"Knowledge is power" as the old saying goes, but in manufacturing it's also one of your company's biggest assets - and something you'll want to capitalise on at every opportunity.
Whether you're looking to outsource part or all of your operation to a third party electronics manufacturing services (EMS) supplier, your company's knowledge should be captured, preserved and documented.
The issues with internal know-how
As an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) in the midst of outsourcing, when it comes to transferring your team's specialist know-how over to an EMS provider this can be a challenging prospect.
How can you be sure all of that unspoken, tacit knowledge has been incorporated into the appropriate manufacturing documentation? What will the consequences be if a critical piece of knowledge becomes misplaced?
Avoid losing "local knowledge"
No matter how well documented your assembly and test instructions are; no matter how much effort your have put into extracting that implicit knowledge from your best employees - there is always a risk that vital information will be lost when transferring your operation to a third party.
To reduce this risk, it's important to plan ahead.
Preparing a comprehensive knowledge transfer strategy is critical. That way you can rest assured that no pearl of wisdom - no nugget of know-how - will be lost and confined to history.
But how should you go about this? Here are five areas to consider that could help you cover most eventualities:
1. Identify areas where knowledge is likely to be lost
This is especially important in highly-skilled or niche areas, such as design, production, engineering, test or component management. It’s important to draw up a priority action list for focusing on "high risk" areas and figure out the impact this may have. Decide if you'll be letting staff go; retaining them for other duties; or if they could be transferred to the partnering firm in a similar position.
2. Clearly define "knowledge representatives"
Appoint people to look after each of these high-risk areas and delegate responsibility to them for working with certain areas and individuals to document vital information, data, expertise and experience. These should be supported by a team from senior management, who will review all documentation, processes and procedures.The aim is to identify out of date or incomplete information. Assigning accountability is likely to make for a more thorough investigation.
Identify the tools and techniques that will help to nurture an environment for effective knowledge transfer. For instance, encourage meetings, brainstorming sessions and on-site discussions, etc. and arrange quiet spaces for updating written records and digital systems, etc.
3. Create an open, collaborative and communicative environment for sharing knowledge
Taking this approach will endorse teamwork and encourage the free-flow of ideas and information. Allow plenty of time for people to talk. Ensure that people can hold discussions in a relaxed and unpressured environment - as a way of supporting creativity and conversation.
4. Involve other departments in the early stages of the outsourcing programme
Working in a company that is planning an outsourcing programme can be a difficult time for employees. You'll need expert HR support when it comes to maintaining morale and ensuring you comply with all of the employment related legislation. Your IT department can support the project with systems to support a culture of communication and collaboration both internally and with your EMS partner. Email and video-conferencing should be readily available and easy to use.
5. Include knowledge transfer in the project plan
The various phases of knowledge transfer need to be incorporated into the overall project plan and part of the critical path. Expectations of both the OEM and EMS provider must be clearly identified to avoid any ambiguity or concerns arising at a later stage.
Much is learned "on the job"
When transferring your operation over to an EMS partner, its' important not to underestimate the amount of internal knowledge your employees have built up while at work - nor overestimate the thoroughness of your written records and documentation.
Bear in mind that as much as 80 per cent of what an employee needs to know to do a task or assignment is learned on the job, regardless of formal training.
Extracting this knowledge may require forethought, planning and time. But a correctly implemented process can make a major impact on the time required for the initial transfer, as well as the ongoing efficiency and quality of your outsourcing project.
Image by Rayan Zomorodi