Raising the Standard

Adrian Malone
ISO 9001:2015 brings additional leadership focus to organisational knowledge management programmes.

The international standard ISO 9001 is under review, with the final updated version expected by the end of 2015. The draft ISO 9001:2015 introduces a requirement that organisations ‘determine the knowledge necessary for the operation of the quality management system and its processes to assure conformity of goods and services and customer satisfaction’. This comes at a time of resurgence in organisational knowledge management programmes and its introduction will bring additional leadership focus to the subject.

The origins of knowledge management can be traced back over a number of decades. Management consultant Peter F Drucker coined the term ‘knowledge worker’ in 1959. Drucker identified a seismic shift, at least within developed countries, towards workers whose primary purpose was to use and create knowledge. Drucker’s work was built upon by organisational theorist Ikujiro Nonaka, who developed the theory of the knowledge-creating company.

The international standard ISO 9001 is under review, with the final updated version expected by the end of 2015.

Early knowledge management programmes fell into two broad approaches. One favoured an attempt to capture knowledge and to manage it as a resource. The second approach focused on the development of Communities of Interest (COIs) and Communities of Practice (COPs), which brought together groups of employees connected by a common interest or purpose.

For mainstream industry, the first wave of knowledge management came in the early 1990s. Swedish firm Skandia appointed the world’s first Chief Knowledge Officer in 1991. In the same year, Fortune magazine ran a feature which stated ‘intellectual capital is becoming corporate America’s most valuable asset and can be its sharpest competitive weapon’.

The theory became more embedded in practice, with firms seeking solutions to the challenges of managing knowledge, and technology providers developing tools in response. Intranets and extranets became common, and some organisations began to invest in software to scan digital content such as emails and documents, surfacing what would otherwise be hidden. These early technology solutions took the approach that knowledge is a tangible ‘entity’ to be captured and managed.#

Knowledge sharing requires trusted relationships, but because projects are temporary, teams often begin with limited trust.

As technology progressed further, social networking tools were introduced, supporting a renewed emphasis on knowledge as an intangible asset. Rather than managing knowledge itself, technology allowed organisations to manage the environment which facilitated the sharing of knowledge. These tools were initially disruptive as organisations feared social media and the risk of employees posting inappropriate comments. However, organisations are now learning to embrace social media, reaping the benefits of greater reach and richer connections at almost zero cost.

Projects and project-based firms face the same problems in managing knowledge, but the nature of projects brings specific challenges. Knowledge sharing requires trusted relationships, but because projects are temporary, teams often begin with limited trust. Silos occur as an unintended consequence of organising teams into projects, with the team unaware of the wider organisation’s knowledge and resources unless through previous project relationships.

Faithful+Gould is convinced that knowledge management has an important role in successful project delivery. We feel that more can be done to bring the benefits of the knowledge management discipline to the built environment industries. We were therefore pleased to support the creation of a new Association for Project Management (APM) Specific Interest Group, the Knowledge SIG.

The SIG explores the role of knowledge management in project environments, engaging with the cross-sector project management community.

The SIG was established by a cross-industry group consisting of knowledge management and project management professionals, including myself. The SIG explores the role of knowledge management in project environments, engaging with the cross-sector project management community. This stimulates debate and understanding about approaches to managing knowledge and fostering effective collaborative environments.

The Knowledge SIG recognised the different understandings of the term ‘knowledge’, and differing views about how it should be managed. For some, knowledge was information and data; for others, knowledge is embedded in practice. The SIG therefore undertook APM-funded research, to identify and benchmark knowledge management practices across project based organisations. The findings will be published in 2015, providing valuable insight into the different approaches, and should stimulate further debate.

Whether or not the revised ISO standard creates an imperative for knowledge management, knowledge sharing is clearly at the heart of the modern economy and vital to project success. We continue to support the work of the APM Knowledge SIG, contributing to best practice development, and reinforcing our own integrated project and programme management approach.