Ensuring Knowledge Continuity during Employee Transitions
When people retire or transition from one project or program to another for career development and growth opportunities, they leave behind critical knowledge gaps for their teams and missions. The experiences and knowledge held by the valuable members of NASA’s technical workforce cannot easily be replaced. Transitions like these can cause stress and loss of productivity for teams and can present risks to projects and impact the likelihood of mission success.
This page provides resources to help NASA leaders and teams take steps to build a culture that connects employees to knowledge when they join a team and that retains the critical knowledge held by experienced personnel in advance of retirement or other transitions. These resources have been developed by NASA Center and Mission Directorate Chief Knowledge Officers and the APPEL Knowledge Services team based on NASA’s recent Knowledge Capture and Transfer study.
Setting the Culture
Mission success depends on building upon what we already know. Knowledge capture and transfer are integral to achieving NASA’s goals, and teams do well when they establish a culture that supports sharing and advancing knowledge at the outset.
- Knowledge Capture and Transfer Guide for Supervisors: An easy-to-use guide for NASA supervisors to help capture and transfer knowledge within their organization.
- Knowledge Management Planning Guide: Provides guidance for NASA project managers to develop meaningful knowledge management plans that bring value to projects, leverage available resources, are realistic in terms of cost and schedule implications, and are flexible enough to adjust to the evolving needs of the project.
- Knowledge Transfer: This simple guide explains the process of knowledge transfer and provides a basic framework for conducting knowledge transfer activities.
- Competency Model: Element C5.1, “Knowledge Capture and Transfer”, provides proficiency level definitions, illustrations, underlying skills, and fundamental knowledge required for performing knowledge capture and transfer activities at each of four roles in the NASA technical workforce.
Keeping Knowledge Current
It’s better to capture and maintain knowledge in the course of everyday work than to try to gather all the insights at the end of a process. Even more difficult is doing so at the end of a decades-long career. Here are some techniques for capturing knowledge in any organization, which can be modified to meet teams’ needs.
- Use onboarding passports and checklists to help new team members understand the environment, gather the knowledge they need, and connect with different sources of organizational and agency knowledge.
- Engage in technical mentoring and job shadowing Individuals can seek out a mentor whose experience or expertise he or she admires. Willing mid-late career practitioners can also offer their experience for the benefit of earlier-career personnel. Shadowing a colleague or peer is another opportunity to learn how experienced leads approach problems, run technical meetings or engage with partners, and then, consider how what is observed might apply to a team.
- NASA Public Lessons Learned System: Provides access to official, reviewed lessons learned from NASA programs and projects. These lessons have been made available to the public by the NASA Office of the Chief Engineer and the NASA Engineering Network. Each lesson describes the original driving event and provides recommendations that feed into NASA’s continual improvement via training, best practices, policies, and procedures.
- After Action Review or Pause and Learn: This approach to eliciting lessons learned and gathering insights from teams helps to ensure that the best information is gathered while all the participants are still available, and their memories are fresh.
- Maintain information systems containing responsibilities, roles, policies and procedures, documents, websites, key points of contact, milestones, and other duties for replacement personnel.
Maintaining Knowledge through Retirements and Other Transitions
When departures are imminent, prioritize the most critical knowledge to capture to support the team and the mission. When there is greater lead-time for a transition, consider ways to strengthen and reinforce knowledge among team members.
- Panel discussions and focus groups give experts the opportunity to have a dialogue with colleagues and contribute their knowledge through stories and interactions. When there is sufficient time to set up a panel discussion or group conversation, teams can benefit from having a shared experience and some members of the team will pick up insights that others might miss.
- Video capture can help illuminate the personality and experience of an expert. Video capture practices can range from one or a few long-form interviews to short snapshots of a specific practice or specific leadership advice. Using video capture reduces the amount of editing and review necessary for the interviewee, and it helps to ensure that the information collected is exactly what was said.
- Set up meetings and pre-exit interviews to help ensure that unique information, procedures, and documents are all identified. In these conversations, be sure to discuss lessons learned, points of contact, and any additional tips and resources that might not otherwise be documented.
The resources and guides below have been identified based on the recommendations of NASA’s Knowledge Capture and Transfer Working Group, which was chartered by the Agency’s Chief Knowledge Officer and led by representatives from multiple Centers and Mission Directorates. This activity was conducted in support of NASA Policy Directive 7120.6a, which requires the Agency to mitigate the knowledge impacts of workforce demographic trends and close anticipated knowledge gaps to benefit future knowledge users. The Working Group was convened between January and September of 2021, and the Ensuring Knowledge Continuity during Employee Transitions: NASA Knowledge Capture and Transfer Working Group Report was compiled and shared in December 2021.
The following resources provide additional support for these activities.
- NASA Policy Directive 7120.6a, Knowledge Policy for Programs and Projects: This Policy Directive establishes NASA’s policy on knowledge retention and outlines roles and responsibilities for maintaining program and project knowledge throughout NASA.
- NASA Knowledge Community: The NASA knowledge community is a vibrant group of practitioners who actively facilitate knowledge capture, storage, reuse and sharing across the agency. This resource lists all current Chief Knowledge Officers, Points of Contact, and their teams, so that each Center or Mission Directorate can easily contact the appropriate group to provide guidance or reach out to others in the CKO Community for relevant experience.
Tools and Guides for Ensuring Project Knowledge Continuity
When employees retire or transition from one project or program to another for career development and growth opportunities, they may leave behind critical knowledge gaps for their teams and missions. These resources provide guidance for managers and individuals to make the transitions and resulting transfer of knowledge more efficient.
- Knowledge Continuity for Supervisors: This guide encourages establishment of good knowledge sharing practices that can be applied through-out the life cycle of all employees – from onboarding through daily work and project progress, not just at project transitions or retirement.
- Help for Incoming Employees: New employees may have an extended period of work transition with access to the individual they are replacing, a quick transition period, or no transition time at all. In any case, there are things the new person can do by using these ideas and checklists to reduce their learning curve and make the transition more efficient.
- Assistance for Departing Employees: Whether departure is the result of retirement, a new project role or career change, individuals who are transitioning out of their position can take steps towards passing on their knowledge to others. Using the suggested activities here will enhance the hand-over of work products and processes for new incoming staff.
- Tools for Documenting Tasks and Roles: Completing a template that outlines the purpose, key tasks, work products and their locations, important milestones and contacts is a useful resource for anyone taking over a job because of a long-term changeover (a family obligation, work detail, or another extended commitment) or employee’s permanent departure. The template can be used for the entire job function or for individual tasks.