Reuse of Engineering Knowledge: Perspectives on Experience-Based Codified Knowledge in Incremental Product Development
Doktorsavhandling, 2018

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.

engineering knowledge

knowledge management life cycle

engineering checksheet

knowledge assets

experience-based knowledge

knowledge reuse

knowledge management

Virtual Development Laboratory, Chalmers Johanneberg
Opponent: Durward K. Sobek II, Montana State University, USA


Daniel Stenholm

Chalmers, Industri- och materialvetenskap, Produktutveckling

Do we miss the opportunity to reuse past knowledge and does it really matter?

Do any of the following situations sound familiar? (1) You have been hearing about the baby boomer retirement for years and now it is on your doorstep or already going on. Senior managers and experts are retiring and it is challenging to fill their places. A lot of projects will be delayed or canceled for lack of experienced employees. Some of what they know may perhaps be obsolete. But how much? And what parts? What knowledge can and should be passed along and reused by less experienced colleagues? (2) You have been hiring talented young engineers over the past few years, but they are… different. These Gen-Y individuals, or Millennials, are impatient to move up the organizational ladder and do not expect to spend twenty years in the same organization. They have some great new ideas, such as using social media to interact with colleagues. But how do you integrate them efficiently into the organizational culture while making sure that they apply existing organizational knowledge? (3) Your product development teams are scattered around the globe. It is great that someone in East Asia or the U.S. is working while your team members in Europe are asleep – and your electronic communication systems allow you to get really quick responses to a given specific problem. But how do you advance and promote individuals and teams from competence to expertise given that experts are so dispersed?

All these scenarios have a common challenge – How can business-critical, experience-based knowledge of experts become valuable for an organization through efficient reuse of this knowledge over time?

This thesis primarily focuses on dynamically capturing and reusing the knowledge that is the most critical for an organization and presents a practical approach to improve domain specific knowledge flow over time. Moreover, the focus is about a particular subset of knowledge that has been built up from corporate-specific and mostly undocumented experience normally contained inside the heads of senior workers.

Not only capturing what you might call Know-what but also what the most valuable practitioners have learned about Know-how, along with the reason behind – Know-why. This expertise includes such skills as the ability to diagnose and anticipate problems and making swift and wise decisions and actions. Such knowledge has a major benefit to an organization and will become invaluable into the future, hence the need to transfer it to the next generation of engineers.


Produktionsteknik, arbetsvetenskap och ergonomi

Annan maskinteknik






Doktorsavhandlingar vid Chalmers tekniska högskola. Ny serie: 4495



Virtual Development Laboratory, Chalmers Johanneberg

Opponent: Durward K. Sobek II, Montana State University, USA

Mer information

Senast uppdaterat