Knowledge waste in organizations

Why do people and organizations do what they do? What is the wisdom in the stupidity? Making sense of this helps to find primary questions, root causes or basic assumptions. Knowing those helps to make synthesis and applicable new solutions. And it helps to be merciful towards oneself and others. I will be blogging about models that I have found useful.

First I want to present two jewels of organizational thinking, real diamonds. They point out sources of knowledge waste in product development organizations. Originally they were presented in the book Ward, A., 2006. Lean Product and Process Development, Lean Enterprise Institute. The book contains really careful and valuable thinking. It is mandatory reading for anyone working with organizations.


1. Sources of knowledge waste are:

  • Wishful thinking
  • Scatter
  • Handover

2. In relation to Scatter Ward explicitly mentions:

  • Whenever you separate Knowledge, Responsibility, Action and Feedback, there will be knowledge waste.

These are easy to keep in mind – you will see them everywhere.

Wishful Thinking is of course wasting knowledge, resources and money in huge lumps. It also makes you to choose organizational models, that cause Scatter. Scatter in time and space is causing Handover, which is the massive observable source of knowledge waste. And Scatter makes you loose the ability to decide – real power is always elsewhere.

Obviously wishful thinking comes from ignorance, complacency and fear; not knowing or not admitting, increased by loss of knowledge. A vicious circle.

From this perspective, doesn’t it seem obvious that learning together is the medicine? Seek wisdom, go and see. Having yet another strong management role, separate, does not solve the problem. Power lies with the knowledge!

Please check how Vasco Duarte’s blog PMI and the meta-planning process looks from this perspective.

Just to give some food for thought I list the specific knowledge wastes under the three major ones (italics my brainstorming).

  • Wishful Thinking
    • Discarded knowledge
    • Testing to specification. (Interesting explicit mention by Ward!)
  • Scatter
    • Physical, social and skill Barriers

      • Distance, time differences, data formats
      • Culture, language and organizational culture
      • Busying oneself
      • High power differences – “classes”
      • Continuous organizational change
      • Overspecialization – narrow roles and competencies
    • Poor tools and processes

      • Mechanical or narrow information channels
      • Manual duplication
      • Poor communication tools
  • Handover
    • Useless information

      • Extraneous documentation and communication, Lost knowledge, False information
      • Relearning
    • Waiting

      • Milestone, investment decision, technical decision, …
      • Meeting scheduling, resources, …
      • Plans, specs, information, comments, permission …
      • Test results, bug fixes, dependent components, integration, service from tool provider/IT, …
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