Stories about project success and failure make great reading for project managers. Without enduring the pain, you can see how some projects went off the rails while others didn’t. For example, why do government knowledge management projects fail? What do similar private sector projects do differently?
Private sector knowledge management projects have one key advantage: a focus on profit over purpose. That profit is an advantage because, in the private sector, you must keep customers happy or risk going out of business.
Of course, the key to keeping customers happy is by understanding and responding to their needs. This focus on the customer and end user is a touchpoint throughout private sector knowledge management projects––from requirements analysis, system design, and configuration to testing and beyond. Focusing on user needs drives a project forward and ensures success.
However, in the public sector, the needs of end users are not always given sufficient focus.
That becomes a big problem when user feedback isn’t built into the project plan, because system requirements won’t reflect all of the users’ needs. As a result, the system doesn’t live up to expectations and user adoption becomes a struggle.
The fact is, knowledge management projects in the federal government space fail when you don’t build opportunities for user feedback into the project plan.
The ultimate project requirement: user feedback
Having the right people involved in your knowledge management project will ensure the system will completely meet user needs. First, identify every position or department that uses or relies on the knowledge management system or its data. Make sure you take into consideration all back-end (administrative) and front-end users.
Ask someone who represents each position or department to participate in the requirements and user feedback phases of the project. These users are the experts on critical system functions and user workflows. Each of them will have their own perspective on what they need from the system in order to succeed. You need all their perspectives to get the full picture—and a full set of requirements.
Avoid knowledge management failure by gathering user feedback throughout the effort
At Tesla, we know from experience that continuous user feedback is essential for a successful knowledge management project.
We start by conducting individual and group interviews with users. These conversations help us identify and prioritize requirements. But that’s just the beginning. In our agile approach to development, we continuously collect user feedback.
Many knowledge management projects fail because they don’t take an agile approach. Because requirements can change as a program goes forward, this approach allows you to adjust to changing priorities and needs.
In agile methodology for knowledge management projects, users get an early set of tools to try out. We sit with them and watch them do their work so we can see how they use these tools. We listen to their feedback and take note of any issues they might have.
- Do they click where we expect?
- Do they search in the most effective way?
- Do they find what they need?
We understand what it’s like to be an end user because many of us have been on the other side of government projects around the world. We’ve been in your shoes, but bring an objective perspective to your project.
When seeking a partner for a knowledge management project, be sure to look for a team with business analyst expertise who knows how to ask the questions that reveal underlying problems with existing systems, policies, or workflows. Experience with similar projects is essential; you want a partner with a proven process for guiding your agency through the requirements and user feedback phases of a project as well as the changes inherent in any new system implementation or upgrade.
The positive side effects of getting users involved in your knowledge management project
Everyone loves being asked for their expertise. So when users are involved in a project as subject matter experts, they become more invested in its success and less likely to resist any resulting changes. It becomes “our” project, not “their” project.
For example, by engaging users throughout the project, you learn about existing issues with processes and workflows. With this information, you can ensure the new solution improves, instead of replicating, inefficient processes.
When people come together on a project team, the collaboration has a lasting effect. Colleagues who don’t normally work together share a common vision for the project and learn more about each other’s work. By the end of the project, you’ll see new relationships developing.
Common pitfalls to avoid
To keep your knowledge management project from failing, you’ll want to know what to avoid. If you’re embarking on a project, be prepared for these common trouble spots.
- Unclear expectations. Make sure users understand the scope of the project, so they don’t have unreasonable expectations about the final product.
- Demanding latecomers. Dig deep to find all stakeholders and users who must be consulted about requirements. If some of them remain hidden from view until the end of the project, they might suddenly appear with unknown issues or needs. At this point, adjustments to the scope of your project could be costly in time, budget, and user patience.
- Uncooperative supervisors. Users must take time away from their usual responsibilities to participate in project meetings, testing, and training—all on top of their regular workload. Be prepared for possible resistance from users or their supervisors. Remind everyone about the bigger picture—how this project helps the department or organization achieve its goals. If resistance continues, ask the project’s executive sponsor to step in.
- Schedule hitches. Find out about major or cyclical events you must work around, such as budgeting season and conferences or meetings. Build time into the project schedule to allow for any shifts in a project team member’s attention.
Many government knowledge management projects fail because they don’t gather and act upon user feedback. When you involve system users in your knowledge management project, they will eagerly adopt the new system because it helps them do their work and achieve organizational goals.
Interested in launching a Knowledge Management Project with Tesla?
We know how to engage your users for project success.