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A knowledge management framework for project definition

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A knowledge management framework for project definition
  A KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT FRAMEWORK FOR PROJECTDEFINITION SUBMITTED: December 2001REVISED: July 2002PUBLISHED: August 2002 at Abdul Samad Kazi  Michael Whelton, PhD. CandidateUniversity of California, , Ballard, Associate Adjunct Professor University of California, ,    Iris D. Tommelein, Professor University of California, ,    SUMMARY  : This paper proposes a knowledge management framework for project definition of capital facility projects. The conceptual framework emphasizes project-based learning and the creation of group knowledge inearly phase project planning and design activity. The use of multi-disciplinary expertise in this phase of project development acknowledges the use of multiple decision frames by which stakeholders approach project  solutions. This research views project definition as a collaborative decision-making process, and highlights theneed for supporting group management techniques and technologies. Project definition is regarded as the phase of project development where exploration of alternatives createsinnovative problem and solution definitions that allows maximum customer value generation to be developed.This paper proposes a management framework to support organizational and process interfaces within project definition. The model is based primarily on findings from recent research literature and on exploratorydescriptive research. The model presents a process for project definition and supports group knowledge creationand management. The model bases its development on soft systems methodology to support group cognition,learning and creative solution generation. Collaborative group theory is incorporated into the model to support  project definition. The framework builds on theoretical principles of lean design and construction.  KEYWORDS  : client purpose, group knowledge creation, decision-making, learning, organizational cognition, project definition. 1. INTRODUCTION The recent interest in knowledge management by business communities: researchers and industry practitionershave identified organizational knowledge as a competitive asset. Processes and knowledge-based environmentsare being developed to support the knowledge worker. Company knowledge is known to exist primarily in theminds of people, business processes, policies and strategies of the organization with supporting documentmanagement systems and information technology systems. Architecture/Engineering/Construction (AEC)industry organizations need to adopt a similar knowledge-based view of the firm in order to better manage their associated knowledge assets and remain competitive.Knowledge management systems and strategies are more recently being researched and developed by AECorganizations (Kamara et al, 2002). These knowledge systems are based on the core competencies of theorganization and rarely hold the entire knowledge base required to deliver full project solutions. The onus onfragmented organizations to share knowledge to deliver client solutions is necessary. Cross-boundary knowledgetransactions are of growing importance given the complexity of construction-related projects and clientorganizations. The reliance on project participants to share knowledge in order to succeed in project delivery hasnever been greater.  ITcon Vol. 7 (2002); Whelton et al; pg. 197   A central focal point for AEC knowledge creation is the project based environment. Project stakeholders practicetheir individual knowledge-based skills and learn to apply their knowledge in project delivery systems. The project is of great importance as it forms the collective knowledge work space for the project participants.Within the knowledge management spectrum of research 1 , this work is concerned with the collective group process within the project setting. In particular, this research is concerned with group knowledge; its creation,sharing and management within project definition activity.Project definition refers to front end planning and conceptual design. Ballard and Zabelle (2000) define projectdefinition as “the first phase in project delivery consisting of three modules: determining purposes (stakeholder needs and values), translating those purposes into criteria for both product and process design, and generatingdesign concepts against which requirements and criteria can be tested and developed”. Ballard et al. supportcollaborative design processes though the specification of data collection methods and a project definitionconference(s). These processes support group decision-making, and product development leading to the production and alignment of purposes, criteria and concepts.Highlighting the importance of early phase project planning and design is critical because as much as 80% of a product can be specified in this early phase. Strategic decision making at this phase requires the necessaryexpertise to inform the process. While the activities in project definition arise from multiple paradigms of  professional design and management disciplines, for the purposes of this research the term “project definition”will be used to encompass all project activity prior to lean design development.Developing project purpose is a particular focus of the research. In order to understand project purpose, groupaction is required to actively create and develop the project requirements. Explication of the belief and valuesystems embedded within client organizations and stakeholder representatives is a knowledge intensive process.The essential goals of purpose development are to: elicit needs and wants, uncover latent needs, validate whether the need is necessary, and verify that the need can be fulfilled in a design solution. A process of group learningand change is perceived to occur throughout the project definition activity.The paper identifies current barriers to effective knowledge management within the process. Current projectdefinition practice reveals a range of boundary objects that inhibit effective knowledge creation. Based on theunderstanding of these barriers a set of propositions are set out in order to develop an effective environmentwithin which, project definition can succeed. This paper proposes that project definition provides an opportunityto deliver value to the customer through the creation of accurate problem definitions and innovative projectsolutions. In order to achieve this goal, project definition groups need to adopt a knowledge-based view of howwork is developed.Greater understanding of the complex system that comprises diverse stakeholders, complex work processes andthe environment or context that the project is situated is necessary. This paper argues that project definition is aknowledge intensive process requiring the services of many project stakeholders. Project stakeholders perceivethe problem at hand based on their individual backgrounds, knowledge and experience. Forming a necessary anddiverse group of specialists creates a complex system to operate within. A process to improve transparency of  problem framing is required. Organizing in cross functional teams is advocated as the satisfactory organizationalknowledge creation unit.This paper proposes a conceptual framework within which the collective group process can be managedeffectively. First an activity model is proposed in order to manage group action. This model considers the projectdefinition group as a learning organization and the process characteristics are identified. A spiral developmentmodel illustrates the iterative nature of project definition. In order to model purpose-related group dialogue, amoderator role is proposed to manage developing project definition conversations. The framework proposes that productive inquiry is necessary to explicate tacit assumptions embedded within the belief and value systems of the client and stakeholder organizations. Collective knowledge is said to exist in the minds of the group. In order to understand the collective mind of the group, a cognitive mapping approach is proposed to model the groupdialogue ongoing within the conversation network. Finally, a set of experimental objectives are outlined to testthe performance of cognitive mapping tools in the group support of project purpose development. 1 Knowledge management frameworks are being researched and developed for construction related fields. The broad knowledge management discipline covers strategic issues, information technology supported knowledgesystems, among others. This work acknowledges other research initiatives based at the individual organizationallevels, but are not within the scope of this research.  ITcon Vol. 7 (2002); Whelton et al; pg. 198  2. REVIEW OF CURRENT MANAGEMENT PRACTICE2.1 Project Definition Process Goals Once a client identifies a perceived need for a construction facility project, a project definition process isimplemented to develop the project need into tangible product-process requirement specifications and concepts,or alternative client solutions. Project definition is the process prior to final investment decision making. The process usually covers the preparation of project proposal, project initiation, design and appraisal. TheConstruction Industry Institute (CII) (1995) define pre-project planning as the process of developing sufficientstrategic information for owners to address risk, and decide to commit resources to maximize the chances of asuccessful project. The objective of project definition is to maximize successful project realization through the production of strategic information for the owner and the development of project implementation solutions. 2.2 Research Initiatives The management of project definition has received attention from various industry and research initiatives over the past decades. Barrett et al. (1998) recites calls for improvement in the client briefing process. Such calls for improvement include Sir Michael Latham’s report, and the construction industry survey of briefing practice inthe UK by Kamara and Anumba (2001). Initiatives for improvement occur across various bodies of knowledge, but primarily include the areas of process re-engineering and modelling, client requirements processing, designmethodology, architectural theory and programming, information technology support, decision paradigms, andfinally, human and organizational dynamics.Traditionally in building facilities design, architecture assumes the role of developing client requirementsthrough the practice of architectural programming. Pena and Parshall (2001) describe programming as the pre-design activity that develops the considerations or design determinants that define a comprehensive architectural problem. The information gathered and processed from the five step iterative phase culminates in an informationindex that adequately defines the problem and solution for design and construction development. Theseconsiderations are: function, form, economy and time.Methods of architectural programming approach pre-design activity as a collaborative process. The work of Penaand Parshall develop various programming methods to establish client and project values to allow designers torespond with alternative solutions to defined problems. Programming is defined as a process of five steps: 1)Establish goals; 2) Collect and analyze facts; 3) Uncover and test concepts; 4) Determine needs; and 5) State the problem.Macmillan et al. (2001) approach the process of project definition through understanding design methodology.Recognizing the “rapid and dynamic information and knowledge transfer between designers during theconceptual phase of building projects”, this research develops and verifies a structured framework to supportinterdisciplinary design. A generic model with framework terminology was proposed based on processes, tasks,and activities leading to improved integration of interdisciplinary design, improved collaboration and improved process understanding.From a process re-engineering approach, investigations are being undertaken in the form of processimprovement initiatives such as the UK Process Protocol (Kaglioglou et al, 1999). Based on governmental andinstitutional reports regarding industry improvements a generic process protocol for design and construction has been developed by the University of Salford, UK and industry partners (Univ. of Salford, 1995). CII (1999)developed a project management tool to support project management activity in the project definition phase. TheProject Definition Rating Index (PDRI) has been developed through industry modeling of the constructiondelivery process. CII research has shown that the PDRI can be effectively used to improve the predictability of  project performance. The PDRI tool allows the project team to quantify, rate, and assess the level of scopedevelopment on projects prior to beginning development of construction documents.Other notable research work is in the field of requirements engineering by Kamara et al. (2000). This researchapproaches construction briefing as “client requirements processing” within the discipline of concurrentengineering for life cycle design and construction. As the primary source of information for construction projects, client requirements provide the link between clients and the industry and their effective processing isvery important for project success and client satisfaction. Client briefing is “the process running throughout theconstruction project by which means the client’s requirements are progressively captured” (Barrett and Stanley,  ITcon Vol. 7 (2002); Whelton et al; pg. 199  1999). Bruce and Cooper (2000) highlight the importance of understanding both hard and soft processes whendeveloping requirements for clients. The document that contains the written instructions/requirements of theclient is referred to as the “brief” which should include information on (Kamara and Anumba, 2001): • The background, purpose, scope, content and desired outcomes of the project; • The functions of the intended facility and the relationships between them; • Cost and time targets, instructions on the procurement and organization of the project; • Site and environmental conditions, safety, interested third parties, and other factors that are likelyto influence the design and construction of a facility.A Client Requirements Processing Model (CRPM) adopts structured methods to facilitate precise definition of the “voice of the customer” that then translates into the “voice of the designer”. The model sub-divides into threemain stages: define client requirements, analyze client requirements, and translate client requirements. Thesestages sub-divide further into activities and utilize appropriate information gathering tools, decision support toolsand quality assessment tools (e.g. Quality Function Deployment) to develop solution neutral specifications.CRPM is computerized within a software system called ClientPro and has been received as generally satisfactoryin effectiveness. Test feedback reports that requirements generation, prioritization, clarity and visibility wereadequately supported within the formal process. Kamara and Anumba maintain that client requirements be: • Precisely defined, with as little ambiguity as possible, and reflective of all the perspectives and priorities represented by the client body; • Stated in a format that is solution-neutral (i.e. not based on any design concept that could serve asa solution to the client’s problem) and which makes it easy to trace and correlate design decisionsto the srcinal intentions of the client. 2.3 Barriers to Effective Collective Knowledge Management Despite improvement initiatives in project definition and briefing practices, Barrett et al. (1998) argue thatrational systematic processes are limited in establishing best practice. Barrett’s investigation into the process of  briefing reveals process inefficiencies, much of which are attributed to organizational and human factors. Barrettand Stanley (1999) proposes key solution areas that include: client empowerment to inform, educate and makedecisions, management of project dynamics, appropriate user involvement, appropriate information andvisualization techniques and appropriate team building.Hudson (1999) equally argues that further approaches to compliment the rational process are needed to allow for creative client solutions. Project definition requires support for dynamic project goals and organizational changeand realizing the importance for developing flexible project definition solutions that support customer valuegeneration is necessary.The authors have advanced situational studies (Whelton and Ballard, 2002a and 2002b) to argue that projectdefinition performance is impacted by a complex network of decision action by stakeholders over the course of a project definition process Exploratory case studies illuminate the complexity of formulating project definition problems and generating solutions. The empirical studies support the idea of limited or bounded rationality(Simon 1969) in organizational decision practice. Illustration of complex decision ecologies 2 suggests thatgreater transparency of decision networks is required in order for cross-functional project definition teams togenerate maximum client value at the project definition phase.   Table 1 summarizes the primary organizational factors that impact the successful creation and transfer of knowledge in project definition activity. These quality issues are consistent with those reported in projectdefinition related research literature (Kamara and Anumba, 2001, Barrett and Stanley, 1999, and Koskela et al,2002). 2 March (1999) describes an “ecological” view of decision making which “ considers how the structure of relationships among individual units interact with the behavior of these units to produce systematic propertiesnot easily attributable to individual behavior alone ”.  ITcon Vol. 7 (2002); Whelton et al; pg. 200    Table 1: Boundary Objects Inhibiting Effective Knowledge Creation (Whelton and Ballard, 2002b) Management - Quality Category Process Inefficiency Instance Lack of shared process modelUndefined roles and responsibilitiesPoor constraints analysis   Unrealistic budget and schedulesPoor use of phases and gatesInsufficient time for project definitionPoor change managementLimited resource allocation to project definition processes Management of the definition process Lack of formal review and learning processesLack of ‘voice’ of the user group(s)   Inadequate stakeholder involvement and participationPoor group dynamicsMisunderstanding of client organization and culture Stakeholder involvement &communications Lack of client education of processPoor traceability of requirements   Lack of/poor visualization of needs, criteria and concepts Collection and documentation of information Ill structured project memory & Poor transfer of information   Poor programming of needs  Processing of information Lack of /poor assessment of clients needs and project life cycle needs - (Trial and error  processing methods)   Subjective negotiations in conflict resolution   Lack of solution expansion and exploration Decision-making Lack of group decision support tools 2.4 Understanding Project Definition as a Complex System Organizational systems have high levels of dynamic complexity (Sterman 2000). Dynamic complexity arisesfrom the interactions among the agents associated with the system over time. These dynamic influences canimpede organizational learning and system performance. Client organizations can be composed of complexstructures designed to execute labor or knowledge intensive activities based on the client’s established businessmodel. These structures facilitate decision making at various levels of the organization, and are instrumentaltowards informing the project definition process.Green’s (1996) analysis of metaphors by which client organizations operate, offers direction in understanding thesocio-technical complexity. Within the context of project definition activity, knowledge is located within: 1) theclient’s strategic business case; 2) the client organization values and belief systems; and 3) the facility technicalsystems (Atkin and Flanagan, 1995, cited in Green and Simister, 1999). Green (1999), and Green and Simister (1999) examine the role of soft systems methodologies in the explication of project definition knowledge. Suchmethodologies can support systematic models of project definition in complex and dynamic environments.Planning, design and construction organizations need a better understanding of these dynamic and changinginfluences. These influences set up or determine the main design constraints used in the preliminary stages of  project definition. Professional members of project teams have reason to gain greater understanding of thesedecision-making paradigms by which clients establish project needs and values. Woodhead and Male (2000)document the range of paradigms and perspectives owners use for decision making in the pre-design phases of   ITcon Vol. 7 (2002); Whelton et al; pg. 201
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