Frequently Asked Questions


What is Knowledge Harvesting and how did it originate?

Knowledge Harvesting is an interview-based approach for extracting tacit/implicit knowledge from experts. It was formalized as a methodology in the mid-90s. It was the result of extensive experience in creating commercial-grade and custom electronic performance support systems (EPSSs). EPSSs are applications that help a ʻlearner learn it and do it – at the same time.ʼ

We worked with subject matter experts to create learning software. After several products and requests for custom applications, we realized that the actions necessary to produce the result (the software) were valuable in themselves. So, we began to pay attention to how we crafted questions and facilitated conversations with experts. Eventually, patterns for effectively organizing information became evident and replicable.

What companies have implemented Knowledge Harvesting?

Knowledge Harvesting has been implemented across a variety of industries, geographies companies and cultures. Clients include Chevron, BP Amoco, F Hoffman LaRoche, Lyondell Chemical, SC Johnson & Sons, Georgia Pacific, Halliburton, DOW Chemical, and Steelcase (See the Clients tab for a full list of clients).

In what situations or contexts is knowledge harvesting typically applied or most effective?

Knowledge Harvesting has successfully been applied in thousands of sessions with top performers in all kinds of work processes. Our “sweet spot” is uncovering deep hidden insights, “gut feel”, and intuitive knowledge that is typically used in solving difficult, complex or unpredictable problems. Examples of know-how elicited include:

  • Develop new products or process innovations.
  • Repair, troubleshoot and diagnose faulty equipment.
  • Anticipate, and proactively respond to critical operational issues.
  • Predict customer purchasing behavior, determine weaknesses of product/ service offerings and identify new innovations that meet customer needs.
  • Monitor external environment and translate issues into action – look at competition, economic trends, political and regulatory issues, technology innovations, social and cultural changes.

Describe a typical engagement.

Companies typically begin knowledge harvesting with a Strategic Focus where we identify and prioritize critical knowledge areas. This is followed by a phased approach or pilot project focused on 3-5 critical knowledge areas and 3-10 subject matter experts.

If looking at a top performer with 30+years experience who is about to retire, what is realistic to capture?

With about 12-16 hours of focused collaboration, it is realistic to produce a depiction of the expert’s mental model as well as two or three detailed sets of guidance about vital (previously undocumented) personal processes.

How long does a project take?

A typical project – which focuses on one process and one or two subject matter experts – takes about four to six weeks. Some projects can be completed in one week. A few projects have lasted as long as long as seven months. Here are the variables which influence project duration:

  • Is the expert readily available?
  • What is the extent of existing documentation?
  • Are there staff people available to assist in gathering existing documentation and scheduling?
  • How do you determine what knowledge to harvest?
  • The preliminary Strategic Focus work is designed to ensure organizations identify and prioritize critical knowledge in their organization and focus knowledge harvesting efforts where they are likely to get the biggest bang for the buck. The KH methodology includes evaluative criteria and tools to help organizations quantify risk and opportunities.

What is the role of information technology in Knowledge Harvesting?

The use of information technology is most prominent during the Packaging stage (after focusing, finding, eliciting and organizing.)

The eliciting activities of Knowledge Harvesting are collaborative person-toperson events in which ʻdeepʼ implicit knowledge is articulated. Templates or any other IT-based resources are never as effective as having a live, concerned person to guide the expert during verbalization.

What influences scope and duration of Knowledge Harvesting projects?

The work associated with Knowledge Harvesting projects typically varies according to these dimensions:

  • Is the focus well-defined or might it change?
  • What is the extent of existing documentation?
  • Are contributors easily identified and recruited or difficult to find and engage?
  • What is the cycle time of the target process and how does this influence the duration of Knowledge Harvesting project?
  • How many people will use the packaged knowledge asset?
  • What is the variability of ROI (narrow, as in efficiency or wide, as in innovation)?
  • What is the extent of startup work?
  • What is extent of secondary sources of useful information?
  • What should be the pace (timing of Knowledge Harvesting sessions)?
  • What is the relative emphasis on different types of knowledge and information?
  • What is the estimated life time of the produced knowledge assets (until time that some adaptation is warranted)?
  • What about packaging information elicited from an expert? How does this work?
  • Usually, the packaging choices are significantly influenced by the organizationʼs existing information technology. The company will have an electronic document management system, workflow application, learning management system, or portal environment. A frequently-encountered drawback to these standard systems is the ʻunit of measure.ʼ Most systems rely on documents as the standard way to organize, tag and package content. Often, a document is too ʻbigʼ – it does not offer enough granularity to reflect the detailed information that is captured during Knowledge Harvesting.

Is there a licensing fee for using the methodology?

Yes. Knowledge Harvesting licenses the methodology and provides training for staff of companies which incorporate the capability into their organizational processes.

Will employees in our company be trained to do knowledge harvesting?

Knowledge Harvesting believes strongly that in order for Knowledge Harvesting to be 100% effective, it must become institutionalized in the organization. That means there are internal knowledge harvesting consultants who learn the process and practice the skills on a regular basis. Knowledge Harvesting offers training, and mentoring as well as ongoing support and community tools for Knowledge Harvesting practitioners.

Can anyone learn and do Knowledge Harvesting?

Itʼs rare to find someone who can individually accomplish all activities associated with focus, find, elicit, organize, package, evaluate and adapt. Usually, an organization has a Knowledge Harvesting team and divides the labor based on strengths of team members.

Are there other knowledge retention choices we can use to deal with retiring employees?

In our experience there are a number of ways organizations deal with knowledge loss resulting from retirements.

  • Traditional training
  • Job shadowing and mentoring
  • Ask the SME to “write down what you know”
  • Technology focused “fill up the database”
  • Communities of practice
  • Rehire the SMEs
  • Knowledge Harvesting

How does Knowledge Harvesting compare to other alternatives?

Knowledge Harvesting is a structured, results-driven process for capturing vital knowledge, including deep insights and cognitive processes. Our methodology ensures capture of Declarative, Procedural,Contextual and Social Knowledge. Other programs tend to focus only on declarative and procedural knowledge.

Who is Knowledge Harvestingʼs competition?

There are many, varied types of companies that perceive themselves as competition. Usually, our competition tends to focus only on declarative and procedural knowledge. Others may excel in one dimension of knowledge asset development; they are good at elicitation or organizing information or packaging information. It is rare to find a company that possesses a mature, effective approach to all development tasks. Remember, this is the only thing we have focused on for over 17 years.

What is unique about the Knowledge Harvesting approach?

We document the experts’ thinking process (where as similar processes produce only procedures and documentation).

What is the return-on-investment of KH projects?

Knowledge Harvesting projects typically yield a seven to sixteen-fold return on investment. A method for calculating return-on-investment of Knowledge Harvesting was created by Dan Fredericksen and Larry Wilson. Dan is a master Knowledge Harvesting Consultant who also possesses significant accounting and financial expertise. In addition, two professors (from Wake Forest and Auburn University) reported on the return-on-investment potential of a variety of KH projects. They were drawn to Knowledge Harvesting projects because other examples of knowledge management initiatives have failed to show tangible return. Read about results in Assessing the Business Value of Knowledge Retention Projects: Results of Four Case Studies.

How have long-term clients benefited?

With long-term clients, the outputs from Knowledge Harvesting serve as the foundation for “operating systems” which transform management practices, individual learning, and organizational learning processes.

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