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Untangling the Knowledge Management Dilemma at TPA Essay

Sometimes individuals, teams, big and small companies, and other entities try to ‘reinvent the wheel’. These occurrences happen too often because many simply do not realize that what they are trying to do has already been done by someone else in some other venue, and more importantly they do not know where or how to access that knowledge. In addition, managers are overloaded with a constant stream of data daily. This overload of data is making knowledge management (KM) increasingly more difficult, but also more important, even necessary, for a business leader to have to lead his or her organization successfully.

Since, leaders of successful organizations are consistently searching for better ways to improve their performance and results, many organizations implement KM to support at least critical business process, and many have to adopt more comprehensive KM programs in some cases. However, sometimes it is hard to create and implement these procedures, but more importantly, hard to identify and then use a new “sharing system” in a company or organization that previously didn’t have such a system. Technology Project Authority (TPA) was no exception.

TPA is a state level governmental agency in the United States that was started in 2000 by the state governments to promote collaboration and knowledge sharing across governmental agencies and thus creates a more efficient government through the innovative use of technology. In 2001 TPA decided to lead by example using its own departments of Finance, Project Planning and Operations to demonstrate that collaboration between agencies was both important and possible with better Knowledge Management. In addition, the implementation and promotion of KM within and across TPA divisions would help improve its work practices and thus sustain its expertise in IT project management and technology development.

The first step in the process was for directors and leaders of departments to understand the importance of KM and how to implement and position KM’s efforts to support the following strategic objectives:

Without knowledge locked inside the heads of its employees, an organization cannot function, let alone thrive. Any sudden loss of key expertise will be disruptive at best and fatal to an organization at the worst. Successful knowledge sharing focuses on the individual as the source of expertise and knowledge rather than the knowledge itself. It is not possible to take what has been learned in one setting and simply reuse it point-for-point in another setting. Knowledge is not usable until it has been customized to reflect each new context. Direct interaction between a subject matter expert and an apprentice as peer mentoring is by far the most effective and efficient way to facilitate knowledge transfer. A combination of primary mentors and targeted mentors will create an expertise lattice upon which both an individual staff member and the entire enterprise as a whole can draw to meet designated objectives.

However, working on improving the communication and promoting the sharing of information is not easy, and TPA’s managers have had to constantly change and modify what KM system they used. From 2001 to 2008, they had three different phases. In 2001 right after these individuals decided to lead by example and improve TPA’s knowledge management, they implemented a list of knowledge collaboration tools that included email, instant messaging, discussion forums, templates for standard project deliverables, sharing drives for transferring files, and others. Nevertheless, the first approach for improving KM among TPA’s employees had diverse responses.

Some employees thought it was helpful, while others noted the loss of ownership of data that was shared. Subsequently, after trying these tools for four years and with the majority of TPA’s three divisions not improving or using IT to create, store, and share information, Bob Archer, TPA’s Knowledge Manager, decided to implement a different system to replace the use of sharing drivers and the other tools. In 2005, he decided to introduce Microsoft SharePoint as the main tool for KM activities. What is SharePoint? Per Microsoft’s web site (Microsoft SharePoint) 1 the implementation of SharePoint can be summarized as follows:

Share and connect with employees across the enterprise – use SharePoint to engage with people, share ideas, and reinvent the way you work together. Organize. Whether working as a team or an individual, SharePoint helps you organize information, people, and projects. Discover. SharePoint makes it easy to find answers, discover insights, and connect with experts. Build. Developers and web designers can create new experiences on SharePoint using familiar tools and Internet standards. Manage. SharePoint provides powerful controls that allow IT departments to manage cost, risk, and their time.

Share Point appeared to unite all the characteristics TPA’s needed to establish a better KM system. However, after SharePoint was introduced to the three divisions (IT, Project Planning and Operation) several problems appeared, and complaints were expressed by TPA’s employees. The first problem was that the IT department set up a default structure to be user friendly and yet broad enough to apply to both external and internal projects at TPA. Many project teams complained that the differences between SharePoint sites were significant. Another problem was that the IT Department for security reasons configured SharePoint so that access to a project site was restricted to only members involved in that project.

Thus, getting access to a site was a difficult and time-consuming process. ATP’s employees wanted comply with this requirement for using SharePoint, but also wanted to give access to documents to all the employees who were putting documents on the SharePoint site and in the share drive. Over time, many different versions of documents were created, and sometimes these documents were not the most up-to-date ones. All these problems caused Bob Archer to make a decision to create a KM committee comprised of Bob Archer (Knowledge Manager), Rita Carson (Head of IT), Andrew Collins (Director of the Project Planning Division), and Harry Linton (Director of Operations) to help find a system that was more appropriate for TPA’s needs. After the group established a list of must have’s, their final choice was the SharePoint Project.

Exactly what are the technical and capabilities differences between SharePoint and SharePoint Project? SharePoint Project offers a lot of details about projects and also automatically integrates data and information from other sources, such as the lessons learned from other projects. SharePoint offers content management, team collaboration and social software, portals, business intelligence and search capabilities. On the other hand, SharePoint Project is designed to assist a project manager in developing a project plan, assigning resources to tasks, tracking progress, managing the budget, and analyzing workloads. (Garnter, 2013)2

But why after eight years of using different KM activities did employees still not want to use these tools to share their knowledge? To answer this question, it is important to understand that TPA’s leaders made several mistakes in the implementation strategy. Even though the SharePoint Project reunited all the characteristics found in TPA, that the KM committee wanted, the implementation and adoption suffered several delays due to the following issues:

First, they did not establish a true sense of urgency and did not examine the realities of the potential crises. There were several technical problems with the servers, which did not asses what was needed from a technical logistical aspect needed to make the project a success. Also, TPA’s leaders did not see the adoption of SharePoint Project as a short-term priority, and since the implementation of the system required training, their managers were too “busy” to attend the training sessions; they did not assemble a group of leaders from the beginning with enough power to get the job done.

Furthermore, they did not do the proper research before implementing the system, so they had to change to different KM tools, which caused them to lose a lot of time. Lastly, they did not integrate all the departments from the beginning, which discouraged the workforce and kept it from working as a team; further they did not promote or recognize employees who were actually using the system. (Kotter, 2007)3

What should have been done differently to improve the chances of success for the implementation of Share Point within TPA? The following changes are suggested:

Strategize and Plan: First, it was important to create a business case rather than just wanting to “lead by example”. It was important to have a vision and a purpose for the SharePointProject and present it to employees from the beginning, so they could understand it was clearly a priority. Second they should have developed a specific road map for how to get to the final goal. Lastly, TPA’s leaders should have determined whether the plan would l replace or coexist with another portal, content management or social software application. This choice would have helped when changing to different tools after a failure. Architect Solution: First, TPA had to decide which deployment model to use. Second they had to determine whether to upgrade the servers or find a way to support the system. Also, they had to define the process in detail and identify the metrics for measuring success. Build: First, they had to choose between centralized or distributed deployment.

It was extremely important to set project roles and make sure to have all employees involved. Finally, they needed to set specific policies and procedures to avoid abandoned sites and other unexpected risks Operate and Evolve: Boost user buy-in by using simple processes. Tie the metrics to the project goals. Identify every site’s owner and precise purpose. Create customizable taxonomies. Have power users champion the system. Consider using training firms with SharePointProject expertise. After, TPA’s knowledge management committee was established, the day-to-day work for Knowledge Management implementation in TPA was finally assumed by TPA’s leaders to guide and manage the precise application of the project implementation plan. Since, this task can be either relatively simple or can become extremely complex, it was clear that they lost a lot of time by forming this committee five years into implementation.

As in all project management, success during implementation is partially related to managing people, leading teams, and communicating with clarity. However, in its simplest form, the responsibility of the project manager is actual implementation the project plan. However, upon closer inspection, the project manager must apply a number of technical skills to succeed during that implementation. These skills include managing Issues, managing People, and managing Internal Controls. (Navigation Menus) 4 In conclusion, losing critical knowledge is a major threat to any organization, and that loss can come from any department and any level of staff.

A long-time system administrator may be the only person who knows how to maintain a critical legacy application. A business analyst has likely never documented how to massage data sources each month to produce a required report. A salesperson who has cultivated personal relationships with key customers over years cannot just transfer those ties to another account manager. An engineer may tweak each production run by feel to compensate for random variations. Any of these people could leave the organization at any time, taking with them unique knowledge and skills on which the day-to-day operations of the enterprise depend.

Although this situation is not new, the magnitude of the problem and the threat it represents has never been greater that it is today due to both changes in the nature of the workforce and the expertise contained in that workforce. Furthermore, knowledge transfer is not just a technology problem. It is a business problem. Even so, process, policy, and technology remain critical tools for solving that business problem. By developing a knowledge transfer culture that leverages both appropriate tools and supporting practices, the IT department can both mitigate its own expertise retention issues and serve as a model to the entire enterprise for successfully adopting and utilizing the tools already provided to create a successful knowledge -sharing environment. In order to make substantial transformation in companies, business leaders must first understand precisely why transformations efforts often fail.

1 “The New Way to Work Together.”Microsoft SharePoint – Collaboration Software.N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2013. 2 “Newsroom.” Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2013 Q&A: What Is the Future for Microsoft SharePoint?N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2013. 3. Kotter, John P. “Leading Change Why Transformation Efforts Fail.” Harvard Business Review (2007): 1-10. Print. 4″Navigation Menus.”INTERACT. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2013.

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