Advancing knowledge management for system integration - Improving the management of lessons learned to enhance organisational learning and railway system performance
Yawar Abbas is a PhD student in the research group Maintenance Engineering. Supervisor is prof.dr.ir. L.A.M. van Dongen and co-supervisors are dr. M. Rajabali Nejad and dr. A. Martinetti, all from the Faculty of Engineering Technology (ET).
Reliable public transportation is the backbone of society. The increasing demand for safer, faster, more climate-friendly and better-connected forms of public transport requires policy-makers and transport organisations to work together in the face of ever-changing technological advances and associated risks. Given the complex sociotechnical nature and multi-organisational setting of public transportation systems, effective knowledge management among the stakeholders involved is essential to properly integrate new products and services into operations and improve system performance. Snowden (2002) emphasised that knowledge management research needs to shift from content management and focus more on context and narrative. A deeper elaboration of the methods and tools needed to properly manage the knowledge context and narrative is essential for effective knowledge management of complex public transportation systems.
This research investigates how to improve the knowledge management of consolidated learning and experiences gained during the introduction of new products and services in operations. A thorough investigation is conducted within the Dutch railway sector over a period of three years to develop and test various conceptual and technological artefacts.
The thesis commences by presenting a practical case for the smooth integration of new products, services and technologies in the railway sector and highlights the importance of knowledge management of consolidated learning and experiences in that context. This is followed by outlining the scientific case for this research, where the need for focusing on both tacit and explicit lessons learned is highlighted to facilitate organisational learning. The importance of managing the lessons learned for system integration to avoid project delays and cost overruns and to improve the system design and performance of the railway system is also emphasised.
The practical and scientific cases presented led to the main research problem addressed in this thesis, which aims to advance the management of lessons learned from system integration to improve organisational learning and thereby system performance. To examine this research problem, the thesis focused on the following three main research objectives that were inspired by the research methodology of Blessing & Chakrabarti (2009) and aimed at clarifying, describing and prescribing the stated research problem:
· Explain the lessons learned from system integration and the current issues in managing them
· Provide insights into ways of improving the management of lessons learned
· Support railway organisations in their efforts to embed the identified insights into their organisational processes
To investigate these research objectives, a total of eleven research questions were examined using a balanced mix of quantitative and qualitative research methods. The insights provided by the examination of these research questions led to a detailed elaboration of the tools and methods required to achieve the three research objectives.
To attain the first research objective, key lessons learned from system integration in the railway sector and the main issues concerning the sharing of lessons learned in the Dutch railway sector were identified. Based on the identified lessons and issues, a conceptual framework for knowledge management of lessons learned was developed. This framework was named the LEAF framework, where the acronym LEAF stands for learnability, embraceability, applicability and findability.
To accomplish the second research objective, case studies were conducted to test, apply, and extend the proposed framework. The analysis of the LEAF framework showed that mutual trust between stakeholders was the necessary precondition for building the embraceability of shared lessons. Similarly, the need to improve the technological findability of developed knowledge sharing platforms was identified. The examination of current tacit knowledge management practices showed that the consolidated experiences and lessons for the structural aspects of system integration had largely been made explicit in the form of manuals, guidelines, and regulations. However, the experiences and lessons relating to the functional and operational aspects remained largely in tacit form and needed more attention.
Based on the insights gained from testing the proposed LEAF approach and focusing on functional and operational aspects for tacit knowledge management, the following four strategies were prescribed to achieve the third research objective:
- Identification of fourteen principles of effective systems management and key recommendations for policy-makers and railway organisations to promote the management of lessons learned in large-scale projects.
- Development of a collaborative knowledge management platform to improve the technological findability of lessons learned among system integration test lab members of the principal rail infrastructure manager.
- Development of a virtual reality-based adaptive learning system to train the railway conductors of the main transport service provider on departure procedures and possible irregularities.
- Development of a blockchain-based knowledge-sharing platform to enhance the trust between the maintenance staff of the main transport service provider and the warranty manager of the rolling stock supplier regarding the quality of the maintenance performed.
To conclude, by clarifying, describing and prescribing the tools and methods to improve the management of lessons learned in the railway sector, this thesis equips policy-makers and railway organisations with the necessary means to improve organisational learning from consolidated lessons and experiences and thereby improve system performance. Finally, the thesis also outlines the main limitations of the research conducted in terms of the studied context, methodology and implementation and provides future research areas for the proposed LEAF approach and technological artefacts and suitable industries for testing the proposed concepts.