Intellectual Asset Management for Project Managers
Project management is often defined as the process of organising and managing resources to enable the delivery of a project to time and budget. However, this definition ignores many of the responsibilities placed on project managers.
Clearly projects don’t just deploy skills, technology and ideas; they also generate and refresh these intellectual assets. Projects would be unwise to treat this as an incidental or unplanned side-effect, but should instead regard it as a key managed deliverable.
It is equally evident that there is a natural tension between the interests of a project, which by its definition is a finite endeavour, and the long-term interests of its host organisation. Projects will often need to look wider than their own narrow interests and, for example, should ensure that:
¢ The confidentiality of trade secrets they access or generate is preserved.
¢ Any subcontractors used are not allowed to develop, or entrench, monopolistic positions that could reduce competitive pressures and hence increase costs.
¢ Intellectual property protection is sought when in the interests of the organisation as a whole.
Again meeting these objectives will, on occasion, be more important than the project itself.
These issues serve to highlight that projects need to support, and be subservient to, an organisation’s business objectives and strategy. However, simply adding such a foot-note to a project’s scope, or the project manager’s job description will not, on its own, effect change.
Ultimately, not only do Project Manages need an expanded remit, but access to simple, value adding, tools and processes that enable them to meet these wider expectations. Such tools can be explored under the following headings:
¢ Knowledge management.
¢ Intellectual property management.
¢ Subcontract chain management.
All project managers understand that they have a professional duty to ensure their project both imports and exports knowledge. However, what many (and perhaps most) project mangers lack are the tools that enable them to discharge these responsibilities.
Knowledge management (KM) is not a new concept, and it has numerous opponents and champions. Ultimately, while there are many organisations using KM tools that can justifiably claim to have established a learning culture, there are others that just pay lip-service to this vision. In the latter case knowledge management may have become synonymous with:
¢ Writing post project reviews that may never be read outside of the responsible project, and
¢ Adding information to a lessons learned database that is simply a repository of unread information.
Yet the concept of knowledge management is clearly relevant to the discipline of project management, and there are success stories. The role of KM tools is best examined by looking at a definition of knowledge management:
Knowledge management Enables and Requires the sharing and preservation of
knowledge in order to improve business performance.
At its heart, knowledge management is concerned with culture change, and cultures generally need to be encouraged to evolve; core management processes should therefore be leveraged to Require and incentivise individuals, projects and functions to both share and preserve knowledge. So for example:
¢ Project approval routes should check that searches have been carried out for knowledge that project’s should export.
¢ Staff performance reviews should ensure that employees have been actively sharing their knowledge.
However, knowledge cannot be shared or preserved without value-adding and simple methods, structures and tools to Enable the sharing and preservation of knowledge.
The following are a few examples of the tools that are now routinely used by organisations to share and preserve knowledge:
Wikis : Wikis are online encyclopaedias where authorised individuals can add information or edit each other’s contributions. An internal, intranet based, wiki is a flexible tool that can be used to simultaneously provide a mechanism for:
¢ Projects to summarise their key problems, technical developments and lessons leaned. These need only be described in sufficient detail to enable users to assess their relevance and identify contact points.
¢ Detailed technical information to be captured where necessary to assist in training or knowledge retention.
As an example Shell1 have a Wiki containing c2 million articles in English, which in 2007 was the 17th most visited site in the World (even though it is only accessible within Shell).
Communities of Practice (CoPs) : These are sponsored networks of professionals with a shared interest in a topic, that work together to; share problems and solutions, develop methods, provide mentoring, etc. CoPs can make use of a number of communication tools, including Wikis and Peer Assists (see below). CoPs link fragmented groups using either a virtual space or physical meetings. A good example of a CoP in operation at Rio-tinto-zinc can be seen at
Peer Assists : This is a workshop at which groups of colleagues (problem holders and peers) work together to:
¢ Help explore and perhaps redefine the problem.
¢ Offer possible solutions.
These are useful at a project’s conception; the process is designed to help premature switching into solution mode, and hence ensure problems are accurately defined. An example of a Peer Assist in operation can be seen at
Knowledge Markets : A forum in which participants advertise their knowledge needs and expertise in a effort to identify:
¢ Areas for future collaboration.
¢ Knowledge gaps where expertise should either be sought externally or developed.
Post Project Reviews : A facilitated workshop which;
¢ Synthesises the lessons learned during the course of a project,
¢ Identifies actions points that could impact on other activities or projects, and agrees a route for their dissemination.
The above are just a few of the tools which may add value; the initial challenge for most organisations is identifying which will deliver the most immediate and demonstrable benefit, and can hence generate the success stories needed to drive the change process.
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