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Project Management Across the Knowledge Domain
By Don McAlister

In this article I’ll describe my views on how Project Managers, whether they realize it or not, execute most of their responsibilities, within and across the quadrants of what I’ll refer to as the “knowledge domain.” My thoughts in this regard are influenced by the concepts of the “Conscious Competence Learning Model”(CCLM), and the terminology, Known-Knowns (KK)”, Known-Unknowns (KU),” Unknown-Knowns (UK)”, and “Unknown-Unknowns (UU)”, apparently coined by former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. What I’m offering here is a map of the activities that project managers are, or should be engaged in, to the knowledge domain quadrants defined by these concepts and terms. The figure below depicts the four quadrants, mapped to a vertical axis of Knowledge Awareness and a horizontal axis of Knowledge Adequacy. Knowledge Awareness refers to the degree to which the project manager and the team know of, or are conscious of all of the available knowledge relevant to their project. Knowledge Adequacy refers to the degree to which the project manager and the team have competency in all of the knowledge required to execute their project.

Project Management Across the Knowledge Domain

Project Management Across the Knowledge Domain

In Project Management, the Known-Known (KK)/Conscious-Competence quadrant is where all of the known, relevant knowledge resources and expertise required to execute are identified, logic-linked and sequenced in a Project Plan.

Projects manage risks and opportunities related to lack of or uncertainty of knowledge in the Known-Unknown (KU)/Conscious-Competency quadrant. Decisions made in this quadrant are used to update the project plan and the resource allocations.

I’ve not seen much in the Project Management literature on the Unknown-Known/Unconscious Competence quadrant, but I think it must be recognized as one of the necessary knowledge management responsibilities of a Project Manager. Intellectual and fiscal resources must be planned and allocated to ensure that the project team is doing the right things to pursue and internalize additional relevant knowledge wherever it may exist. This means that one of the responsibilities of a project team must be to function as a learning organization. Knowledge acquired through these efforts will bolster the Known-Knowns area, reduce the risk in the Known-Unknowns area, and might even shine a bit of light into that dark corner of Unknown-Unknowns.

Projects attempt to protect themselves from the ravages of the Unknown-Unknown (UU) quadrant by building management reserve, schedule buffers and product design margins into the project baseline plans in an attempt to accommodate the “unknowable’s” and “unpredictable”.

In going through this thinking process, I realized that in addition to the similarities between the individual learning process described in the CCLM; and the goals and processes of Project Management, there are also some interesting differences that might be worth pursuing in a future article. In the CCLM, the beginning state is “Unconscious-Incompetence” (unaware and unskilled)/UU, and the goal is to move through the other states to get to the “Unconscious-Competence” (skill is instinctive)/UK state. Projects, on the other hand, start with the “Conscious Competence”/KK state, and although they recognize the there is an “Unconscious-Incompetence”/UU quadrant, and they try to protect themselves from its ravages, they hope never to go there.

Thinking through and writing this article has been a helpful learning process for me, even though I’ll admit it’s a bit of a convoluted read. However, if you’re in to Project Management or learning theory, I hope you stuck through it to the end and would be willing to share your professional feedback.

Don McAlister’s has recently retired after 39 years working in the Aerospace industry in a variety of Engineering, Functional Management and Project Management positions. His professional expertise is in the areas of Program, Risk and Knowledge Management. He’s passionate about life-long learning on a wide variety of topics and he’s committed to sharing his knowledge and ideas with those who are interested. You can read more from Don on his blog.

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