It’s always good to find out what the latest insights are from research papers based on PMO themes. In this article we take a look at the paper, The Role Played by PMOs in the Transfer of Knowledge Between Projects from the Department of Engineering and Technology Management, University of Pretoria, South Africa published in 2018.
The paper presents a conceptual framework with the promise of further research to come which will look at the empirical results (the realities).
The argument is that projects are focused on the short-term goals, and rightly so, however, we can learn lessons and gain knowledge from carrying out these projects that should benefit the long-term goals of the organisation. The argument is old – how can we really learn the lessons of previous projects to help us deliver future projects better.
The paper presents the PMO as being the function ideally placed within an organisation to play an important role in supporting and facilitating the flow of knowledge between projects.
The PMO can be seen as a catalyst – interestingly there are three definitions of catalyst that could all apply, you choose:
- something that causes activity between two or more persons or forces without itself being affected.
- a person or thing that precipitates an event or change.
- a person whose talk, enthusiasm, or energy causes others to be more friendly, enthusiastic, or energetic.
The PMO acts as a catalyst that moderate and mediate the transfer of knowledge between projects.
In the rest of the article, we take a look at the role of the PMO in moderating and mediating plus take a deeper look at the research findings
The PMO: Moderating and Mediating
The main role the PMO has is to take the accumulated knowledge from the projects its supports and embed that knowledge into what they call, ‘project management routines’, which can be taken to mean the different processes, tools and techniques that an organisation chooses to use to run its projects.
The problem the PMO has, and it’s an age-old problem, is how to consolidate that learning when those that have that knowledge are moving on to the next project and don’t have the time to share. There’s also that issue of what good knowledge looks like and how to capture that in a useful and useable way.
There are two areas to understand here. The first, knowledge transfer infrastructure refers to people, tools, routines and systems. The second, the knowledge transfer processes which include create, store, share and use. It’s these two parts that are fundamental to knowledge sharing in organisations. It’s also the PMO that has a significant role to play in both of these in terms of management, interaction and integration.
With moderating and mediating, the diagram below shows the difference:
The PMO moderates the process by which knowledge passes from one project to another – or it mediates it, by acting as a knowledge repository, managing the knowledge to determine what knowledge to transfer to the project and how to do that.
In the research, it states the PMO ‘are responsible for the management of the whole knowledge transfer framework and in turn, this should improve the transfer of knowledge between projects. Further research is of course needed to test that assumption.
Knowledge Being Generated
The research gives an overview of the three different parts – Project A, Project B and the PMO.
Project A is where the knowledge is being generated and being sent – to either Project B or the PMO.
Let’s take a closer look at what exactly is being generated. It will give you ideas to think about in your own organisation when considering what knowledge we’re looking to keep and pass on.
There are four different characteristics:
- Knowledge Objects
- Knowledge Articulability/Tacitness
- Knowledge Embeddedness
- Knowledge Complexity
We will take each in turn and simplify them.
1. Knowledge Objects
These are the different types of knowledge. I guess if we could wrap each one up and package it we are generally looking at eight different kinds of knowledge that could be generated on a project:
- Project Management
- Legal and statutory
2. Knowledge articulability or tacitness/explicitness
This is about how much of the knowledge can be verbalised or written.
Tacitness is about knowledge which is unspoken, the stuff that is ingrained in someone’s experience – like instinct. This is the stuff that is hard to teach and learn and transfer.
Explicit knowledge is a lot more systematic and procedural – it can be written down and easily shared.
The more knowledge can be articulated, the more it can be shared.
The problem we have is that both tacit and explicit knowledge ‘are crucial in the creation and re-use of knowledge’.
3. Knowledge Embeddedness
This is all about how entrenched knowledge might be, for example, knowledge that is embedded in a person can sometimes be better transferred by transferring the person concerned.
It’s tricky to unwind and separate the parts when things are so entrenched.
4. Knowledge Complexity
Probably self-explainatory this one, but some knowledge is more complex than others – especially when there are lots of different people involved or a number of combined activities – different inputs and outputs etc. The more intricate and convoluted something is, the harder it is to unravel that and share.
Knowledge Being Received
Project B is all about receiving the knowledge and of course using it.
There are two characteristics to consider and think about – Knowledge Useability and Knowledge Impact.
Let’s look at each of those in turn:
Being able to use knowledge is paramount. This comes back to how complex something might be; how tacit; how embedded and so on.
2. Impact of Knowledge
Impact of knowledge is aligned to measurement – how do we determine that the knowledge being transferred is having a desired effect – and what is that desired effect really?
There are five different dimensions to consider:
- Project efficiency – will the transferred knowledge have a positive impact on meeting time, cost and quality for example?
- Benefits to the customer – will the transferred knowledge have a positive impact on customer satisfaction?
- Team – will the transferred knowledge have a positive impact on the team’s satisfaction or individual development goals?
- Business success – will the transferred knowledge have a positive impact on revenues, profit etc?
- Preparing for the future – will the transferred knowledge have a positive impact on growth?
The Role of the PMO
The PMO, according to the proposal in the research, should be responsible for the whole knowledge transfer framework – that’s both the infrastructure and the processes.
The table below, taken directly from the research paper, shows the interaction of both of those and what the role of the PMO could be:
The knowledge transfer infrastructure is perhaps where many PMOs focus their attentions right now – the tools being used to store lessons learnt; running lessons learnt workshops for people who have just completed the project; having a lessons learnt process in place.
There are a few insights worth noting:
- The systems and tools are a critical factor and enabler in knowledge creation and transfer – the PMO has a major role to play in managing the ICT elements
- Collaboration, trust and a learning culture are important characteristics to have as an organisation in order for knowledge transfer to work well – will the PMO have the backing to manage the infrastructure?
- Successful knowledge transfer relies heavily on people because it is a social activity – backing needs to come from senior executives to create a conductive and supporting environment.
The knowledge transfer processes – where knowledge creation and sourcing, compilation, alignment, sharing, application and value realisation all happen – should be managed by the PMO because of their remit to support the organisation in delivering projects more successfully – and knowledge transfer is an excellent example of how projects can be delivered more successfully!
They should be capable of putting in place the infrastructure and the processes.
They should also be capable of understanding the knowledge and being in a position to mediate that for the use by other projects.
They should also be able to help projects receive and really use that knowledge too.
These three sum up the research concept and all three should feature in future research to see if this is the case.
The conceptual model is therefore summed up in this figure:
To see more details about this research, take a look at the paper.
We will revisit this theme once the new research has been carried out and published.
If you’re interested in reading more about lessons learnt – why not take a look at the book Learning Lessons from Projects.
You can share your thoughts in the comments section below – we’d love to hear about your PMO’s services around knowledge transfer.