IPMA International Project Management Association
21 November 2019 / 9:00

Using Collective intelligence in PM: Time to take the leap?

Knowledge-poverty is fading. The ever-increasing connectivity to the internet and social media is enabling corresponding increased access to information of all sorts (often in a real-time manner), empowering people with knowledge and creating communities of knowledge reserves.

The people and communities are thus becoming potent sources of knowledge, well beyond traditionally known boundaries. This situation entails opportunities for tapping into and benefiting from such available knowledge – often termed as collective intelligence – for co-creation and building solutions to the problems faced by individuals, organizations and societies.

By definition, collective intelligence is “the wisdom, talent, information and knowledge that can be used/shared for intellectual cooperation in order to solve problems, create, innovate and invent” (Aitamurto, 2016; Kim, Altmann & Hwang, 2010). However, growing use of online communities, artificial intelligence (AI) technologies and thinking machines for work purposes provide additional knowledge dimension, resulting in an expansion of the conceptual scope and practical utility of collective intelligence.

Organizations have thus started leveraging upon the benefits of collective intelligence for a variety of purposes such as new product development, ideas testing, marketing, new technologies development and solving customer problems, just to mention a few. For instance, Innocentive.come operates as an intermediary and taps into collective intelligence to help organizations solve their problems by connecting the organizations with experts from all over the globe.

The good news is, the use of collective intelligence is not just limited to day-to-day organizational work, but the adhoc project-based work can benefit even more from the use of collective intelligence as project organizations have greater flexibility and lever to tap into knowledge beyond project organization boundaries.

The question then is ‘what are the sources of collective intelligence that project organizations can tap into?’ and ‘how to benefit from collective intelligence for project work?’ Below we attempt to answer these questions. Needless to mention that the list of sources and ways of using collective intelligence in projects as discussed below is meant to develop initial thoughts on the subject and should not be construed as exhaustive or complete in nature.

Sources of collective intelligence for use in PM

  1. Crowdsourcing of knowledge from project management focused social media groups

In an era of VASB age and Second life, one of the potent source of collective intelligence is social media (SM). Using project management focused social media groups such as groups on Linkedin, Whatsapp or Facebook in a contained manner could be very useful to expand the project team’s knowledge capacities.
By becoming part of SM groups, members of project organizations can bring new knowledge into the project(s) by learning from the wisdom of others or if needed seek experts’ help from within the SM groups to solve the problem(s) faced by the project or facilitate completion of a project task as needed.

  1. Tacit knowledge possessed by project team members

Another source of collective intelligence, which often remains untapped, is the tacit knowledge possessed by the project team members. By understanding and recognizing the pool of tacit knowledge (typically based on mixture of experience, education and skills) available within the project organization, projects can use such often-untapped reserve of knowledge to solve project problems or perform complex tasks.

  1. Knowledge embedded in the immediate networks of project team members

The immediate social networks (online or offline) of project team members are another key source of collective intelligence. It is not realistic to think that a project organization can be linked with all possible social networks to take benefit of knowledge available within the networks.
Therefore, by tapping into knowledge and intelligence available within the immediate social networks of team-members, project organizations can expand their knowledge capacities and level of collective intelligence. Caution needs to be exercised to avoid legal complications or jeopardize the project secrets when tapping into such networks though.

  1. AI devices and thinking machines

The growth in the use of AI technologies and thinking machine for work purposes is creating opportunities of knowledge creation in new ways and is becoming a vital source of collective intelligence. The AI devices are expected to make decisions, perform tasks and take actions when involved in projects. On one hand, project organizations can engage AI devices to use their computing power to help increase project knowledge capacities and the resultant collective intelligence. On the other hand, project organizations can use the experience gained from machine intelligence and working of AI devices to increase project knowledge pool for improving decision making and workflow performance.

  1. Experts (hired or un-hired) external to the project organization

The availability of experts outside project organization boundaries is one of the commonly known sources of collective intelligence for projects. Bringing in experts into project fold increases the collective intelligence of teams as these experts transfer both tacit and explicit knowledge for the achievement of project objectives.

  1. Project organization and client organization knowledge repositories

Project organization knowledge repositories consisting of lessons learned documents, past project information/documents, project management software-driven outputs, drawings and related documents, and project management methodologies documents/templates are other sources of collective intelligence.
People working in the client organization(s) can be useful source of collective intelligence, as they can provide advice, documents and contact information of experts when project organizations need any help. Knowledge repositories of client organization(s) consisting of organizational policies, standards, guidelines, templates and cultural context are also sources of collective intelligence for project work.

  1. PM standards, guidelines, trainings, conferences and events

PM bodies provide knowledge through various communication channels in the form of (1) documents on best practice guidelines, standards, certifications; (2) digital contents on websites, blogs and SM; and (3) through organization of conferences, symposiums and talks. These constitute another source of collective intelligence. Training offered by PM bodies and other service providers help the transfer of knowledge and expand collective intelligence.

  1. Project management research and publications (both academic and practice-based)

Published scientific papers in research journals, conferences, and websites on issues related to PM is also one of the key sources of collective intelligence. The industry-based reports on PM growth, trends and future also add to collective intelligence.

How to use collective intelligence in PM

  1. Provide skills/training to project managers and other project team leads

Organizations need to provide training and upskill the knowledge of key people including project managers, team leads and focal persons so that they can recognize, understand and know how to tap into various sources of collective intelligence.
Building a culture of collective intelligence-based knowledge intake, processing, integration and use is key to the success of using a vast amount of knowledge available in a systematic, beneficial manner for project work.

  1. Assign a collective intelligence coordinator within project

Knowledge is power and having knowledge brings clarity of thoughts and actions. Thus, it would be beneficial to assign a collective intelligence coordinator in projects (especially large-sized projects) to effectively use collective intelligence for project work. Assigning such a person will provide focus to the efforts and help drive use of available knowledge in a productive manner for project work.

  1. Make collective intelligence as an input to PM processes

Systematic integration of collective intelligence into the PM process can really help in using the available knowledge reserves. By having collective intelligence as one of the inputs to PM processes will help people think more clearly about tapping into the relevant sources of collective intelligence.

  1. Integrate key information in communication plans

Project organizations can improve their use of collective intelligence by adding information such as contact point names, social media identities, emails, phone numbers etc, of sources (i.e. people or organizations) of collective intelligence in communication management plans. It will help project staff members to tap into the identified sources and bring available knowledge into the project.

  1. Build repositories to store and use the knowledge obtained from sources of collective intelligence

Organizations can develop collective intelligence repositories to store knowledge obtained from various knowledge sources. Creating processes on how to use the knowledge obtained from collective intelligence will help improve knowledge integration within the project organization system. Adding information about experience of using collective intelligence in project lessons learned documents will help in execution work of future projects.

  1. Build leadership within organization

Organizations need to have the leaders who possess vision, drive and commitment to using collective intelligence for work purposes. Therefore, offering leadership talks and training to focal people is critical to building a culture of using collective intelligence for the project and organizational work.

Concluding thoughts:
The information revolution has changed the way we understand, perceive and recognize the meaning of the knowledge. Since no one person or entity possesses all the knowledge, so using collective wisdom, talent, information and knowledge is the need of the time. The advancements in technologies have made it possible to use collective intelligence for work purposes.

Projects being the adhoc endeavours have greater leverage to benefit from collective intelligence, yet it seems collective intelligence is not used systematically in projects. We have, thus, identified a number of sources and suggested possible ways of using collective intelligence for project work. As projects are inherently designed to create new outputs and are increasingly becoming complex, therefore, in hindsight, the use of collective intelligence in projects seems to be not a matter of choice but a necessity.. 

Aitamurto, T. (2016). Collective intelligence in law reforms: When the logic of the crowds and the logic of 
policymaking collide. In 2016 49th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS) (pp. 2780-2789).
Kim, K., Altmann, J., & Hwang, J. (2010). Measuring and analyzing the openness of the Web2. 0 service network
for improving the innovation capacity of the Web2. 0 system through collective intelligence. In On Collective
Intelligence (pp. 93-105). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

Authored by:
Professor Jiwat Ram
© 2019 Jiwat Ram, All Rights Reserved.

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Author of this post

Jiwat is a Professor in Project Management. He has considerable experience of working internationally in diverse cultures and business environments.

Jiwat is currently serving on the Editorial Board of International Journal of Project Management.

Jiwat actively contributes to project management community. His work has been published in top scientific journals and Four of his published papers have remained in Top25 most downloaded papers. Additionally, two of his papers have been ranked as the Most Cited article published since 2012. More recently, he has published a number of articles on some of the issues confronting project management in various industry based outlets.