Managing Knowledge

Knowledge Management

Where is it?

Where is the knowledge in your department?  You might point to the equipment manuals, the mechanical and electrical diagrams, and the P&IDs. However, you’re more likely to point out the engineers and technicians who are familiar with each area. Much of the knowledge is tacit – it only exists in people’s brains. And that’s a problem.

Instant Knowledge - Tacit

The Analysis


Why are they frustrating?

Manuals are produced by the equipment manufacturer as a necessary condition of the sale of the equipment – in other words, the manufacturer is forced to produce them. They contain information about specifications, initial installation, and basic operation. Many contain information about various uninstalled options, and models that are similar to the one delivered. They can run to several hundred pages. While there are some notable exceptions, they are typically frustrating to search and interpret. It can take hours to find the exact information to address the one question you need answered.  


Why are they hard to understand?

Drawings are a short-hand way of providing information on a system. One page can contain a huge amount of information. This can be extremely useful, but it isn’t always easy to understand. Mechanical and electrical drawings are primarily connections charts. We can see how components are interconnected but they don’t tell us exactly what is happening. We may not know why a relay operates, why a valve closes or even, what direction the liquid is flowing in a pipe. We may not even understand what a specific symbol means. Drawings are only really useful if we already know how things works. 

Tacit Knowledge

Where is it kept?

There’s usually one expert on each piece of equipment. This is the person who’s called when there’s a problem. This person understands how the machine works and how to fix it when it acts up. They’ve built up a wealth of information over the years. The other engineers and technicians are not as knowledgeable. They can carry out routine tasks, but shy away when it gets complicated. They depend on the one expert.    

Natural Selection

Why only one?

Why is there usually one expert? It’s a variation of natural selection. When the equipment first arrives one person learns a little more about it than everyone else. Obviously, they become the ones called first when something goes wrong. They gain more knowledge each time they are called, and so they are more likely to be called the next time. Meanwhile, their colleagues are rarely called and never get a chance to develop their knowledge. In fact, they’ll often forget most of what they’ve learned.

The Problem

Should you worry?

The problem is you now have a “single point of failure”. If the expert gets sick or leaves the company, there’s no one with the knowledge to take over. Everyone is depending on that single person. That’s a problem for you, as the department manager, but it’s also a problem for the expert. They may get calls outside normal working hours – perhaps even when they are on holidays. They may even get passed over for promotion because they are too valuable where they are.

The Solution

Is training the answer?

People often think that training is the solution to this problem, but it isn’t – you can see why here. You need a pragmatic solution that will take into account the reality that other people will never get the learning opportunities that the expert did. A few short training courses will not change that. When a non-expert is called to the machine, they need something that will bring them up to speed immediately. They need Instant Knowledge.

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