Knowledge (Management) Is Power

How ASG Co-founder Doug Koeneman transforms expertise into innovation in the medical device industry

ASG Co-Founder, Principal and Senior Consultant Doug Koeneman has always been interested in how things work. It’s his approach to making things work better that sets ASG apart.

Doug Koeneman

As both an engineer and a business owner, Doug thinks deeply about processes. For decades, he’s been focused on sharing his knowledge of technical and organizational systems to support the medical device community.

How do Doug and the ASG team deliver that know-how? Carefully considered knowledge management systems empower the ASG team to organize ideas and knowledge to amplify their clients’ vision.

Here’s a closer look at what knowledge management is all about, what it means to Doug and how it helps ASG and its clients thrive.

Recognizing the power of people

In school professors help students keep knowledge organized, but in the real world it gets tougher.

“In engineering school, I had a lot of resources available,” Doug said. “When I finished a semester, I had a pile of documents, books and exams. I’d ask myself, ‘Why am I keeping it? What benefit does all this stuff create for me now?’”

Soon Doug learned that people, more than textbooks, make an impact on the application of knowledge.

“When I had access to the right people and better understood the questions, I figured out what was important to focus on and helped others focus, too,” Doug said.

That’s when Doug’s broader vision for knowledge management came to light. “I went from being a follower to more of a leader,” he said.

Turning knowledge into solutions

Knowledge management is defined by experts as the process of capturing, distributing, interpreting and applying knowledge.

Turning knowledge into solutions involves applying data with its context.

“Wikipedia gives you insights or perspective about how other people see a term or a particular space or context that you’re interested in,” Doug said. “It doesn’t give you much, if any, guidance on how to apply that knowledge to solve problems or meet needs.”

Knowledge management aims to not only collect information and data, but to organize it in a way that makes it accessible and applicable.

“My take on knowledge management centers on building collective wisdom over time and harnessing that learning,” Doug said. “We want to avoid making the same mistakes. We also want to get better answers faster — and with less effort.”

Harnessing wisdom

At ASG, Doug empowers team members to be their best and keep growing through continuous learning.

“Knowledge management that’s not wrapped with a learning process is useless to most,” Doug said. “We’re focused on learning to understand the questions that need to be asked so we can produce the best answers.”

Curiosity is one of ASG’s core values, and to turn curiosity into results for ASG clients, team members are primed with a solid knowledge base integrated with our models.

“For the last 10 years, we’ve taken the existing knowledge of senior people and captured that to form processes and tools that we can use,” Doug said. “Harnessing that collective wisdom lets us learn, so the same mistakes don’t get made down the line, which allows us to define new areas for future knowledge management.”

The collective knowledge of the ASG team benefits everyone. “You have to be intentional about setting up your knowledge management process, how you collect information and organize it,” Doug said. Because it’s so well organized, team members can tap into ASG’s knowledge base as an extension of their expertise…and ask questions of our senior team members to better integrate and apply.

“As we grow, our value lies in the quality of the knowledge we have and how we access and apply it — not just in the availability of particular people,” Doug said. “That knowledge has to be documented and captured so people can use it to move forward, fast.”

ASG’s knowledge helps team members accomplish projects and tackle both details and big-picture issues. The medical device industry is highly regulated. There are a lot of i’s to dot and t’s to cross, but it’s also important to approach projects and production holistically.

“We like to take a systems engineering approach to our problems,” said ASG Development Engineering Technical Team Lead Logan Metzger. “This is not just looking at the small details of an individual problem, but understanding how it plays into a larger picture and the context as a whole. If we understand a whole problem, we can also provide a whole solution.”

ASG’s holistic approach requires dynamic thinking across all operations. “My contemporary view of knowledge management looks at things as systems using models as a way to collect and organize knowledge,” Doug said. “An emerging science within systems engineering is MBSE, or model based systems engineering. This practice provides language for capturing the first principles involved and relationships that put those principles into action.”

Sharing knowledge

If it’s not accessible, information from a knowledge base only goes so far.

Developing team members is a top priority at ASG. “Mentorship is about connecting people with experience and with practice,” Doug said. “Knowledge management helps formalize experiences from best practices to something that’s accessible.”

Mentors at ASG don’t don’t just pass on information, they empower their mentees toward independence. “We want our team members to take action without always having to have a one-on-one or a direct conversation with their mentors,” Doug said.

Even as they’re developing, team members’ talents benefit both clients and the company. “We don’t underestimate the ideas and the abilities of others,” Doug said. “The best modes of learning are not an individual sport, but a team sport.”

Learning doesn’t just occur for new team members; it’s for everyone.

“You can position an organization to unlock the team level to unlock the individual,” Doug said. “That’s triple-loop learning, which helps define the structure of a knowledge base and keep that base on target as a company grows. In order to create consistent business results, an organization has to make sure growth occurs at every level.”

High-level decision makers at an organization must establish goals and maintain a grip on whether the company is doing the right things. Team leads must examine whether or not they are doing things right by establishing business practices, norms and policies. Individual team members must be empowered to make decisions based on a business rationale and context shared by an organization’s leaders.

“If done well, it’s a very transparent process, but if done poorly you’ll find that organizational constraints will limit what people and teams can accomplish,” Doug said.

Maintaining quality

From test labs to manufacturing floors, systems engineering builds on the basics of science to create reliable results. Reliability is critical in the medical device field, where failure can become a matter of life or death.

As new technologies emerge, the ASG team puts them through the ringer to make sure they deliver consistent, reliable results. This process of verification is not only required, it’s central to determining the maturity of knowledge. That knowledge is then examined on a broader scale under the lens of industry regulations. “Many industries are satisfied with being capable,” Doug said. “We, at minimum, need to demonstrate compliance. It’s a step above.”

Once a product reaches the market, learning doesn’t stop there. In order to facilitate continuous improvement, models are also created to assess effectiveness and intervene if a process fails to deliver. Along with guidance from trusted regulatory bodies like the FDA, there are also plenty of proven models and resources that keep ASG team members from reinventing the wheel.

“When we start pushing the boundaries of science, we go to proven external resources to pull first-principles knowledge from them, and then tailor that knowledge through our processes to put it to work on projects,” Doug said. “We continue to refine proven models. We call this engineering research.”

That’s where ASG’s dedication to developing and honing new talent comes in. “We have a lot of fresh ideas from frontline people as they try to develop and understand our models,” Doug said. “They ask new questions, and our senior people help them shape those questions into application. That dialogue defines new areas for knowledge management where we can capture processes and practices to bring those into a quality management system.”

Caring for clients 

As an engineering consulting firm, ASG must effectively transfer knowledge to its clients. “To measure value, we assign attributes that are recognizable by the client, give them strategies they can connect to and, more importantly, communicate and anchor the value that we create,” Doug said. “If clients don’t have the ability to measure value in an organization’s language, then they have no context or ability to recognize that organization’s value.

ASG’s One Team philosophy was put in place to ensure everyone working on a project, ASG and client personnel like, is in accord. “We work collaboratively to accelerate technical innovation and transformation of knowledge into solutions,” Doug said. “As a team approaches an application or particular project, they can first go to our models and resources to find best practices and processes. We grab forms that can help guide people who need to be brought up to speed. This gives them confidence to work and create deliverables.”

Respect is a big part of the ASG One Team philosophy. “Along with models for engineering processes and regulations, we have models for client relationships,” Doug said. “Those models establish the attributes of good client relationships and are a foundational piece in the framework for value delivery. We share our experience and vision for everyone’s benefit.”

In other words, ASG’s culture helps drive its clients’ success.

“Sometimes you have to take a step back to say, ‘Okay, is there real value to ASG and the client in spending time there?’” Doug said. “’If not, is there something that advances goodwill or strengthens relationships?’ The gold is the money side of things. The glory is the relationship success as projects progress. You have to look at both.”

Learn more about how we use knowledge management to bring ASG’s values and expertise to life.