Background to the study
Knowledge management is a key pillar for the success of an organization operating in the business dynamics of the 21st century. This means that knowledge sharing is essential for the design of products, development of business models, and services possessing a magnificent competitive value. Knowledge sharing, followed by its management, is often possible in situations where an organization is organized in the form of distinct harmonious entities, which, while merged, make up an organization. These entities comprise projects in that their anticipated outputs have a limitation of time: they are subject to operation within fixed budgetary constraints. Development of project-based organizations having the capacity to share knowledge both vertically and horizontally is inspired by the technological evolvement of the 21st century. Thus, many organizations are rapidly drifting from the old-fashioned models of business such as mass production coupled with mass consumption. These are the business models that largely increased the profitability of organizations in the 20th century. Given the vast amount information necessary to be shared within an organization, which are project-based so that individual projects may work in harmony by fostering the sharing of their knowledge, immense concerns of how these knowledge can be effectively managed has emerged as a new scholarly body of knowledge. The paper draws form this body of knowledge to discuss how project-based organizations can be built and maintained.
The concept of knowledge management
Building and maintaining project-based organization is tied within the umbrella of knowledge management. The central concern of the concept of knowledge management is the consistent interaction and its maintenance by all components or agents of an organization or system. A knowledge-based organization is the one, which is “intelligent and characterized by adaptive agents who interact (Firestone 1998, p.4). The agents of the organization are purposive and self-directed entities. With regard to Firestone, systems that generate knowledge “gather information to compare conceptual formulations describing and evaluating their experience with the goals, objectives, expectations or past formulations of descriptions, or evaluations” (1998, p.1). Akin to the concept of knowledge management lies the need to ensure maintenance of knowledge base within an organization. This means that organizations, which are knowledge-based, remain committed to continuously searching and evaluating their diverse knowledge in comparison to the emerging information triggered by technological improvements. This is critical in ensuring that an organization develops the capacity to “…add new propositions and new models to its knowledge base besides amplifying and increasing the explanatory and predictive power of older propositions and models” (Hobday 2000, p.872). Apparently, project-based organizations put effort to align their organizational culture with respect to these concerns of enhancing knowledge bases within an organization.
The organization culture in project-based organization
In project-based organizations, the organizational culture is developed in a manner that ensures that all resources of an organization are allocated to ensure cute performance of temporary systems aimed at attaining the demands of particular tasks constituting the project. This implies that the organizational culture is aimed at enabling “project-based organization to execute specific tasks” (Hobday 2000, p.873). Good examples of companies that are project-oriented in their structures are the Japanese companies. The organizational culture of such companies is based on the need to foster innovation because projects are temporary in nature (Fong 2007, p.29). Hence, any attempt to initiate another endeavor in the future would not follow the same path as the one followed previously. The argument here is that the future temporary endeavors would need to factor in the prevailing technological developments and methodologies of an organization besides profiling the existing innovative business models (Fong 2007, p.31). Arguably, the organizational culture must therefore provide avenues for knowledge sharing and knowledge transfer across the entire system. Sharing of knowledge leads to more innovative approaches of handling projects (Alekseev 2010, p.3).
Link between the organizational culture and knowledge sharing
To ensure that organizations remain competitive amid the sophistication of business environment dynamics, an incredible concern needs to be paid to link organizational culture and knowledge sharing. Organizational culture embraces the “shared basic assumptions that an organization learnt while copying with the environment and solving the problems of external adaptation amid internal integration” (Zahidul et al 2011 p.5901). Such experience teaches all the work force of an organization the most ample procedures of seeking a solution to the experienced challenges. On the other hand, knowledge sharing embraces disseminating information coupled with knowledge across all functional units of an organization. Stemming from these definitions, the link between organizational culture and knowledge sharing is that knowledge sharing provides the mechanism of ensuring the concerns of organizational culture are brought into the attention of all the persons working in an organization.
This study answers three questions, which are:
- What is the role and importance of knowledge sharing in project-based organizations?
- What kinds of obstacles hinder knowledge sharing in the project-based organizations?
- How can a successful knowledge-sharing environment in project-based organization be built and maintained?
This research aims to achieve the following objectives:
- To establish the role and the importance of knowledge-sharing culture in project-based organization
- To investigate the factors that hinder the knowledge-sharing in project-based organization
- To build knowledge-sharing based culture and maintain it in the project-based organization
Overview of knowledge Management concept in project-based organization
Projects are essentially temporary endeavors. This implies that once the tasks constituting the project are completed, they are closed (Hobday 2000, p.871). Organizing an organization from the perspective of being project infers that the concerns of the task being executed by an organization are brought to a halt once the goals and objectives of the organization have been achieved (Hobday 2000, p.871). Management of knowledge in project-based organizations entails the exploration of myriads of knowledge possessed by the varying organizational staff, and then encouraging its sharing across all the members of the staff (Alekseev 2010, p.5). This leads to creation of a well-informed body for making decisions in an organization, which results to an immense success in the targeted endeavors. In the 21st century that is characterized by sophisticated information tools, a central argument is that organisations that would succeed in realizing a constant productivity are the ones, which have innovative management techniques (Fong 2007, p.27). Consistent with this proposition, Zahidul et al (2011) argue, “sharing of knowledge between employees and departments in the organisation is necessary to transfer individual and group knowledge into organizational knowledge, which leads to an effective management of knowledge” (p.5900). However, in project-based organizations, a challenge is established in the attempt to manage and integrate individual knowledge facets into one body of knowledge leading to an optimal utilization of the available limited resources (Fong 2007, p.28). In this context, Alekseev (2010) argues, “the problem, which might be not so important for a singular project becomes a significant issue for organizations that use projects on a regular basis for delivering their strategic objectives” (p.4). This problem is articulated to memory losses in an organization organized as a project (Alekseev 2010, p.4). Additionally, managing information systems of an organization from the contexts of being project-based implies that when the project is completed, the knowledge would cease to be relevant in new developments of the organization. Such developments would entail coming up with completely new knowledge bases coupled with methodologies to enhance the success of the project at hand so that it meets the technological requirements at that particular time (Zahidul et al 2011, p.5900). Consequently, the existing information on the experiences of an organization in the implementation of previous projects would seem largely not influential in evaluating the new projects. The main concern here is that individual projects would increase the probability of replication of similar mistakes. Zahidul et al (2011) support these criticisms by further adding, “When individuals share organizationally relevant experiences and information with one another, it significantly increases the resources of an organization and decreases the time wasted in trial-and error” (p.5900).
In summary, amid the criticisms related to the difficulties of integration of knowledge facets within project-based organizations, innovative management techniques resulting from knowledge bases are significance in fostering the management of knowledge in project-based organizations. In turn, this enhances knowledge sharing, which has the aftermaths of development of more competitive project-based organizations.
The role and the importance of knowledge sharing in project-based organizations
Changing managerial structures of organizations from being functional to project-based is one of the most significant points of contention among numerous information age management scholars (Adel, Al-Marzooqi & Mohammed 2007, p.24). Sharing of knowledge within project-based organization is seen as one of the subtle mechanisms of enhancing and making organizations acquire a competitive advantage (Hobday 2000, p.875). Knowledge sharing produces substantive impacts in enhancing the competitiveness of organizations especially in the case of technical projects (Fong 2007, p.42). This takes place through knowledge accumulation and experience (Fong 2007, p.42). Consequently, it is critical to know how “knowledge in project groups is shared in the entire organization for professional development of human resources, as well as for the achievement of the goals of the project-based organization” (Hobday 2000, p.876). Nevertheless, amid consideration of this role of knowledge sharing within organizations that are project-based, it is arguable that knowledge sharing is practically impossible if the organizational agents do not have clear motives, willingness, and value for the fruits realized through sharing of the knowledge. Inculcation of the concerns of knowledge sharing in influencing project-based organizations to increase their competitiveness among the organizations’ agents who may be adamant to embrace it is the sole responsibility of managers (Hobday 2000, p.871). Therefore, organization leadership coupled with organizational culture should act as the foundation of “involvement and willingness to share knowledge” (Zahidul et al 2011, p.5901). This way, all the building blocks of individual project entities within an organization, which can also be managed as a separate organization, becomes oriented to innovation, which is the main concern of restructuring organization from being functional to project-based (Zahidul et al 2011, p.5901). Although sharing of knowledge within an organization, which is project-based plays the roles of making it competitive and innovative, such organizations have peculiar challenges, which often create friction in the realization of the advantages of development of a knowledge-based organization. One of such challenges arises from the characteristics of a project particularly in its trait of being a time-bound endeavor (Alekseev 2010, p.12). In any project, various specialists join hands to perform various innovative and complicated tasks within some stipulated amount of time. When they are through with the tasks, disbandment of the work teams takes place. Should such a similar project be demanded in the future, chances are that the previous members of work teams would not come together to execute the future project (Fong 2007, p.45). Even though this may help in limiting the impacts of the previous experiences in influencing or limiting the levels of innovation in the future projects, chances also exist that similar mistakes made in the previous project would be repeated (Fong 2007, p.47). In fact, “ managing knowledge in the context of project work encounters specific cultural and organizing challenges such as forming work groups” (Hobday 2000, p.881). This means that sharing and dissemination of knowledge also becomes challenged. However, although project-based organization exhibits opportunities for different people to interact in the execution of time-bound tasks, opportunities also exist for fostering multiculturalism within an organization (Park, Ribiere & Schulte, 2004, p.115).
In summary, knowledge sharing makes project-based organizations acquire competitiveness by fostering accumulation of experience. To enable it achieve this goal, the organizational leadership has noble roles to ensure that knowledge sharing forms an integral part of a project-based organizational culture.
Obstacles that hinder sharing knowledge among the organization
From the dimension of the perception that knowledge is an intellectual property of an individual or a person working in an organization and not the entire organization (Adel, Al-Marzooqi & Mohammed 2007, p.24), it is arguable that knowledge sharing is only possible in an environment of trust. The person sharing the knowledge must have adequate confidence induced either verbally or in a written statement (Alekseev 2010, 34). This way, sharing of information with another person (trustee) would not lead to erosion of the status quo of the person sharing the knowledge. In support of this argument, Adel, Al-Marzooqi, and Mohammed (2007) argue, “interpersonal trust or trust between co-workers is an extremely essential attribute in an organizational culture, which is believed to have a strong influence over knowledge sharing” (p.25). Without this interpersonal trust among the work team members operating in a project-based organization, knowledge sharing encounters infertile grounds where it cannot thrive. More specifically, interpersonal trust embraces “individual or a group’s expectancy in the reliability of the promise or actions of other individuals or groups” (Adel, Al-Marzooqi & Mohammed 2007, p.25). Given the roles of trust in an organization in fostering the sharing of knowledge, one of the paramount endeavors of an organization’s management seeking to deploy it as a measure to enhance the competitiveness of its organization involves looking for methodologies of fostering interpersonal trust among all workers within an organization(Park, Ribiere & Schulte 2004, p.113). Among the methodologies utilized by organizations to achieve organizational goals is creating incentives schemes for performance beyond par. Unfortunately, according to Adel, Al-Maroni, and Mohammed (2007), where an organization sets incentive schemes for any effort beyond par, it is likely that the desire to always get the benefits accruing from the inceptives makes employees engage in competition, something that minimizes the spirit of knowledge sharing (p.28). From this line of thought, it is desirable for an organization to create the spirit of ‘we’ as opposed to ‘I’ within the entire organization while according incentives.
Another obstacle to sharing knowledge within an organization embraces the emergence of cultural conflicts (Chai, Gregory & Shi 2003, p. 705). Here, cultural conflicts do not mean the differences attributed to the employees’ diverse ethnic background or beliefs. Rather, it means the differences in professionalism. For instance, when a project task in an organization is to be executed by different persons from different fields of knowledge, a perception may arise that the contribution of all members of a given professional body are to be held with secrecy in an attempt to protect their intellectual property (Chai, Gregory & Shi 2003, p. 705). One of the ways of resolving such conflicts would be to separate the entities of the task requiring contribution of each body of knowledge and then giving the mandate of execution of such tasks to the persons who are well equipped to do them(Earl 2001, p.231). This is an approach of project management.
Conclusively, sharing of knowledge within an organization is noble in enhancing the competitive advantage of an organization. However, it is prone to many obstacles among them trust, incentives, and organizational cultural conflicts. These obstacles lead to making employees shun from sharing their knowledge with other people within an organization. One of the notions widely held by employees is that knowledge is an intellectual property owned by an individual, which places that individual in the requisite hierarchical position within an organization. Thus, sharing it would amount to creating competitions for the position held.
Building and maintaining knowledge-sharing culture in project-based organization
Stemming from the discussions of the roles and importance of knowledge sharing in the project-based organization, building and maintaining knowledge sharing culture within a project-based organization is critical. While a number of alternative ways may be deployed to achieve this, seeking means for mitigation of obstacles of knowledge sharing may widely help to build the culture of knowledge sharing within organizations seeking to be competitive and innovative. An organization has a unique and distinct culture. This culture grows as time progresses to constitute the unique identities of an organization. The identities are expressed through “sharing the basic assumptions that an organization learnt while coping with the environment and solving problems of the external adaptation and internal integration that are taught to new members as the correct ways to solve those problems” (Park et al. 2004, p.109). In the due process of the growth of organizational culture, an organization can induce mechanisms of building and maintaining knowledge sharing so that, by the time the organizational culture matures, it embraces the paradigm of knowledge sharing as one of the unifying trait that symbolizes the distinct characteristic of the organization’s human resource (Zahidul et al 2011, p.5905). The main question is how this can be precisely done in the context of project-based organizations. However, integration of concepts of knowledge sharing in the process of development of an organization’s culture may be accomplished through involvement of knowledge sharing success factors (Adel, Al-Marzooqi & Mohammed 2007, p.25). This includes inculcating the spirit of trust among all the employees, enhancement of communications, and reorganizing management structures and information systems (Adel, Al-Marzooqi & Mohammed 2007, p.25). Arguably, trust is required in building knowledge sharing in an organization that is project-based in the attempt to make various projects work groups’ members respond openly besides feeling free to share their knowledge. Sharing of knowledge is enhanced through some form of media whether verbal or nonverbal: communication (Adel, Al-Marzooqi & Mohammed 2007, p.26). To enhance communication as a tool for building knowledge sharing within an organization, it is essential for social networks within wok places to be established and followed (Chai, Gregory & Shi 2003, p. 721). Arguably, it is upon repeated interaction across members of the social networks that interpersonal trust is developed. Consequently, it becomes possible to build a means of transferring knowledge from one member of a work group to another (Earl 2001, p.216). After the development of trust, opportunities exist in which all work team members can be linked to the information systems, which make the sharing of knowledge easier(Earl 2001, p.216). Information systems refer to “arrangement of people, data, and processes that interact to support daily operations, problem solving, and decision making in organizations” (Whitten et al., 2001, p.76). This means that information systems are the tools, which enable the sharing of knowledge to take place through the creation of the means of having accessibility to knowledge repositories (Whitten et al. 2001, p.76). Through the electronic device interventions, the expertise of sharing across all the staff of an organization is facilitated. This leads to the creation of a rigid and integrated body of knowledge within an organization (Adel, Al-Marzooqi & Mohammed 2007, p.27). In the attempt to build knowledge sharing in the project-based organizations, alteration of organizational structure is necessary (Adel, Al-Marzooqi & Mohammed 2007, p.24). For the ease of knowledge flow, both horizontally and vertically within an organization, highly porous filters information should exist. Consequently, the traditional structures of an organization characterized by bureaucracy are the last things that an organization seeking to implement project-based organization should think of. In the effort to maintain the culture of knowledge sharing in project-based organizations, motivational inceptives are vital. This takes the form of reward systems (Chai, Gregory & Shi 2003, p. 723). According to Adel, Al-Marzooqi, and Mohammed (2007), “it is unrealistic to assume that all employees are willing to easily offer knowledge without considering what may be gained or lost as a result of this action” (p.27). To ensure that the employees are encouraged to share knowledge, reward systems help in making them dedicated to share knowledge in the quest to benefit from the gains accruing from the incentives offered materially or through professional promotions (Adel, Al-Marzooqi & Mohammed 2007, p.31). However, it is necessary for such motivational inceptives to be based on group performances, as opposed to individual performance so that more enhancement and maintenance of the culture of knowledge sharing within a particular work group and hence across the entire organization is achieved (Zahidul et al 2011, p.5908).
In summary, building a culture of knowledge sharing within a project-oriented organization requires a means of enhancing trust, communication, reorganization of organizational structures, and putting in place information systems to foster knowledge sharing. On the other hand, maintenance of knowledge sharing as an organizational culture calls for the deployment of reward systems based on group work performance.
In this paper, it has been argued that, although knowledge sharing is a subtle tool for enhancing the competitive advantage of an organization, which is project-based, the integration of knowledge facets among all entities of a project is major drawback. In the modern-day organizations, projects are largely used as the most efficient ways of ensuring that organizations realize their specific objectives and goals through allocation of resources in a manner that is constrained by time besides factoring in the fact that financial resources are limited in supply. Consequently, instead of having a functional form of organization, which has immense impediments to the flow and sharing of knowledge, a project-based approach form of organization is preferred. While a specific work group given to deliver a specific task constituting the building block of the entire project may share knowledge that would help in delivering the task within the pre-established deliverables, sharing of knowledge across the various building blocks of the entire project may be a challenge. Consequently, future studies on the role and importance of knowledge sharing in project-oriented organizations should attempt to theories and test paradigms of enhancing integration of information and knowledge sharing across individual project facets making up an entire project. They should also seek for mechanisms of ensuring that an organization’s work groups, which can be termed as small organizations within the larger organizations, which execute specific task, are harmoniously knowledge-based.
Discussions and Conclusions
For an organization struggling to improve its competitiveness in the 21st century without success, reorganizing itself so that it becomes project-based remains the only viable option. The paper argues that the 20th century business models, which made organizations profitable, are no longer effective. One of the reasons for this is because of over saturation of mass produced products in the markets. Consequently, organizations seek for alternative means of increasing productivity amid the rapid changes in the consumer needs. In this sense, the paper argued that one of the ways for ensuring that the organizations remain innovative in the 21st century business dynamics is by making them project-based. Additionally, bearing in mind that information and knowledge are intangible assets of an organization, which, while well tapped would increase the innovation of organizations, the paper recommends that project-based organizations need to be knowledge based. However, in this quest, several challenges are encountered among them being organization cultural conflicts, trust, and challenges related to incentives. Nevertheless, incentives are argued as among the mechanisms that an organization can use to maintain the organizational culture of knowledge sharing.
Adel, A, Al-Marzooqi, N, & Mohammed, Y 2007, ‘Organisational Culture And Knowledge Sharing: Critical Success Factors’, Journal Of Knowledge Management, vol. 11 no. 2, pp. 22-42.
Alekseev, A 2010, Knowledge Management In Project-Based Organisations: The Success Criteria And Best Practice, Master Thesis, Chalmers University Of Technology, Northumbria.
Chai, H, Gregory, M, & Shi, Y 2003, ‘Bridging islands of knowledge: A framework of knowledge sharing Mechanisms’, International Journal of Technology Management, vol. 25 no. 8, pp. 703–727.
Earl, M 2001, ‘Knowledge management strategies: toward a taxonomy’, Journal of Management Information Systems, vol. 18 no.1, pp. 215–233.
Firestone, J 1998, ‘Basic Concepts of Knowledge Management’, White Paper vol. 1 no. 9, pp. 1-14.
Fong, W 2007, ‘Mechanisms of sharing knowledge in project-based organisations’, Information and Organisation, vol.17 no.3, pp. 27-58.
Hobday, M 2000, ‘The project-based organisation: an ideal form for managing complex products and systems?’, Research Policy, vol. 29 no.3, pp. 871–893.
Park, H, Ribiere, V, & Schulte, W 2004, ‘Critical attributes of organisational culture that promote knowledge management implementation success’, Journal of Knowledge Management, vol. 8 no. 3, pp. 106-117.
Whitten, J, Bentley, L, & Dittman, K 2001, System Analysis and Design Methods, McGraw-Hill, New York, NY.
Zahidul, I, Sylvana, M, Hassan, A & Sarwar, U 2011, ‘Organisational culture and knowledge sharing: Empirical evidence from service organisations’, African Journal of Business Management vol. 5 no.14, pp. 5900-5909.