujitsu’s Paul Jones described it as an open validation process for any change to Fujitsu’s project management approach.

Through the process, the Fujitsu project management community provides expertise to a project process review board, where changes to the organization’s approaches are formalized. The review board consists of experienced practitioners nominated by the project management steering board to review proposed process changes. The process ensures that validated changes are fully integrated into the organization’s project management approach.

Next steps

As the examples in this article reveal, communities and networks are powerful tools to help project teams collaborate, network and share information. However, those groups are most valuable when used in tandem with systematic approaches to elicit knowledge at set points in project execution.

Activities like after-action reviews and lessons-learned sessions allow project teams to “think deeply” about their experiences to date, the knowledge they have acquired and any changes that should result. The last article in this series will describe the ins and outs of formal, top-down processes to document, validate and distribute critical project knowledge and lessons.

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