Friday 16 October 2015

Avoiding the forgetting curve - the Basis of Design document

I blogged last week about the forgetting curve, and how easily vital knowledge can be lost from the human memory. Here's one way in which the learning curve can be countered.

My post had a reply on Linkedin from Vladimir Riecicky, who wrote

"A forgetting curve is a very well known paradox in software engineering: A well designed software system does not require much maintenance and software engineers are not busy fixing its bugs. This is a good news for the maintenance budget and at the same time a bad news for the (expensive) engineering knowledge concerning the respective software design - it erodes since software engineers do not have to utilize it. At the end you are kind of lucky to have a certain level of maintenance just to keep the knowledge fresh. A depreciation curve of a software system in general is quite an interesting issue that keeps (clever) CIOs busy".

Not just in software design either -  in the oil sector the concept of the forgetting curve is well recognised. Whenever there is a hiatus of more than a year in drilling activity on an oilfield, performance is markedly poorer when drilling resumes, even when there is a well documented methodology, because the knowledge associated with that methodology has been lost.

In the oil sector, they counteract this with a document that they call the Basis of Design.

The basis of design is a simple document that tells you why an oilwell was planned the way it was. A well design is based on a whole lot of assumptions, many of which eventually turn out to be wrong. Unless you capture these assumptions, you can never understand the basis for the design. The document is written as a pre-cursor to the detailed plan, and then rewritten at the end of the well to capture best-practice thinking on the well design.

The BOD is rewritten after the well is drilled, and the difference between the pre-well and the post-well BoD provides a learning history for the well, and captures the new knowledge gained.

The “basis of design” documents, for each section of the well, “What is the objective of each design element for this section? What are the performance measures”?  This breaks the well plan down into manageable portions, and sets the context for the detailed plan, which will be based on the required objective for each element.

As one drilling engineer said, referring to the Basis of Design for his oilfield  - "I could move to this office and put out a quality well plan within a week based on this document, and there hasn't been a drilling rig here for two years".

The Basis of Design therefore counters the forgetting curve, by capturing the reasoning behind the methodology.

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