Tuesday 19 June 2007

Case Study: General Motors

The General Motors Variation-Reduction Adviser: An Example of Grassroots Knowledge Management Development

[Alexander P. Morgan, John A. Cafeo, Diane I. Gibbons, Ronald M. Lesperance, Gulcin H. Sengir & Andrea M. Simon]

What is the case study about?
The case is about the V-R Adviser – one of GM’s takes on KM. The project was meant to help in dimensional control in a vehicle assembly centre and it appeared to succeed.

What is the organisation?
General Motors is one of the world’s leading carmakers, having surrendered the top spot to Toyota only this year. It has about 60 assembly centres worldwide and plans using this system in at least some of them.

What are the technology issues?
The company is big and its environment is very heterogeneous spanning many locations and technologies. Also, the existing Knowledge is very often hard to structure and codify which poses additional challenges.

Who are the principal actors?
GM employees.

What types of data were collected?
Process documents, lessons learned (solved problems), observations, message log. Also, expert Knowledge was captured in form of cases.

From which sources did they come?
GM employees and their records and documents as well as work processes.

How was the data recorded?
Since the system was using a case-based reasoning (CBR), the collected data was organized in form of cases. It was captured by both externalization and combination processes.

What was the situation previously?
The problems could be fixed only by experienced staff and even they had to consult other colleagues and some documentation. Very often it required a lot of speculations on possible causes and fixes which nobody was sure about.

What innovations have been introduced?
The mainly tacit Knowledge existing in Dimensional Management team was captured and structured. It was done with help from within the user communities which were organised as Communities of Practice. The system popularity was largely based on the user acceptance of the idea itself and being part of developing this idea into something really useful.

What were the general outcomes of this innovation?
The system was deemed a success and was planned to both get improved and distributed to other GM locations.

Are there any legal, social or ethic issues associated with this innovation?
Overcoming Knowledge hoarding could be a problem for any KM initiative but in this particular case there seemed to be no mention of it which can be attributed to the taken “grassroots” approach where the idea was to promote KM bottom-top rather than top-bottom. Also, centralized control was intentionally sacrificed in favour of emergent sharing behaviour inside Communities of Practice each of which was driven by a dedicated Knowledge leader acting as an evangelist.

How has the organisation changed as a result of innovation?
Since the KM experiment was on a small scale, there doesn’t appear to be any immediate global impact on how the organisation is structured or doing its business. However, V-R Adviser, did an impressive job in its environment and was spreading across to other departments.

What went well in this innovation?
· The climate within the company was fertile for this type of KM initiative and the organisational culture seemed KM-enaled;
· Users accepted the system;
· Users actively contributed to the system;
· The bottom-top approach seemed to work well for such kind of KM tasks;
· The existing tacit Knowledge was largely externalised and preserved.


Joan Hoffman said...

Can you tell me where you found this Case Study, please

Colin Mooney said...

Hi Joan,

Thank you for your comment. This case study was presented to me during my MSc classes by one of my lecturers.

I have uploaded the full pdf version Here.

Hope this helps (let me know!)

Kind regards,
Colin Mooney