Reuse of Engineering Knowledge: Perspectives on Experience-Based Codified Knowledge in Incremental Product Development

Abstract: Product development is a knowledge-intensive activity and as products become more complex and competition intensifies, the amount of knowledge increases. A prerequisite for engineers who apply current best practices and continuously improve their working methodologies is to efficiently reuse existing knowledge. However, current trends during which individuals switch positions at an increasing speed and when the information is more dynamic, fleeting and more rapidly gained than ever before, calls for enhanced preparedness to meet these challenges. Numerous initiatives have been made, yet repeated design-related product issues are a recurring phenomenon which ultimately results in organizations either succeeding or disappearing from the market place. Guided by three research questions faced by the engineers, this thesis sets to (1) identify and analyze the characteristics of codified knowledge that support knowledge reuse; (2) Develop and enhance knowledge reuse support based on the characteristics identified in order to increase such knowledge reuse within product development organizations; and finally, the thesis aims to (3) evaluate the implementation of this support. In order to answer the first research question, a study exploring barriers to the reuse of codified knowledge highlighted eighteen potential barriers, eight of them associated with the individual at the engineering level. The discoveries within literature formed the basis for analyses and identification of ten characteristics regarding the quality of knowledge for reuse. As a continuation of the identified characteristics resulting from the first research question and to answer the second research question, a framework to efficiently support knowledge reuse has evolved. This framework is referred to as Engineering Checksheets and sets out to divide engineering knowledge into actionable pieces which not only give the engineers the answer to what to do, but also how and why a decision or action should be carried out, which have been identified as important components to foster knowledge reuse and to further enable continuous improvements. To answer the third research question, Engineering Checksheets have been implemented in industry and have been actively applied during several years in a variety of settings within a couple of organizations. An evaluation of the support implemented testifies to several valuable lessons learned, including dividing knowledge into actionable pieces which makes it both easier to apply the knowledge, as well as being notified when new knowledge has been gained but not yet captured, which is also helpful to the process of continuously capturing knowledge. The findings bear witness of the fact that efficient Knowledge Management is not so much about the IT system as it is about the Knowledge Management process and individual motivation. This thesis provides a pathway for organizations and engineers to extend their narrow focus of capturing knowledge by embracing and highlighting the perspective of knowledge reuse. By facilitating a habit and mindset of continuously capturing and reusing knowledge, product development organizations can greatly increase their effectiveness and quality of output.