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The Horse and The Water: Information vs Knowledge in Project Management

Career Skills, Career Training, Certifications, Communication, Interpersonal Skills, Leadership, Management, Professional Development, Project Management
A horse running through shallow water, the text reads "Information vs Knowledge"

There is a saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Such a simple phrase can encompass many scenarios in life, both personally and professionally. This idiom was originally meant to convey a stubborn person who is unwilling to take advice. I admit I have sometimes been that horse.

But as a trained project manager, I must say that lately this saying has been playing in my head even more frequently because of recent changes to the Certified Associate Project Manager (CAPM) curriculum. The concepts of “Information Management” and “Knowledge Management” have been added since the 6th edition of the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) guide. I think many people gloss over these additions as “just more things to manage” or “just more things to memorize for the certification exam.” However, to me, it speaks volumes to the most underlying issue that plagues all projects in every industry all around the world, and that is: information is essentially worthless until it is transferred into knowledge.

Leading the Horse: Information vs. Knowledge

Now, this might be the instructor in me trying to break out, but I think we all know this down to our bones—you can talk at me, throw a bunch of statistics my way, dazzle me with complex diagrams, and point to a bloated website with article upon article or procedure upon procedure … but that doesn’t mean I will necessarily understand.

In other words: you can flood the project space with all that information until it is a proverbial ocean; you can even lead me to all that aquatic acumen; but until I drink it, it’s just a muddled puddle of data.

Information is often just black-and-white results, sometimes dressed in color for a chart. It is facts, conclusions, findings, statistics, steps, policies, tolerance ranges, and statuses. Not to belittle the importance of that information—it is most definitely important! But without understanding, it is practically useless. Heck, if people don’t even know where to find that information, then it is utterly useless!

And that is where knowledge management comes into play. Knowledge is the conversion of that information into understanding. It is taking that statistic and applying it to your own project. It is looking at the policies and understanding why they exist. It is knowing the steps so well that you find ways to improve that procedure. It is being so aware of the facts that we can recognize the fallacies. In short, not only does knowledge affect every single stakeholder in a project, but the overall level and quality of knowledge in that patchwork mix of humans is the subtle “maker or breaker” of every project.

Testing the Water: Information Quality & Other Concerns

How many times has your project lost time or money because someone “didn’t understand the assignment” or “forgot about the deadline”? How many times were the defects or slumps in customer satisfaction ultimately attributed to poorly trained staff? How many times has team morale degraded because nobody knows “what they are supposed to be doing” or “where to find that”?

Now you might feel defensive and argue that you’ve gathered all the data, did all the analysis, and even packaged it nicely into a digital storage space … it’s not your fault that they don’t understand.

You even might say “Well, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” But this is where I’ve learned to look at that saying in a whole new light.

Do you know why that horse doesn’t drink? Because the water is dirty. Because there are crocodiles lurking underneath. Because they’re not given the safe space or enough time to enjoy a meaningful sip from that body of water.

In other words, this saying is a cop-out. It blames the horse for not drinking. But what about the water? What about the environment and situation that surrounds the water and the horse? What about the person doing the leading?!

Purifying the Water: Providing Potable Information

Now that is the point. It is true that the project manager can’t “learn something” for another human being. But a project manager can facilitate training. A project manager can institute work shadowing. A project manager can clean up the procedures and consolidate the documentation. A project manager can take accountability for failures rather than lay blame on their team. A project manager can engage in meaningful conversations using key communication techniques to help the other person understand the information. A project manager can encourage questions and exercise patient and kind responses.

This is where a project manager can make a huge impact in every single facet of the project: make sure the information is potable, lead the horses to that information as many times as it takes until they are more comfortable, and make sure there aren’t any crocodiles in the water!

Therefore, I submit that we should amend that saying for the sake of project management. From now on, I will say, “You can lead a horse to clean and safe water, and you can encourage and support him until he drinks.”

Project Management Coursework

Investing in your project management journey is a step towards mastering the art of transforming information into actionable knowledge. The Project Management training offered at Career Development Solutions not only equips you with the necessary tools to excel in project management but also empowers you to lead, facilitate understanding, and navigate challenges effectively. By embracing the mantra of leading horses to clean and safe water, you’ll be prepared to foster an environment where information is not just conveyed, but truly understood and utilized. Join us and embark on a transformative learning experience that will shape your ability to drive projects to success.

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