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I recently wrote a blog discussing roles and responsibilities on projects. In that blog, I mentioned the term knowledge manager. What is a knowledge manager? It’s that person on your project who leads the technical effort to accomplish the project objective. This blog outlines some possible responsibilities for a knowledge manager.

The term knowledge manager may not be common parlance in the project management world yet. In fact, PMBOK, the Project Management Body of Knowledge, 5th edition, doesn’t mention the term. I propose that we begin to think about that role. Specifically, I find it helpful to think about who, on the project team, best understands the overall objective of the project, and how to reach that objective. In the case of a law firm, it might be the senior partner on the project. In the case of a pharmaceutical development project, it may be the research scientist who organized the grant request. In many cases, it is not the project manager – but a much more technically proficient leader on the project.

Technology companies, law firms, pharmaceutical companies, and other specialty firms often wrestle with whether project managers should possess technical capabilities in their specific areas. In my experience, too much technical experience can sometimes distract the project manager from managing the big picture by engaging him/her at the micro level. Yet, there are project responsibilities that call for technical skills. Thus, the knowledge manager can be that person on the project who leads the technical effort to accomplish the objective, while the project manager focuses on moving obstacles out of the way, and coordinating details and communications.

What are the possible responsibilities of a knowledge manager?

Lead strategy sessions designed to figure out the way forward.

On any complex project, there will be technical discussions about how to best accomplish the project objectives. These may involve sophisticated coding, legal, real estate, chemical, or biological questions. The knowledge manager is likely better equipped than the project manger to lead those strategy discussions.

Following those discussions, there will be follow up documentation; at a minimum, meeting minutes, that outlines the course of action and decisions made. Here again, the project manager may not be the best person to write the technical pieces; though, the project manager may well need to follow up to ensure that those discussions are indeed documented.

Make decisions on how to technically accomplish the project objectives.

There will be frequent junctures at which technical decisions need to be made. In an ideal world the team will agree on the right path, but what happens when the team is hopelessly deadlocked? Having a knowledge manager on your team may be the right course of action. The knowledge manager can drive the discussions, seek consensus, and make decisions when the team cannot.

Advise the project sponsor or the client on product priorities.

Whenever teams are building new products, there will always be trade-offs on which features to build next. Someone has to be in charge of prioritizing the work. It may be the customer, though the customer is likely going to need technical input to help with that decision. In a scrum world, the product owner wears that hat by prioritizing the backlog. In your world, who is in charge of prioritizing product features?

Solve technical problems that are impeding progress on the project.

Sometimes solving a technical problem involves research, which is typically an individual activity that may be assigned to a less experienced member of the team. The results of that research can then be shared with more senior members and a brainstorming session can be held to talk through alternative solutions. Depending on the complexity of the problem, this can be an iterative process until the best solution is found. In some cases, the team will simply need to move forward with a solution, even if it isn’t perfect. The knowledge manager may have to make the final call.

Project managers with great technical expertise run the risk of getting distracted by doing the work, rather than managing the project. Said differently, they can get consumed by a different set of details than the details of managing the project. Having a knowledge manager on your project splits up the management piece and offers a compromise.

Want to have a free phone consultation about whether this approach might work for you? Schedule a call.