Strategies for making knowledge management part of the innovation process


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It’s essential to use an innovation system with knowledge management in its DNA and allow team members to document their work in a capturable and reusable manner. And finding that information should be as easy as recording it.

Many might be familiar with the public service campaign entitled “The More You Know,” which asserts that knowledge is the key to well-rounded outlooks and decisions. In new product development, this is just as appropriate. The best ideas, the ones that move the needle in the market, are the result of incorporating existing knowledge into the innovation process.

Often, new products move forward to the development phase without reviewing learned lessons from previous initiatives. Such lessons could serve as a roadmap of things to do, things not to do, and, if you’re lucky, unlock entirely new product ideas. Even if a company knows everything there is to know about evolving their product, leaning in on corporate memory will help refine new product development methods, what the product does for the company and how it affects the market.

Having a repository of knowledge alongside your single source of truth is also essential when turnover occurs. The last thing you want is an outbound team member to take all their knowledge and expertise with them. And when a new person joins the team, they need to have all the pertinent information readily available. The ability to access knowledge regarding the current project, or previous ones, will help new team members get up to speed more quickly and enable projects to move forward efficiently. Without the right system in place, information gaps emerge.

Given its importance in new product development, let’s look at ways to make knowledge capturing and sharing an integral part of the innovation process.

Incorporate knowledge documentation early and often

Many companies identify lessons learned at the end of a project, but knowledge documentation should occur throughout the innovation process. Important details could be overlooked or forgotten altogether during a project review. By recording information in real-time and cross-referencing it with previous knowledge documents, critical insight can be gained that can change the project's direction.

Ensure knowledge documentation and retrieval is easy and efficient

Knowledge documentation must be an intuitive and embedded part of the innovation process. Team members shouldn’t have to spend any more time than necessary documenting what they’ve done. It’s essential to use an innovation system with knowledge management in its DNA and allow team members to document their work in a capturable and reusable manner. And finding that information should be just as easy as recording it. It’s akin to the old question about whether a falling tree in the forest makes a sound if no one’s there to hear it. All the best knowledge is useless if it’s difficult to access.

Emphasize context

As team members create knowledge documents, they need to include as much detail and insight as possible to help future teams make the best, most informed decisions possible. It’s one thing to know what happened, but it’s far more helpful to understand why. Users will want to know who wrote the document and what project it was for. Was this initiative advanced to launch or was it killed at a later stage? That background will determine what team members should take from the document and apply those learnings to the current program.

Highlight success and failures

It’s natural to want to prioritize the documentation of successful initiatives, but there’s just as much to learn from endeavors that didn’t go as planned. In fact, learning what not to do can be just as valuable as a recap of everything that went right. On a recent episode of the Innovation+ Talks podcast, I had a great conversation with Steve Rogers, Principal Solutions Architect at Sopheon, where he crystallized this notion perfectly.

“We build processes that support decision-making and decision-makers. But we also need to build a knowledge repository of what we’ve learned. That might be all the failures we had,” Steve noted. “How many times did Edison fail before he came up with a combination that worked? He learned 999,000 ways not to make a light bulb. The knowledge we create and capture—and capturing it in a usable way—is an intrinsically important part of the innovation process.”

Podcast: Play in new window | Download

Prioritize knowledge transparency in the innovation process

Many large companies rely on a gated, or phase-based, approach to new product development and rely on all prescribed tasks being completed before moving on to the next phase. However, we are seeing more flexibility and agility in task completion today, where teams forgo finishing non-critical tasks and move on to the next phase. While some teams may mark the tasks as not required, others falsely mark them as completed, leaving an inaccurate knowledge history. Before moving to the next phase, documentation must be transparent, even if it means discussing why specific tasks weren’t finished or weren’t considered. Even if it’s only a sentence or two, document your decision to abandon or skip a task or deliverable.

Consider current and future stakeholders in the innovation process

We often focus on the visibility of innovation data across the enterprise. It is also important to think about the visibility of innovation knowledge. Who might gain value, either now or in the future, from the knowledge discovered and learned during a project? Capturing current knowledge can provide significant value to innovation workers, decision-makers, and other stakeholders at some point in the (near or distant) future.

While we often view innovation processes as forward-looking, there is so much to learn from the past. The right innovation system that allows for easy and repeatable knowledge capture and retrieval can position companies to make the best possible decisions related to new product development.

See how Sopheon’s Innovation Management System helped Mondelēz International achieve 100% global visibility for all new product initiatives. The entire global organization will now use a single source for information, product, project and portfolio management, enabling greater collaboration and efficiencies across product lines and business units. Read the case study.

Innovation Management, Sopheon

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