Knowledge management in a production enterprise
This article presents a complex issue of knowledge management in a production enterprise, its epistemology and a creation process on the basis of information circulation in the System of work process Quality Management. The article includes a classical scheme of engineers' operation in the production process and through the analysis of individual actions it presents a methodology of information circulation design, which shall enrich the knowledge of a given production process and shall implement the process of continuous learning.
The epistemology of knowledge concept goes back to ancient times, when it was considered "a justified and true believe". The view was represented by Plato. According to the view the knowledge is acquired through deductive thinking. Similar view was presented by Decartes. However Plato's student, Aristotle, thought that the knowledge comes from empiricism.
Not only philosophers have been concerned with the issue of knowledge through out the centuries. The issue of knowledge has gradually become an interest of economists and the representatives of management, whose attitude to the knowledge has been far more practical. Marshall thought that, " (...) the knowledge is our strongest production motor". However the economic attitude to the knowledge does not include a process approach which is related to gathering and internal and external expansion of its resources organization. These issues have been complemented by representatives of management, human relations and organization culture studies. Some of them are Taylor, Mayo, Simon, Schein and Pfeffer. Gradually developed believes resulted in a view that the knowledge constituted an integral part of the organization culture, since it was based on the knowledge and on the system of believes. That resulted in the increasing interest in the issue and the issue-related processes. This also included information as a starting point for the knowledge broadening.
Peter Drucker was a representative of the practical attitude to the issue of knowledge in the enterprise. He has introduced the following definitions: "knowledge worker", "knowledge society". In his opinion the knowledge in an enterprise is a source superior to other resources, such as capital or work.
To sum up the above thoughts about the knowledge, its definition according to Nowa Encyklopedia Powszechna can be introduced here. According to the encyclopedia the knowledge means, among others, the organized inventory of useful information, which meets the intentions of its creators and users.
Broadening the knowledge and the knowledge management on the basis of available information is an integral part of the learning process, and in consequence improvement, which is common in the quality management systems. There is work process improvement without a systematical knowledge broadening achieved with a planned circulation of information in the enterprise.
Fig. 1 Traditional scheme of action in the production process
Information in the learning process
The information circulation in the Quality Management System (QMS) is a proc overlaying the creation process. Every production process understood in the cont of work process shall be managed properly. This means that all the actions und taken within its field of activity are planned through a goal generation, selection of the goal achievement method, an analysis of needs and resources and a creation of plans, including the production and technology projects. Then the actions are supervised within the area of the physical production process. This shall take place by means of organizing, controlling, evaluation and carrying out the correction activities. However there still is a question: Where in the process of work processes management is the essential information? The one upon which the learning mechanism depends.
For better understanding of the issue, the scheme of action in the production process shall be studied. The scheme is often used by engineers, fig. 1.
Engineers-designers most frequently are able to use a specific part of knowledge necessary for a production process design. However they are not aware of the importance it has in their work. Improvement of their knowledge is usually not systematic and their scope of production process control is not fully stable. Although the consequences of mistakes are being eliminated, these actions usually do not result in improvement and do not use the abilities of production process for a development of their knowledge and for a development of production and work processes.
The main problem is an attitude of the engineers and process engineers to the work process. They are trying to solve the issue in a complex way. They underestimate the complicated nature of the process, including quality management and information management. Many of them think that the implication of the quality management according to ISO 9001:2000 is sufficient for a factual management of the process quality. It is obvious that even a certificate of conformity with ISO 9001:2000 does not guarantee that the production would meet our expectations and would comply with our assumptions and plans.
This is a result of the lack of ability to improve knowledge on work process and its result (the product) — no control of the PDCA management cycle. Improperly controlled state of things in the work process and too general information do not contribute to the learning mechanism and to the formation of new and important knowledge on the implemented work process.
A properly designed circulation of information is indispensable for the launch of the learning mechanism in the work process. I mean properly designed points of creation, receipt and use of the information. Additionally it should include all the features of useful information and its structure should be thought over and carefully planned (not chaotic and random).
Circulation of information project
Firstly, according to the indications of Decartes the work process in the methodology of designing circulation of information process should be properly identified. The best way is to avoid probability. Next, which is often omitted and underestimated by engineers, issues should be divided into as many parts as possible and necessary in order to achieve the best possible solution. It is also suggested to conduct consideration in appropriate order - starting from the least complicated and the most cognitively accessible objects to more complicated objects, also defining "order even among the objects which naturally do not overran each other".
On the basis of the previous thoughts we consider the production process as a whole composed of sub processes, operations etc. The product (object) undergoes multiple processing in such process. Its quality features changed and this happened with various intensity. The issue of designing the information circulation is extremely sophisticated in case of designing multiquality processes. Thus, in order to simplify the issue, it is suggested to use a single-quality process. This shall enable a better understanding of the matter of the problem and solving it.
In case of the single-quality process we have a single change of an object's features e.g. the process of sheet metal cutting has specific quality features: type of sheet, dimensions, including length, width, thickness and the level of corroding. Each of the features can be included in a quantitative description, e.g. sheet STj, 120 mm x 12000 mm x 3 mm and 2% of corrosion-caused loss. As a result of a single-quality process consisting in cutting a metal sheet of dimensions: 100 mm x 1000 mm x 3 mm, only one feature of the object undergoes a quality change. The process scheme presented in fig. 2 shows the sequence of actions and states of matter related to the actions. It is based on the PDCA improvement cycle, which means that each of its elements can be assigned to a proper stage of the cycle.
The analysis and evaluation can take place only in fixed stages and not in motion. This way we analyze only the state of matter in a selected point of process, not a whole process in progress. The collected data shall be subject to transformation into information. The information, after selection, shall enrich the knowledge about the work process that took place. The knowledge can be called a project creative knowledge, since it supplements the knowledge on the basis of which the work process has been started.
Since the information system is not separated from the production process, but closely related to all its stages, it is suggested to design the information circulation on the basis of the system's structure. The production task solution takes place on a several stages and with the use of several tools, such as a mathematic apparatus, quality management techniques based on heuristic methods, network analysis and the research specific method of Production Process Information Matrix [MIP].
Knowledge management models
A properly designed circulation of information in the enterprise shall be useful in a difficult task of knowledge management on each level of its occurring.
On operational level it is a process consisting of the formal knowledge creation (any documents necessary for the work process implementation exemplify this) and the quiet knowledge creation, difficult to articulate e.g. experience. The process concerns also processing, collecting and protecting the knowledge, in order to its best possible usage for the needs of the enterprise.
Fig. 2 Methodology of deigning a single-quality work process based on PDCA cycle
In the strategic dimension the knowledge management obviously contributes to the organization formation, influencing its strategy, employees, organizational culture and technology.
The knowledge management should also be seen as a process consisting of a series of sub processes, including the knowledge location, acquisition, development, popularization, usage and gathering.
The literature on the subject presents three management styles, depending on the methods of the knowledge acquisition. They are'':
- "up — down",
- "down - up",
- "middle - up - down".
Weber, Taylor and Simon are representatives of the first style. They thought that the knowledge was mainly a result of the information processing. The knowledge formation process takes place on the basis of the circulation of information from the employees to the managerial staff who on the basis of current information from the employees make decisions and present their plans and assumptions. This way of action is systemized and has a strict hierarchy. Managerial staff defines a freedom of action for lower-rank personnel (managers, foremen). The latter are responsible for creation of work conditions for linear workers. In this case the highest rank managerial staff is responsible for the knowledge creation.
In the second case the lower rank personnel is able to create knowledge and transfer it to the managerial staff. However the concept quite often lacks integration among employees of various units, which consequently leads to individual, not group knowledge formation. This attitude does not guarantee that "the created knowledge" should meet requirements of the users.
The last model of the management puts stress on the knowledge created in the middle rank (managers). It assumes that the above-mentioned group, often managing task teams, has the largest abilities of generating knowledge about processes. Middle rank management is in contact with the high rank managerial staff and linear employees, which enables access to both accessible and concealed knowledge. In this case the internal communication in the enterprise constitutes a tool for generating actual information and creating new knowledge.
The knowledge management is a complex process and an integral part of continuous improvement of the work process. In quality systems, either documented or not, acquisition of new knowledge on the process taking place in the enterprise gives grounds for efficient quality management of the processes. Since the knowledge creation is affected by several factors directly related to the work of people, it is difficult to manage the knowledge in the enterprise unequivocally. Nevertheless, a proper design of the information circulation may simplify the process and influence systematic and efficient knowledge management.
Enterprises which have implemented the quality systems, supervise communication in their organizational structures in order to gain useful information. This brings them closer to aware information management and the creation of new knowledge. They eventually can become learning organizations, which gives them a chance not only to survive but also to develop.
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