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In: Pawar, Kulwant S; Thoben, Klaus-Dieter; Pallot, Marc (Eds.

): Concurrent Innovation: An Emerging Paradigm


for Collaboration & Competitiveness in the Extended Enterprise. Proceedings of the 13th International Conference
on Concurrent Enterprising (ICE 2007), Sophia-Antipolis, France, 4-6 June 2007, pp. 329-338.

Expertise Transfer: A Case Study about


Knowledge Retention at Airbus
Frithjof Weber1, Eva Dauphin3, Renata Fuschini2,
Julia Haarmann2, Alexander Katzung1, Michael Wunram1
1
Airbus Deutschland GmbH , Hünefeldstr. 1-5, 28199 Bremen, Germany,
{frithjof.weber/alexander.katzung/michael.wunram}@airbus.com
2
Pumacy Technologies AG, Waldstr. 37, 10551 Berlin, Germany,
{renata.fuschini/julia.haarmann}@pumacy.de
3
Airbus France S.A.S., Toulouse, France, eva.dauphin@airbus.com

Abstract
Every time an engineer retires or takes up a new job with another company, there is the risk of losing relevant
expertise. In their professional life, highly qualified employees have acquired significant knowledge, e.g. about
products, suppliers, processes and customer relationships. This often unique expertise may be lost for good.
To address this situation and retain valuable know-how for further use, Airbus has developed the Expertise Transfer
approach. For two years this approach has been successfully applied in more than 100 cases, and this not only for
employees leaving the company but partly also for those moving to another department. The approach has proven
useful not only in the transfer from one person to another but also from one group to another.
The paper describes the Expertise Transfer approach and how it is being used to transfer knowledge and experience
in a targeted, structured and efficient way. A detailed case study illustrates how valuable knowledge could be saved
for the benefit of Airbus. In a qualitative and quantitative evaluation the satisfaction of the participants is analysed.
The success criteria are explained and a recommendation for the approach is given.

Keywords
Knowledge Management, knowledge retention, retirement, knowledge transfer

1 Introduction
Airbus is one of the world’s leading aircraft manufacturers. With an international workforce of
57.000 people and a global industrial presence, Airbus develops, produces, and supports aircrafts
from 100 to 555 passengers. With a track history of technological firsts that includes fly-by-wire
and the introduction of composite materials, Airbus is operating continuously at the forefront of
knowledge and innovation.
The organisation is strongly characterised by complex design and manufacturing processes,
distributed work across 16 sites and global subsidiaries, and a deep integration of suppliers in
all company processes. The paradigms of Concurrent Engineering and Extended Enterprising
are drivers for major company policies.
The aeronautic industry is an area where new product development and production are based on
very knowledge intensive processes. Engineers are working in a continuous tension, bridging
newest technologies and research on one hand, with profound knowledge and deep experiences
from long lasting programmes (with product life cycle of 30 years) on the other hand.
It is thus that Knowledge Management (KM) takes an important role in the company’s strategy
to strengthen its competitiveness. In a central organisation on the different engineering sites,
Airbus has built a multidisciplinary team bringing together competences from engineering,
sociology, linguistics, psychology, pedagogy, computer science and management science for the
development and deployment of Knowledge Management solutions. The team is closely
interfaced with the departments for information technologies, documentation, and personal and
organisational development.
Due to the knowledge intensity of above context, one of the most important business needs the
KM team has to address is the retention of knowledge and experience when employees are
leaving the organisation or changing positions. To address this situation, Airbus has developed
the Expertise Transfer (ExTra) approach that supports the identification and transfer of valuable
knowledge and experience and therefore allows its reuse by colleagues and successors. So far,
the ExTra approach has been applied very successfully in the case of retirements, job changes, or
changes in management positions.
Within this paper, the authors will present the ExTra approach from the perspective of its
practical application within Airbus. Chapter 2 will give an outline of the Airbus KM history and
today’s KM solution portfolio. In chapter 3 we will present the different elements of the ExTra
concept and describe the ExTra process. Chapter 4 will show a case study from an individual,
specific ExTra operation, and in chapter 5 we will provide extracts from a qualitative and
quantitative evaluation based on user feedback sheets. The conclusion summarises the success
factors and provides a clear recommendation. For a more detailed description of the ExTra
approach refer to [Katzung, Fuschini, Wunram 2006].

2 Relation to Existing Theories and Work


Airbus embarked on KM already in 1993/1994. In Germany, this was mainly triggered by the
negative experiences in a painful restructuring program (the Dolores project, 1993-1997), where
a significant number of experienced engineers were dismissed or sent into retirement. In this
situation a substantial amount of knowledge was lost for the company and had to be rebuilt with
a considerable effort. Starting with small bottom-up initiatives, the company investigated the
early concepts of KM and initiated first pilot projects [Hoyer 1999]. Since then, the KM
activities have been continuously extended, and the focus of its application has always been in
the Engineering department, the most knowledge intensive sector of the organisation [Haas,
Aulbur, Stautz 2000], [Haas 2000]. With the integration of the four national companies into an
integrated company and the merging of the national KM departments and KM solutions, the
topic obtained an additional boost and was then integrated into a major company improvement
programm (Route 06) [Mayrhofer 2007].
In its early phases, the KM initiative had focused more on the development of technical and
documentation based systems [Haas, Aulbur, Dhulappanavar, et al 2001], [Langenberg, Dotter,
2003]. In the meantime, more interaction-based solutions, which are based on face-to-face
communication and also computer mediated person-to-person communication, have been
introduced for achieving a balance between the codification and personalisation dimensions of
KM [Hansen 1999]. This corresponds to general trends in the KM community which has
recognised that human centred, interactive methods are more effective for transferring
knowledge [Hilse 1999], [Lave, Weber 1991], [Scholl, König, Meyer 2003]. The design and
provision of enabling environments and supportive conditions is thus receiving more attention
[Neumann 2000], [Schütt 2000].
Today, Airbus has implemented a portfolio of KM solutions with a blended approach, i.e.
comprising both solutions for codification and personalisation:
• KM Overall Diagnosis (KMOD): Identify your knowledge needs
• Yellow Pages: Find the expert
• Expertise Transfer (ExTra): Transfer knowledge
• Professional Networks (= Communities of Practice): Connect people to communicate
• RISE: Capture and reuse lessons learnt
• Knowledge Capture and Publishing (KCP): Capture product and process knowledge
• Business Search: Search across databases
• Innovation Management: How to create new knowledge
• KM Training: Learn about KM
The following chapters will describe how knowledge and experience are retained when people
are leaving the company (or positions) by using ExTra and the other KM solutions.

3 The Expertise Transfer Approach


The Expertise Transfer concept is based on four main elements (cf. Figure 1):
• a process, ensuring a systematic and standardised approach
• a transfer network, ensuring a stable embedment in the organisation
• a transfer cell, ensuring the professional operation of the individual case
• a variety of transfer methods, ensuring the appropriateness of the transfer approach for
the specific situation

Identification Knowledge Transfer

Transfer
TransferNetwork
Network Transfer
TransferCell
Cell

Kick-Off Action plan Operation Closure &


Identification Diagnosis Further
Meeting Implement. Development

Figure 1: Expertise Transfer concept

The main steps of the ExTra process are: operation identification, kick-off meeting, diagnosis
with action plan, implementation of the transfer actions, and finally the closing interview with a
feedback questionnaire.
The process starts with the identification of the person or group whose knowledge is to be
transferred. For that purpose, so-called transfer networks are implemented in the different
business areas. These transfer networks consist of local management representatives, HR
representatives and employees of the knowledge management department and meet typically
twice a year for compiling a list of candiates. The networks are a connecting link between formal
planning processes and informal notifications and such serve as an early warning system to
provide a long term planning.
If a candidate for Expertise Transfer is identified within a network on the basis of specific
criteria, the so-called transfer cell convenes at a kick-off meeting (cf. Figure 2). This transfer cell
is made up of the knowledge provider, the knowledge receiver, the direct superior and the
facilitator and process coordinator. The kick-off meeting is a major step in creating trust and
achieving a joint commitment.
In this step and in the further process, the facilitator and process coordinator plays a central role
and has manifold tasks: S/he ensures the correct implementation of the process steps, summons
the kick-off meeting, performs the diagnosis, prepares the action plan and makes sure it is
complied with, and facilitates specific transfer actions. In case of conflict between the persons
involved, the facilitator/process coordinator helps to resolve the conflict by considering all
interests in a balanced way.

Knowledge
Knowledgeprovider(s)
provider(s)

Knowledge
Knowledgereceiver(s)
receiver(s)
Management/
Management/Knowledge
Knowledge
Transfer
Transfercell
cell provider(s)
provider(s)work
workcircle
circle
Facilitator
Facilitatorand
andprocess
process
coordinator
coordinator

Figure 2: Transfer cell

After the kick-off meeting, the facilitator/process coordinator performs a diagnosis. In semi-
structured expert interviews with the knowledge provider, the knowledge receiver and other
persons who are working together with the knowledge provider (management, colleagues), the
requirements and objectives of the persons involved are identified in detail. In this step, the focus
is on the knowledge provider. The interview also allows management to integrate their strategic
views. At this point, priorities can and must be defined in terms of the type of knowledge
eventually to be transferred. The result of the diagnosis is a detailed action plan tailored to the
respective situation. This plan defines the specific transfer actions and is implemented by the
transfer cell.
The transfer cell uses different methods to facilitate and support the expertise transfer, depending
on the situation and needs of the employees involved (cf. Figure 3). The set of methods includes,
for instance, facilitated interviews/workshops, a structured summary of the lessons learnt and the
preparation of complex training modules.

• Facilitated Talks (Triad Talks)


• Transfer personal contacts and network
• Facilitated Workshops
• Write RISE Lessons Learnt

Action plan • Organize a “documents, archives and


Implementation devices clear out”
• Contribute to a book of knowledge
• Manage a forum including FAQ (helpdesk)
• Create / animate a training module/ lecture
• …

Figure 3: Transfer methods

At the end of this process, the success of the actions is evaluated by using a dedicated feedback
questionnaire. Should additional transfer actions become necessary, the action plan is completed
with further actions; otherwise the process is formally closed (closure phase).
The ExTra approach has similarities to some approaches, such as the “Wissensstafette”, a
comparable approach developed by Volkswagen Coaching and applied in several companies, for
instance Volkswagen [Haarmann, Burski 2003] and Voest Alpine [Güttel, Zeitlhofer 2005]. A
small differentiation is to be seen in the existence of the transfer network, which is explicit to the
ExTra approach.

4 A Case Study
Even though the following case study is not a typical one, we have selected it for this paper as it
demonstrates that even in difficult situations, the ExTra approach can achieve real benefits (in
contrast to the here described case, most ExTra operations run quite smoothly with a warm
welcome from all the participants, cf. the case study described in [Katzung, Fuschini, Wunram
2006]).
The case study shows that in some situations the implementation of ExTra requires first an
organisational intervention before an adequate Expertise Transfer can take place. Furthermore, it
points out the significance of the facilitator/process coordinator. For only the facilitator/process
coordinator forms the basis for successful knowledge transfer by making the diagnosis,
mediating between the persons involved (conflict management) and initiating corrections of the
work content.
(Data and names used in this case study were changed and made anonymous by the authors).

4.1 Persons Involved and Diagnosis


Mr. D, senior expert, aged 60, is going to take early retirement in nine months (knowledge
provider). Mr. B., aged 37, has been the direct superior of Mr. D. for two years. A knowledge
receiver is not known yet.
A preliminary telephone interview with Mr. D’s superior Mr. B. reveals that there has been a
hierarchical conflict between him and Mr. D., which, however, could be eased through mediation
by the works council.
The preliminary information, the course of the kick-off meeting, and the verbal comments by
Mr. D. suggest that towards the end of his career, Mr. D. has already distanced himself from his
job, his department and also from the whole company. This is as if Mr. D. wants to show by his
behavior and statements that he is still willing to do the work he is required to do within his
working time but beyond this no further commitment can be expected from him. The impression
gained during the kick-off meeting is confirmed during the first diagnosis interview with Mr. D.,
who himself says that he only reacts but doesn’t act.
The diagnosis interview takes a turn when Mr. D. starts talking about possible improvements of
the documentation of components related to different system developments of the older
programs. This is an area, he says, where others fall back on his knowledge still today. His
know-how will be lost for the department and the company when he retires. For years he has
been thinking about a project aiming at the comprehensible documentation of all components
used in the present and past. Furthermore, Mr. D. says, a process ensuring the timely information
of designers about existing designs should be established in order to avoid double work in the
future.
This project could save a lot of time and money. Although he had proposed this project on
several occasions to his superior, who was also convinced of the associated benefit, the project
has not been implemented so far. While the first part of the diagnosis interview is characterized
by lethargy, Mr. D. suddenly seems to be a totally different person: He describes with
enthusiasm how the project could be organized. It seems that this project is something he would
like to leave behind for his colleagues. When asked with whom he would like to do this project,
he prefers his new colleague Mr. E., who will be the knowledge receiver in the subsequent
transfer process. During the diagnosis interview with Mr. D.’s superior Mr. B., the
facilitator/process coordinator mentions the project proposed by Mr. D. and the chance to retain
expertise for Airbus.
The diagnosis interview shows that Mr. B. has already thought about how to familiarize Mr. E.
with his new job and that he is strongly interested, in principle, in retaining Mr. D.’s know-how.
From Mr. B.’s point of view, this new constellation, i.e. Mr. E.’s job familiarization on the one
hand and knowledge retention on the other, provides sufficient synergies and a cost/benefit ratio
reasonable enough to justify the project. Mr. B. confirms the benefit and his willingness to
support the project, and he emphasizes once again that the knowledge transfer should be given
special priority in the project.

4.2 Implementation of the Transfer Actions


To launch the project, a kick-off meeting is arranged, in which also Mr. E. participates for the
first time. This meeting is facilitated by the facilitator/process coordinator. In the following
months, the facilitator/process coordinator regularly organizes and moderates project debriefing
meetings. Continuous progress is made.
The knowledge brought to light is captured in the RISE lessons learnt database. A crosslink to an
already existing knowledge management project for the long-term archiving of knowledge is
created. At departmental level, the know-how related to the two specific areas of expertise is
transferred by means of presentations. As the months go by, some kind of mentoring relationship
develops between Mr. D. and Mr. E., which is not only restricted to the project.

4.3 Case Study Résumé


This ExTra case took an interesting turn: A work situation that was demotivating for the
knowledge provider could be changed into a stimulating work environment by slightly changing
the work content and uncovering hidden inspirations. This means that new aspects/challenges
were discovered and allocated to the job, which motivated the job holder in the performance of
his tasks:
• More social interaction: Mr. E. is assigned to Mr. D. to help him with the project. In this
way, knowledge can be implicitly transferred.
• New challenges: Mr. D. is no longer underemployed but can independently organize and
carry out a project.
• Meaningfulness: Mr. D. is given the opportunity to perform a project which is considered
as meaningful by him (and the organisation).
This was achieved through the facilitator’s/process coordinator’s intervention and a management
that enabled Airbus to retain its employees’ knowledge so as to save costs and improve the
quality of work. Furthermore, expertise will be transferred not only at the explicit level (e.g.
presentations within the department, documentation of knowledge in the RISE lessons learnt
database) but also at the implicit level (Expertise Transfer to Mr. E.).

5 Evaluation
The evaluation is based on the analysis of 30 feedback questionnaires that ExTra participants
(including knowledge providers and knowledge receivers) returned after the closure of the
operations (cf. section 3).
The participants confirmed that the right knowledge and experience was transferred in the
operations. 100% of the knowledge providers agreed mostly or completely that the most
important areas of expertise were included in the action plan (cf. Figure 4). Also 100% of the
knowledge receivers agreed mostly or completely that they received the knowledge they
expected (cf. Figure 5). This high level of satisfaction can be explained by the fact that due to the
guided questions of the facilitator/process coordinator, more knowledge areas were covered than
would have been without the ExTra process.
Knowledge Provider: The most important areas of expertise
were included in the action plan.
%
70
60
50 54
40 46
30
20
10
0 0 0
0
completely mostly agree partially mostly completely
agree agree disagree disagree

Figure 4: The knowledge providers agree that the most important areas of expertise were covered

Knowledge Receiver: I received from my


knowledge provider the knowledge I expected.
%
70
60
50 56
40 44
30
20
10
0 0 0
0
completely mostly agree partially mostly completely
agree agree disagree disagree

Figure 5: The knowledge expectations of the knowledge receivers were fully met

There was a large agreement that the introduction in the new job or position went better due to
the ExTra process. 52 % of the participants agreed mostly, 28% agreed completely and only 3%
disagreed (cf. Figure 6). This was also confirmed by qualitative statements from the participants,
who reported, for instance, a reduction of the introduction time of 25%.
Familiarization with the new job/subject was more effective
thanks to the ExTra process.
%
60
52
50

40

30 28
17
20

10
3
0
0
completely mostly agree partially mostly completely
agree agree disagree disagree

Figure 6: With ExTra introduction in a new position became easier

The participants’ acceptance of the ExTra process was very high. This was indicated by the fact
that 97 % mostly or completely agreed that they will recommend the ExTra process to other
colleagues (cf. Figure 7). When asked to describe ExTra in on sentence, more business benefits
were expressed
• “Expertise Transfer is a must for all changes in management positions and replacements
of experts”
• “Expertise Transfer retains Know How and ensures a smooth start for the successor.”
• “I could take up my new work faster due to the exchange of experiences in ExTra.”
• “Before, I could not imagine what „Expertise Transfer“ means and now I am positively
surprised at the structured approach and the achieved results.”
• “A very useful approach for handing over a complex task in short time to a successor.
Saves time on both sides.”

I will recommend the ExTra process to others


%
90 73
80
70
60
50
40
23
30
20 3
10
0 0
0
completely mostly agree partially mostly completely
agree agree disagree disagree

Figure 7: The ExTra process receives a high acceptance


Besides some smaller critiques that were mainly based on individual situations, several
participants criticised that the ExTra approach had been started too late. This could be identified
as the main axis for improvement.
The appreciation for ExTra both from management and employees has been that high, that
ExTra was awarded in 2006 with an “Award for Excellence” in the company internal recognition
scheme in Airbus France and Airbus Germany.

6 Conclusion
To date, Expertise Transfer has been successfully performed at Airbus in about 100 cases. The
approach is characterized by its flexibility, which is unmatched by any other knowledge transfer
approach. Thanks to the system’s inherent flexibility, the process can be adapted to the
individual situation so as to enable a successful knowledge transfer. Therefore, the main factors
for the success of this new approach are:
• consistent consideration of the individual needs of the persons involved,
• focus on interaction-oriented knowledge transfer methods, and
• organizational integration by means of the transfer network and the transparent process
with feedback loops.
Especially the interaction with the knowledge provider allows the knowledge receiver to
understand the context in which the experience was gained, and thus classify the experience and
make it meaningful. In this step, the facilitator/process coordinator plays an important role
because s/he analyzes the individual situation during the diagnosis and can therefore minimize
any factors disturbing the transfer process or create supportive conditions.
The experiences that have been described in this case study can be summarised in a clear
recommentation for any organisation that intents to embark on a Knowledge Management
initiative: Before you start any other other KM project, implement an ExTra (or alike) process in
your organisation – this will provide the fastest return on investment of all KM solutions.
In the coming years, the need for Expertise Transfer will increase even more with the retirement
of the baby boomers. With the upcoming demographic changes, extensions for a better
anticipation of inter-generative knowledge transfer will be necessary as well. A third
development axis is the combination of ExTra with our approach for Professional Networks
(Communities of Practice), which has already been applied for facilitating group learning
between different Aircraft programmes and between experienced and less experienced engineers.

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