Knowledge review is an investment in the future

"Managers are starting to see the knowledge review as an investment in the future and not a cost," says Andrew Trickett, Global Rail Knowledge and Information Manager at Arup. In this short article, Andrew outlines the value of completing a knowledge review at the end of a project and how this is benefitting staff and communities at Arup.

 

Preventing loss of knowledge

Arup has been building expertise and continually improving its own global knowledge management methods for over 20 years and has won numerous awards in the process. One of the key tools that we utilise is a 'lessons learned' process on our projects, that traditionally tend to take place at the end of the project.

However, in the rail business a significant number of our projects are undertaken over a period of many years, for example; HS2. We found, that when we came to the end of a project, there could be a significant loss of knowledge during the course of that project. This was due to a variety of reasons, such as people having left the organisation, or moved on to other projects within Arup before the knowledge review could take place.

When undertaking the reviews, we found that a lot of people expressed concern that there wasn’t always an opportunity for people to stand back and reflect on their work. They felt that if they’d had that opportunity during the lifetime of the project, then a lot of potential errors or significant areas of value could have been acted upon in a timelier manner.

In my role, as Global Rail Knowledge & Information Manager, I concluded that we needed to undertake reviews at a faster pace than we had done in the past, without making the process overly bureaucratic. This led us to developing a knowledge review in the flow of the project. Reviews would take no more than 30 minutes and would happen on a quarterly basis or at a key project milestone within the project.

Questions were quickly filtered down to 3 key areas:

  1. What went well?
  2. What did we do differently?
  3. What were the areas for improvement?

We ensured that the lessons were summarised so that they were identifiable and actionable from the notes, and that they were forwarded to not only to those who had taken part, but also to management for them to take any action that had been highlighted. 

We also recognised that our skills-based communities of practice would also benefit from having an early warning about issues they would want to address. 

 

Lessons learned so far

  • Members of the team are excited and proud about the projects they are working on in Arup and want to highlight their successes as well as areas for improvement, not only to benefit them but also the project and their peers in future projects.

     
  • The follow up is important, as a lesson learned isn’t learned until its applied. It's needed so that people feel that the reviews are delivering some improvements even if they can't all be delivered immediately

     
  • Managers are starting to see the knowledge review as an investment in the future and not a cost

     
  • It’s not a silver bullet for KM. You can’t capture all the complexity of a project in a 30-minute interview, but by giving people time to review the notes before publication, they have the time to add additional thoughts that have been triggered by the discussions in the review meeting

     
  • Remember, that people will sometimes tell you what they want to tell you – they may gloss over elements of the project that don’t show them in a good light

 

Andrew Trickett will be speaking about the benefits of using knowledge management to improve the quality of projects at the KM Summit.