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Project Management: How to Get Better with Knowledge Management and Knowledge Transfer

Project Management: How to Get Better with Knowledge Management and Knowledge Transfer

Knowledge transfer within and beyond your project can make a big difference. People need good knowledge to work effectively. So, as Project Managers, we need to understand all the basics of the related topics of Knowledge Management and Knowledge Transfer.

The PMI, in its 6th Edition of the PMBOK Guide, defines knowledge as…

A mixture of experience, values and beliefs, contextual information, intuition, and insight that people use to make sense of new experiences and information.

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, Sixth Edition
Project Management Institute (PMI)

I am not sure I agree that values and beliefs are knowledge – but they do act on our decision-making as if they are. Therein lies a real danger. And also, I think this definition is too narrow in at least one obvious way: it says nothing about how knowledge enables us to do things! Let’s see if the forthcoming 7th edition offers a better definition.

The APM offers us a typically robust (although ugly) definition of Knowledge Management:

Knowledge Management is a holistic, cross-functional discipline and set of practices concerned with the way organisations create and use knowledge to improve outcomes.

The APM Body of Knowledge, 7th Edition
Association for Project Management

And, as for Knowledge Transfer, although it is explicitly within the syllabus of the PMI’s current PMP examination (Domain II Task 16), PMI does not define it – and neither does APM. So. let’s turn to Wikipedia!

Knowledge transfer refers to sharing or disseminating of knowledge and providing inputs to problem solving.

Wikipedia entry for Knowledge Transfer
Recorded 5 July, 2021
Project Management: How to Get Better with Knowledge Management and Knowledge Transfer


There is a lot to know about Knowledge Management and Knowledge Transfer, so we will tackle it in a structured way. In the first section, we’ll define the Structure for Knowledge Management. Then, we’ll look at Knowledge Management and Transfer at each of the five levels we set out.

Let’s get to it!

The Structure of Knowledge Management

In the diagram below, I have set out five levels of Knowledge Management we need to be aware of.

5 Tiers of Knowledge Management and the Domains of Knowledge Transfer

This diagram shows the five levels we will look at in this article.

1. Individual Learning

‘The knowledge of…’ and ‘the skills of how to…’ form the crucial capabilities for anyone working in a project environment. They encompass:

And for all of these, knowledge transfer occurs principally:

  • Within individuals (who may undertake their own reading, training, and research)
  • Between colleagues
  • From the project leadership to team members (and vice versa)
  • From the professional bodies of knowledge (in the Project Management domain and maybe other domains)

2. Project Knowledge

This consists of two things:

  • Project-relevant knowledge that team members and the project leadership bring in, like experience, case studies, relevant examples…
  • Emergent knowledge that the team creates, as it understands the project and its context, and solves problems along the way

Once again, knowledge transfer occurs in different modes:

  • Between individuals and the team
  • Within the project team
  • From a PMO to the project and vice versa

3. PMO Knowledge Management

In many ways, the primary Knowledge Management role of a Project, Program, or Portfolio Management Office is to manage the Knowledge Transfer between the Project and the Organization. However, a large, well-founded PMO may well also create, store, and disseminate knowledge as part of its set of responsibilities.

It will also draw upon (and maybe also feed into) professional bodies of knowledge. And let’s not forget that there is a rapidly growing professional body of PMO knowledge. We’ll give you links in the PMO section, below.

4. Organizational Knowledge Management Repository

Many organizations seek to maintain their own repository of organizational knowledge. Some even have professional knowledge management staff to design, feed, and maintain that repository. However, these are not common. So, they are mostly found in large national and multinational organizations, and in knowledge industries, like consultancy and news media.

Regarding our interest in Project management, their functions include:

  • Promoting the formal documentation of Lessons Learned
  • Harvesting information, knowledge, methods, and lessons
  • Maintaining Knowledge Management systems
  • Supporting teams in contributing to and accessing from these systems

5. Project Management Professional Body of Knowledge

All professions maintain their own professional bodies of knowledge. Indeed, many – like Project Management – have ‘competing’ bodies of knowledge. These are developed and maintained by a range of professional bodies. In PM, examples include:

They also promote Knowledge Transfer to their members and seek to harness the knowledge and experience of their members in creating new knowledge. Knowledge Transfer happens via:

  • Methodology development
  • Accredited training (often with certifications)
  • Books, reports, and papers
  • Conferences, seminars, and meetings
  • Special Interest Groups (SIGS)

Knowledge Transfer and the Types of Knowledge

If you are prepared to dive down the rabbit hole of the Theory of Knowledge, you’ll find many competing models for the different types of knowledge that individuals have and need. For our purposes, let’s keep I simple.

Explicit Knowledge

This is the kind of knowledge that is easy to share with other people. It includes procedures, facts, formulas, and stories. These can all be communicated by means of training, books, articles, diagrams, and pictures. This is the easiest knowledge to manage and transfer. Knowledge Management systems and Bodies of Knowledge consist mostly of Explicit Knowledge.

Note that within explicit knowledge, there is a major division between factual knowledge (knowing that…) and procedural knowledge (knowing how…).

Implicit (or Tacit) Knowledge

Some sources will consider implicit and tacit knowledge as different. But that level of subtlety is not necessary for us. Here we find information that is hard to express, record, and communicate with precision. It’s the things we ‘just know’. Examples include insights, the feel for how to use tools, political nouse, and reading of emotions.

We can divide implicit knowledge into categories based on ‘where within us’ we store that knowledge. For example, within our:

  • body, arms, legs, etc: Embodied Knowledge gives us a physical feel for how to do things
  • brain, mind, heart, etc: Embraced Knowledge allows us to interpret and process different forms of information in subtle ways
  • social relationships, etc: Encultured Knowledge captured our implicit understanding of social situations.

With implicit knowledge, knowledge transfer is more subtle and less formal than with explicit knowledge. Examples include:

  • advice, guidance, and support
  • anecdotes, story-telling, and case studies
  • demonstration, observed performance, and feedback

Knowledge Transfer within a Project Team

The purpose of Knowledge Transfer within a team is to bind the team together and empower its members, with a clear understanding of:

  • meaning, purpose, goals, and objectives
  • background and context
  • responsibilities and authority
  • expectations and behaviors
  • practices and processes
  • methods and tools

Approaches to Knowledge Transfer

There are many ways that a Project Team can share and disseminate information and knowledge. These include:

  • Briefings
    …from whole team to individual, depending on the information to share
  • Facilitated problem-solving
    …one-to-one or in workshops
  • Networking and informal conversations
  • Presentations and updates
  • Reports
  • Knowledge fairs, world cafe, and similar tools
  • Training
    …one-to-one or one-to-many
  • Work shadowing and role-swaps
  • Discussion groups and special interest groups
  • Observation and feedback

It is best to consider this as a continuous process. Indeed, borrow from Agile principles and make it incremental, iterative, and adaptive.

Media for Knowledge Transfer

Whilst we naturally assume the best ‘medium’ for knowledge transfer is in person, there are plenty of alternatives – especially when you are leading a virtual, or remote, team:

  • video training
  • telephone
  • video conference
  • wikis (and more formal knowledge repositories)
  • documents, articles, papers, and books
  • websites
  • …and even email

‘Knowledge is Power’

It may be true that knowledge is power. But only when it is put to use! So, if you hoard your knowledge and refuse to share it, don’t be surprised when people fail to do their best work.

Lessons Learned

Arguably the most important form of Knowledge Transfer in the context of Project Management is the Lessons Learned process. So, don’t save it to the end of your project. There it is too late to serve this project that you have just completed. It becomes an organizational asset: not a project asset.

I have an extensive article that goes into this topic in detail: How to Get Your Next Lessons Learned Meeting Right. Do consider it a companion to this article. For an overview of one aspect, take a look at this video:

The Role of a PMO in Knowledge Management and Knowledge Transfer

It may well be the Project, Program, or Portfolio Management Office (PMO) that facilitates the Lessons Learned process. They may:

  • facilitate the discussion
  • capture the ideas
  • document the lessons learned
  • collate and analyze findings
  • consolidate them with other sets
  • disseminate them to interested people throughout the organization

Knowledge Systems

Many big organizations hold an Organization-wide Lessons Learned Logs or Registers. And, if they have a PMO, this is the logical home for that register. Indeed, it may sit within one of two major software tools:

  1. A Project (or Program) Management Information System (PMIS)
    – usually administered by the PMO
  2. A Corporate Knowledge Management System (KMS)
    – usually managed by the organization’s Knowledge Management team

Knowledge Communities

Another role a PMO may take on is to convene and support Knowledge Communities, Communities of Practice, or Special Interest Groups (SIGs) among PM practitioners. These will support the PMO in its role of synthesising, codifying, and creating new knowledge, in the form of:

  • best practice guidance
  • formal methodology
  • case studies and reports
  • tools and techniques
  • templates and checklists
  • training materials

Knowledge Management Solutions and Organizational Knowledge Transfer

I could readily argue that this tier of Knowledge Management is out of scope for us, as Project Managers. But there are a few minor points we should note.

Not the least of these is the relationship with the PMO – which forms an interface between Organizational KM (where it exists) and the projects and programs within the organization. Because projects have their own particular needs, the PMO can provide ‘an adapter’ to fit the ‘one-size-fits-all’ organizational toolset to the needs of the Projects and Programs community. It can also support the project and program managers in tailoring their own knowledge management and knowledge transfer to their specific needs.

But, without a doubt, the benefit of an organizational tier of Knowledge Management is its ability to invest in:

  • Library services
  • Professional knowledge gathering, organization, storage, and access
  • Technology solutions to support the above

Knowledge Management and Knowledge Transfer in the Project Management Profession

I have already listed examples of professional bodies in our domain that maintain their own bodies of knowledge. And I have also set out many of the ways they use and transfer that knowledge.

Knowledge Management and Knowledge Transfer are two of the most important roles of our professional bodies, alongside, for example:

  • setting standards
  • connecting members
  • advocating for members
  • …and for the profession

What Has the PMI or APM Ever Done for Us?

So, what are the aspects of Knowledge Management and Transfer that the biggest players focus on? Simply reading from the navigation of the PMI and APM websites, we get (in no particular order):

  • Publishing a Formal Body of Knowledge
  • Research and publication of reports and whitepapers
  • Market research surveys
  • Learning portals
  • Seminars, Webinars, Podcasts
  • Conferences
  • Journals
  • Glossaries
  • Competency Frameworks
  • Standards
  • Toolkits
  • Training syllabuses, courses, and course materials
  • Career advice
  • Job boards
  • News and opinion (blogs)
  • Special Interest Groups and Thought Leadership
  • Books, Handbooks, Guides, and Standards

And Professional Body shall Speak unto Professional Body

We know that there is some animus between certain pairs of professional Project Management bodies. And, that is to be expected: many are deeply political in nature and are in competition for influence and members – as well as selling books, training, accreditation, and services.

However, I would be surprised if there were no Knowledge Transfer between and among our many professional bodies. This is not least because many individual project professionals are members of two, three, or more professional bodies. None has a monopoly on good knowledge – nor less on wisdom. So, knowledge is bound to leak across boundaries of space and politics!

What are Your Thoughts about Knowledge Management and Knowledge Transfer?

This is a topic that has not had anything like the coverage it should have had. The APM Body of Knowledge (7th Ed) devotes 80 double page spreads to it and the PMI’s PMBOK Guide (6th Ed) has less than a page (out of 700+).

But now the 2021 PMP exam syllabus, the Examination Content Outline (ECO) has ‘Ensure Knowledge Transfer for Project Continuity’ as one of its 35 tasks:

Domain II Task 16: Ensure Knowledge Transfer for Project Continuity

PMI suggests you need to know how to:

  • Discuss project responsibilities within team
  • Outline expectations for working environment
  • Confirm approach for knowledge transfers

Lessons Learned appears in the next section, Task 17: Plan and Manage Project/Phase Closure or Transitions.

I hope, therefore, this article will help:

  • PMP candidates to prepare fully for any questions on this aspect of your exam
  • Anyone who secured their training and qualifications without this element, will be able to fill an important knowledge gap

Do let me know, in the comments below, what you think of this important Knowledge Area.

About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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  • Moses Mwariri says:

    Excellent notes.

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