Monday, July 09, 2012

Managing Tacit Knowledge In Projects

In software projects, when we talk about knowledge management it is usually about managing explicit knowledge. Explicit knowledge is disseminated with the help of knowledge assets like documents, standard operating procedures, etc. Tacit knowledge cannot be passed on easily and deals mostly with implicit or unstated knowledge. The individuals who possess this knowledge either don't know that they posses some unique knowledge that can be shared with others, or they think that it is routine and do not know the value of the knowledge they posses. This is where the need for managing tacit knowledge arises, and most often, teams realize the importance of tacit knowledge in crisis situations.

To understand better, let us start with a real life scenario. Ben was the project manager of a maintenance project, which was running successfully for 1 year with 100% Service Level Agreement adherence. The project started with a team size of 20 out of which 13 were fresh people.

The system was developed in a legacy technology, so he had a combination of problems to tackle:
  • Train the team in the technology
  • Ensure the transition happens without any glitches

Due to the effort of the senior engineers in his project they moved into the steady state and wrote success stories for 1 year. This was also due to the knowledge management practices that they adopted. The team developed Books of Knowledge on technology and the system they were maintaining. After 1.5 years Ben had to release 5 of his senior engineers for other opportunities. The release was planned 2 months in advance and Ben ensured that a proper transition took place. After all the planned activities were completed, the release happened. The next two days saw a flurry of cases from customer as it was the quarter end. There were some major issues and suddenly the team was panicking. The frantic and clueless team approached Ben for the contact numbers of the engineers who left the project.

Now what could have gone wrong here, after such careful planning and meticulous knowledge management ? why was the team not able to cope up with the flurry of cases? The answer is simple; Ben missed a few tricks of tacit knowledge management in his project.

Some of the tacit knowledge management practices, which can be adopted in projects, are:
  • No knowledge is too less to share and too trivial not to disclose: Ensure that the team understands the importance of the routine jobs they might be doing, and ensure that such routine jobs are identified and recorded properly.
  • Rotation of tasks: Ensure that people are rotated across modules in the same project and that proper training takes place during such rotation. The team should record special cases that were not handled in the transition, and which they came to know of only after working on the system. This can be identified easily when a particular task is taking a longer time to complete with a new set of people.
  • Working with gurus: In every project, we come across gurus. This is because they have grasped the technology/system better than others in the team, or they have found a way to work smarter. Allow people to work with gurus on a rotation basis and tell them to record any steps that the whole team is unaware of.
  • Eureka mails: Encourage the team to send eureka mails, when they struggle with a task, and eventually find a solution
  • 10 min knowledge sessions: Schedule daily recap sessions of the issues encountered. A scribe should be allocated to take down the major issues. The scribe should record such issues in a daily tips repository and send out emails, whenever a major issue is solved.

From the above mentioned points it is quite clear that interaction between team members is the key to managing tacit knowledge. The team is the strength of any project. Therefore, as a project manager, managing tacit knowledge equates to being a facilitator to interactions within the team and innovating new ideas to make these interactions more productive and interesting.

Technology Integration Lab

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