How Microsoft, Toronto Hydro and Infrastructure Ontario Do Knowledge Transfer

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Equipping people with the right knowledge and skills to achieve success matters. Baby boomer retirements, employee turnover and economic evolution are driving the need for knowledge transfer. In this article, I will share insights I learned from attending a PMI Southern Ontario chapter event called, Knowledge Transfer: If We Only Knew What we KNOW. With perspectives from Infrastructure Ontario, Toronto Hydro and Microsoft, there was much to learn from the presentations and discussions.

Why I Attended The Event

I found the event helpful and interesting as a fresh perspective. As the event was organized by the PMI-SOC Government Community, most of the attendees came from government and public sector organizations. Even though my work does not involve government or infrastructure projects, I found there was much to learn from attending. While focusing on your own industry makes sense, set some time aside to explore new perspectives. If my experience is any guide, you have a great deal to learn from other industries.

The Case for Knowledge Transfer: The Project Management Institute Perspective

Evan Zelikovitz, from PMI, shared great insights on the value of knowledge transfer and how it impacts project success. He pointed out that high performing organizations tend to have an excellent process for knowledge transfer. Unfortunately, PMI research has also found that one third of professionals are reluctant to share knowledge at work. This disengaged group poses a risk to our success and serves as a cautionary tale for our success. Dorie Clark (How Sharing Can Transform Your Company and Your Life) and Keith Ferrazi (“To Be Known, Or Unknown: Share your expertise with the world to raise your profile“) point out that sharing knowledge is a great way to build a professional reputation. Refusing to share knowledge is rarely a good idea for your career or your projects.

Resource: The PMI Pulse of the Profession annual report shows how project managers, executives and others view project success and related points.

Delivering Trains, Hospitals and More On Time: The Infrastructure Ontario Perspective

Delivering large construction projects is a key part of the mandate for Infrastructure Ontario (IO). Derrick Toigo presented on the IO approach to projects and continuous improvement. I learned that the IO procurement process is iterative – requirements are revised based on feedback from contractors and other stakeholders. A recent lesson learned from IO concerns the UP Express – a new train service between Toronto Pearson and Union Station. In brief, there was a technology problem concerning door opening and closing procedures. Simplifying the technology involved with this process led to a better outcome. I was also intrigued by the fact that IO has a standing continuous improvement committee to ensure that lessons learned are sought and implemented.

Resource: Read about Infrastructure Ontario’s project track record – read about it in the Canadian Business Journal. The organization has an impressive track record in delivering projects on time. Given the complexity and budgets (“$50 million” is a small budget for this organization) involved, there is much to learn from their example.

Keeping The Lights On In Canada’s Largest City: Lessons From Toronto Hydro Model

Sam Sadeghi did outstanding work in explaining the Toronto Hydro approach to knowledge transfer. For readers unfamiliar with the organization, Toronto Hydro was established in 1911 and supplies electricity to over 2.5 million people in Toronto. Sadeghi’s role at Toronto Hydro is to lead the Program Delivery Group and the groups`s $450 million portfolio for the organization. The urgent need to replace aging and obsolete infrastructure translates to major expansion in project spending. In contrast, ten year ago, Toronto Hydro’s budget for projects was around $100 million.

In Sadeghi`s group, knowledge transfer is a vital process for several reasons. First, there is a major experience gap in the organization between relatively new staff (i.e. under five years of experience) and long term staff (i.e. over fifteen years of experience). In addition to staff changes from promotions and turnover, Toronto Hydro staff are engaged in hazardous work. Knowledge transfer is a key strategy that Sadeghi uses to reduce the risks involved in electrical work. The Toronto Hydro approach uses an on-boarding plan where new staff are guided through a process that lasts up to a year. This process includes both “hard knowledge” (e.g. how to plan and forecast projects) and “soft knowledge” (e.g. assistance in establishing influence and communication with other units).

Sadeghi also did well to point out one major caveat with knowledge transfer – that it may discourage innovation and improvement. Knowledge transfer efforts do assume that existing practices are valid and worth transferring. Actively requesting new ideas from new hires to your department is one way to limit the damage. You could also host a `Fail Fest` event – a practice used by several organizations including NASA – to emphasize the limits of current practices and the need to find improvements.

Knowledge Management Tools & Processes: The Microsoft Perspective

Featuring a demonstration of Sharepoint Online, the Microsoft presentation was interesting. Ketyurah Pinto and Shawn McIntyre shared insights on the Microsoft approach to knowledge and how they use their own products to facilitate this process. Employee performance at Microsoft includes “how did you help others achieve success.” That is an excellent approach to ensure that supporting others through knowledge transfer is rewarded. The presentation also featured a demonstration of Sharepoint Online called “Campus” which is used by Microsoft Consulting Services. It was fascinating to see how Microsoft manages projects and knowledge. The organization encourages and facilitates producing and reusing intellectual property across projects.

Further Reading & Resources For Knowledge Transfer

Use the following resources to continue your learning for knowledge transfer, knowledge management and related topics. Regarding technology, I have good experience with Evernote and Sharepoint. That said, simply choosing a technology is only one small part of the knowledge experience. Several of the presenters referred to cases where knowledge sharing exercises failed to produce value because there were not effective supporting practices and habits to support technology and tools.

The Value of a Knowledge Process By Matt Alderton. A PMI resource that looks at the supporting processes related to using and sharing knowledge.

Motivate Your Team to Share Lessons Learned By Kelly Warmington, PMP. Recent research has found that one third of professionals do not want to share knowledge. Learn how to overcome this challenge using this article`s ideas.


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