From Project's Information Management to Project-Based Organizational Learning: The Role of Knowledge Sharing

From Project's Information Management to Project-Based Organizational Learning: The Role of Knowledge Sharing

Maria Almeida (University of Porto, Portugal) and António Lucas Soares (University of Porto, Portugal)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-7536-0.ch011


Project-based organizations have characteristics that raise additional barriers to information management, knowledge sharing, and to organizational learning. The main causes of this are inadequate information architectures and governance, poor collaborative culture, and lack of organization-wide information management strategies. This chapter presents a comprehensive basis to understand the information and knowledge-sharing practices in PBO, as well as the methods and tools that information professionals and project managers should have in mind when performing their tasks. For that, literatures are reviewed focusing on the explanation of the processes of knowledge creation and sharing leading to organizational learning. The main conclusion is that a knowledge-sharing strategy in a PBO should include a set of mechanisms that address a customized mix of the codification and personalization dimensions and that strategies for collaborative information management should be used as enablers for embedding knowledge sharing within the organizational practices and culture.
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The large amount of information technologies used in current organizations are a big challenge to the organization and management of knowledge today. Information and communication technologies (ICT) are responsible for the exchange of information and knowledge as well as work execution in the organizations of all forms by integrating information, documents and employees, but advances in ICT may have imposed immense challenge for managers to handle the existing overly loaded information (Karim & Hussein 2008). On the other hand, organizations themselves are also evolving towards new ways of working and to more flexible structures than they were a couple of decades ago. One of the most widespread manifestations of these structures are the so-called project-based organizations (PBO) (Blindenbach-Driessen & van den Ende 2006) or projectized contexts (Thiry & Deguire 2007). In PBO, the knowledge, capabilities and resources of the firm are built up through the execution of major projects, which are the normal mechanism for executing new business opportunities (Boh 2007). Projects are nowadays the most important delivery vehicle for products and services in a global economy, characterized by a strong competition and radically shrinking lifecycles (Jackson & Klobas 2008); organizing work by projects allow organizations to respond flexibly to changing organizational need (Boh 2007).

PBO face nowadays important problems related with information management and knowledge sharing. First, the information overload of a project’s execution (Karim & Husseim, 2008) because of the creation of content in a highly rapid pace, produced by a large and diversified amount of information technologies. Also, a project is a time-delimited setting, and when the project is finished its context is disperse, the organization of contents loses its meaningfulness as the purpose of its construction was the purpose, objectives and deliverables of the project. When the project ends, there is no time to conveniently sediment and organize knowledge in the appropriate knowledge management structures or systems, in order to be reused for other people. The codified information is then “trapped” and hardly shared between projects (Bakker, Cambré, Korlaar & Raab, 2011), creating an informational limbo out of reach.

The previous mentioned aspects contribute for an immense challenge for current project managers and teams: to manage the information flows and the knowledge created in order to be sedimented in a way that will be available for other future projects and teams and, consequently, contributing for the organizational learning as a whole. This is as valuable as it relates directly with the main goal of a PBO: to capitalize what is learned in each project in order to continuously improve its organizational performance. In fact, recent Project Management literature is specifically pointing out the organizational learning as a key performance driver in project-based organizations: previous projects present valuable experiences that could be applied in similar future projects (Turner, 2010; Blindenbach-Driessen & Van den Ende, 2006). Organizational learning in such contexts is very dependent on knowledge creation and sharing: as knowledge is created and captured, learning takes place and the knowledge is hopefully applied and embedded within individual and organizational processes. Difficulties in learning from projects arise due to this unique and irregular nature of projects which creates barriers that hamper the knowledge transfer from projects to the organization as a whole, creating an informational limbo where explicit and codified knowledge remains “trapped” when a project ends.

Key Terms in this Chapter

PMOffice: Organizational body or entity assigned various responsibilities related to the centralized and coordinated management of those projects under its domain (Aubry, Hobbs, & Thuillier 2007 AU60: The in-text citation "Aubry, Hobbs, & Thuillier 2007" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ).

Knowledge-Sharing Mechanisms: In PBO they consist in “formal and informal mechanisms for sharing, integrating, interpreting and applying know-what, know-how, and know-why embedded in individuals and groups that will aid in the performance of project tasks” ( Boh 2007 ). It can be follow a codification perspective, by codifying and storing knowledge in databases and documents, which allows many people to retrieve codified knowledge without having to contact the person who originally developed it (Hansen, Nohria, & Tierney 1999 AU58: The in-text citation "Hansen, Nohria, & Tierney 1999" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ). The alternative is a personalization approach, where knowledge is closely attached to the person who developed it and is shared mainly through direct person-to-person contacts ( Boh 2007) .

Organizational Culture: All the practices, values and assumptions that the members of an organization share, which is holistic and socially constructed ( Ajmal, Takala, & Kekäle 2008 ).

Project: Temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. The temporary nature of projects indicates a definite beginning and end. The end is reached when the project’s objectives have been achieved or when the project is terminated because its objectives will not or cannot be met, or when the need for the project no longer exists ( Project Management Institute 2008 ).

Information Management: The management of processes and systems concerning the information lifecycle (creation, maintenance, organization, storage, distribution and use) with the goal of helping people and organizations to manage and process information efficiently and effectively ( Detlor 2010 ).

Project-Based Organizations: Refer to a variety of organizational forms that involve the creation of temporary systems for the performance of project tasks.

Organizational learning: In PBO refers to the process of making “newly created project-level knowledge available to the organization as a whole by sharing, transferring, retaining, and using it” (Bartsch, Ebers, & Maurer 2012 AU59: The in-text citation "Bartsch, Ebers, & Maurer 2012" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ). While projects are where knowledge creation takes place, the overall process of learning in project-based organizations involves the subsequent transfer, retention and use of this knowledge within the project-based organization.

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