Managing product innovation: actual practices of New Zealand industry regarding use of knowledge management in engineering new product development
Thesis DisciplineMechanical Engineering
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Engineering
Knowledge management (KM) is an essential, if sometimes overlooked part of new product development (NPD). It describes the way information and new knowledge is being shared in a commercial organization, hence, how it is stored and made accessible within an organization. KM is applied to many organizational settings, but the application is sparse. KM has the potential to assist NPD, as previously acquired knowledge can be used more efficiently and redundant work can be avoided. However, there is no successful model or guideline for KM in an NPD environment. This project specifically examined the NPD situation, and the research questions included: What do engineering companies in New Zealand do, if anything, to store acquired knowledge? What would encourage engineers to share their knowledge in NPD projects? These research questions were answered by two methods: a survey and then follow-up face-to-face interviews were conducted. Statistical analysis identified various factors as important. Further, differences between New Zealand and German companies were examined. The survey and interview results showed that knowledge was found definitely important for innovation and NPD. However, Germans tended to rate the overall importance of knowledge higher than New Zealanders. It was found that all NPD companies used codification and personalization KM strategies to store knowledge and to make it accessible. However, a tendency towards a stronger emphasis on personalization was found. Particular knowledge sharing encouragements were identified that could result in a higher willingness of engineers to share their knowledge; supporting a communicative work-climate, setting up regular meetings for knowledge exchange and active encouragement to share knowledge. Apart from encouragements, survey and interview results also pointed out the importance of a clearly set direction for KM from management. Companies that were associated with successful KM did not only apply one particular KM process, but a combination of many. Particular KM practices and knowledge sharing encouragements were associated with KM success; the creation of a tidy, well structured database, regular meetings for knowledge sharing, supporting a communicative work-climate and active encouragement of staff to share their knowledge. Furthermore, the influence of personal relationships, trust and power differences on personal knowledge sharing processes were identified. Poor personal relationships and a low perceived level of trust can decrease the willingness of engineers to share knowledge. Engineers found that the most difficult situation in which to seek knowledge was from superiors, while the easiest was from peers. Thus organizational design and hierarchy structures can have an influence on KM.
These results were used to construct an integrative model that describes the factors, and their interaction, for successful KM in NPD. Based on the interview and survey results, the main implications for practitioners are that an overall awareness of KM and the benefits thereof for the company itself and the employees are important for successful KM. Executives should consider setting direction, providing the required tools for KM, educating staff regarding KM, and actively encouraging knowledge sharing processes. Further, executives should be aware of the influence of organizational design on personal knowledge sharing mechanisms. NPD project managers should consider educating their project team regarding KM. Especially for the successful application of personal knowledge sharing processes it is important that project managers are aware of personal relationships and potential issues among their team members. In order to achieve a high willingness to share knowledge within the project team, project managers should consider supporting a communicative work-climate, setting up regular meetings for knowledge exchange and actively encouraging their project team members to share their knowledge. These methods were associated not only with a high willingness of employees to share knowledge, but also with KM success in general. Engineers should consider contributing to the KM process by applying the company’s KM strategy and by having a high willingness to share own knowledge and ask questions to acquire knowledge. Furthermore engineers need to be aware of personal relationships with their colleagues and try to maintain a good work-climate, as this affects personal knowledge sharing processes within the NPD project team. New product development requires knowledge, and in an organizational context that knowledge needs to be managed if there is to be an enduring future for the firm. This work has surveyed industry perspectives and identified factors that contribute to successful knowledge management, creating an integrated model that is applicable to new product development.