Project Management


36brokenHeartNecklaceBack in the ’80s, the oil company Shell ran a promotional campaign from their petrol (gas) stations in the UK which would never work today.  With every petrol purchase, you were given a scratch-card, which would reveal the left or right half of a banknote, with a value of up to £5000.  The half-note had no value in itself  – but if you could discover both halves of the banknote, then you would receive the cash.  As a child, I can remember it made those boring garage stops much more exciting!

Shell’s promotion relied on a good geographic separation of left and right halves of the high value banknotes. It worked well… until someone had the bright idea of asking for the missing half-notes on national radio (we’re pre-internet here folks!), at which point I think Shell cried “foul” and cancelled the promotion.

I’ve been working on a KM/OL strategy for a company with a large number of major construction projects.  I had the privilege of interviewing a very perceptive senior manager who was reflecting for the first time on the challenges of managing knowledge in a project  team environment.
She made an interesting observation about the power of stories as a source of shared knowledge, and the true cost of breaking up project teams to reallocate resources to new tasks.

It’s easy to assume that when a team dissolves, each of the members  take the knowledge, lessons and stories with them. Completely.  Within this assumption, every team member is a  repository and can be managed and reallocated as a lossless, portable knowledge transfer approach, plugged into the next project just like a lego brick.

This manager’s insight was that many of the stories don’t reside wholly with an individual – they only surface when two former team members come together and spark each other’s memories to release the value – just like our £5000 Shell scratchcard halves.  Without the other half, the knowledge value of that shared story is volatile, and at risk of dispersing into the ether.

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In this world there is a real loss of knowledge when a team is disbanded and reallocated – it’s not all carried by the individuals. The sum of the separated parts is now less than the sum of the parts when they were together.

As I write this, it seems obvious, but I have a feeling that our approaches to managing and sharing experience and expertise – and even our interpretation and use of network analysis – is often built on the assumption that we can make and break bonds and still retain all the knowledge in the nodes.

I think it’s a lot messier than that – as Joe Cocker and the Beatles both sang – we only get by with a little help from our friends.

Earlier this year I presented at Henley Business School’s annual KM Forum event, on the subject of “Lessons Earned”. They kindly recorded the event, and I have finally got around to editing and posting a ten minute excerpt on YouTube.

Watch it to discover:

  • How Lessons Learned are like the Higgs Boson particle…
  • How project lessons are like a leaky bucket…
  • Why frequently asked questions aren’t frequently right…
  • Why captured knowledge is like a dead butterfly collection…
  • How ‘not hiding’ is different to sharing…
  • And why curiosity is good for business, even if it is bad for cats!

It’s always nice when two pieces of work converge.

I’ve had the pleasure of consulting to BAA’s KM team at Heathrow over the past month, and in parallel, have been researching the knowledge transfer processes which surround the Olympic Games. Both of these are good stories.

I was impressed to see the video below, which was Vancouver’s “knowledge gift” to Heathrow.
Nicely produced, and well received.

Sometimes I come across organisations which have a way of working which naturally encourages the sharing of knowledge – so naturally, in fact, that they don’t realise that the way they operate is different from most other companies.

Posters – perhaps the most effective (and overlooked) social media?

I spent most of last week with a knowledge-friendly Swiss company which has developed a “poster culture” over the past 5 years.  Corridors, office walls – pretty much every piece of available  wall-space has a poster describing a project, initiative, programme, summary of an event, description of a team and its responsibilities.  Every corner you walk around, you pause and think “hmmm, that’s interesting!”.  They prompt interaction and conversation.

It’s a surprisingly simple low-tech thing, but it goes a long way to helping people discover what’s going on. No surprises. No closed doors.  It puts clear labels on the silos. (see my earlier post – “in defence of silos”)

The same company ran a workshop/conference to update the group on progress on several projects. Rather than using PowerPoint, went to the trouble (and expense) of producing large posters so that people could be walked-through their story.  I joined the groups who were circulating between different poster sessions, found myself reflecting on the dynamics.

Yes, in many cases, the posters looked a lot like several PowerPoint slides arranged side-by-side.  But even where that was the case, as the reader, I was still in control of which ones I read.  Whilst the presenter was talking, I could still flick my eyes back to the material she had just covered, and get a sense of what was still to come.
If she’d showed me exactly the same slides, but in the more conventional linear sequence, projected on a screen, driven by the presenter – it would have been different – and I would probably have lost the plot.  In the poster environment, I had more control over my own journey through the story.  Pointing and asking “could you just clarify what you meant in that bit”, is much easier than interrupting the flow with “could you go back 4 slides – I think it was 4, perhaps 5 – no one more…”

In other cases, the poster-makers took full advantage of their canvas, and drew timelines, rollercoasters and journeys to illustrate their talks, and provided pockets of depth and detail in parts of the poster.  You just can’t do that with a conventional 4×3 slide.

Did it cost more?

Yes – $100 per poster – and large posters are unwieldy, require space and take time to put up.  Most companies don’t have 2A0 chart-plotters/printers in house – but don’t let that stop you.

Did it add more value?

Disproportionately yes, I would say.  Spend the money.  Plant some trees to offset the extra paper. Revel in the fact that you don’t have a projector in the room.

Did it make best use of the knowledge in the room and encourage dialogue?

I hardly need to answer that.

Yes.  After my poster renaissance moment last week in Switzerland, it’s a +1 from me for this form of social media.

Just enjoyed an excellent 3 days at the  10th anniversary Henley KM Forum.

Against my better judgement, I provided (together with Martin Fisher), a little musical interlude as part of our project report on “knowledge-enabled project management”, where we were exploring the perceptions that project managers have regarding knowledge management, and vice versa.
So here is it, just in case you ever need it – Music courtesy of Frank Sinatra, words courtesy of yours truly…  KM (Frank) in black, PM (Nancy) in red!

Enjoy!

Somethin ‘Stupid  (will KM and PM ever fall in love?)

I know I’ll stand in line

Until you think you have the time

To have a meeting with me.

And when I tell you all about

The way to give your  project clout

You’re pleading with me.

On time and cost and quality, your eyes grow large as you can see

why I’ve been sent.

But then I go and spoil it all by saying something stupid

Knowledge management!

 

I can see it in your eyes

That you despise the same old lines

You think it’s just a fad.

I’ve got my targets and my plan,

I manage risks, you understand?

D’you really think I’m mad?

 

I manage all my stakeholders

and fill up all my sharepoint folders.

That’s what  I do.

I’m learning all the lessons though

I don’t know what’s the best one,

Or if it’s really true.

My project is unique,

No-one would seek to hear me speak,
my learning to present.

And now you’ve gone  and spoilt it all by saying something stupid

“Knowledge management…”

 

If you were in my shoes

You mustn’t lose, what could you choose

To keep the board content?

I guess we’d find a way to save the day by just applying…

Knowledge Management

Through Project Management

<together> Good Management…  (to fade…)

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