It’s a given that the only constant is change — and in product development, change is vital. In fact, in some sense, product development depends on change through creative destruction. Without a focus on innovation and continuous improvement, products stagnate and companies go out of business.
But one change that is not always beneficial to the product development process is movement of human resources. In a volatile and uncertain business environment, human resources change constantly, which means that knowledge moves from team to team, company to company. In addition, as the workforce ages, many companies experience a loss both formal and informal knowledge that is hard to quantify. How can companies safeguard both formal and informal knowledge as talent moves around and workers retire?
The Human Factor
Every day, approximately 10,000 people in the US turn 65 — the “standard” age of retirement. While not everyone who turns 65 retires immediately, thousands of experienced employees leave the workforce every year, taking a wealth of knowledge with them into retirement. Though these workers may willingly pass on their knowledge, a lack of systems or processes for gathering that knowledge — especially informal knowledge — means that much of it is lost forever.
One complicating factor in passing down knowledge is that the next generation poised for leadership — Generation X — is significantly smaller than the Baby Boomer generation. While knowledge has historically been passed organically between generations as a younger generation rises up to gradually take the place of the older one, the small size of GenX means an inevitable gap between Boomers and GenX.
Finally, both GenX and Millennials, who comprise about 35% of the US workforce, value workplace flexibility over stability. Those younger employees may capture the knowledge of one Baby Boomer predecessor, but that knowledge could end up fragmented across many different companies or teams.
It’s difficult to know exactly what knowledge any single employee will possess until that employee is gone. This isn’t to say that employees want to hide or obfuscate information — they simply have informal knowledge that isn’t easily captured by existing processes. Leaders have historically tried a variety of ways to capture knowledge, but in the digital era, training and transition reports aren’t enough. Companies need technology tools that will help capture knowledge and make it easily accessible for future use.
Knowledge Capture in the Age of Digital Transformation
As part of the digital transformation in product development, leaders need to use appropriate technologies that help teams and organizations adapt and thrive in an environment of constant change. To that end, software solutions that capture the formal and informal knowledge of every employee can be key to future-proofing the product development process.
In order to effectively capture knowledge across the product development lifecycle from all team members, any digital solution should:
Enable comprehensive collaboration: Anyone can create an Excel or Word file and put it on a shared drive. The problem is that such documents can get overridden or forgotten, and the information they contain may not be comprehensive or robust enough to pass knowledge to the entire team. A genuinely comprehensive solution will give employees a single source to track decisions, questions, and problems.
Improve efficiency: With a single source for information, teams can reduce design inconsistencies and discrepancies. In this way, teams capture knowledge without even realizing it as team members can offer input, solutions, and answers in a way that codifies knowledge in a single place.
Integrate with other digital tools: Product development does not rely on a single digital tool. For real digital transformation of product development, tools should be integrated across the process and lifecycle. By integrating the tools that help trace and track development with other digital solutions, team knowledge is captured at multiple levels and in multiple places, streamlining future projects.
Merging Talent and Technology
Ultimately, the most important part of digital transformation in product development is talent, not technology. Fostering an environment that encourages learning, curiosity, and teamwork will offer the greatest benefits in knowledge preservation. But in a digital age, companies need to merge talent with technology to capture both formal and informal knowledge before key people retire or move on to other endeavors. Digital tools are a key ingredient in future-proofing product development.
Jama Connect can help you capture the knowledge of your best and brightest product development professionals.