ISO has now introduced the term “knowledge.” Since knowledge was not addressed previously the complexity of this subject and our approach to it are brand new. ISO 9001:2015 defines requirements for the handling of organizational knowledge in the following four phases, which are analogous to the PDCA cycle:
7.1.6 Organizational knowledge:
1. The organization shall determine the knowledge necessary for the operation of its processes and to achieve conformity of products and services.
2. This knowledge shall be maintained and be made available to the extent necessary.
3. When addressing changing needs and trends, the organization shall consider its current knowledge, and,
4. Determine how to acquire or access any necessary additional knowledge and required updates.
NOTE 1 Organizational knowledge is knowledge specific to the organization; it is generally gained by experience. It is information that is used and shared to achieve the organization’s objectives.
NOTE 2 Organizational knowledge can be based on:
a) internal sources (e.g. intellectual property; knowledge gained from experience; lessons learned from failures and successful projects; capturing and sharing undocumented knowledge and experience; the results of improvements in processes, products and services);
b) external sources (e.g. standards; academia; conferences; gathering knowledge from customers or external providers).
By introducing the term “knowledge,” ISO is trying to raise organizational awareness of the management and linking of know-how in order to position them for the future.
Knowledge is a very subjective term with individual definitions, so each organization must define it for themselves. Depending on the scope and context of the organization, their definition for knowledge can be completely different. A large-scale car manufacturer, for example, might define other target areas than a small law firm or Human Services provider.
These new requirements are not for the purpose of establishing administrative information or document management, but to ensure a controlled process for handling organizational knowledge in conformity with the quality management framework conditions.
Organizational knowledge: The two types
Knowledge Management best practices address both:
a) Explicit Knowledge – a type of knowledge that is formalized and codified, and is sometimes referred to as know-what, and
b) Tacit Knowledge – a type of knowledge that resides within an employee, sometimes referred to as know-how.
Organizational knowledge: The four phases
The four phases that define the requirements for obtaining and processing organizational knowledge include the many process points that provide purpose for the organization. It is a good idea to establish knowledge and competence objective up front – something (I would think) that has already been accomplished in most firms.
In phase 1, the organization should determine knowledge of customer expectations and requirements and the specific production / service-provision processes. Afterwards, they can plan how they can achieve the identified goals and objectives by means of learning, on the job training, certificate programs, etc.
In phase 2, the organization should determine specific methods to share knowledge in-house and to maintain this knowledge. Encouraging employees to pass on their experience from completed projects or failures to their colleagues as in “lessons learned” is a good start. Employees leaving the company (or refusing to share their experience and know-how) represent a major risk of loss of knowledge. Organizations wishing to mitigate these risks should collect and maintain the knowledge and know-how when it is available.
In phase 3 the organization should evaluate new knowledge, such as that communicated in a training session, interview with an employee on the status of knowledge, where appropriate, and identify opportunities for improvement. Another challenge involves monitoring changes in market trends or in technology and analyzing the extent to which they can influence the knowledge that the organization needs.
In phase four, the organization should identify opportunities for improvement in specific areas where targeted measures could be taken. Depending on circumstances, the organization might improve the processes for collection, storage and safeguarding organizational knowledge. It might also be a good idea at this time to re-validate critical knowledge or to improve the protection of existing know-how. In addition to continued training, the organization can use external sources including newsletters, industry magazines, strategic partnerships, etc. to expand their knowledge.