Tribal Knowledge Hurts Manufacturing Businesses

Author: Vincent Bull in: Business Solutions

How Tribal Knowledge Is Hampering Your Business

February 11, 2019

Running a manufacturing business is a delicate balancing act of many different factors and stakeholders. You have to ensure you have enough materials to make your product, that you can deliver it on time, and that your invoices don’t remain outstanding.

Those are all obvious hurdles that need to be cleared when looking to optimize your business.

But what about those hidden issues we don’t think about?

There are several other lesser known problems in any manufacturing plant that might be hampering your efforts to improve your productivity. One of the most potentially damaging ones is tribal knowledge.

This silent efficiency killer can severely impact your production process, limit your output and make training new employees a time consuming process.

So what is tribal knowledge and how is it harming my business?

What is tribal Knowledge in Manufacturing?

Tribal knowledge is the unique experience, know-how or piece of information that is not widely known by all employees within a company. In other words, it is the knowledge “passed down” through word of mouth from employee to employee that often assists with their work duties.

In many cases, tribal knowledge is actually vital to the continued successful day-to-day operations of a manufacturing plant.

It could be the exact timings of a particular process, or the unique quirks of a particular machine that aren’t in any manual. It could even be in the personal dealings between a salesperson and an important client, like any established deal terms or special discounts.

Tribal knowledge is essentially any information related to the running of your manufacturing plant that is locked inside of an employee’s head, as opposed to written down or logged on a computer.

Whilst developing your own experiences and knowledge around a job you do every day is inevitable, it can actually harm the business if this knowledge is not shared with everyone.

How does tribal knowledge harm my business?

Tribal knowledge can negatively impact your manufacturing business in a variety of ways. This can include, but are not limited to:

Lost productivity

Due to the private nature of tribal knowledge, your plant can be left in the lurch if the employee who has that knowledge is sick or leaves the company.

If there is only one person that knows exactly how a process works, or exactly what has been said to a client, and then that person is no longer available to the company, this can have serious impacts on your productivity.

If the employee is just sick, your productivity will only be impacted for a couple of days, but should that employee no longer be under your employ, you can be stuck having to train a new employee entirely from scratch without the benefits of that tribal knowledge.

Obviously this situation will negatively impact your ability to meet production quotas or engage effectively with your customers, and there is a knowledge gap that has no way of being filled without simply waiting for the new employee to discover it for themselves.

Erroneous information:

Whilst tribal knowledge is usually accurate, there are instances where this experiential information is actually false or misleading.

For example, should one of your employees read a gauge and believe they have read it correctly and nothing bad happens as a result of that, they will likely continue to repeat that process. However, if they read the gauge incorrectly and were simply lucky that nothing went wrong, that tribal knowledge they have just developed is actually incorrect.

The problem lies in the fact that tribal knowledge is not spread amongst all employees and management, and thus does not have to face the checks and balances that other processes would have to.

This can lead to the continued passing down of this false knowledge and your productivity could suffer as a result.

Hampers process analysis:

Undertaking a process analysis is a good strategy for any manufacturing plant looking to improve their productivity.

This involves taking a holistic view of all aspects of production, from how the raw materials are processed to how the final product is assembled.

Tribal knowledge represents a gap in that process, as what it pertains to is known only to the employee that has is stored in their brains. This means that any attempt to get a complete picture of how a plant functions will fall short, as they will always be missing that piece of information.

Subsequently, any potential optimization efforts will not be able to take that knowledge into account, and will possibly provide fewer benefits than they could otherwise. When efficiency and productivity are crucial in the increasingly competitive manufacturing space, a plant needs all the help it can get to maintain its edge over the competition.

Now that we know what tribal knowledge is and why it is undesirable, how do we go about clearing it up?

Onramp Solutions’ ERP

The solution to the tribal knowledge problem is a bespoke manufacturing ERP. Onramp Solutions has developed an intelligent ERP specifically designed to eliminate tribal knowledge and make the manufacturing industry smarter.

Tribal Knowledge Capture:

When Onramp Solutions begins the ERP installation process, time is taken to first extract all of the unique information related to your business that is tied up in your employees’ heads.

Our exclusive knowledge capture process involves sitting down with every employee and conducting an extensive interview and questionnaire about anything related to their work.

This ensures that when we begin to put together your custom manufacturing ERP, we are covering all of the vital aspects of your particular business and the processes that keep it running smoothly.

Integrated Systems:

Once we have all of that tribal knowledge transcribed digitally, Onramp Solutions develops a completely bespoke ERP built with deeply integrated modules, designed exclusively for your business.

All of our business modules speak to each other seamlessly and intelligently, leading to smarter decisions and a more comprehensive overview of your plant and how it is performing.

Being able to place an inventory order, pay the invoice, track the package, and have the stock automatically updated into the system presents a huge saving in time and productivity, and ensures that everyone who needs to has access to that knowledge.

By utilising the tribal knowledge we captured at the beginning of the process, we can ensure that our modules are tuned specifically to your needs and that all employees can share that knowledge quickly and easily.

Designed Exclusively For Manufacturing:

Onramp Solutions was born out of a frustration with other ERPs that did not take into account the specific intricacies and challenges faced by manufacturing plants today.

After years of trying to find “hacky” workaround solutions for preexisting ERPs, we decided we had enough experience to build our own completely from scratch.

The result is an entirely customized ERP to meet the needs of the modern manufacturing business. We developed special modules for everything from accounting to inventory management to customer sales, all with the key principles that drive manufacturing in mind.

Thus, when we combine your tribal knowledge with our custom built manufacturing ERP, we can create something truly revolutionary that will change the way you run your business forever.

Manufacturing ERPs are the modern solution for a centuries old problem. With Onramp Solutions, we can capture all the vital tribal knowledge that helps your business to run, and give it to everyone in the click of a button.
If you’re ready to see what the future of manufacturing looks like, contact us today.


  • Vincent Bull

    Vincent Bull is the current VP of Sales and Marketing at On-Ramp Solutions Inc. On-Ramp provides comprehensive, flexible fully integrated ERP, MES software solutions to manufacturing and services based companies. He is seasoned in the interaction between software solutions and pairing that with helping human resources improve their abilities to increase their production capacity. Vincent has a passion as well for sports such as basketball and has long been a supporter of such initiatives as The Guelph Board of Approved Basketball Officials. He also has volunteered at Special Olympics Ontario, for a host of different sporting events. Vince is a graduate of Georgian College in Ontario, holding a degree in Computer Programming.

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