Challenges for Organizational Learning in Project-Based Companies

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During last decades, a significant dimension of competitiveness emerged in businesses, which is the evolution and continuous development. Companies need to adapt themselves to the surrounding in order to at least absorb concerns created by variables such as continually evolution of customers’ needs, technological progression and innovation, globalization, and above all fierce competition. These variables are more sensitive to particular industries. In other words, some businesses have to evolve on higher pace than others in order to survive in the market, for instance, telecommunications over pallet industry. However, there is no doubt that reacting to variables such as integrating new technologies and methodologies imposes that companies should have the knowledge, which comes by either embedding organizational learning or paying much more money to consultants. The earlier way seems to bring some extra credits from a business sustainability point of view. However, acting as learning organization is not pushover and implicate many challenges and concerns such as the organizational culture, individual learning attitudes, and knowledge management.

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Challenges for Organizational Learning in Project-Based Companies

  1. 1. CHALLENGES FOR ORGANIZATIONAL LEARNING IN PROJECT-BASED ORGANIZATIONS Hafez Shurrab
  2. 2. 1 1.INTRODUCTION During last decades, a significant dimension of competitiveness emerged in businesses, which is the evolution and continuous development. Companies need to adapt themselves to the surrounding in order to at least absorb concerns created by variables such as continually evolution of customers’ needs, technological progression and innovation, globalization, and above all fierce competition. These variables are more sensitive to particular industries. In other words, some businesses have to evolve on higher pace than others in order to survive in the market, for instance, telecommunications over pallet industry. However, there is no doubt that reacting to variables such as integrating new technologies and methodologies imposes that companies should have the knowledge, which comes by either embedding organizational learning or paying much more money to consultants. The earlier way seems to bring some extra credits from a business sustainability point of view. However, acting as learning organization is not pushover and implicate many challenges and concerns such as the organizational culture, individual learning attitudes, and knowledge management (Milway & Saxton, 2011). The later challenge is very crucial to organizational learning as regarded to have unnecessary distinction between both of them. At one extreme, projects have significant opportunities for real organizational learning because of their roles as vehicles for creating change (Nonaka, 1988). At another extreme, project-based organizations have special concerns and difficulties when they are aimed at acting as learning organizations (Morris, 2002). There is a lack of discussion in literature of how effective projects contribute to KM and OL, and vice versa (Lundin & Midler, 1998) (Söderlund et al., 2000). For that, this article is dedicated to discuss the challenges of organizational learning in project-based organizations. 2.THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK 2.1. Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning Knowledge management (KM) includes a set of practices and strategies used in an organization to identify, capture, embed, disseminate, and apply the experiences and insights comprise knowledge embodied in either individuals or organizations as processes or practices. Knowledge could be classified into two main categories, explicit and tacit knowledge. Explicit knowledge is knowledge that has been codified, articulated, and stored in certain media, such as text books, while tacit knowledge is the type of knowledge that is hard to transfer to another person by means of verbalizing it or writing it down (Nonaka, 2008). Tacit knowledge represents the strategic value of a business, and it is less important when it becomes explicit (Dalkir, 2005). Project management has a combination of scientific or engineering based knowledge whereby more tacit knowledge is embedded than explicit one. Management knowledge is even more problematic since it is highly complex, contextual and hard to be rendered into generically valid forms (Griseri, 2002). Organizational learning (OL) is a characteristic of organizations have the sense of adaption to the surrounding environment, and react accordingly. Learning organizations adopt double-loop learning in which organizational entities are apt to be evaluated and reframed to achieve a goal on different occasions. The goal is also apt to be modified or possibly even rejected in the light of experience. (Schön & Argyris, 1997).
  3. 3. 2 2.2. Projects and Project-Based Organizations In project-based organizations, life-cycles are long, non-repetitive, developmental, and the working project teams are disbanded upon projects’ completion. Furthermore, projects rely heavily on supply chain contributions. Measuring performance in projects is difficult since there is a strategic business vision beyond the project efficiency to be measured. Also, effective project-based organizations have the advantage of strong process basis that effective projects (by their stage gating aspects) as well as project leadership can bring (Morris, 2002). 2.3. Knowledge Frameworks in Projects There are several forms of KM/OL tools usually employed in projects including databases, portals and knowledge support. Databases support projects with knowledge fulfils overall project/management needs to an extent, such as a web-based front end for different users, while portals represent doorways through which users can access a set of information relevant to their needs. An example of portal’s contribution could be risk management portals that allow users to access all they need (template, learning-based guidance, and e-learning support) to perform effective risk management. Finally, knowledge support may be employed in different contexts, such as project strategy, business context, technology strategy, value management … etc. The resulting outcomes of knowledge support are usually dealt with as reliable knowledge (Morris, 2002). 3.ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION Morris (2002) claims that there is absence of exchanging contributions between projects and KM/OL, as the latter supports project management through different tools including databases, portals, and knowledge support, while the earlier can only bring limited benefits to the theory and practice of KM and OL including the stage gating of projects that can force strategic learning in a similar way of double-loop learning. Therefore, the degree by which projects could be improved depends on the capability of KM/OL already existent but not vice versa. That undermines project- based organizations to grow as learning organization. Morris also refers to a significant challenge of projects with respect to the short life-cycles, uniqueness, and short lives of project teams. Learning is a long-term accumulative process that is difficult to its success to be claimed within short time periods. Therefore, project-based organizations find real difficulties in how to sustain the growth of tacit knowledge internalization. Moreover, projects rely on supply chain patterns and procurement practices, which mitigate against effective learning practices. Another challenge lies in project performance measurement. Morris (2002) discusses a variety of perspectives in the discourse of validity vs. appropriateness. He claims that the search for best practice in project management is something of chimera since project management is very contextual and tailor-maid, and there is no one size that fits all projects. Instead, Morris (2002) believes that the comparative performance measures, such as benchmarking, is better to be adopted for continuous improvement, while looking for valid performance measures is only good for low levels of development. Moreover, at higher levels of capability maturity, further improvements become extremely complex and require focusing on individual topic areas in order to be achievable. Having overall project maturity level is of limited credibility/value. Finally, knowledge sharing is more economically attractive for both improved projects and supply chain performance, but companies are more likely to hoard knowledge that is highly important and specific to their competitiveness.
  4. 4. 3 4.CONCLUSION Project-based organizations experience many challenges and concerns when OL/KM is to be integrated since projects are good at knowledge pull but worse at knowledge transfer. The main reasons behind that include the fact that learning is not high enough priority; people in projects do not often know how to learn, projects have relatively short life-cycles, teams disband, supply chain members are not sufficiently aligned, and projects are very contextual to be standardized. On the other hand, good project management is an effective way to be used for achieving double-loop learning. Finally, the major KM and OL challenge is to get people involved in the learning process.
  5. 5. 4 5.REFERENCES Argyris, C. and Schön, D. 1997. Organizational learning: a theory of action perspective. Reis, (77/78), pp. 345-348. Dalkir, K. 2005. Knowledge management in theory and practice. Amsterdam: Elsevier/Butterworth Heinemann. Griseri, P. 2002. Management Knowledge: a critical view Palgrave, London. Milway, K. and Saxton, A. 2011. The challenge of organizational learning. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 9 (3), pp. 44-49. Morris, P. 2002. Managing project management knowledge for organizational effectiveness. pp. 77- 87. Nonaka, I. 2008. The Knowledge-Creating Company (Harvard Business Review Classics) (Harvard Business Review Classics). Harvard Business School Press. Nonaka, I. 1988. ‘Toward Middle-Up-Down Management’, Sloan Management Review, Vol. 29 (3), pp. 9-18. Lundin R.A. and Midler C. 1998. Projects as arenas for renewal and learning processes, Kluwer Academic Publishers. Söderlund, J., Antoni, M., and Björkegren, C. 2000. “Inter-project learning: strategies and forms.” Proceedings of IRNOP IV, University of Technology, Sydney.

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