Do you know all of the organizational knowledge you need for your business? Is this knowledge readily available, or is it trapped inside one or two key employees? When you are implementing a Quality Management System (QMS) using the requirements of ISO 9001:2015, you are asked to consider the organizational knowledge you need and how to maintain it. Below is a bit more about this new requirement and how it can be addressed within your QMS.

What is organizational knowledge?

Under the overall heading of support, and the sub-heading of resources, the requirements for organizational knowledge are found in clause 7.1.6. To put this requirement in context, it is grouped together with other resources such as people, infrastructure, operations environment, and monitoring & measurement resources; so, the requirements are meant to highlight that organizational knowledge is one of the important resources that a company must understand and control.

There are some notes in the ISO 9001:2015 clause that explain what organizational knowledge is and what it can be based on. Specifically, it is specific knowledge to the organization, generally gained by experience, which is used and shared to achieve the objectives of the organization. This can come internally, such as intellectual property, lessons learned from failure and successes, or the results of improvements; or it can come externally from conferences, customer knowledge, or supplier knowledge.

Organizational knowledge: What does ISO 9001:2015 say?

The requirements for organizational knowledge within ISO 9001:2015 are threefold:

  1. Determine the knowledge that you need to operate your processes and make your products and services conform to requirements.
  2. Maintain this knowledge and make it available as needed.
  3. Consider your current knowledge when making changes, and determine how you will gain additional or updated knowledge if necessary for the changing needs.

So, this tells you what to do with your organizational knowledge, but how can you make this happen?

How can you capture the organizational knowledge of your company?

Every company has special knowledge that sets them apart from the competition, but how is this captured within your company? When this knowledge sits with certain long-term employees and is not captured, it is commonly called “tribal knowledge,” and while this can be powerful, it can be in danger of being lost when these employees leave the company.

So, how can you easily capture the organizational knowledge of your company? Here are a few simple ideas:

  • Work instructions: Of course, the most obvious way to capture this information is within work instructions. If you have a process that needs to happen in one specific way to avoid problems, and this can be written down and easily understood, then a work instruction can be one of the easiest ways to accomplish this knowledge capture.
  • Checklists: Another obvious capture method for simple knowledge is checklists. If the knowledge is comprised of a number of things to check before a job is completed, then a checklist can be a beneficial tool to use.
  • Training packages: Sometimes it is the main points of the process that need to be captured, and having this in some sort of training package can be the best way to record the knowledge.
  • On-the-job training: When the knowledge just can’t be written down, it can be beneficial to use on-the-job training where a senior and experienced person will transfer the undocumented organizational knowledge to others.
  • Knowledge database: Many companies leave lessons learned until the end of a program, and this can mean that designs in process miss out on the benefits of these lessons learned until much later. You can capture the knowledge or problems or successes that have occurred with a product or service by writing them into a database for review during design. In this way, the knowledge is captured right away and can be reviewed when the next product design is being created.

Using the captured organizational knowledge

Once the organizational knowledge is captured, you then need to use it within your system, especially during changes. Working the checklists and work instructions into your processes can be a challenge, but if everyone knows why you are asking them to do this, then the transition will become easier. Likewise, the training needs to be delivered consistently once it has been created. Update your processes to include the training and use of work instructions and checklists when you have a new person join the team and start working on the job in question.

The knowledge database is a unique idea in that it is a feedback mechanism into the design function, so you need to update your design process to ensure that you look at the lessons learned knowledge database during design and design changes to ensure that you have not missed a correction or improvement that has been identified and captured in the database. Learn to use this tool well, and you can improve your designs continually as you learn with minimal effort.

Organizational knowledge: An important resource

Thinking of organizational knowledge as a valuable resource can help to spur an organization into action, which can be critical to the overall success of a company. Too often, companies don’t realize what critical knowledge they have until one crucial employee is gone and processes stop working as they should. This can be an expensive way to learn the lesson of capturing and controlling organizational knowledge, so gain the benefit of the ISO 9001:2015 requirements and plan for organizational knowledge capture sooner rather than later; your organization will be better off in the long run.