T2-4 High-Value Tacit Knowledge: What Worked Well in Clinching Contracts

In 2002 I conducted a KM workshop for top executives of a government think-tank. All the Vice Presidents and the President were there. Most of the Division Directors were present. This think-tank does not receive annual appropriations from the national government; it survives by winning and implementing projects, running a conference facility, conducting training programs (including a masteral program) and renting out office space. They are a government organization yet they operate like a business corporation. There are years when this organization was “on the red.”

They are staffed by a wide range of dedicated experts in a wide variety of fields. They lead in innovating new government programs. They provide a good training-learning ground for upwardly-mobile development professionals: many of their program and project managers move on to high-paying positions in the government, in local and international development institutions and in the private sector.

I wanted to provide them a workshop experience that, firstly, impresses on them that KM to support core business processes is high-value KM. I wanted to show this to them in a concrete way linked to their workplace experiences.

After a brief lecture on what the term “knowledge” means in KM and what “knowledge management” is, I asked them the first question: “What is your core business process?”

The answer was unanimous and quick: “project management.” Many will agree with me that this government think-tank is indeed very knowledgeable and experienced in managing projects and in teaching project management.

My second question was: “What is your second most important business process?”

The answers were slower in coming and there were many different answers. Apparently, there is no consensus among them on what is their second most important business process. But more importantly, NO ONE mentioned a business process that in my judgment is another core business process: negotiating and winning project contracts. The alternative technical terms for this business process are “project contract negotiation” or “project development” or “project marketing” etc.

I told them: “No matter how good you are in project management, if you fail in contract negotiations you will have fewer projects to manage.”

Next I asked: “Who among you participated in successful contract negotiation during the last five years?” Almost everyone raised their hand.

I then formed them into small workshop groups. Their workshop task was simple and easy: From your experiences, list down what worked well (or what were the success factors) in successfully negotiating project contracts.

After each workshop group leader reported their group’s results to the plenary session, we discussed and consolidated all the results. The results can be summarized in one letter-size page. The participants were proud and happy recalling and documenting how they successfully clinched project contracts, and they were satisfied with the summary.

In the end I said, “This one-page summary is high-value knowledge of what works in a business process critical for your future income growth or even financial survival. Re-use this knowledge and keep improving on it.”

The process is inexpensive: it took only about an hour of time of the top executives of this organization. The potential benefit: higher likelihood of clinching next project contracts.

Using the KM framework I described before (KM Framework or F Series) and the same color coding, here is the simple logic behind this inexpensive but high-value executive workshop:

What do you think? (Please use the “Leave a Comment” link below and write your feedback.)

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2 Responses to “T2-4 High-Value Tacit Knowledge: What Worked Well in Clinching Contracts”

  1. Peter Spence Says:

    Hello Apin,

    The exercise that you described appears very effective and very economical in relation to time and training costs. It also provides a valuable opportunity to share best practice in negotiation of contracts (clearly linking KM to core business processes) – however, could it be self limiting (to only what works best in the particular organisation) in that it may not source knowledge from outside the organisation on what possibly works better elsewhere (so possibly comparing organistional results with success stories or strategies from other organisations)?

    Was there an opportunity for the group to compare success stories so that they could reflect on their own performance (comparing strategies used by members who have a high rate of succes in contract negotiations with members who do not)? Would input of what did not work so well also provide an opportunity to learn from mistakes? Weaving in lessons on negotiation strategies to the question and answer session above (group reflection) i.e. strategies to confirm what went well, how to address what did not do so well, or how do do better may reinforce the learning cycle.

    While organisational members benefit from sharing knowledge from one another on successful strategies, theories etc, of negotiation, the risk of limiting the sharing of knowledge on negotiation competencies within a a particular organisation (insular) is that there may be a lack of awareness of the amount of value left at the negotiation table (i.e. the organisation may only learn from what it currently does – and so may limit performance to the highest gains made by the organisation).

    In the process of experiential negotiation training the use of simulations/exercises used to test the particpants particular approach, then debriefing – comparing and reflecting on approaches (what went well, what did not and why?) while weaving in negotiation stategies and lessons, which can then be tested in subsequent simlations and debriefing (action learning cycles). This provides participants the opportunity to identify their strengths and weaknesses and then test strategies to improve their negotiation competencies within a safe environment. Simulations, case studies, etc, can be developed around examples of contracts either successully or unsuccessfully negotiated.

    What do you think about the above observation?.

    Kind Regards

  2. apintalisayon Says:

    Hi Peter,

    Your questions reflect your wide experiences in contract negotiation, and how these can be taught in a negotiation class. I agree with your suggestions, and that they are definitely useful for fine-tuning the learning process in the art of contract negotiation.

    The “quick” workshop I described had a limited objective: to open the eyes of the executives of that organization to the fact that their overall process that leads to winning contracts is a more important business process for them than merely managing projects after the contract was won.

    Nice to hear from you again Peter!


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