Just in time (JIT) Knowledge Management

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Many companies in supply chain and manufacturing space shave benefiting from a Just in Time (JIT) inventory system.

The idea is that you can cut costs by only ordering parts or building products exactly when they’re needed. You then cut warehousing costs, labor costs, and raw material cost as you have less work-in-progress (WIP) or finished goods lying around.

How can knowledge workers benefit from this approach?

In software development specifically we often feel a constant need to fill our heads with the latest news, frameworks, and technologies. This can quickly become exhausting.

Our “warehouse space” (or mental capacity) is filling up with unused “raw material” (irrelevant information) that is labor-intensive to retain.

So some principles we can borrow from JIT Inventory Management

Simplification
Excess of any kind masks problems such as low quality raw materials, unreliable vendors, defects in machinery, and the like. Removing the excess makes problems apparent — Source

Select a few high quality information sources and focus only on those. Avoid following every blog post or every industry trend. Avoid “breaking news” in the space you’re interested in as the information is either (1) not well understood yet, (2) not publicly consumable yet, (3) not refined enough for real production use, or (4) mostly hype with no substance.

Quality at the Source
[Identify] and [correct] problems at the manufacturing stage itself, as soon as it occurs. JIT provides for jidoka through automation that caters to the automatic working of the assembly line and complete shut down upon detection of error — Source

Automate your exposure to your high-quality sources. Instead of being pushed content in real-time (push notifications, email lists, news articles, etc.), block of periodic time slots (an hour a day, or a few hours a week) to focus on pulling the new information.

Cellular Manufacturing System
[This] advocates that segmented and product focused manufacturing is much simpler than a linear process oriented manufacturing. JIT institutes strategic capacity management techniques such as multiple small machines instead of a large bulky machine that requires constant production for profitability and others towards this end” — Source

Practice strategic incompetence. i.e. it’s not necessary for you to know everything, but among your team you should collectively know everything.

This is necessary to avoid mental overwhelm. So delegate to team members to be SMEs on specific topics and periodically check in with them.

Respect for People
Success of JIT depends on identification of what the customer needs and fulfilling the request in the best possible manner” — Source

Avoid “learning for learning’s sake” — seek opportunities to bring a practical application of your learning to your customer, team, or company (for example, small proof-of-concepts) or just discuss potential use cases of your learning.

If it can’t provide value to your customer now, stop researching the topic and set a reminder to revisit in 6–12 months. You may just be too ahead of the adoption curve and you’re wasting your time with “hype” (see the Simplification principle above)

JIT Knowledge Management is all about acknowledging the constraints of the system (your mental capacity) and bringing structure to optimize your throughput (your knowledge work).

Software engineer and wellness advocate. My opinions are my own.