When large and long-established manufacturing companies consider the value of knowledge management for technology and product development, the issues of brain drain, reuse and discovery weigh heavily on the minds of executive management. Retirees and many millennial employees regularly walk out the door with their tacit knowledge, and the company’s documented explicit knowledge from them often becomes buried within project records, databases and online portals.
The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. has reacted to these realities by establishing an innovative Knowledge Sweep methodology that delivers knowledge to engineering teams at appropriate times within the design cycle and project management processes. In 2018, the process delivered more than $7 million in cost savings and prevented a plant production interruption. Like many other large companies, Goodyear recognizes the loss of knowledge and lack of reuse is often exacerbated because knowledge flow and collaboration can often be somewhat localized and contained within specific functions. Even with routine training opportunities, there are no guarantees that employees will change their behavior, and Knowledge Management (KM) teams must address these realities in a proactive manner because these behaviors can lead to needlessly “reinventing the wheel” and inadequate knowledge sharing.
Enterprise knowledge management teams often react by providing knowledge-rich collaborative platforms with ready access to self-service tools. Collections of online resources may be potentially empowering for product development, but this common approach hinges on belief in the premise that, “If you build it, they will come.”
Goodyear leverages online portal resources in a unique way by delivering knowledge to engineering teams at appropriate times within the design cycle and project management processes. This approach offers a more efficient and robust means to knowledge sharing.
Knowledge Sweeps, therefore, offer a transformative means of imprinting the knowledge review process into project management and search methodologies.
Goodyear’s Steve Rohweder, vice president, Technology Development, describes the Knowledge Sweep methodology this way: “We start with what we know, systematically sharing learnings via online tools and cross-departmental collaboration, and then applying the knowledge for technological advancement and optimal performance.”
Collect & Connect
Since its inception in 2010, the programs of the Knowledge Management Office (KMO) have contributed to a 50% reduction in product development cycle time.
“Collect & Connect” became a powerful tagline for KMO’s strategic project documentation approach: Collect knowledge in a consistent, structured way through project management practices and then Connect people to their peers and to the other knowledge assets of the company.
The first step in the Collect process involves assembling technical literature resources within an online portal to put the organization’s collective knowledge at everyone’s fingertips. Subscription literature databases for patents, peer-reviewed technical literature, trade publications, standards, handbooks, and competitor product reports, along with a document delivery service provider, are available 24/7.
Likewise, internal knowledge resources, such as technical reports, meeting minutes, benchmarking studies, project lessons learned, and an internal expert directory are also located in the portal as a one-stop knowledge shop. Researchers and project teams can then readily “Connect” to experts and knowledge-rich documents to enhance the efficiency and optimization of product and project development. Usage of these knowledge resources is supported with promotion and training, but there is no guarantee of rapid or consistent cultural adaptation. These resources, especially the external subscription databases, often run the risk of being deemed as expendable overhead costs of dubious value.
Engage & Explore
To increase employee engagement with these resources, Goodyear developed Knowledge Sweeps. They are intended to facilitate Collect & Connect by utilizing the one-stop knowledge shop’s online portal to support project teams as they learn about their specific challenges and opportunities.
The methodology was developed by the Knowledge Management Office team in brainstorming sessions, and through beta testing with internal engineering customers. External literature database suppliers were asked to customize query result downloads at a modest cost, but Knowledge Sweeps were deployed without any substantial financial investment.
Two Knowledge Management specialists produced the first Knowledge Sweeps quickly, and they spent the better part of six months developing a process for prospecting internal customers and integrating the Knowledge Sweeps within the company’s best practices. Knowledge Sweeps have become a significant job function for the Knowledge Management specialists, in addition to training, online portal maintenance, supplier management, and other duties.
A Knowledge Sweep is a structured method of searching that is conducted as an internal research support service for engineering teams. The sweeps are integrated into the engineering playbook as a strong recommendation, so project teams can request them during the research phase of the tire design cycle process. Knowledge management (KM) specialists also engage in prospecting by tracking projects that have entered the research and planning phase and then inviting the project team investigators to conduct Knowledge Sweeps.
Engineers and researchers initiate a knowledge sweep when they fill out an online request form via the portal. KM specialists then schedule a meeting, known as a Knowledge Sweep Live, to conduct a reference interview and perform queries while the project teams observe and provide input to optimize the accuracy of query results. The Knowledge Sweeps in these cases are an enhanced form of brainstorming and data-gathering in the discovery and planning phases of projects. The data the project team enters into the online Knowledge Sweep serves as an icebreaker to discuss the project challenges, risks, and opportunities, because the KM specialist has already reviewed at least a few key words and sentences of explanation. A conversation ensues identifying more key-word synonyms, and a clearer set of search parameters are defined. As the KM specialist conducts the queries, project teams may browse through the abstracts to determine whether the reading material meets their needs. When well-suited query results are discovered, they are exported into spreadsheet files.
The Knowledge Sweep methodology involves conducting queries systematically by looking through all the relevant internal and external databases. Theoretically, customers will review abstracts of technical literature from all key knowledge assets with the KM specialist. In practice, every Knowledge Sweep is unique. Some will purposely be restricted to IP databases and competitive benchmarking, while others involve finding prior internal knowledge for reuse on a pressing product opportunity. The various database search results are moved into a single file and organized for easy access via live links. The Knowledge Sweep product is then stored within the portal, where design and project teams may access and review organized sets of linked abstracts and documents. The technical literature results often discover and connect company experts, reinforce project team confidence in preliminary plans or identify more suitable directions of innovation for design and project teams to pursue.
Knowledge Sweeps are iterative, and they can be performed for design and project teams as needed until they are satisfied. All Knowledge Sweeps are then stored within the online portal, and the collection of documents becomes a key reference resource for future project teams and researchers. A team of two KM specialists can sustainably perform an average of 75 Knowledge Sweeps per year in addition to other responsibilities. Since January 2016, more than 250 Knowledge Sweeps have been performed for Goodyear’s Global Technology group.
Knowledge Sweeps often result in cross-regional collaboration (Connect) by identifying global technical experts who have never worked together yet face similar product development and project objectives. Internal lab reports and external patent data have been found that have prevented the need to conduct new studies or risk opportunities. Long- lost technical reports have been rediscovered, and unnecessary design iterations have been avoided. A Knowledge Sweep even prevented a plant shutdown by providing appropriate extruder cooling water specifications to address an unexpected challenge. The quantity of Knowledge Sweep success stories has undeniably grown within Goodyear since the method’s debut in project and research practices during 2016.
To measure the methodology’s impact on productivity, we conducted two surveys during 2018. Sixty-six percent of the Knowledge Sweep customers responded to these survey tools. The first survey tool involved a single question to prove or disprove the hypothesis that design teams will value easy access to packaged internal and external knowledge as they begin developing technology and product solutions.
Knowledge Sweep customers were asked whether they would recommend conducting a Knowledge Sweep to a colleague based on a scale of one (not at all) to five (very likely). The second survey hypothesis was established based on the assumption that Knowledge Sweeps have become a practical means of empowering teams with technical literature. The organization surmised that when design and project teams are provided with fast and easy access to relevant internal and external knowledge, they will be more efficient in developing product and project solutions.
Customers were asked in this survey to indicate whether their Knowledge Sweep provided their team with internal knowledge, external knowledge, or both. They were then asked a more open-ended question as to whether the knowledge reduced their project costs related to engineering time, materials, builds, lab tests, or iteration avoidance. For both experiments, the KMO team assumed that the Knowledge Sweep method had evolved into a user-friendly means of sharing/reusing knowledge.
Value on Investment
The two survey tools were designed to help KMO quantify a value on investment (VOI) for performing Knowledge Sweeps. The process of quantifying a VOI can be visualized as a pyramid chart, with System Activity being the base of the pyramid. The quantity of Knowledge Sweeps performed serves as the measure of System Activity.
The second level of the VOI pyramid, Satisfaction, is verified by the first survey tool measuring customer referrals, of which 91% of the respondents indicated they were either likely or very likely to recommend Knowledge Sweeps to fellow colleagues. The third layer of the VOI pyramid, Learning Awareness, is measured as knowledge gained. Fifty percent of the respondents indicated they learned from internal knowledge, while 48% indicated they learned from external knowledge provided in the Knowledge Sweeps. Overall, 70% of the respondents indicated they discovered something helpful from their Knowledge Sweep.
The fourth level, Impact Behaviors, is measured by the reduction of project costs related to time, materials, builds, and lab tests. The second highest level, Results, is measured as the quantified reduction of costs. These quantities are limited to short-term cost reductions only because Knowledge Sweeps are performed early in the design cycle process. In the case of the Knowledge Sweeps measured in the disciplined experiment, the company saved over $7 million in short-term cost reductions.
It is impossible to establish an average value of a Knowledge Sweep. In some cases, the Knowledge Sweeps merely saved an engineering or project team a few hours. In some cases, Knowledge Sweeps eliminated an entire iteration or an entire project (or prevented the plant shutdown mentioned earlier). Taken together, the surveys on Knowledge Sweeps revealed a significant and undeniable cost savings.
Finally, the apex of the pyramid, VOI (Value on Investment), is measured as a percentage of productivity advantage: VOI = ($Cost Avoidance -$Time)/$Time. Value is designated as the total amount of cost avoidance. Time is determined by the three hours (average) required to produce a Knowledge Sweep iteration, and the cost of an employee hour. The costs of the internal databases, and the external database subscriptions are not included in the VOI calculation because they are incurred as an annual infrastructure cost regardless of Knowledge Sweep implementation. Knowledge Sweeps enhance the value and usage of these infrastructure resources.
At more than 1,000% VOI, Knowledge Sweeps delivered an overwhelmingly positive productivity advantage for Goodyear, and their use in support of technology and product development projects is no longer in question.
Leaders within Goodyear’s Global Technology & Innovation function now support the use of Knowledge Sweeps for high-priority design projects. Knowledge Sweeps will continue to be measured to assess their impact on short-term cost reductions. As the Knowledge Sweep methodology continues to evolve, the KM team will explore opportunities for increasing the accuracy and efficiency of its applications to support technological innovation.
As a Knowledge Management Specialist at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Jim performs Knowledge Sweeps, manages external literature subscriptions for the online Research Information Center, and provides Knowledge Management training for Goodyear associates within the Global Technology and Innovation function. Prior to working for the Goodyear, Jim provided research support for other manufacturing companies, such as Detroit Diesel and Sterling Truck within the DaimlerChrysler Truck Group, Navistar International, and Ford Motor Company. Jim’s educational background includes Hiram College and graduate work at both the University of Houston and the University of Michigan.
Based in Luxembourg as Knowledge Management Specialist, Felix performs Knowledge Sweeps, leads the Lessons Learned system and provides Knowledge Management training for Goodyear associates within the Global Technology, Engineering and Quality organization. Prior to this role Felix worked in Global Technology Operation Management Center, dealing with New EMEA Product Industrialization and long term EMEA Product Roadmap Requirement versus Capacity. Prior to working for the Goodyear, Felix managed international projects as project team Leader and designed products (airbags, car body sealings, urban lighting) as mechanical engineer for other manufacturing companies such as Autoliv, Hutchinson and 3E International in several countries. Felix graduated in 2000 From ESSTIN (University of Nancy I – France) and holds a Project Management Professional designation from PMI.