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Where is Knowledge? Management of Tacit and Explicit Knowledge

Netmind - Where is Knowledge? Management of Tacit and Explicit Knowledge    Article | Project ManagementSubArea
Ana Aranda | 14/05/18

In the framework of a project, where is the knowledge? How and where is it stored? How is it managed? How is it distributed?


Where is Knowledge? Management of Tacit and Explicit Knowledge 0


A very important aspect in project management is sharing (transferring and disseminating) knowledge.


This transfer of knowledge is not only done at the end of a phase or a project (in the form of “lessons learned”) but is carried out throughout the project in all its phases.


We can not imagine that during the Start Process Group in which a new project or new phase of a project is defined, knowledge is not shared between the project sponsor, the project director, the project management office (PMO), the portfolio management committee or another group of stakeholders.


The same will happen in the Planning Process Group, in the Execution Process Group, in the Monitoring and Control Processes Group or in the Closing Processes Group. In all of them you have to be sharing and transferring knowledge in the interested parties.


Let’s reflect for a moment: How do we share this knowledge? What tools do we usually use?

In my professional experience as a trainer in Project Management (especially in those courses related to the management of PREDICTIVE projects, or “Waterfall”), the answer to this question given by students is usually in the style of:


  • “In the project documents”,
  • “In the project management plan”,
  • “In the act of constitution of the project”,
  • “In the different subsidiary plans of the project”,
  • “In the computer tool X that we use in the company” …


All these answers are valid, but in all of them there is a bias in the air, all these answers point to one of the types of knowledge, explicit knowledge.

When we talk about knowledge, we distinguish two large areas, explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge (in Psychology they are called declarative knowledge and procedural knowledge, respectively).



Where is Knowledge? Management of Tacit and Explicit Knowledge 1


Knowing that there are both types of knowledge is very important to plan and structure your transfer by correctly choosing both techniques and tools, so I will give a brief definition of each.

  • Explicit knowledge – It is the one that is structured, has form and is systematic. It is the articulated knowledge expressed and registered with words, numbers, images, codes, universal principles, scientific formulas, etc. Your information is usually stored in documents, procedures, programs, processes, manuals, specifications, tutorials or in databases. It is easy to share and communicate from one individual to another as it is often schematized to facilitate its dissemination.


  • Tacit knowledge – It is the result of our experience, our learning, of the habits that we accumulate throughout our lives, and involves elements such as our intuition, beliefs, customs, values, or points of view. It is on a level of the unconscious and appears when we need it. It is highly personal (or characteristic of a cohesive group), it is very difficult to explain, communicate to others (people or groups outside our own) and formalize. We almost always execute it in a mechanical way without being aware of what it contains or what we are using it. This type of knowledge can not be structured, stored or distributed and is very difficult to manage.


This is precisely the challenge we have to face. We must identify which elements of tacit knowledge can be captured in order to make them explicit and codify them, since only codified explicit knowledge can be shared with the “others” (other people, or other groups, outside the project team).

Tacit knowledge is built little by little, if you are aware of it.

When I explain the difference between tacit and explicit knowledge I usually use one of the scenes from the movie “A Few Good Men” 1992 as an example.



In this movie, Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) is a Navy lawyer, somewhat informal, but with an excellent reputation as a fast litigator. At the beginning of the film he is entrusted with the defense of two Marines accused of murder. The case does not seem very complicated, but everything changes when Colonel Nathan R. Jessup (Jack Nicholson), Commander-in-Chief of Guantánamo base, appears on the screen. At that moment, new clues begin to emerge that make the case of a unsuspected twist.


Let’s remember this scene:

Trial Chamber, Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise), is taking statement from Corporal Barns:

Daniel Kaffee: Did Santiago he ever, prior to the night of August 6th, receive a code red?

Corporal Jeffrey Barns: No sir.

Daniel Kaffee: Never?

Corporal Jeffrey Barns: No, sir.

Daniel Kaffee: You got a code red ’cause your palms  were sweaty. Why didn’t Santiago, this burden to his unit, ever get one?

Corporal Jeffrey Barns: Dawson wouldn’t allow it, sir

Daniel Kaffee:  The guys talked tough about Santiago, but they wouldn’t go near him. Jeffrey, did you ever want to give Santiago a code red?

Corporal Jeffrey Barns: Yes sir.

Daniel Kaffee: Why didn’t you?

Corporal Jeffrey Barns: ‘Cause Dawson’d kick my butt, sir.

Daniel Kaffee: Good enough. Lt. Ross is gonna ask you some questions now.


Now Daniel Kaffee sits and Kevin Bacon enters as Captain Ross.


Captain Ross: Corporal Barns, I hold here The Marine Guide and General

Information Handbook for New Recruits. Are you familiar with this book? Have you read it?

Corporal Jeffrey Barns: Yes sir.

Captain Ross: Good. Would you turn to the chapter that deals with code reds, please.

Corporal Jeffrey Barns: Sir?

Captain Ross: Just flip to the page in that book that discusses code reds.

Corporal Jeffrey Barns: (doubting) Sir, you see, Code Red is just used down at GITMO,  sir. I don’t know if it actually —

Captain Ross: We’re in luck, then. The Marine Corps  Guide for Sentry Duty, NAVY BASE Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I assume we’ll find the term code red and its definition in this book, am I correct?

Corporal Jeffrey Barns: No sir.

Captain Ross: No? Corporal Howard, I’m a marine. Is their no book, no manual or pamphlet, no set of orders or regulations that let me know that, as a marine, one of my duties is to perform code reds?

Corporal Jeffrey Barns: No sir. No books, sir.

Captain Ross: No further questions.


Captain Ross sits and Daniel Kaffee is on the stand. 


Daniel Kaffee: Corporal, would you turn to the page in this book that says where the enlisted men’s mess hall is?

Corporal Jeffrey Barns: (Laughing) Lt. Kaffee, that’s not in the book, sir.

Daniel Kaffee: I don’t understand, how did you know  where the enlisted men’s mess hall  was if it’s not in this book?

Corporal Jeffrey Barns: (Suddenly the Corporal realises that that is not registered anywhere and is confused) I guess I just followed the crowd at chow time, sir.


This film have some phrases that I usually use in my courses, this particular scene illustrates very well the difference between tacit and explicit knowledge.


When Captain Ross makes reference to that “book, manual, pamphlet, or set of orders” he is referring to explicit knowledge, but it is demonstrated that the groups, the teams not only live from the explicit data, from the written and formally documented, there is a lot of knowledge that is not documented, that exists and that if any of the group members lacked that tacit knowledge, they might not have all the data to be able to do their work correctly, or integrate in that group in the appropriate way.


The question we now ask ourselves is: Is it possible to transform tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge? Nonaka and Ikujiro (The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation), in their “theory of knowledge creation” give us the answer and present a conversion process between explicit and tacit knowledge, and vice versa.


Conversion from tacit to tacit: Socialization.


Where is Knowledge? Management of Tacit and Explicit Knowledge 2

In order to transmit tacit knowledge, it is necessary to share experiences through oral presentations, face-to-face communication or shared experience. This knowledge is acquired from observation, imitation and practice. Socialization begins with the creation of an interaction environment that allows team members to share their experiences and mental models, thus transferring tacit knowledge from one team member to another. This situation is typical of Agile teams, a small team that works very closely.


Conversion from tacit to explicit:  Exteriorization


Where is Knowledge? Management of Tacit and Explicit Knowledge 3

It involves the conversion of tacit knowledge into explicit concepts, in a way that is understandable to other team members. It begins with a dialogue or a collective reflection that, supported by analogies or metaphors, helps the members to discover the tacit knowledge that they want to transmit.


Nonaka considers this conversion as a key process in the creation and management of knowledge.


Conversion from explicit to explicit: Combination


Once you have an explicit knowledge, this has to be synthesized and formalized so that other members of the team can acquire it. For this it is necessary to register, store and disseminate it through courses, presentations, talks, meetings, etc.

Conversion from explicit to tacit: Internalization.

This last conversion causes an explicit knowledge to be incorporated into the unconscious to form part of the tacit knowledge of the group or of the individual. This is achieved through “learning by doing”, and incorporates new ways of acting and new work practices to team members.

I hope that after reading this article and with the necessary internalization (remember that you learn “doing”), these concepts become part of your tacit knowledge, and as project director you can get them to be transmitted among the members of your team , not only explicit knowledge but also tacit knowledge.


Ana Aranda

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