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Leveraging tacit knowledge for projects

Whitepaper Author
August 6, 2014

Tacit knowledge is not easily transferred to another person as it is not formalised or standardised and thus must be experienced by the learning party in order to be interpreted and transformed into actions. It is through the everyday experiences that employees build up their knowledge and skills which, in turn, allow them to solve complex problems based on previous experiences.

Tacit knowledge in the workplace entails the transfer and communication of skills and competencies that are hard to quantify as these capabilities are not entirely known to whom possesses them.

By definition, tacit knowledge the type of knowledge that is not easily transferred to another person by either verbalising or writing it as an instruction, since it is not formal or standardised. For example, to state that Sydney is in New South Wales is knowledge. It can be written or told and it will be plainly understood. However the ability to transfer the experience of living in Sydney by expressing it either in writing or verbally can be very difficult since the understanding of this type of knowledge would greatly differ based upon who is describing it and to whom it is being explained.

Tacit knowledge is best understood by actually experiencing it. By the virtue and nature of tacit learning, one experience may vastly vary from one person to another based on factors such as each individual’s understanding of the situation, how this perception is influenced by past experiences and knowledge, personal approaches to problem-solving, among many others.

While tacit knowledge appears to be simple, it has consequences that explicit knowledge can’t exhibit. Also, the ability to transfer tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge is still something that is under constant development and it is not fully understood.

This is a challenge in the realm of project management. Everyday experiences by employees will allow them, without actually realising it, to draw upon these ‘hidden’ strengths and improve their skills when facing new or unexpected situations. However, for someone to perform an unfamiliar and complex task, extensive personal contact with regular interaction is essential for learners to develop the confidence they need to perform on their own.

It is important that individuals with experience can transfer their current skills and competences between different jobs. Weakened job security means individuals must be able to demonstrate they can successfully transfer their acquired skills into a new role in order to add value to their positions at work.

During a telecommunications upgrade project, Brenton Conway used reflective practice to understand what lessons were learnt and how tacit knowledge was used in his professional development. Read his whitepaper ‘Tacit Knowledge in the Workplace’ [PDF] for his insights.

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