Using tacit and explicit knowledge in product development

Sometimes tacit knowledge has been defined as knowledge from experience that cannot be explained, but this is not usually true in product development except for very simplistic product design. Product development is essentially problem solving, and therefore basic principles are often combined with the results of experience to find solutions. But essentially product development is a defined process, which can be written down in explicit knowledge; as can many of the activities, techniques and decision making. The tacit knowledge is often used to choose the activities and maybe the techniques that can give the necessary outcomes for the decision making. The skills for the techniques are often explicit, being taught and written down in manuals and textbooks. But they may not rely on a thorough understanding of the scientific principles involved, and some would say that they are therefore tacit knowledge. In the food industry, this is a significant point for discussion. The tacit knowledge of the craftsman who could feel bread dough and say it was at optimum fermentation, led to the tacit knowledge of the technician who tests the dough with an empirical instrument that states it is correct for baking. But is the explicit knowledge on bread dough based on scientific principles? In some ways the consumer and market researchers are further advanced as they are using explicit consumer knowledge based on social science research methods. It is based on statistical analysis and not mathematical models, but is explicit for a certain population. It is the change from tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge, which is important for the future - how far is it necessary to make the change so as to have knowledge capabilities for product development in the future?

Although there is written information on problem solving, this is really one area where tacit knowledge is important. In academic education this tacit knowledge is difficult to achieve, because there is often neither the time nor the resources to allow students to develop problem-solving skills under guidance from people with a great deal of tacit knowledge. Very often one can see the process design and product development projects being dropped or never included in food technology courses. These are two of the areas where problem solving can be taught by experience and advice. Indeed in companies, the acquisition of tacit knowledge to support innovation is a purposive activity of much industrial development, design and testing of prototypes and pilot plant (Senker, 1998). This is illustrated in Fig. 4.8 showing how a barrier that stops an idea moving directly to an innovative product may be overcome by intermediate steps such as making

Project activities -Decision making -----------»- Tacit knowledge

Fig. 4.8 Experience (tacit knowledge) building.

Project activities -Decision making -----------»- Tacit knowledge

Fig. 4.8 Experience (tacit knowledge) building.

up prototypes and testing them (if needed, with internal recycling), and so establishing sufficient knowledge for implementation of that innovation. When this has been done once or twice new tacit knowledge is created which may enable some or all of the intermediate steps to be cut out in broadly similar innovations.

Technological change has been tacit knowledge-based because it is so much dependent on the knowledge within the company. Especially in incremental changes, 'doing' mostly creates the minor improvements - it is easier to make up the formulations and see if they work than look up scientific information on the processing changes. Innovations are more often based on scientific knowledge, especially in large companies. But they have to be brought into product successes by using the tacit knowledge in combining the product and production, and the product and the consumer. In emerging technologies -biotechnology, advanced engineering ceramics and parallel processing - the knowledge on particular fields is from education and literature, but the tacit knowledge developed in the company, which builds on the formal knowledge, is essential for developing the innovation (Senker, 1998).

The food system uses knowledge for product development in the different parts of the system as shown in Fig. 4.9. In the early stages, it is animal, fish and plant growing or catching, physiology, effects of feeding, nutritional value, sensory properties, uses; this is followed by preservation, cleaning, extraction, treating and packaging. As already noted, the later stages of the food industry divide into two parts - the food processors making food ingredients, which are scale-intensive companies that produce a high proportion of their own process

Fig. 4.9 Technological knowledge areas in food production, raw materials.

technology, and the food manufacturers whose product development is largely directed by their ingredient suppliers (Senker, 1998). The food manufacturing companies continue to use tacit knowledge and skills because this is the only way they can cope with the complexity of food systems using the scientific and technological skills that are available to them. The food processors have acquired the scientific and engineering skills of process engineering and are therefore able to use a greater amount of explicit knowledge. But even they are still using tacit knowledge to analyse and plan their product development. Some of the knowledge and skills in the total food system is shown in Fig. 4.9.

In studying engineering designers' use of knowledge and memory in new product development, Court (1997) found that the most prominently accessed information sources were those based upon locally stored information. The engineering designer's personal experience and knowledge, and in particular memory, were constantly used. In many cases, the designer relied solely on recalling items of information and data from their memory rather than spending a large amount of time searching for it. One-third of information accesses were based on memory usage, with higher figures for many individuals. Knowledge formed within memory is of great importance to the engineering designer.

It is important that in product development people not only have skills and knowledge in specific areas but also, through experience, the knowledge and skills to integrate other areas into their particular activities in product development. Someone may be a product designer but they need to be able to integrate both the consumer needs and production needs into their design. People in the product development team also need to have knowledge of the complete product development process and in particular the decisions to be made and the outcomes needed both from their activities and from the activities of the team as whole. There needs to be a shared understanding of the project and its problems on which the team is working, including a shared common language, and a shared organisational memory. The shared memory can be used to solve the present problems, and will affect the outcomes. But of course the whole team can become rather conservative if it has been together for a number of projects and can see only one way to solve problems. Their effectiveness is then reduced. This is important - teams improve with being together but if they are together too long then their product development becomes less effective. On the other hand, one should not keep changing teams too often, as they do not learn to combine their knowledge and develop group knowledge.

The benefits of shared models of the PD Process and the activities in it are true for all projects. The choice of members of a team and its organisation does depend on the level of innovation of the product. For radical innovation there is a greater need for creativity and often for specialist skills, but there is always a need for a wider knowledge of the different activities in product development. The aims of effectiveness and efficiency are always to be remembered:

• Effectiveness in a product development team relates to the degree to which the product meets the targeted need of the customer.

• Efficiency is defined as a measure of the resources (including time) used for a given output, often compared with some target or ideal (Madhaven and Grover, 1998).

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment