Knowledge Management Guide

Knowledge management is “an umbrella term for a variety of techniques for building, leveraging and sustaining the know-how and experience of an organization’s employees” (NCHRP 813 p. 1) to support organizational efficiency and effectiveness. An agency-wide approach that involves workforce planning, development of communities of practice, knowledge capture, project management, and information management strategies can build an agency’s knowledge base.

A successful knowledge management program will be championed by agency leadership, and will promote collaboration and the formation of knowledge communities, codification and dissemination of knowledge, and succession and talent management (Spy Pond Partners, LLC, 2015, p. 16). The following figure summaries key elements of an agency wide knowledge management approach identified in the NCHRP 813 research report.

Elements of an Agency-wide Knowledge Management Approach

Source: Spy Pond Partners, LLC, 2015, p. 16
Leadership & DirectionWhen agency leadership characterizes their organization as a learning community, they are acknowledging the role of knowledge management in the attainment of agency business goals. Institutionalizing knowledge management requires leadership to articulate support for knowledge management, designate a lead, clarify expected outcomes and provide resources.
Collaboration & CommunitiesAn organizational culture of learning provides all employees with opportunities to participate in knowledge sharing, mentoring and problem solving
Knowledge Codification & DisseminationKnowledge capture strategies are established to transfer critical, unique and at-risk tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge or shared knowledge, and systems for knowledge sharing are established to document standard operating procedures and lessons learned.
Succession & Talent ManagementKnowledge gaps can be addressed through recruitment, employee onboarding, continuous training, and succession management processes
The Need for Knowledge Management

The goals of an agency-wide approach to knowledge management include improved organizational efficiency and effectiveness, strengthened organizational resilience and workforce capabilities, leveraged external expertise, increased pace of learning and innovation, and reduced vulnerability to employee transitions (Spy Pond Partners, 2015).

As is true of most other state DOTs, NJDOT seeks to adopt approaches to knowledge management in an environment of rapid technological change, demographic shifts, workforce development needs, and considering the following:

  • The shift in focus from design and building road infrastructure to extending the capacity and efficiency of infrastructure.
  • Changes in workforce skills needed to adapt to new technologies. Pace of technology innovation requires training for an educated workforce to build competency and promote retention.
  • Federal innovation initiatives that encourage alignment of state transportation agency with available but limited resources
  • The aging workforce is leading to a loss of institutional knowledge.
  • Younger professionals may be particularly interested in affiliating with organizations that promote a culture of learning and innovation.
  • Adapting and modernizing information systems to match the learning culture of the newer generation are one means for attracting and retaining a workforce.
  • The importance of implementing knowledge management strategies to mitigate employee turnover was suggested in a survey of NJDOT employees administered in Fall 2014.

Virginia DOT

Working definition of knowledge management:

“Implementing ways to better utilize the expertise that we have—people and information—to improve ongoing processes and procedures and to retain critical knowledge”

The agency describes their general approach:

•   Getting the right knowledge to the right people at the right time;
•   Identifying, capturing, organizing and disseminating critical institutional knowledge;
•   Establishing networks between people to share knowledge;
•   Sharing lessons learned and best practices to avoid reinventing the wheel;
•   Knowing the “why” behind decisions and actions;
•   Knowing what we know;
•   Supporting change management; and
•   Identifying the intangible assets of the organization.

Hammer 2008, p. 2

A strategy for strengthening organizational resilience addresses the need to replace employees in critical positions who have left the organization or unit, to build the knowledge base of employees, to provide new employee training, and to encourage development of expertise and experience in mission critical areas. Assessing workforce strengths and weaknesses, identifying knowledge gaps, and preparing for changes associated with retirements and workforce demographics, can lay the groundwork for cultural change that values teamwork, collaboration and knowledge sharing.

The federal emphasis on innovation and shared research findings, and the Increased use of outsourcing and public-private partnerships present opportunities to bring knowledge from researchers, contractors and subject matter experts into the organization. Structured knowledge transfer strategies assist with this knowledge sharing. A focus on innovation and increased efficiency requires knowledge of best practice, access to experience of other DOTs, and support for knowledge transfer and knowledge capture within the agency.


Types of Knowledge

Knowledge management literature has defined “tacit’ and “explicit” types of knowledge to assist in identifying appropriate strategies and processes for knowledge transfer and knowledge capture.

Tacit Knowledge

Can be understood to be the “know-how, insight, judgment, and intuition” that reflects an individual’s education, expertise, and experience

May be difficult to communicate in a manual or written procedures, but may be communicated to another individual such as an apprentice, a mentee, or related to others in a community of practice or simply through working together in problem solving and decision making


Explicit Knowledge

Can be represented in written procedures, policies, databases, desk manuals, research reports, training videos and can be reposed in libraries, or on a website or an intranet

Knowledge shared in these ways contributes to the organization’s knowledge base, enabling employees to avoid duplication of effort and increasing efficiency and effectiveness

VDOT KM Toolkit, p. 3; Spy Pond Partners LLC, p. 50, 52

Knowledge transfer is a process of conveying tacit knowledge directly from person to person. Agencies adopt knowledge transfer methods to retain institutional knowledge. Experienced staff share knowledge of processes and procedures associated with specific jobs, knowledge of agency culture, and “the way things work.” Knowledge transfer methods that allow several individuals to benefit from the knowledge and experience of an individual include: expert storytelling or expert interviews; “boot camp” (a training session or sessions on a specific topic); best practices meetings; critical incident reviews or lessons learned; last lecture; and knowledge fairs.

Mentoring, job shadowing, cross-training, and on-the-job training are other techniques that provide opportunities for knowledge transfer from one individual to another in a specific role. Job rotation programs transfer knowledge between individuals in several units as participants rotate through units to become familiar with various agency functional areas (Caltrans KT Guidebook).

Knowledge capture transforms knowledge held by one person (tacit knowledge) into explicit knowledge, for example, into a video or procedure manual. Some examples include an expert interview that is recorded and transcribed or posted online as a video, and a critical incident or lessons learned database which serves as a repository for specific challenges met in project development and delivery. Recording processes and decisions that led to the incidents, and the subsequent resolutions, saves others from duplicating errors or reinventing the wheel. Maintenance of document repositories, physical or online, is critical to retaining institutional knowledge.


Organizational Culture

The culture of an organization determines how information is used and shared. A culture of trust and collaboration develops when Individuals are encouraged to share information and are given structures and opportunities in which to share knowledge and experience.

Each individual has a role and responsibilities related to knowledge sharing within the organization.

Senior Management

  • Champion knowledge transfer and knowledge capture
  • Support and recognize individual efforts throughout the organization and allow for the integration of knowledge management strategies into the working day
  • Address the perception that time and cost involved in knowledge transfer are substantial. Support the argument that the loss of knowledge is more costly to the organization than the time taken to retain this knowledge


  • Plan ahead for transitions by identifying individuals with essential knowledge that should be shared before  retirement or other departure from a position
  • Determine if the unit would be best served by knowledge sharing with one individual or with several individuals and the most effective means for transferring the particular knowledge (e.g. through mentorship, story-telling or boot camp)
  • Monitor and support the transfer process and recognizing the completion

Individuals with essential knowledge

  • Identify the knowledge that should be shared
  • Work with the Manager to develop a knowledge transfer plan incorporating the best method of transferring knowledge
  • Monitor the efficacy of the training in progress and adapt to ensure the knowledge transfer
  • Respect the time commitment made to the process
  • Document the process and the knowledge transferred

Individuals identified to receive knowledge 

  • Must be willing to engage in the process
  • Ensure that they are gathering all relevant information by asking questions, and through self-assessment to determine gaps in comprehension
  • Respect the time commitment made to the process


GNB Knowledge Transfer Guide for Managers


Steps to Establish Knowledge Transfer & Capture Processes

1. Identify Essential KnowledgeIn which positions would knowledge loss present the greatest threat to the success of the Team/Division/Department?
What knowledge is critical to deliver on current objectives? On future objectives?
Why is it important to transfer the knowledge? What would be in the impact on performance if knowledge was lost?
Is the knowledge inherent to a key position or key role within the work unit?
What would others in the work unit consider essential knowledge?
2. Identify Who Has the KnowledgeConsider imminent retirements and other departures.
Engage in long-term planning
Who is doing a unique job? Who has a unique set of skills or knowledge? Who is lead on major projects?
Meet with these individuals to identify essential knowledge and the person(s) who should receive the training/knowledge.
3. Identify to whom the knowledge should be transferredWho needs the knowledge to deliver value to the organization?
What do employees already know?
Clarify expectations, ground rules, roles, communication for giver and receiver.
4. Determine the best tool to capture and transfer the knowledgeWork with both parties to determine the most appropriate tools given the nature of the knowledge and the communication and learning styles of the participants.
Develop a knowledge transfer plan to identify tasks, actions and deliverables.
5. Monitor and EvaluateIntegrate knowledge transfer plans into operating procedures and performance
What outcomes do you anticipate?
Identify evaluation criteria
Specify reporting requirements
Coordinate a final meeting—review lessons learned

Strategies for Groups

These knowledge transfer strategies involve one person transferring knowledge to a group of people, providing an efficient means to reach people who can benefit from this knowledge.

Communities of Place

Communities of Practice (CoPs) are a proven knowledge management strategy. A Community of Practice is “a group of people who share a concern, set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interaction on an ongoing basis” (Wenger, McDermott and Snyder in Hammer, 2008). This collaboration and knowledge sharing results in transfer of knowledge and new technology which is then shared throughout the organization. CoPs can support problem solving and collaboration among participants in geographically dispersed locations. This interaction assists with identification of subject matter experts and provides access to their experience. Through regular interaction, participants create a “tight, effective loop of insight, problem identification, learning, and knowledge production” (Burk, 2000 in Hammer 2008). Within these groups, trust develops so that information imparted by participating subject matter experts is considered trustworthy and valuable. This level of trust supports dissemination of information. Informal networks may function within an organization, but the formation of a CoP implies leadership support and acknowledgment of the value of the strategy.

Communities of Practice

What• Sharing tacit knowledge to support problem solving and collaboration among participants in order to deepen knowledge and expertise.
Why• Creates a network of contacts
• Helps to identify subject matter experts
• Mechanism for sharing knowledge and new technology for the benefit of the organization
• Builds trust between participants which supports dissemination of information
When• Organized around a profession, shared roles, and/or common issues
• May be formed within a unit, with individuals in different units, or with individuals in various organizations
• Whenever tacit information can be shared to improve individual knowledge and support organization goals
How• Determine focus of the group
• Invite subject matter experts within the agency and in affiliate organizations
• Determine how often to meet and how meeting will occur
Strategies• Leadership must sanction the concept of Communities of Practice
• Participation is voluntary
• Management should not be involved in the group
• Focus is on sharing information, rather than taking action
NJDOT Examples
Links/ResourcesIntroduction to Communities of Practice
New Hampshire Knowledge Management & Transfer Model
Lessons Learned Database

A critical incident or lessons learned database serves as a repository for specific challenges met in project development and delivery. Recording processes and decisions that led to the incidents, and the subsequent resolutions can lead to process improvements, and revised standards and policies, thus saving others from duplicating errors or reinventing the wheel. This sharing of tacit knowledge enables the agency to manage risk through reductions in errors, and allows workers to see the rationale behind changes in processes and procedures, thereby increasing trust in the knowledge and information that underlie decisions. (Cronin and Hammer 2013).

Lesson Learned

What• A repository for specific challenges met in project development and delivery
Why• Provides documentation of a process and outcome that may help to identify a cause and effect
• Open discussions of critical incidents leads to new ideas for improved processes
• Provides the benefit of an individual’s experience and approach to problem-solving to others in similar situations
• Creates redundancy and avoids duplication of error and reinventing the wheel, leading to increased efficiency
When• Lessons learned should be documented at the end of a project process when findings are fresh
• Findings can also be recorded at strategic points in the process if delay in relating this information would be detrimental to the organization
How• Define characteristics of experiences that should be recorded in this database
• Describe process, what could have been improved as well as what worked
Strategies• Understanding decision-making process
NJDOT Examples• Program Management Office
Boot Camp

Boot Camp is structured to train multiple employees on a specific topic, process, or procedure at one time. A subject matter expert relates the information in a single session of short duration (half day or less) or over several sequential sessions on related topics. This strategy can be employed when introducing a new procedure, updating an established procedure, or refreshing knowledge of an established procedure to ensure that all affected employees have the needed information.

Boot Camp

What• A training session of limited duration (no more than 4 hours) on one specific topic, or a series of sessions on various related topics. A subject matter expert (SME) conducts the training which might address use of a new piece of equipment or a new process, or provides a refresher on some procedure that is applicable to multiple employees.
Why• An efficient way to train employees that gives an opportunity for all attendees to benefit from questions asked and answered. The instructor can gauge the success of the knowledge transfer.
When• A new process or instrument is introduced and multiple employees need to learn to use it
• Refresher training is needed for effective use of an instrument or process, or changes in a process require updates for users
How• Define topic area(s) to be covered. Identify a SME to present
• Develop presentation materials and assessment measures
Strategies• Ensure that the presentation and discussion stays on topic and that the training stays within the half-day time frame
• Ensure that all affected employees attend training
NJDOT Examples
Brown Bag Lunch

Brown Bag sessions are a recognized strategy for knowledge transfer. Such events provide an informal and low cost means for highlighting current and best practices, giving attention to new and emerging issues in transportation, and exploring the findings and implications of recent transportation research. These sessions involve a limited time commitment, but leadership support for the concept and time taken from work is necessary. Participants can suggest “hot topics” for future presentations through an end of session survey.

Brown Bag Lunch

What• Sharing tacit knowledge to support problem solving and collaboration among participants in order to deepen knowledge and expertise.
Why• Creates a network of contacts
• Helps to identify subject matter experts
• Mechanism for sharing knowledge and new technology for the benefit of the organization
• Builds trust between participants which supports dissemination of information
When• Organized around a profession, shared roles, and/or common issues
• May be formed within a unit, with individuals in different units, or with individuals in various organizations
• Whenever tacit information can be shared to improve individual knowledge and support organization goals
How• Determine focus of the group
• Invite subject matter experts within the agency and in affiliate organizations
• Determine how often to meet and how meeting will occur
Strategies• Leadership must sanction the concept of Communities of Practice
• Participation is voluntary
• Management should not be involved in the group
• Focus is on sharing information, rather than taking action
NJDOT Examples• Recent Tech Talk presentations: "The Autonomous Car and Our Disrupted Future" and “More than a Pretty Face(ade): Meeting Safety and Historic Requirements in Concrete Barriers”
Expert Storytelling/Interviews

As individuals leave specific positions, interviews or storytelling sessions can capture their experiences. Frequently, these employees know the history of their units and are able to share significant events or policy shifts that have shaped the unit and the way things are done. By providing background for a process, or procedure, or steps taken to work through a problem, storytelling can engage listeners who are in similar positions. Storytelling can communicate the rationale for change when introducing a new procedure or process, or a new way of looking at the work. Storytelling can support decision making, encourage buy-in, or help market an idea, process, or procedure.

Expert Storytelling/Interviews

What• One or more experts in a particular subject, program, process, policy, etc. share their knowledge with a group or an individual by way of an interview or storytelling.
Why• Storytelling will provide the context and nuance that a desk manual may not communicate, explaining the “what” and “why” of a process, procedure, or experience.
When• When an individual with unique experience, or in a mission critical position, is preparing to leave or retire
How• Define the information to be shared and identify the individuals who can relate their experiences and the audience.
Strategies• Before the session, ask identified audience members for topic areas or specific information they are seeking to help storyteller to prepare
• Recording these sessions can provide another means to access this knowledge as long as the recording is stored.
NJDOT Examples
Best Practice Meetings/Studies

Methods, processes, and strategies that are considered best practices will have been shown to be effective through implementation. Adoption of best practices results in time and cost savings, reduction in errors, managing risk. FHWA’s Every Day Counts initiative promotes the sharing of best practices among DOTs to support efficiency and effectiveness in deployment of new technologies.

Best Practice Meetings/Studies

What• Meetings/Studies describe practices that have proven successful or effective in other organizations and can be duplicated. Best practices may be adopted between units within an organization.
Why• To increase efficiency and effectiveness, adopt practices that are successful in other organizations
• Share current practices in use within the organization
When• Developing a new process, task, or competency
• Modifying an existing process, task, or competency
• Marketing a new process or a successful process within the organization
How• Identify knowledge gaps and sources of knowledge and information. Determine the study or meeting format and content.
Strategies• Topics can be identified through surveying employees or through communities of practice
• Define the best practices to be researched and evaluated
• Best practices should be transferable to the organization
NJDOT Examples2011 Peer Exchange Managing with Reduced Resources: Best Practices in Streamlining Processes; Knowledge and Technical Transfer and Collaboration Within a Dynamic Workforce Environment

Strategies for Individuals

These knowledge transfer strategies involve one person transferring knowledge to one other person at a time. These strategies are applicable when conveying technical details or information specific to a position or process.


A mentoring program can be an effective recruitment and retention strategy, and as such, should be supported by leadership. A mentor will be a senior staff member who functions as a coach, advisor, and teacher to a new employee or one who requests assistance and guidance in career development or personal growth within the organization. A mentor should be an individual outside of a mentee’s chain of supervision.  Both mentors and mentees can benefit from the relationship. Mentors benefit from identification as a role model, and can learn from the mentee’s questions and knowledge.

NJDOT’s Women in Transportation group runs a Department-wide mentoring program to encourage the sharing of knowledge and expertise among employees to build “a stronger, more adaptive organization.”


What• Mentors are senior staff who can assist individuals in working toward personal and professional goals and gaining knowledge of the organization. Established mentoring programs can support recruitment, retention, knowledge management and workforce development.
Why• Communicates knowledge of organizational culture
• Provides a reliable contact outside the immediate work hierarchy
• Guides individual in achieving career goals
• Aids in retention of talent
• Creates connections of trust within the organization
When• Individuals may seek a mentor when they wish to advance in a career, and when they need information on “how things work”
• Mentors listen, question, encourage, assess and help mentees develop greater professional skills to achieve personal and career goals.
Strategies• Mentors should have no performance management interest in the mentee.
• Mentoring may be effective in building stronger ties with new employees by pairing them with senior workers, thereby contributing to retention.
• Participation is voluntary
• Goals, objectives, and developmental needs identified at outset.
• Meetings and discussions are confidential.
• Ending the relationship at any time should be acceptable.
• Mentoring programs must be supported by leadership.
NJDOT Examples• Women In Transportation mentorship program, open to all staff. The group launched the program to encourage the sharing of knowledge and expertise among employees to build “a stronger, more adaptive organization.”
Structured On-the-Job Training

Structured on-the-job training provides a trainee with direct instruction from an experienced worker and hands-on experience of the job at the job site. A structured program defines specific tasks and skills to be learned and a sequence of learning to build on knowledge. Documentation of knowledge transferred is required.

Structured On-the-Job Training

What• Structured learning process that provides hands-on training of skills or procedures
Why• Provides trainee with job experience. An individual with experience provides training that includes procedural steps and communicates tacit knowledge.
When• Practical training is necessary to ensure knowledge acquisition and equipment and materials needed to learn the job are not available in a classroom setting or it is not practicable to teach in a classroom.
How• Determine knowledge to be shared. Identify trainer
• Develop step-by-step instructions
• Establish learning objectives and timeline
• Present the lesson and have trainee describe the task and perform the task with supervision
• Ensure that trainee can perform the task independently
Strategies• Instructors should have thorough grasp of the job and should be skilled in teaching and coaching. These individuals may need resources.
• Develop step-by-step instructions to ensure complete instruction. Follow up with trainee.
NJDOT Examples
Job Shadowing

This strategy can introduce workers to a particular position, and assist them with career decisions by identifying daily tasks, and the education and training required for a position and related positions. Workers will have a broader understanding of roles within the organization. Job shadowing serves as a coaching opportunity rather than a thorough training program.

Job Shadowing

What• A less experienced staff member follows a veteran staff member to learn the day-to-day procedures of a job, or aspects of a particular task, project or process.
Why• Provides learner with information about the organization and exposure to a particular position, possibly assisting individual(s) with career decisions. May be useful in workforce planning.
When• An individual seeks to know about a position in the organization.
How• Identify experienced staff member and individual(s) who will shadow. Determine knowledge transfer goals and timeline.
Strategies• Ensure that the experienced staff member is substantially more experienced and can provide, not only information on the job processes, but also job coaching. This is not a substitute for thorough on-the-job training; clarify up front the roles and goals
NJDOT Examples
Cross Training (Mobility Assignments)

Cross training allows employees to learn about other positions in the organization while maintaining their own position. Cross training programs can share employees across units or within units. Advantages include creation of redundancy for a position. In the case of cross training between units, the practice can improve knowledge of the function of other units and how the work in various agency units fits together, and development of personal connections to other units which can also facilitate knowledge sharing on common tasks or projects. This strategy may assist with knowledge sharing in anticipation of a retirement or other loss of institutional knowledge, or in the event of a short- or long-term vacancy. A successful program requires coordination, supervision, and mentoring.

Cross Training (Mobility Assignments)

What• Training an employee to do the work of another
Why• An employee familiar with a role can fill in for the permanent employee on a short term or long term basis
• This strategy can be used to help employees understand different functions within the organization and gain skills and knowledge
When• In anticipation of a vacancy or other short- or long-term vacancy
• Within a structured program, introduces employees to agency functions outside their units
How• A structured program will identify appropriate use, timeframe for the training, and evaluation metrics for participants
• Within units, training for functional redundancy
Strategies• Determine approaches to involve new employees, employees at mid-level, and for leadership development
• Ensure that supervisors have adequate time to oversee individuals in a cross training program.
NJDOT Examples• Mobility assignments have been used to alleviate worker shortages.


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