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Knowledge Management, Operational Research, Project Management

Organisational intuition and project planning

I attended a really interesting presentation by Michelle Morris at the OR Conference yesterday.  Michelle is a senior lecturer at Manchester Municipal University Business School and spoke about some of the people and organisational factors that can impact on project planning.  It’s a subject I’ve blogged about before; for example when discussing the role of a Project Management Office and the way that some organisations make project management so inaccessible for their people.

One of Michelle’s early points was that although we tend to describe projects as being “unique” in that they are set up to deliver something that an organisation hasn’t done before, there is a second dimension to “uniqueness”: peopleUnderstanding the human element is therefore key to effective project planning.  Most project managers these days would interpret that as meaning “Stakeholder Management”.

The “human element” covers a range of factors:

          Organisational knowledge (politics, agendas, needs, culture, mission, goals)

          Lessons learnt (outcomes of previous projects: positive and negative)

          Intuition and perception (individuals’ experiences, gossip, personalities and prejudices)

It’s possible to build an understanding of this range of factors and this is what Michelle described as Organisation Intuition.  Such intuition, related to a specific business, industry or sector has an important role to play in project planning.  It can help identify:

          Cultural bottlenecks (what works or doesn’t in this culture?)

          Conflicting interests

          Sources of passive or active resistance

          Issues of trust

          Variations in internal perceptions (e.g. between different Functions – back office vs. front office)

There is a case to be made for capturing organisation intuition as a resource that can be used to aid planning of future projects.  Interestingly, from my point of view, this aligns closely with some of my previous writing on Knowledge Management.  Specifically, it raises the issue of tacit vs. explicit knowledge and the extent to which “knowledge” can be captured at all.

A key message from this presentation is that if an organisation can capture and store such organisational intuition, it should be made available for future projects to improve planning and improve the chances of projects succeeding in a particular organisational context.  I completely agree with the view that organisation intuition is critical in planning (and managing) projects, but I’ve yet to find a really good example of an organisation finding a good way to capture, store and use it.

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