Construction/Engineering best practices used by leading companies

Construction/Engineering firms have been managing knowledge informally for years but the challenges facing industry today mean that most organisations now need a more structured coherent approach to knowledge management. The capture and re-use of learning from projects is considered difficult because teams often move on to the next project before completion. These factors can limit the flow of information, create barriers to learning and often lead to wastage and poor performance. This paper discusses a practical way in which to assess and implement Knowledge Management. It argues the importance of aligning KM initiatives to the business goals and managing the key aspects of people, processes and technology equally.

A study was undertaken to evaluate KM best practices used by leading companies and in the construction industry. Information was gathered by: interviewing project teams at a FTSE100-listed engineering company; applying strategic analysis techniques; and reviewing literature. A gap analysis identified key shortcomings with the current knowledge management approach at the FTSE100 Company. A key finding was the non-alignment of KM to business goals, which was addressed using Critical Success Factor analysis. Other findings related to: lack of people communication; non standard information systems and not knowing where to find knowledge.

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Data from the environmental analysis supported the argument by Egan (1998), such as the importance of people, customers and developing relationships with the supplier. It also highlighted opportunities and weaknesses of working with a limited number of clients. CSF (Rockart, 1979) proved successful because it prompted the definition of group objectives which could then be used to align KM goals (Probst et al, 2001). The approach to Porters Value Chain prompted the outline of the key processes as illustrated in figure 4.1 highlighting the primary tasks involved in a construction project from start to finish.

The literature review took into account arguments from theorists whose expertise included: learning Argyris (1990) Hwang (2003); culture Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995); and communication Berlo (1960). It also included arguments from people considered specialists in the field of implementing KM: Skyrme (1999); Probst (et al, 2001); Collinson and Parcell (2002); and Davenport and Prusak (2000). This study led to a balanced view to defining an approach to implementing knowledge management.

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