Managing Knowledge in Professional Service Organizations: Technical Consultants Serving the Construction Industry
Professional service organizations refine, package and sell knowledge. The aim of the present investigation is to create an understanding of how technical consultancy firms serving the construction industry manage knowledge. Sub-processes of knowledge transfer: acquisition, distribution, making meaning, organizational memory and retrieval are integrated in business service processes of such firms. Six enablers for learning and knowledge transfer were identified: organizational structure, communication and the monitoring of strategy, process, culture, systems for training and learning, and technology. Four Swedish construction consultancy groups with between 800 and 2,300 employees each were selected. Within each of these, one or more departments were surveyed in 1997-98 and again in 2000 using questionnaires and semi-structured interviews. Results were obtained in part by factor analysis of responses. Respondents consider market knowledge and project knowledge to be crucial, the former being stored mostly in the heads of people and the latter in several ways. While managers confirmed the existence of strategies for knowledge management, these remained largely unknown to employees, and no particular manager was identified as responsible for all knowledge management efforts. There was evidence of a shared business vision, but knowledge management tended to occur on the departmental level. Socialization in daily work, talking to colleagues in the department, was the dominating method for creating and transferring knowledge. Proximity to sources and informal media were preferred by respondents. Most IT tools in use were basic and related to design tasks, whereas tools enabling virtual meetings and knowledge combination had not been implemented. Reported obstacles to knowledge transfer include lack of time, lack of rewards for sharing knowledge and shortage of funding. Strong relations on the individual level were found between communicative problem solving, high functional position in the department and choice of traditional media. Age of consultants was found to influence knowledgeR transfer. Suggested implications for managers include translating business strategy into knowledge strategy, clarifying responsibility for knowledge management, supporting stronger intraorganizational interpersonal networks and improving career paths for younger consultants.