Irrespective of the significant role that knowledge plays within organizations, only a limited number of firms entirely comprehend what it entails to emerge as a knowledge-based company in line with ways of managing knowledge to realize the set goals. Knowledge management (KM) serves as a process that facilitates in the documentation and leveraging of shared knowledge within a company to assist a firm compete effectively (Liebowitz, 2012). In the case of many firms, they realize KM through embarking on various initiatives that target building an infrastructure and culture that links processes and people. Often, the initiatives depend on KM information systems, including expert databases and knowledge sources, to facilitate in managing knowledge within an organization (Pasher & Ronen, 2011). Nevertheless, although many managers consider KM initiatives are ideal solutions, only a limited number of them comprehend the challenges that KM initiatives should address. The result is that KM initiatives end up being expensive and frustrating to employees, as well as lack the emphasis needed to offer concrete value within a firm (Abou-Zeid, 2007).
The reality is especially striking in the event of notable research during the past decade, which targets appropriate understanding of knowledge and practices for improving KM. In this sense, it becomes appropriate to break down KM within organizations into major processes, which include knowledge development, storage, transfer, and application. Nevertheless, a growing body of researchers is realizing that numerous structures, processes, and resources inside a firm interact to influence KM initiatives (Bali, et al., 2009). KM should not be perceived as a number of projects or a one-time initiative, but a vibrant set of practices and processes entrenched in both structures and people. Hence, it would be possible to manage organizational knowledge by viewing it holistically as a set of processes, people, and technology rather than a set of technology-based systems or individual processes of knowledge. Therefore, a firm should consider taking ideal steps for implementing KM as a combined set of people, processes, and technology (Mingers, 2006).
The paper discusses the systems thinking initiatives by Pratt Whitney Rocketdyne (PWR) in terms of supporting knowledge management in the diverse operations it undertakes. Pratt & Whitney serves as one of global leaders in the manufacture, design, and servicing of industrial gas turbines, aircraft engines, and space propulsion engines (Surhone, et al., 2010). During 2005, the operating profit of the company was approximately $1.4 billion and revenue of over $9.3 billion. The employee base of the company is more than 40,000 and supports over 9,000 clients situated in 180 nations. Since its founding, PWR has managed to diversify its products from small engines that power regional aircraft, corporate jets and helicopters to commercial jets for airlines that power over 40 percent of the passenger aircrafts globally (Chun, et al., 2008).
PWR operates as Pratt & Whitney’s subsidiary that lays emphasis on the manufacturer of space exploration and rocket propulsion engines. The company hires engineers in to process groups as well as assigns them to product groups. The assignments that product groups handle might last between six months and five years based on the projects scope (Chun, et al., 2008). During their entire careers, the engineers are advised to shift between six packages and eight product groups to allow them diversify their skill sets. Traditionally, the company evaluated scientists depending on the success of their projects, thus leading them to have minimal incentive for sharing the knowledge they possessed with other teams. By contrast, the structure motivated the scientists to hoard knowledge inside their unique product teams or programs (Surhone, et al., 2010).
In the case of PWR, it encountered a harsh reality whereby over 50 percent of engineers operating in the aerospace industry would be eligible to retire by 2007. Here, PWR embarked on initiatives aimed at retaining and utilizing knowledge management, which it would have lost. Nevertheless, the firm encountered insignificant benefits. Thus, during 2001, PWR went ahead to introduce major activities that would allow it to revitalize its KM through utilizing systems thinking, which follows a holistic and integrative viewpoint of KM. As a result, PWR managed to enjoy tangible opportunity and cost savings of around $25 million (Chun, et al., 2008).
Before 2001, every scientist in a product team or program possessed unique ideas concerning how they would manage knowledge, thus resulting to knowledge silos in line with superfluous knowledge duplication. While undertaking a diagnosis study, the company realized that of the generated knowledge, 30 percent was replicated in a different location within the company. Moreover, a unique generational gap existed that prevailed between newly hired and seasonal employees, which resulted to the emergence of unwillingness for sharing knowledge. As such, limitations prevailed concerning the capacity for learning from prevailing knowledge. Therefore, to address the gap, it would be ideal for PWR to embark on a systems thinking initiative that would allow it handle the issue of knowledge management effectively (Chun, et al., 2008).
Within any firm, organizational metaphors work in the background although they have significant influence on how we perceive organizations and have considerable influence on how decisions are made. Therefore, it is a good idea to develop awareness concerning how metaphors shape thinking inside a company. Metaphors serve as tools that allow individuals within firms to visualize things through distinct perspectives (Wylie, 2006). They facilitate in establishing connections that exist between reality and abstract thoughts. They might also establish a clear understanding concerning the vague things prevailing within an organization (Mills, et al., 2006). Therefore, as human beings, we should focus on understanding the different situations prevalent within the society and reveal our encounters through linking the conditions with descriptions that match with our beliefs in line with prior experiences. The figure below illustrates the diverse metaphors within an organization.
Figure 1: Organizational Metaphors (Hitchins, 2008)
From the figure, the diverse metaphors that can be applied in organizations comprise of organizations as organisms, machines, cultures, brains, psychic prisons, political systems, instruments of domination, and flux and transformations. Applying metaphors in the context of organizations is appropriate as they serve as ideal learning tools. They facilitate in the transfer of broad information amounts. Metaphors also provide individuals with opportunities for allowing individuals to receive information as well as interpret it in their unique terms. In the context of PWR, therefore, metaphors would emerge as appropriate tools for governing its operations (Buono & Jamieson, 2010). In this sense, it would be possible to categorize PWR as a brain metaphor. This is because as significant knowledge and information amount is produced, it would be possible to circulate it within the entire organization, thereby make notable improvements within the company in terms of boosting knowledge management (KM) initiatives. Nevertheless, it is worth laying emphasis on the drawback of perceiving PWR as the brain. It usually challenges the conventional hierarchical structure of a company in line with the individuals holding real power. Applying the ideas in this sense would demand as shift of mind and power in the case of all members apparent within the company.
2. System of System Methodologies (SoSM)
The SoSM refers a widespread grid, which usually exhibits a range of complexity in line with the diverse participants’ range to pinpoint the diverse problem scenarios or situations (Hitchins, 2008). As for the horizontal axis, it depicts the diverse stages that PWR can follow in its KM initiatives. The Vertical axis portrays the strategies to follow for each stage in the implementation phases.
Figure 2: SoSM (Chun, et al., 2008)
Figure 2 depicts five major problem contexts in line with the appropriate metaphors, which would address the prevailing KM problems for PWR. After evaluating PWR in the perspective of the SoSM table above in line with the existing participants, as well as matching it with the brain metaphor, the organization can address the existing issues through directing the resolution of the problem to the Viable System Model (VSM).
3. Viable System Model
The setting that companies undertake their operations is usually complex mostly because their operating environment is dynamic and ever changing. The interlinked environments in line with the moderated informal associations result to continuous as well as rapid changes. Here, the repercussions are unpredicted demands, which require the management of firms to be flexible as well as prepared to deal with the unanticipated challenging situations (Ríos, 2012). Traditional strategies of management might not cope with the multifaceted organizational settings. In this sense, the VSM serves as an ideal solution, since it targets the challenging external and internal situations in line with the capacity of the VSM system to allow firms cope with the rapid changes. VSM lays significant emphasis on adaptation mechanism, control, as well as communication.
Analysis Using VSM
As for the VSM model, it relates to three parts of an organism that are constantly interacting, including organs, muscles, the nervous system in line with the surrounding setting. It targets the key activities within a company, which allow an organization to undertake its operations efficiently while other parts operate in harmony. Here, the environment reflects the outside setting.
The VSM revolves around three major concepts, including variety engineering, black box strategy, and self-regulation through loops for feedback. Hence, to ensure that the VSM system manages to realize viability, it is essential to have five systems. Concerning the case of PWR, the VSM system will entail the following stages.
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