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Capturing knowledge from lessons learned at the work package level in project engineering teams

Andrew Stewart Herbst (Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada)

Journal of Knowledge Management

ISSN: 1367-3270

Article publication date: 10 July 2017




The purpose of this paper is to describe the knowledge management (KM) loop process in a work package (WP)-based project engineering management method. The purpose of the KM loop is the routine capture of learnings to improve work practices in both the project and the firm.


A conceptual model for a project KM loop is developed by researching various KM theories found in the literature and incorporating the most applicable concepts and bridging any gaps in an attempt to overcome the reported impediments to learning in projects. A specific WP-based project engineering method (the STBQ method) is chosen as the framework for illustrating the workings and advantages of the KM loop. The author’s experiential judgement is used in applying selected academic concepts to create a KM process particularly useful for consulting engineering firms engaged in the detailed design phase of heavy industrial projects notwithstanding the fact that it may be beneficial in other project environments.


Completion of a WP can be used as a natural point in time for the collection of lessons learned (LL). At post-WP debriefing meetings, intuitive learnings can be contributed by individuals and interpreted in the context of the recently completed WP. When seen to be applicable, the project engineer integrates this newly gained experiential knowledge into the project’s job instructions for immediate implementation on other WPs remaining in the project scope. Through the project manager, these new or revised job instructions are proposed as candidates for new or revised standard practices to the senior managers of the engineering firm who can institutionalize them by approval for use in other in-progress or future projects.

Research limitations/implications

The KM loop described here is specifically intended to be used with the STBQ method where the 100 per cent rule is applied and where each WP sub-team is tasked with the delivery of their WP safely, on-time, on-budget and with no quality deficiencies as the criteria for success of their WP. A research limitation is that capturing learnings throughout the project does not solve the problem of capturing post-project learnings from design errors surfacing during construction, in commissioning, or after start-up during on-going operations and maintenance. Nonetheless, innovative ideas and improvements can be found during the detailed engineering phase and the KM loop captures these for intra-project and inter-project use.

Practical implications

The extra effort of decomposing requirements into WPs not only helps control project costs, schedule, quality and safety but also provides an effective way to capture knowledge from project learnings for intra-project and inter-project use.

Social implications

The lessons-learned sessions held at the completion of each WP provides an opportunity to provide motivation and morale boosting to the WP sub-team members.


This paper contributes what is believed to be the first WP-based KM loop in project engineering management using a specific application of the 4I framework of organizational learning. In addition, when applied in the STBQ method or any other method that uses interim WPs for both planning and reporting, the LL sessions can be pre-scheduled and budgeted separately from the subject WP. This helps to overcome the problem widely reported in projects that not enough calendar time or person-hours can be spared to attend the LL sessions.



Herbst, A.S. (2017), "Capturing knowledge from lessons learned at the work package level in project engineering teams", Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 21 No. 4, pp. 765-778.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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