Improving the structural design process : a knowledge management approach
Knowledge is crucial for structural design, yet existing methodologies for managing it are neither comprehensive nor do they adequately address the requirements of structural engineers. This knowledge exists in different forms and repositories therefore requiring special consideration as to how it should be managed. Poor management of structural design knowledge can result in many problems such as increased design time, reduced quality and decreased scope for innovation. Knowledge Management (KM) remains largely unexplored within the context of structural design although it is a valuable concept. The research in this thesis was aimed at developing a structured approach to managing structural design knowledge. The research methodology adopted consisted of various methods. Literature on structural design and KM was first reviewed. Case studies involving thirteen organisations were then undertaken to investigate the potential of KM for managing structural design knowledge and to develop a conceptual framework and methodologies for formulating KM strategies and evaluating the impact of KM initiatives. Rapid prototyping (based on MS Visual Basic) was used to encapsulate the methodologies into prototype systems, which were evaluated by industry practitioners. The evaluation established that the systems do proffer many benefits to the construction industry and facilitate the development of a KM strategy for managing the very specialised knowledge of structural design. It is concluded that the process of structural design suffers from several problems where managing the tacit and explicit knowledge involved in the process did not receive adequate attention. The research also concludes that KM has the potential to improve the structural design process and that the framework developed and its associated prototypes help to clarify a KM problem, identify goals for implementing KM, develop a KM strategy and evaluate the strategy. The prototypes also support KM at both the strategic and tactical levels, unlike other existing IT tools, which support KM primarily at the operational level. Recommendations for future research include further improvement to the prototypes, additional evaluation using a wider range of real cases and integrating the two prototypes into one system.