The project is nearing the end. The rush is on to complete the final activities before the launch date. Somewhere among those critical, last minute, must-do tasks there is this item, “Knowledge Transfer” on your Gantt chart.

You sigh. It’s important because it’s necessary for your client organization, but time is running out.

So you start to rationalize: “Well, knowledge transfer is not that well defined”, you tell yourself. Ask two people what knowledge transfer is exactly and you’ll get three different responses. So maybe you can cut some corners. But that may not serve your clients best interests, ultimately. And that doesn’t feel so good. So what do you end up doing?

The Pressure’s On!

If you’re like most project managers under this kind of pressure, you start to fantasize that you had Mr. Spock’s powers. Yes, the Vulcan mind-meld is exactly what is needed here and now!

Then, after the caffeine, and reality, kicks in, you begin to scope down knowledge transfer to the bare minimum: good project documentation with links, user training, and announcement emails and communications. That way those taking over at least know something and have access to relevant information. Good enough.

A great many PMs do this and just keep moving along. However, if you want to distinguish yourself and leave a mark, then you may want to do things differently. And, you can do so with only a little more focus and effort than the bare minimum described above.

Unbeknownst to most people, Mr. Spock had a secret way for transferring knowledge. It was supposed to be revealed in episode #81 of the original Star Trek series. In that episode Mr. Spock realizes that the Vulcan mind-meld is fine for one-to-one knowledge transfer. However, it is too time consuming and emotionally exhausting to use on large groups of life forms.

He reveals the 5 steps, but unfortunately that episode never aired. His secret would have been buried in the archives, but luckily for you, we here at Hadas Partners got our hands on that script*. And, we realized that Mr. Spock’s secret has tremendous application for projects!

The 5 Secret Steps for transferring knowledge on a project

Step 1: Plan for knowledge transfer early on in the project

Knowledge transfer is usually scheduled near the end of a project, but the planning for this activity has to happen early, during the Planning phase. That’s when a PM and the team are in the right frame of mind: absorbing information, analyzing, exploring options, and prioritizing tasks and milestones.

Far too often detailed planning for this activity begins near the end, sometimes just weeks before a Go Live. By then it’s too late to include some of the keys below. And also by then everyone is in a different frame of mind, focused on executing detailed tasks, resolving issues rapidly, reacting to emergencies.  There’s no time to think. Knowledge transfer is not a single activity, but a process – it has to happen over time.

Step 2: Include “big picture” process training

In addition to training on technology and detailed workflows, end users need high level process overview education. This helps them to understand how all the pieces fit together, and how they fit as the cog in the big wheel. People will always be more effective if they understand how they fit into the bigger picture.

And it’s not a lot of extra work. Usually this is a 1-2 hour overview that can be delivered online either live or pre-recorded.

Step 3: Include behaviour changes in your training

The most common examples of behaviour changes: performing tasks that are now regularly scheduled, instead of on an ad hoc basis; inputting data into a system instead of a legacy tool like an Excel spreadsheet; supporting automated tasks rather than continuing to do these manually; and, follow processes that require collaboration rather than continuing to perform tasks independently.

Often these changes seem obvious, not worth mentioning because they’re “common sense”. But, if you don’t call them out specifically they can cause much conflict afterwards. So, step one is to define and document these required behaviours changes explicitly. Step two is to make sure they are included in any training and education materials, as well as in any performance management processes.

Step 4: Identify Change Champions

Change Champions are individuals who care most (or should care most) that things work really well on Day 1. These are different than business subject matter experts who are assigned to your project team. These individuals are part of the business, not the project.

This requires going over your stakeholder assessment once more to identify these individuals. It is important to select the right type of person for this role. Usually these are up and coming leaders in a group or department. For a more in-depth look at what is required, see our Change Champion Roles and Responsibilities free download on our Tips & Hints page.

Step 5: Establish Change Network

Finally, connect the Change Champions through regular meetings so they can work out the details of how their group needs to incorporate the new tasks. This includes bringing them into some transition planning meetings and connecting them to project team members who are the current IT, process or other subject matter experts.

You may get some pushback because these end users may complain about having to spend time on what they consider extra project work. This may get a little frustrating, but it is important to persevere.

One thing I have seen work is to ask these Change Champions how they plan on doing things once the project team is disbanded. Questions like that tend to sober people up as they realise the support and expertise they have taken for granted is going away. Once that realisation hits, participation usually increases, and often dramatically.

When talking about knowledge transfer, the importance of exchanging tacit knowledge is frequently overlooked. This is a fancy term for the deep knowledge and understanding of how things ‘really get done around here’. These 5 steps are the best way to ensure as much of that knowledge gets transferred as possible.

You can also download the Brief Guide to Knowledge Transfer here and use it as a quick reminder of the 5 steps.


*Of course, all this is tongue and cheek – please don’t go looking for this episode.

Let us know what you think – Contact us!

Like this blog? Share it with your colleagues. And sign up so you won’t miss another one!