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Developing a Framework for Knowledge Management for Global Projects - Book Review

1 February 2009
Dr. Moria Levy
book cover

The book titled "Developing a Framework for Knowledge Management for Global Projects" is authored by Christian Thanner, a thirty-year-old Austrian specializing in Business Intelligence (BI) and Information Technology (IT). Published in 2008, the book explores Thanner's expertise in knowledge management, addressing a common question: How does knowledge management contribute to the effective management of global international projects?

Drawing from established models by WIIG, Nonaka, Kerzner, Probst, Prusak & Davenport, and others, the academically oriented book lays the foundation for its exploration. In its second part, Thanner presents a case study centered around a global project within the scope of EU projects. This project is executed under the INTERREG program, specifically the GILDANET program, involving representatives from organizations in Greece, Austria, and Italy.

The book covers key topics, including:

  • Global projects and their characteristics

  • Knowledge and Knowledge Management

  • Knowledge Management in the INTERREG Program

  • Recommendations on managing knowledge in a global project

The full details necessitate a return to the original text for a comprehensive understanding. Wishing you an enjoyable read.

Global projects and their characteristics

Project management is a complex undertaking, defined as a series of actions and tasks that encompass several vital aspects:

  • A defined goal must be accomplished according to specified criteria

  • A set start and end date

  • Limited funding

  • Consumption of human and other resources (money, equipment, etc.)

  • Involvement of multiple functions

Project management involves the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities. It aims to meet the expectations and needs of stakeholders while balancing competing interests in areas such as resources, stakeholders, and needs.

In the broader project environment, various partners play roles, including suppliers, consumers, employees, credit holders, stakeholders, and competitors. Project management navigates economic, technological, social, political, and international aspects.

International projects stemming primarily from integrated markets are classified as such if:

  1. The customer is international.

  2. The project management team includes members from different countries.

  3. Significant parts of the project are conducted in an international context.

In later references, "global projects" emphasize their participatory nature beyond being merely international.

International project management faces influences from diverse factors, such as:

Organization and Coordination:

  • Multiple organizations with self-identity/self-interest

  • Competition among various needs for resources

  • Complex power structures

  • Diverse systems and technologies

  • Involvement of virtual teams

Political and Legal Aspects:

  • Varied laws and regulations

  • Legal systems

  • Legitimate security systems

  • Political situations and stability

Natural and Technical Aspects:

  • Topographical conditions

  • Time zones

  • Climate; Weather

  • Natural resources

  • Infrastructure

Economic Aspects:

  • Financing

  • Currency

  • Economic stability

  • Economic and market structures

  • Employment status

Cultural Aspects:

  • Communication and language

  • Attitude towards work, objectives, planning, and problem-solving

  • Attitude towards authority and responsibility

  • Working times and punctuality

  • Organizational culture

The book thoroughly explores these areas, focusing on cultural aspects crucial for success.

Virtual Teams:

International projects often involve virtual teams characterized by cross-organizational or sub-organizational, cross-cultural, and cross-language collaboration. Managing these teams is challenging due to various factors:

  • Staff size: Larger teams are more productive but more challenging to manage.

  • Geographical dispersion: Local or global distribution complicates team management, especially across different time zones.

  • Project duration/task: Short-term projects need more time for team building.

  • Previous joint work experience: Intensity affects ease of management.

  • Staff duties: Full-time or part-time commitment influences team cohesion.

  • Staff stability: High turnover undermines team-building processes.

  • Independence in tasks: Coordination needs increase with dependence.

  • Cultural diversity: Adds complexity to team collaboration.

The main challenges in managing virtual teams revolve around creating effective communication, overcoming cultural differences, and fostering commitment and partnership.

For successful virtual teams, key elements include a clear vision, individual-level objectives, designated meeting times, strong leadership, indicators of practical work, appropriate integration of team members, and high technical skills (computing literacy).

Knowledge and Knowledge Management

Knowledge and information have emerged as the most crucial resources in our time, particularly for tangible and non-trivial goods. The economic significance of knowledge is rooted in several factors, as outlined by North:

  • Structural change towards an information and knowledge society.

  • The availability of computing and communication technologies facilitates faster movements and reduces costs.

  • Globalization fosters local and international competition, leading to learning on both scales.

Leibovich and Megalogov define knowledge as the ability to act and make information actionable.

Knowledge manifests across various dimensions, encompassing five key aspects:

  • Explicit Knowledge vs. Tacit Knowledge.

  • Individual Knowledge vs. Organizational Knowledge.

  • Internal Knowledge vs. External Knowledge.

  • Historical, Future, and Present Knowledge.

  • Structural Knowledge vs. Personal Knowledge.

Project knowledge is typically organized in trees, representing visible knowledge. Equally vital is tacit knowledge, residing in the "white area" between the tree's branches.

Project knowledge encompasses:

  • Technical knowledge Of the product, its components, and the implemented technology.

  • Process knowledge: Related to the product's production processes and usage.

  • Organizational knowledge: Understanding project conduct, especially in communication and collaboration matters.

Knowledge Management:

Various knowledge management models, presented by Thanner, share commonalities with different emphases on:

  • Acquiring and creating knowledge.

  • Knowledge retention.

  • Transfer of knowledge.

  • Use of knowledge.

  • Management: strategic (objectives, risks, constraints, and indicators) and technical (labeling).

Success in knowledge management hinges on ensuring trust, a win-win situation, logic, and technology. A knowledge management strategy can take the form of structuring and systematization (codification) or personalization. The former externalizes and makes independent knowledge available to partners, while the latter retains it personally, strengthening relationships. Finding a balance between these strategies is essential for every organization and team.

Knowledge Management in the INTERREG Program

INTERREG, a community initiative within the realm of regional policy and a part of EU activities is designed to assist countries and organizations in preparing for and engaging with the EU process. The case study focuses on a specific program, the GILDANET program, among the 11 INTERREG III B programs. GILDANET aims to optimize and stabilize transport systems while enhancing access to the knowledge society. With a budget of €4,363,150, the program involves five organizations from Italy, Greece, and Austria, including three organizations and two consulting firms.

GILDANET's Virtual Team:

  • Spans geographical and organizational boundaries.

  • Encompasses cultural aspects, addressing language gaps, references to time, planning, attitudes toward goals, problem-solving approaches, work-related behavior, value for money, and risk attitudes.

The project's virtual team primarily relied on electronic communication and collaboration, with email being the primary mode of communication. Interviews with project personnel revealed communication challenges related to documentation, information retention, 1:1 communication difficulties, uneven use of email methods, insufficient response time, and the need for multiple reminders. The communication was perceived as lacking richness compared to face-to-face interactions.

The examination of information and knowledge flow in the project covered several aspects:

  1. Sources of knowledge were studied, emphasizing the importance of personal contact in gathering information.

  2. Knowledge transfer highlighted the significance of personal connections and identified challenges such as identifying knowledge holders, language issues, response times, effective communication of needs, and the absence of accompanying document abstracts.

  3. Knowledge retention faced information integrity, storage methods, and organizational structure challenges.

  4. Key areas of knowledge in the program, particularly in transportation and logistics (supply chain management), were identified. Computing knowledge and project management-related knowledge were deemed essential. Communication skills were universally recognized as necessary.

  5. New knowledge creation and its reuse were discussed, with interviewees expressing hope for knowledge reuse in future projects within the program.

  6. Project knowledge management was found to be lacking and not organized systematically.

Improvements are needed in the structured management of project knowledge for enhanced efficiency and effectiveness.

Recommendations on managing knowledge in a global project

Upon scrutinizing the project executed within the INTERREG program and exploring the features of global projects and various theoretical models, Thanner proposes a framework for knowledge management in global projects. The pivotal success factors in effectively managing knowledge in a worldwide project include:

  • Establishing goals and objectives for knowledge management, with a critical emphasis on creating effective communication options.

  • Ensuring efficient and practical methods for accessing relevant information.

  • Implementing a shared knowledge base (knowledge site - M.L.) to store information and knowledge.

  • Developing a map of experts in the field to identify areas of expertise.

  • Cultivating the understanding that knowledge management is not an additional task but a support system for solutions.

The set of suggested actions to create a project task framework (for GILDANET as well as other projects) encompasses:

  1. Establishing a common goal, providing directions for knowledge management, and garnering staff commitment to support the initiative.

  2. Creating a taxonomy that includes project knowledge.

  3. Acquiring knowledge relevant to various project tasks through staff members.

  4. Centralizing knowledge in a repository.

  5. Periodically collecting feedback from team members.

The core components of comprehensive global project knowledge (elaborated in section 2 above) cover:

  • Business intelligence.

  • Business processes.

  • Instructional knowledge.

  • Tools and methods.

  • Computational knowledge.

  • Knowledge related to the project's industries.

  • International industrial and technical standards.

  • Computing infrastructure.

  • Project management tasks.

  • Public relations.

  • Reference model.

  • Professional project knowledge.

This list is the foundation for any knowledge tree in other international projects, adaptable to the specific field.

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