InEight Global Capital Projects Outlook 2021: Optimism and Digitization

Effective knowledge transfer on a construction project

Russell Dunn
September 27, 2012

Work-packages are often handed over or transferred internally peer-to-peer within the project team, such as when team members leave the project, or when management re-shuffles responsibilities. In identifying and analysing the knowledge transfer process, it is apparent that traditional dot-point style handovers have apparent shortcomings.

The distinction is made between information and knowledge when considering the underlying importance of harvesting the team member’s tacit knowledge obtained from in-depth involvement and association with a particular work-package. When attempting a smooth transition or handover of a complex work-package, context and purpose are found to be key elements required to be explicitly conveyed in order for the receiving peer to achieve empowerment with actionable knowledge and the capacity to act.

A pragmatic approach is taken to develop high level tools and recommendations that could be implemented within a project team environment when aiming to optimise a smooth and effective transition while mitigating the adverse effects of lost project knowledge due to poor knowledge transfer practices.

For project team members, construction site offices often contain a fast-paced mixture of detailed planning along with last-minute changes. We have complex and dynamic interactions between clients, contractors and subcontractors often with intense time pressures, last-minute design clashes, material and product lead times, operational legalities, safety considerations, client/authorities red-tape, and the list goes on.

So what happens when a key project team member is about to leave the project, right in a critical stage? Specifically when a ‘key knowledge bearer’, (the person holding knowledge and information to be transferred), also know as ‘the Passer’, who has been working on complex designs, contracts or work-packages often for many months prior, is to leave the project indefinitely yet the work must be carried out, and the package must continue to evolve from concept to reality on site.

What usually happens when they leave? Where does it leave the remaining team members who are left to decipher the codes and pick up the pieces? What are the consequences to the project? Most importantly, is there a way to better prepare for a smooth transition?

Where this paper was written with construction projects specifically in mind, it is easy to relate these concepts to the generic underlying issues across many workplace sectors when faced with hand-over of complex and critical work packages within a project team environment.

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Russell Dunn
Russell Dunn has more than a decade's experience in structural drafting for engineering consulting firms in Australia and the UK and two years' experience working on a complex project worth more than $550 million. He has a Diploma in Structural Engineering, a construction project management degree and a Masters in Project Management.
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