Friday, October 23, 2009

Newforma Dialog #1: PIM is like a bunch of boxes…

This post is a response to an open dialog with Chris Parsons of Knowledge Architecture, started last week.


Thanks for starting this dialogue. Yes, Knowledge Management IS squishy! But the challenge of Project Information Management is like a bunch of boxes…..

I have my own story to illustrate this lesson. It starts out a little bit “out there”, but bear with me; it does lead to an important lesson ….

My wife and I have accumulated a fair amount of “stuff” over the years, much of it stored in boxes, and we have moved around quite a bit, too. Somewhere around our second or third move, we realized that there were boxes that we had moved UNOPENED for the last few moves. We came to an important realization – if we had not opened a box in two or three moves, obviously whatever was in the box was of no great immediate value. Also, the number of boxes that we had, the failure to label them properly, and the lack of organization in how we stored them meant that, when we needed something that was probably in one of those boxes, we couldn’t find it without a lot of effort.

Now, every analogy has it limits, but it seems to me that our situation has great parallels to project information and knowledge management in many AEC organizations. Many firms retain so much information that the only practical alternative for them is to save project information offline in storage (CDs/DVDs in filing cabinets and paper drawings in boxes stored offsite by services like Iron Mountain). Many of those boxes NEVER get opened. And when the information is needed, the number of boxes and the failure to label and organize them effectively means that a tremendous amount of time and effort is required to find the information you need. In essence, all of that information is of very limited, immediate value.

This leads to an interesting potential thought exercise in promoting the value of project information and knowledge management in an AEC organization. I suggest you go back to the CIO in your story to ask, “What would be the impact of your firm losing all of the information associated with any one of your major projects over the past three years?” I suspect he would characterize that as a disaster, right? Then ask a follow-up question – “What would be the impact of being unable to find a key piece of information required to avoid a claim?” or “What would be the impact of hundreds of hours of skilled labor, from a project manager and IT support, required to find the information required to respond to a claim?” If he is honest with you, he will admit that the scenarios depicted in each of the follow-up questions is nearly as dangerous as the obvious disaster of outright data loss.

This leads to “Batch’s Box Theory of Project Information and Knowledge Management” and its corollary:

  • Theory: As the time and effort required to manage and find information goes up, the effective value of the information goes down.
  • Corollary: If you can’t find it when you need it, its value is zero.

We strongly believe in the synergy between what we do at Newforma (Project Information Management) and what you do at Knowledge Architecture (Knowledge Management), because of our shared belief that AEC organizations must manage their project information effectively in order to have any hope of transforming that information into knowledge.

Over to you, Chris!


Chris Parsons is founder of Knowledge Architecture, an information systems and knowledge management consultancy that leverages technology to transform business processes and create strategic insights for architects and engineers. Also, Knowledge Architecture is a Newforma Partner proficient in technology audits, business process consulting, implementing the Open Asset digital image library management application from Axomic (another Newforma Partner) and is certified on work-flow integration between Deltek Vision and Newforma Project Center.

1 comment:

  1. I love "Batch's Box Theory" and its corollary. It makes me want to christen the law we've heard from Newforma customers, "Good search trumps good filing." Who first uttered that phrase? Or do we need to give it a more generic name: "The Seeker's Dictum" or "Plunkett's Shortcut," perhaps.