Applying Knowledge Management Principles to R&D

Many who work in research and development will be all too familiar with the challenge of consolidating and retaining organisational knowledge. Too often, critical information which is held by key individuals is tacit. This means when that individual exits the role or the organisation, that critical information leaves with them. This article will explore different methodologies which can be applied to help mitigate this risk, by effectively applying knowledge management throughout your innovation or R&D process.

Knowledge Management

John and Joanne Girrad define knowledge management as:

 ‘the process of creating, sharing, using and managing the knowledge and information of an organization’

Essentially, it’s aim is to make sure valuable knowledge is not lost, and remains readily accessible to the organisation. It is a well-established disciple, which has been successfully implemented in a wide range of industries. It has also evolved over the years, with different offshoots of knowledge management focusing on different areas. This includes versions with a focus on technology, organisational structure, or ecosystem.

An example of an organisation that transformed it’s R&D approach through applying knowledge management was the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT). When the centre was first established, it was caught between focusing on development and focusing on research. By applying the key principles of knowledge management, they were able to align the R&D centre’s activity with the overarching strategies of the business, resulting in R&D activity generating more value, and bringing them closer to their strategic goals.

Though approaches may vary from organisation to organisation, key principles persist throughout. It’s these key principles that will form the basis of an effective R&D strategy, that ensures no valuable knowledge is ever lost.

Principle 1: People and Culture

Since the challenges presented to R&D departments arsie from the tacit nature of the knowledge held by individuals, it is sensible to first focus on effectively managing the people that hold this information.

The first principle therefore is focused around managing human resources. Keeping people fulfilled in their role, and allowing knowledge to be easily transferred from one individual to another are the objectives here.

Allowing individuals to have autonomy in their role; encouraging them to reach beyond their specific duties; providing adequate remuneration and empowering through continued learning and development opportunities, are a few ways to improve fulfilment within a role.

Creating a culture of knowledge sharing should start by first understanding where competencies lay. By drafting a knowledge map, the organisation can visualise the relations between individuals, their roles and their knowledge. This forms a solid starting point for ensuring knowledge is spread between different individuals.

Next, a strategy of interim role cycles/reorganisation of role duties can be proposed in order to ensure multiple individuals are exposed to tacit knowledge intensive activities. A formalised procedure should be put in place to make sure individuals experienced in roles are sharing their knowledge to individuals new to the role, whether this be through coaching, workshops or occasional, ad-hoc support.

It should be considered that the people and culture that make up an organisation are by their very nature unique. For this reason, the strategies mentioned above are suggestions and ideas, rather than a prescribed approach. Feel free to modify your approach to what works for your situation.

Principle 2: Process Optimisation

The next principle of knowledge management to consider is process optimisation. An effective R&D process should aim to consolidate knowledge by design, putting procedures in place to make sure this happens.

Before embarking on process optimisation, it is important to consider that considerable changes may be made as a result to the existing R&D process. For this to work effectively, you should look to involve a variety of stakeholders involved in the R&D process, so that a consensus is reached.

When applying principles of knowledge management to R&D, the process should be designed to not only effectively conduct R&D, but also to encode and record knowledge on a shared repository (known as a push-strategy). Performance based measures should be a key consideration here, along with costs and reporting standards. By recording this information in a standardised way, projects can be easily compared with one another, with key information on hand to provide context. This ensures continued learning is accessible to the organisation

An example of where standardisation was used to improve the R&D process was by the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology. By standardising procedures, research projects became more organised, and could be fairly assessed against one another, focusing the centre to those projects that were providing most value for the wider organisation.

Principle 3: Technology

When exploring knowledge management and R&D, it is hard to miss the opportunity that can be gained from using technology to help streamline the collection and future access to knowledge.

Most organisations who are investing research and development will recognise the importance of this, and therefore will already have a system in place or will be looking to have this at some point.

Having said this, not every software solution is suitable for every R&D department. Different organisations and industries with different working practices, will have differing requirements. The  technology solution may even need to be tailored somewhat for your situation.

For this reason, we suggest considering a few key factors:

  • Customisability
  • User access permissions
  • Data analysis capabilities
  • User interface
  • Flexibility
  • Integrations with existing systems

If you’re interested in finding out more about what solution may be best for your organisation, the Intuitix team would be happy to have a conversation with you to explore this. To arrange this, please reach out via our contact information.

Principle 4: Strategy

The fourth principle, strategy, looks to understand the why behind R&D rather than the what or how. The aim here is to align the R&D departments activities with the broader strategy of the business. This helps to prioritise the value generating projects over those with less impact in the business.

Strategy considerations should be built into the process during the process optimisation stage. Many organisations will opt for a ‘stage-gate’ model, where strategy considerations are made at significant milestones, for example, prior to a project's initiation, or after its potential value has been assessed.

For a comprehensive integration of strategy into the R&D process, the business strategy should be considered throughout the entire life of R&D projects. An effective knowledge management implementation will continually assess projects strategic alignment, before, during and after completion. For more information on how this can be achieved, we suggest reading the article here, that explains the importance of continued project monitoring.

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