By: Leslie Stevens-Huffman
Experienced contractors have discovered foolproof ways to transfer solutions, methods, procedures and designs over the course of an engineering assignment.
Naturally, they follow the firm’s protocol for archiving drawings and recording design-related information and changes. But savvy veterans take additional steps to leave a navigable trail for future engineers to follow.
“Don’t keep notes in your head,” says Rutvij Kotecha, a material science product development engineer currently on assignment at Amgen. “Even small design changes create dependencies that have to be managed, so document every change to components, prototypes and products.”
Here’s a list of knowledge transfer tips from veteran engineering contractors:
Start on Day One
Make sure you understand the company’s knowledge transfer protocol and systems from the outset, Kotecha says, since the documentation process at an oil refinery might be completely different from the process at a biotech company.
Be organized from the start. Otherwise, it may be difficult to recall critical details if you wait too long to document changes or notes. What if you miss a day or can’t finish an assignment? Drawings are helpful, but they’re not enough, Kotecha adds. Create a chronological history of decisions you make and why, including the tools you used.
Menno Gazendam is a big fan of collaboration tools such as MediaWiki and Evernote. The civil project engineer who is a knowledge transfer aficionado and blogger says, “It only takes a couple of minutes to enter a note about something that happened that day. Everyone on the project can read the threads in real time, so they encourage collaboration.”
Plus, unlike emails, notes entered into a collaboration tool can be tagged with keywords so they’re searchable long after a project ends. If the firm doesn’t provide a collaboration tool, use Basecamp or see if there’s a repository for notes or a chat room in the project management software.
Contribute to Closeout and “Lessons Learned” Reports
Gazendam reviews the lessons learned by previous engineering teams when starting a new assignment. Their tips and insights help him avoid previous mistakes and save money, especially when working on large civil engineering projects that have lump sum contracts.
For instance, he was able to save millions in equipment rentals during a recent assignment by heeding the advice and recommendations of previous engineering teams.
“I’ll contribute components such as checklists, communications and documentation for the closeout and lessons learned report during an assignment,” Gazendam says. “After all, no engineer wants to make the same mistakes when you’re brought in to revamp a major piece of equipment or drainage system.”
Your efforts may help future teams save time and money, which will definitely add a feather to your contractor’s cap, he adds.
Note Successes and Failures
Don’t just focus on problems and solutions; document best practices and things that helped the project go more smoothly so they can be repeated in the future.
Communicate with Colleagues
Make a habit of sharing key insights with teammates, project managers and coaches as they occur, Kotchea says. You never know where a water cooler exchange may lead. You may be asked to participate in a lessons learned meeting or outline your findings in a video.
Finally, leave your contact information so engineers who follow in your footsteps can reach out to you with questions. After all, knowledge transfer is a learning process that never ends.
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