Knowledge, Performance and the Opposable Thumb

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff.

Last month’s article, where we interviewed Knowledge, and gained many new insights about her and her family, must have been an interesting one. It received even more “hits” than normal, and not just from spammers… The time viewers spent on the page was also higher than most, a good indicator of perceived value—or maybe they were trying to figure out that strange anthropomorphism of Knowledge. But let us tie up a few loose ends on the themes we covered, and then finish with the importance of the Opposable Thumb.

Discoveries at the NASA Knowledge Forum
I had taken a copy of last months’s article along with me to the Knowledge Forum; I reported on that event in last month’s IPMA-USA newsletter. I shared the article with Larry Prusak, one of the key people in Knowledge Management (KM) practice. When he got around to reading the article, he sent a polite email that suggested that the data to information to knowledge relationships are more complex than my simple assertions. I agree, and will leave it at that. After all, that was a 30+ year-old story.

At that NASA event, I figured out that there is quite some difference between my own naive interpretations, and those of a bunch of really bright people in the KM practice. And, there were some striking parallels. For example:

  • My perspective about Knowledge is mostly on the individual side: How individuals grow, develop, and improve their performance. My realization at the event is that the KM discipline is much more oriented to the organizational accumulation and sharing of knowledge.
  • They view Knowledge very much along the lines of a complete Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning, where at the higher levels, you are dealing with synthesis. In other words, they are speaking of “Big K” Knowledge, not drill-and-test memorization—“little k” knowledge. That was a big aha for me.
  • My former KM biases were based on this: Far too much of my time spent in helping project teams (and their organizations) succeed has been spent overcoming the flaws of “little k”knowledge. This is often manifested by people who merely memorize enough to pass an exam, rather than to really understand how to apply the topic in a project.
  • In the NASA event final exercise, where all participants worked in teams to identify ways to improve the success of organizational Knowledge Management, I had another aha! moment. We were all identifying exactly the same Change Agent actions I have coached executives, project management offices and functional managers in for years. In what context? To help organizations adopt and adapt project management methodologies—to improve organizational PM performance.

The take-away: Project Management and Knowledge Management have many strong parallels. And, success in improving one in your area will also help in improving the other—for those who are so inclined. We saw exactly the same pattern with the successful Quality movements of the 1980s. Here is an example of the mutual reinforcement of KM and PM: Lessons Learned are one of the greatest opportunities for sharing knowledge in any organization. And yet, in too many cases, they are merely recorded—and then the same “learnings” are repeated in project after project, over again. That shows nobody learned anything. With a KM approach that actually institutionalizes applied prior knowledge, all projects will benefit, and performance will soar.

This is one reason why every one of our dozens of PM methodologies, both those we developed, and those we tuned for others for over 25 years, has a unique project kick-off action: Review the Lessons Learned from similar projects, including those with this team, this technology, and this customer. This might be a good KM policy for you to implement in your organization, if you do not already follow this savvy practice.

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Chilean Mining Rescue Miracle—A Program Success

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff

“Viva Chile!” Our World watched with awe, soaring hearts, and huge appreciation for the rescuers when the first two miners emerged from their Phoenix rescue capsule. We held off posting or celebrating project success until all the miners—and their rescuers—were safely above ground. And now, in addition to the backstories about the after-effects of 69 days underground, we can reflect on the magnificent Project Management performances of each participant in this most-watched rescue.

Just look at the many heroes, talented team members, inspiring leaders and willing families and pride-full citizens, all focused on one objective: Get our miners out safely. And it appears our entire World is the stakeholder group, as reports surface that this is one of the most-watched web events in history. This is such a lesson about not just passing an exam, but leaders and team members working in synch to successfully manage one of the most-important projects in recent history. With IPMA’s recent activities to certify competent Project Managers and Senior Project Managers in Chile, here is a great opportunity to identify clearly competent and performing end-to-end project managers; most might qualify for Senior Project Manager certification, demonstrating mastery in complex projects.

But was this a project? Two answers: Yes, of course it was, because any time mankind changes the path of fate, inertia, and the status quo, that is what the practice of competent project management brings to society. And no, not just a project, it was an entire complex program, consisting of many projects, some relatively simple (such as providing sufficient electrical power at this remote site), and some very complex, and all working together to achieve the objective: Get our miners out safely.

Repeatedly, the media has mentioned the flawless planning, the contingency actions, the attention to crucial details, the exquisite performance of the plan, and the individual heroics that accentuate success. Note that both the success and the tributes note the combination of technical aspects of project and program management with the contextual and behavioral aspects. This program of related projects will serve case studies for years after our starring miners have recovered from their ordeal. And what shall be the highlights of those case studies?

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