Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Capturing the "know-why"

Why on car
Originally uploaded by openpad
One of the pieces of knowledge which is seldom captured is Why things are done.

We often capture design data and information, we capture process and procedure, and we capture what has to be done, and by whom. But often we omit the Why.

One example from my oil company days illustrates this - a team in one location identified a short-cut whereby a drill pipe could be safety and temporarily set in the seabed without the use of a (costly and time consuming) cementing operation. Another team picked up this idea and applied it in another location, the drillpipe sank below the seabed, and they had to spend days retrieving it.  The method had worked in the first location because of the firm mud on the seabed, rather than the loose sand in the second location, but this Why knowledge had been lost in translation.

If we capture the What of a technique, but not the Why, then

a) others can use it in the wrong situation or context
b) others can tinker with it, without understanding, and undermine the technique
c) when circumstances change, nobody knows how to adapt the technique
d) the technique can be applied long after it needs to be.

Its like the story of the cat in the monastery.
"When the spiritual teacher and his disciples began their evening meditation, a cat who lived in the monastery made such noise that it distracted them. One day the teacher ordered that the cat be tied up during the evening practice.
"Years later, when the teacher died, the cat continued to be tied up during the meditation session. And when the cat eventually died, another cat was brought to the monastery and tied up. Centuries later, learned descendants of the spiritual teacher wrote scholarly treatises about the religious significance of tying up a cat for meditation practice".

In this story, the practice has continued, because they lost the Why

So how do you capture the Why?

I have seen this done using a document called Basis of Design. This captures the rationale behind a design of equipment or design of a process. It explains Why the design is the way that it is.

 As one drilling engineer said to me, "With a good Basis of Design, I could come up to an old oil field field and put a quality well program together in a week, and there hasn't been a rig drilling here for two years".

1 comment:

Lisandro Gaertner said...

It is often lost on procedures created with cost or time drives concerning a particular moments in the history of the companies. Great article and great inspiration.

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