PMOs and the Drive for Excellence in Knowledge Management

Insights | 22 December 2017

Knowledge can sometimes feel like a subterranean river – always flowing but largely unseen.

That makes managing knowledge and optimising the exchange of it supremely challenging. Add to that the mandate for formal knowledge management given to most project or programme management offices (PMOs) and it’s easy to see how struggles can result.

How can PMOs best elevate knowledge for the benefit of the entire organisation?

Research may hold a few clues.

Writing in the International Journal of Project Management[1], Sofia Pemsel and Anna Wiewiora, researchers from Lund University in Sweden and Queensland University of Technology in Australia respectively, set out to answer a closely related question: What capabilities are necessary for PMOs to become a knowledge-broker and meet Project Managers’ knowledge sharing needs?

Their research ultimately found that PMO functions are not fully aligned with the knowledge sharing behaviours of Project Managers – or the Project Managers’ expectations of the PMO. This gap could explain why knowledge-sharing endeavors can be well-intentioned, but ineffective.

Their research also found that the PMO needs a few key things to be successful:

  • Multiple ways to broker knowledge, from “facilitating and promoting the strategic development of Project Manager relationships with diverse stakeholder groups,” to the strategic use of “boundary objects and endeavours when interacting with PMs.”
  • To, among other tactics, “adopt coaching, negotiating and training roles to ensure competence development” and “interplay of commanding and enabling strategies.”

Understanding Archetypes

To come to this conclusion, Pemsel and Wiewiora zeroed in on the way PMOs and PMs see themselves — creating fascinating archetypes within their research.

For example, is the PMO an administrative one or a knowledge-based one? “Knowledge-intensive PMOs,” they write in one example, “…take an active role in managing the best practices of project management, learning from projects (both failures and successes) and improving the maturity of project management in the organisation.”

As for PMs, they sketched out six different archetypes that could influence the way PMs understood knowledge-sharing within a PMO and their related expectations. Those PM archetypes were: people-oriented, free-thinkers, passionate, autocratic, conservative, pragmatic.

Here are three of six examples in their research of how archetypes can affect a view of the PMO:

  • ‘Free-thinker’ PMs expected active knowledge sharing
  • ‘Passionate’ PMs expected training, workshops and seminars
  • ‘Conservative’ PMs expected control and quality assurance

Given the wide range of expectations, it’s no surprise that PMOs can be seen as failing to deliver when it comes to knowledge-sharing.

The individual PMs are not left off the hook. The researchers also found that while PMs are “passionate about their projects” they often rely on their expertise and are “unwilling to share and seek knowledge from other colleagues.”

Measuring Success

No matter your approach, success needs to be measured to be managed.

Mustafa Hafizoglu, who established the PMO at SDT Space and Defense Tech, a Turkish aerospace company, writes[2] that knowledge transfer success needs to be measured in order to create a sustainable culture around knowledge sharing. Examples of metrics suggested by Hafizoglu: “Reusability level, project success rates, interaction rate between the knowledge bank and the people, number of knowledge brokers, and so forth.”

Risks and Rewards

Like everything in life, the quest for optimal knowledge management carries both risk and reward. Risks can be anything from security concerns to lack of adoption of knowledge management systems.

>>Read more about landing on the right KPIs for your PMO

Next Steps

There is an increased demand for knowledge workers in Australia which means knowledge management will only rise in its level of importance. There is plenty of room for greater leadership, deeper understanding and more precise measurements.

Here’s how you can help:

  • Understand how you and your organisation treat knowledge-sharing.
  • Lean into your PMO – if you have one – to take a proactive role in knowledge management.
  • Understand the risks and rewards when dealing with human emotions around what we know, how we know it and how we share it.

In all, knowledge is power and it’s well worth the investment in getting it right.

If you need advice or guidance on setting up a PMO or ensuring your PMO has a seat at the strategic table, speak to us today to find out how we can help. 1300 70 13 14.


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