Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Managing Lessons Learned and Tacit Knowledge in New Product Development: What Are the Most Important Lessons That Can Be Learned from New-Product Development Projects? Is Your Organization Learning Them and Are You Making Most of the Tacit Knowledge of Your NPD Teams?

Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Managing Lessons Learned and Tacit Knowledge in New Product Development: What Are the Most Important Lessons That Can Be Learned from New-Product Development Projects? Is Your Organization Learning Them and Are You Making Most of the Tacit Knowledge of Your NPD Teams?

Article excerpt

New product development (NPD) is a complex, iterative problem-solving process in which experience plays a key role (Thomke and Fujimoto 2000). Developing the problem-solving skills of individuals and NPD teams takes time, as the learning process is based on generating and sharing knowledge. In order to improve the performance of NPD teams, the lessons learned from one project need to be passed to other project teams. Lessons learned are "key project experiences which have a ... relevance for future projects" (Schindler and Eppler 2003, 220). If lessons are not shared, there is a risk that other project teams will waste time and effort solving problems that have been solved in the past. However, the complex nature of NPD projects means that much of the knowledge generated is tacit knowledge, which is closely connected with practical activities, difficult to express, and difficult to share. Therefore, managers need to take specific steps to promote the transfer of lessons learned and tacit knowledge between NPD teams.

An important mechanism for stimulating NPD learning is the post-project review (PPR). This is "a formal review of the project examining the lessons that may be learned and used to the benefit of future projects" (von Zedtwitz 2002, 255). PPRs are widely recommended as a mechanism for identifying the key lessons learned by NPD teams (Williams 2008). Normally, the lessons identified in PPR discussions are entered into a database, so that they can be accessed by other NPD teams; this is viewed as an effective way to capture and transfer NPD knowledge. However, our research shows that much of the key learning generated by NPD teams is lost even when databases are used. To counter this, PPRs need to be integrated with other mechanisms, such as the use of knowledge brokers and mentoring of less experienced personnel.

We studied knowledge generation and sharing in new product development teams at five German companies in an effort to determine the role of PPRs in stimulating and sharing knowledge. Based on our unique data set, we have derived key insights into the role of knowledge in NPD and the power of PPRs and other tools to capture and disseminate knowledge throughout the NPD organization.

Knowledge in New Product Development

NPD is a knowledge-intensive activity, requiring teams to draw on both explicit and tacit knowledge (Table 1). Explicit knowledge, sometimes referred to as know-that, is knowledge that can be readily identified, explained, documented, captured in databases, and shared. Explicit knowledge is synonymous with information. Tacit knowledge, or know-how (Brown and Duguid 2001), is difficult to articulate, hard to record, based on experience, and intimately connected to the way we carry out tasks and solve problems (Polanyi 1966). It has been said that tacit knowledge is more like a process of learning, comprising the understanding we gain of how to learn particular skills, rather than the information related to the skills themselves (Wilson 2002). This means that tacit knowledge is difficult to capture ND convey in a stable form.

Tacit knowledge may be transferred in a variety of ways. Shared experiences give the richest opportunities for transferring tacit knowledge, as when a master craftsperson passes his or her knowledge to an apprentice. Frequent, intense personal interaction in a work context can enable tacit knowledge to be shared; this process is called socialization (Nonaka 1994). Although socialization is generally held up as the preferred medium for transmitting tacit knowledge, the effectiveness of socialization has not been validated by empirical studies, at least in part because most knowledge management research has been theoretical in its approach (Gourlay 2006). There is some evidence that less frequent personal interaction may work just as well in supporting tacit knowledge transfer, provided that the lessons to be learned are clearly identified in advance and the people involved trust each other (Levin and Cross 2004). …

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