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QEM Solutions were asked by United Utilities to assist with the review of the welding process and associated with the provision of the innovative steel E-joint.

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QEM Solutions were contracted to carry 3rd party inspection and witnessing activities on a series of valves fabricated in Germany for a series of SGN contracts throughout Scotland.

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28 Oct 2016

What is knowledge? Knowledge management on short term projects

The Oxford dictionary defines knowledge as ‘facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education’. 

The key word in that definition is ‘experience’. You can’t gain knowledge through education alone. You have to muck in and get your hands dirty to find stuff out. You’ve got to ‘do’ before you ‘know’. 

And that’s the rub. That’s why Managing Directors fret about knowledge management on short term projects. Good people arrive, dump their belongings in a locker for a month and bring years of experience to the job. They have the knack for doing stuff well. They have a feel for what to do in a fix because they’ve fixed something like it before. They deliver the project, pick up their last payslip, and they’re off. Taking all of that knowledge with them. And, quite possibly, a small company’s only competitive edge. 



The thing about knowledge is that there are two types.

There’s the stuff that’s been acquired over time by the industry and written down in data, guidelines, qualifications, safety standards and operations manuals. That’s explicit knowledge – it’s proven, validated, and out there for everyone to study. Fine. But the other knowledge – the one that’s so difficult to manage – is tacit. It’s inside and unsaid. The knowledge gained from years of experience that sits quietly in people’s heads. And annoyingly, it’s almost impossible to get it out. 

So how to get at this knowledge when it’s locked up inside someone else’s grey matter?

And, moreover, when you’ve deadlines to meet? You can’t ask anyone to write down what they know – there simply isn’t time. On the contrary, it’s likely the first step is to get your people talking. A staff canteen and properly observed breaks might just become a vital place for information exchange. Heck, we all love a story over a mug of tea and biscuit. Audio diaries may also have a place if you’ve a handful of key workers willing to brain-dump into a smartphone while they scratch their heads over a problem. But perhaps the fastest and most effective way to gather knowledge and keep it, is de-briefing. Put simply, that’s getting your people into a room to talk about what just happened, whether it be good or bad. No finger-pointing, no back-slapping (unless things have gone brilliantly). Just thinking about what worked, what didn’t, and why. At all management levels of a project. Put together all these individual experiences, and you’re building stable project knowledge that won’t all disappear when your best guys leave. 

Whatever you choose to do, keep talking – to everyone on site. Take a tea break or two. And listen. A packet of chocolate biscuits may be the soundest investment you’ll ever make.