Providing Historical Context Enhances Decision Making, Quality, and Speed

Overview–Presenting Problem

Through development of new areas of research and a period of substantial growth, the number of people and projects within the business units of a leading medical device manufacturer had grown quickly. Movement of people throughout the organization and an influx of new people made locating project or topic experts increasingly difficult, and it made contextual project knowledge less readily available.


It became evident that similar mistakes were being made between projects, and unnecessary rework was occurring because people were not aware of past efforts and learning. Learning from project team to project team was not applied, because there was not a standardized way to capture experience, and documents were not in one standardized format or location. Even if someone was aware the knowledge existed, they did not have time to find it. Speed and quality were therefore not being enhanced by use of previously accumulated knowledge. Also evident was the lack of easily accessible contextual knowledge when regulators, clinicians, or customers asked questions concerning past decisions made, alternatives considered, or expected versus actual outcomes.

Lessons Learned

To ensure that the competencies were built within the organization and that the critical knowledge identified through the process remained in the organization, we trained internal resources to perform the knowledge transfer work. We started with a pilot in a vital area of expertise and chose a well respected expert who had deep historical and contextual knowledge of the topic. Cross-functional learners were identified to ensure the critical knowledge would be widespread and quickly reused by various groups, rather than to be at risk of loss again if transferred to only a few select people.

Through this collaborative approach, we were able to not only identify and transfer thirty years of historical contextual learning in the area to a broad and relevant group of learners, but also to locate and map the documents and other resource and reference materials needed. We identified additional areas of knowledge at risk to be transferred, such as customer relationship building and feedback. The cross-functional learners were vocal about their ability to converse differently with customers and others based on their new-found historical contextual knowledge and understanding of the products and the company.

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