Enterprise Software

Knowledge Management in action

Not having access to your company's wisdom can create enormous waste. Here's how one project manager rolled out Knowledge Management for IT projects.

In order to drive a project effectively, project managers must have all the specialized IT tools and documents at their disposal—from project plans and sample deliverables, to intermediate notes and communications, to the most updated methodologies and templates. Knowledge Management (KM) is the business process that captures and manages the collective experience and work knowledge of an organization and forms a repository (or knowledge base) that is accessible to the other workers in the company. There are obvious performance enhancements and efficiencies to be gained by implementing KM in the enterprise, but not all companies are ready to take the plunge. However, we found one project manager who got behind KM and was able to sell the idea successfully to his company. Find out how he implemented the KM system and was able to encourage its adoption and use.

Identifying the issue and getting decision makers to sign on

When senior project manager Josh Brose of Woburn, MA-IT firm Collaborative Consulting (http://www.collaborative.ws/) started his job three years ago, his new employer didn't have KM. Brose realized in the first week of work what a benefit a KM solution would be for project managers and the company as a whole when he was charged with creating an integration testing strategy for a client, something he'd never done in his career.

"You know, at a consulting firm, you're selling the fact that you're going to bring in a consultant who knows how to do this," says Brose. "And so here I am, I'm put in a project and I need to figure out how I'm going to present a testing strategy."

He started asking around the company for people who had built an integration testing strategy before, and in a little over a week, he was able to find a document that got him about 75 percent of the way, enabling him to present the deliverable to the client.

"We just scored huge bonus points with the client," says Brose about the ability to turn a complicated task around in short order. However, the challenges of finding the right document made him realize the large gap Collaborative Consulting had at the time, in terms of being able to be easily share documents.

"We're all doing our own thing and there was no real consolidated point to share information," says Brose. Instead, workers continually had to reinvent the wheel.

The experience helped him advocate for a KM solution at his consulting firm, which resulted in the formation of a working committee, and eventually a product selection and roll-out to the enterprise.

The company created a committee of eight people, including Brose, senior people from the company's various business units, an analyst, and perhaps most importantly, the Operations Director, whose presence helped to ensure that people would take the project seriously.

After defining requirements, by 2003 the committee had selected low-end KM products from Jive Software (www.jivesoftware.com),an open source java development company whose core products include Jive Forum and Jive Knowledge Base, both of which Collaborative Consulting purchased for around $10,000. The goal was to create a KM solution that could be accessible through a browser-based secure area, and be a repository for information and online dialogues, categorized and available in keyword searches.

Brose himself installed the server-side application, and in about two weeks set up the taxonomy, or information structure within the information repository.

Adoption of KM crucial to success

The next challenge was getting people, including the PMs at Collaborative Consulting, to start loading documents into the KM system.

"We were starting from scratch; we didn't have a repository of documents," says Brose. "We didn't have a server out there with just a 1,000 documents waiting for KM." Instead, thousands of documents resided on desktops, laptops, and in information silos across the company's distributed workforce. "They were just everywhere," he says.

Brose wanted to get employees to load documents into the system, so he provided employees incentives (company branded leather binders, sweatshirts, and golf shirts) for loading up the KM system with their documents.

But Brose also wanted to give employees a reason to use the system immediately. He gave them what they used all the time to build proposals and project teams—the company's internal resumes, which lists competencies and skills of every worker. He figured that the wide availability of this common resource would help with system uptake.

"As a project manager, if I'm looking for people on a project, I'll go out there and scan the different people I know to see who I could pull onto a project," says Brose. "We moved all of the files onto the knowledge management system and that was our first step to getting people to use it."

Brose continues to provide incentives for people to load documents into the KM system, monitoring uploads and usage in order to recognize those employees who are helping the KM grow. He has also published their success stories with using the KM system.

"If they were able to go to the knowledge base, find an example of [a document that could help them], use it, and put together a deliverable for the new client—saving half the time or a quarter of the time, that's something I try to capture and publish," says Brose.

Ongoing enhancements

Brose plans to continue enhancing the KM system over time, making it more prominent in the work activities of PMs and other employees by merging the company's intranet with the KM system. This way, remote employees will log into a single place to check their e-mail, as well as access the company's time-reporting system, expense reports, and information about company-sponsored health benefits and investments.

"It'll be much more in front of people all the time," says Brose.

With less success, Brose has tried to set up project areas for project managers within the KM system. But largely due to logistical barriers with information sharing among PMs who work at client sites, project-based knowledge sharing areas haven't been heavily used.

"We're always so integrated with the client and right now we don't have it set up so that the client can come into our environment," notes Brose.

But despite the ongoing refinements to the system and the occasional challenges, Brose says it has been a big success for the company. 

Surprisingly, though, the biggest issue with rolling out KM to project managers and others hasn't been a technological hurdle. It's been a people issue.

"How do you get people to buy into this, how do you drive people to use this, and how do you make it so they can see the value of it," says Brose. "They have to see the value of it on day one, or they'll stop using it, and they'll never come back.

"Once people get into it I think they'll find it very useful," says Brose. "It's very easy to find documents. The information is there. It's just making it as simple as possible so there's not a single reason not to use it."

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