Lean Knowledge Management

In the 90's, the term Knowledge Management emerged and became a significant focus for many companies worldwide.  And the sophistication of Knowledge Management practices and tools has escalated substantially.  However, while substantial improvements in Knowledge Management have been realized corporate-wide, the level of knowledge reuse in the decision-making early in product development has remained quite low.

The first problem is simply the fuzziness of that decision-making.  When the standard decision-making practice is to get into a room and argue about everyone's opinions regarding the guesses at how to satisfy everyone's wishes, it is very difficult to effectively employ knowledge.  Furthermore, until we've gotten far enough along to have a concrete product design, it is very difficult to know how to apply that knowledge to the ill-defined design.


Replacing that decision-making process with Set-Based Thinking™ based on visible knowledge opens the door to knowledge reuse.  That knowledge needs to itself be set-based, but that will be generated naturally out of the Set-Based Thinking™ process.


While that alone will elevate the Knowledge Reuse substantially, we still need to address the Flow of Knowledge to get maximum benefit.  The Lean principles that have streamlined Flow in manufacturing can help here.  Consider the traditional Knowledge Flow...

As knowledge is learned throughout the product lifecycle, it is captured into documents, which are in turn captured into the Knowledge Management system where they are organized for effective navigation and searching.  At some later point, when the need for some piece of knowledge is identified, the Knowledge Management system is used to search for relevant documents.  The potential re-user then reads, understands, and validates the knowledge in those documents, such that he or she can map that knowledge to their specific situation... make that knowledge applicable.

For those familiar with manufacturing, that will look a lot like traditional work-in-progress inventory flow:  purchased parts arrive and are sorted into appropriate bins such that they can be efficiently found and retrieved later.  At some later point, when we need some more parts to assemble into the product, we use the inventory control system in place to find and retrieve the desired parts.  Those parts are then effectively checked and validated as they are assembled into the product... many quality issues will be detected during assembly, others will be detected in the validation testing on the assembled part.

From the continuous improvement of lean manufacturing, we know that such inventory comes with many problems.  And similar problems exist for our knowledge flow as well...

So, what's so bad about such inventory?  In manufacturing, queued up inventory gets obsolete, becoming scrap or costing extra to be updated.  The more inventory you have, the more expensive it becomes per part to manage it and to find what you're looking for.  When you find it, because it may be old, you have to verify it is not obsolete or damaged.  And worse, any quality issues in the production of those parts are often covered up for long periods of time.

In knowledge work, similar applies.  The more you have, the more each search returns, and thus the more you must wade through to find what's relevant.  The harder it is to find, the less likely you are to update it.  The less likely it is updated, the more obsolete data you must wade through, and thus the harder it is to find what's relevant.  (This is a vicious cycle, explaining the rise and fall of many knowledge management installations.)  Ultimately, if it becomes easier to re-learn or re-develop the knowledge from scratch, and that "new" knowledge gets captured properly, then you end up with redundant knowledge in the system... adding to what must be waded through and reconciled... further contributing to the vicious cycle.

The traditional Knowledge Management systems continue to improve to try to alleviate all that as much as possible... and they do an admirable job... but in the end, a big inventory of parts (aka. "point-based" knowledge) that might be useful someday is just not lean!

Set-Based Thinking™ is the solution.  Knowledge is not captured in point-based form.  Rather, the knowledge is mapped to the Decisions it impacts in set-based form... as it applies to the set of all future products.  In that way, the knowledge is "pre-assembled" into the connected form it will be needed in when making those Decisions.  When it comes time to make those Decisions, there is no search performed to find the relevant knowledge.  The relevant knowledge has already been assembled into the Success Assured™ software that are used to make those Decisions.

Contact us now to learn more about how the Lean Knowledge Management provided by Success Assured™ software can positively impact your organization.

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