Originally Published December 14, 2019
This is the 51st article in the Profiles in Knowledge series featuring thought leaders in knowledge management. Patricia Eng is the first certified ISO KM auditor. She is certified to conduct audits on any or all parts of the ISO 30401 standard as well as pre-audit assessments.
An engineer by trade, Patricia first learned about knowledge management while on assignment at NASA when engineers discovered that vital information from the Apollo program had been lost. Upon returning to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), she was appointed Senior Advisor for Knowledge Management (2008–2013) where she created and managed NRC’s first KM program. The KM program saved NRC over 57 million dollars in its first two years of operation, respectively. As a result, NRC received the 2010 Merit Award for streamlining government operations using their KM Program. She has received numerous awards for her work.
Patricia has given presentations and workshops on how to prepare for an ISO KM Audit and how organizations can evaluate the effectiveness of their KM programs using the ISO standard or to prepare for a certification audit.
Before her involvement in KM, she served for over 25 years as an inspector/auditor of quality and safety programs in the nuclear industry, a writer of standards and regulations and received the Meritorious Service Award for Resident Inspector Excellence, the first woman so honored.
Patricia is an advocate for women engineers. She served on the National Academy of Engineering’s Committee on Women in Engineering, the Society of Women Engineers’ Board of Directors, conducted the first comparative survey of women and men engineers and is featured in two videos and three books on Women in Engineering. Patricia divides her time between the Washington DC area and Oxfordshire England.
- Accredited ISO KM Auditor / Speaker and Workshop Leader
In April 2019, she was accredited by the University of Texas Medical Branch as the first certified ISO KM Auditor. As such she is certified to conduct ISO KM audits of any or all parts of the ISO KM standard as well as pre-audit assessments. A long-time inspector/auditor, she worked with Chris Collison and Paul Corney to document the ISO auditor process and explain what auditors can and cannot do in the KM Cookbook: Stories and strategies for organizations exploring Knowledge Management Standard ISO 30401. She also developed an aid for use in conducting internal KM program assessments or for use in preparing for an ISO KM audit. She gives presentations and workshops on this material and is developing auditor certification materials for future ISO KM Auditors with the International Center for Enterprise Engagement.
Using her experience from developing and managing the NRC KM program and the knowledge gleaned from interviewing KM experts and thought leaders around the world, she helps individuals and organizations identify and prioritize areas of knowledge risk and assist them in developing organization-specific tactics to capture and preserve organizational memory. She also helps hone staff knowledge capture skills and assist in defining a business case for knowledge management with associated metrics.
In April 2017, the American Society for Quality published Navigating the Minefield: A Practical KM Companion that documents the hard won wisdom from successful KM practitioners around the world who have actually “done it.” In the book, she and Paul Corney identify commonalities in KM program design and implementing tactics so readers can benefit from the challenges, mistakes, and lessons learned from development of these KM programs. They also looked at successful programs that have faded or died and identify common issues that caused their decline.
After retiring from the NRC, she continued to speak and run workshops at KM events such as KM Australia, KMUK, and a number of nuclear industry conferences on the importance of being mindful of the aging workforce and identifying, capturing, and transferring their critical knowledge before their subject matter experts walked out the door.
- U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Senior Advisor for Knowledge Management, 2008–2013
Developed and managed NRC’s knowledge management program. Developed the KM business case; planned and implemented short and long term strategic KM initiatives; developed business process improvements; and analyze information and metrics to assess initiative effectiveness. Assisted agency executives in developing budget and staffing forecasts by reviewing existing staff skills and competencies against projected program and technology developments to identify gaps and develop resource projections for out years.
Developed KM strategic goals and implementation plans for capturing critical knowledge. Accomplishments included: setting up a virtual meeting pilot program; identifying high value, critical knowledge areas and associated subject matter experts and capturing SME insights via videos.
Evaluated agency technical and management practices for ways to improve and streamline agency safety reviews, staff training, and supported knowledge transfer efforts and streamlined staff qualifications processes resulting in savings of 37 million dollars in 2009 and 2010. Launched and managed NRC’s Knowledge Center including over 130 electronic communities of practice making information more readily accessible to all staff.
Affiliations and Honors
- U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
- Special Act Award, 2001
- NRC High Quality Award, 1996
- NRC Performance Award, 1995
- Meritorious Service for Resident Inspectors, 1989
- NRC Special Achievement Award, 1986
- Fellow, Society of Women Engineers, 1996
- Distinguished New Engineer (SWE), 1988
- Women in Engineering Committee, IEEE
- Diversity Task Force, NSPE
- American Society of Mechanical Engineers
- American Nuclear Society
- Association of Women in Science
- Steering Committee, Celebration of Women in Engineering, National Academy of Engineering
- Master of Science (M.S.), Science and Technology Policy, 2013, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
- Socioeconomic influences on science and technology policy matters and their impact on national infrastructure, business, and every day life and individual expectations.
- Master’s work on similarities and differences between women and men engineers, including analysis of NSF data on the U.S. engineering workforce.
- B.S; P.E, Nuclear Engineering; Mechanical Engineering, 1976, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- Engineering and Technology History Wiki
- Engineer Girl
- National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES)
- Something to think about when seeking certification to ISO 30401 Knowledge Management Systems
- Great KM Session at APHL Conference
- To ISO KM or not
- Navigating KM World
- Truth at the Advanced KM Class at Henley
- Great Workshop at Henley on ISO KM Standard
- The making of a KM Cookbook
- To ISO or not to ISO? What you need to know about the new knowledge management standard: ISO 30401
- Extending Knowledge Half-Life: The NRC’s Knowledge Management Program. SIREN: Seminar on Interdisciplinary Research and Education in Nuclear Emergency Response, Virginia Tech Department of Science and Technology in Society. 13 October 2015 — as quoted in Vincent Francis Ialenti’s dissertation
NRC knowledge management expert Patricia Eng has called these elder-experts “rehired annuitants” and discussed “retention incentive” programs to prevent their full retirement. Some organizations have worked to ensure that certain difficult-to-replace professionals have on-the-job deputy-doubles ready to take over in case of unforeseen vacancies. Eng has called this technique double encumbering.
Articles by Others
- Patricia Eng, Former NRC Senior Knowledge Management Advisor, Receives First ISO 30401 Knowledge Management Auditor Certification
- NRC’s Knowledge Management Program Receives 2010 Merit Award
- National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES)
- Find the Pain, Fix It by Patrick Lambe
- Social media helps NRC combat brain drain by William Jackson
- ‘Cut the crap’ and other lessons for new IT projects by William Jackson
- Engineer Girl
- The Changing Face Of Engineering? — How to Grow an Engineer
The Women In Engineering (WIE) committee within the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) did have some information about the demographics of today (and tomorrow’s) engineers. Patricia Eng was particularly helpful. Eng is the technical assistant to the director at the Office of State and Tribal Programs for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission as well as a graduate student at Virginia Tech majoring in science and technology studies with a concentration in policy and the sociology of science. Her role within WIE — an organization she proudly states has blossomed in three years from nothing to having 9,000 members — and her graduate studies focus particularly on demographic issues related to engineering.
As an Asian female who grew up in inner-city Chicago in the late 1960s, Eng was often told she “had two possible futures: I would either be a waitress in a Chinese restaurant or I would work in a laundry,” she recalled. “So here I am, an engineer. I work for the federal government.” But Eng finds attitudes aren’t all that different today from the 1960s. While people might not be as direct, she said, “Even now in my travels I encounter girls who are told there are things they should and shouldn’t do. Someone wouldn’t dare walk up to a young woman in the inner city in Washington, DC and tell her, ‘You’re never going to make it out of the District and you’re never going to amount to anything.’ Instead they might say, ‘A job at the local department store would be good and you’ll get benefits.’ You see the subtle difference? It’s not as direct as when I was younger, but it’s still subliminally telling them what they are supposed to be. The thing I love about WIE is that we view every female as an untapped resource. And we try to expose that resource to the fact that they have a choice about what they want to do with their future.”
For 40 years the IEEE has been a driving force behind Engineers Week, in which people in the field take time to do outreach for children at schools and in public spaces. Since its inception, WIE has expanded on this concept with Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day. “It’s important,” Eng stressed, “to get the word out about what engineering is. There is a lot of stereotyping out there. I do cool things. Most engineers do. Some of them are nerdy. Most of us aren’t any nerdier than anybody else. Do I envision getting more women engineers in the workplace in the near future? Yes. Do I envision that being much more than 20%? No. It takes 20 years to grow an engineer. You’ve got to start with girls in the second or third grade and help them realize for themselves [that] math is fun.”
knowledge et al posts by Paul Corney
Here are a few of the comments Patricia made:
You have to make the exec management think you are serving them but you are serving the workforce.
Don’t worry if you don’t have much money, what you need is PASSION, hang about the cafe. Replaces the old smokers room.
KM metrics? Ask the problem owner, help them develop the tools, go back and see if things are better.
The slide that caught my eye though was this one. Apart from the fact that Patricia’s efforts save $37m she rightly focused on the pain points one of which was around departing knowledge. It was a theme that came back a number of times and Patricia’s work inspired a similar exercise at Lloyds Register.
Patricia believes people who leave have different motivations for sharing what they know before the leave even if their departure is involuntary. I would group them into the following categories:
- Legacy/Notoriety: I want what I’ve done in the organisation to be remembered and passed on;
- Avarice: I want my CV to reflect what I’ve done and I see this process and the stories it generates helping me as a freelancer.
In fact this ‘What’s in it for me’ motivational issue is often overlooked by many KMers. And here’s where I disagree with many in the KM community who are convinced that if you get the culture right then knowledge sharing naturally occurs: There has to be something in it for people to be willing to share what they know.
- “Bringing the brain of the company to the field”: behind the scenes look at the production of our book
Patricia, who was previously Head of Knowledge Management at US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and my task is now to turn the material collected into, in her words:
The book I wish I’d had when I started
Which is why she and I spent time in Henley-on-Thames analyzing what we’d heard in the interviews.
Let me take a step back. It all began when:
I met Patricia in 2014 while I was chairing KMUK and she was a guest speaker describing the KM program she’d set up and run for the organisation that oversees the US Nuclear industry. Learning from near misses and from good practices while improving the way ‘newbies’ are inducted into the business had saved her organisation an estimated US$37 million while she was at the helm of the program.
About the same time I was running Masterclasses on Effective Knowledge Capture and Retention and seeing real interest from organisations who’d recognized the potential risk of knowledge loss from merging, downsizing and retirements or as a result of having specialist skills resident in a small number of individuals only.
After exchanging ideas post conference we felt we had sufficient synergy to begin collaborating on a book focused on Proven Knowledge Capture & Retention: Between Theory & Practice.
Though our combined experience is approaching 80 years of business with a significant slug in KM and related activities we wanted to draw on the experiences of great practitioners.
Establishing criteria / identifying interviewees:
We agreed it was important to approach people who’d actually done it and got their hands dirty: who experienced highs and lows and maybe also seen their programs wither on the vine after they or their sponsor left.
We knew many global practitioners, from chairing and speaking at/attending KM related events but we wanted to spread the net wider than our own sphere of influence so in effect conducted a virtual Peer Assist with senior global KMers and these are the criteria we set for selecting interviewees:
- A KM professional that actually built a KM program for an organization they worked in, as opposed to a consultant who was brought in to work on a KM program and then left.
- Have spent at least 2 years on the program.
- Primary person responsible for the KM program — interfaces with executives
- Can point to a clear ROI, e.g., productivity or monetary
- A KM professional who can speak to what constituted the ROI
Setting up the interviews, thinking about the questions:
In my Masterclasses I always stress how important the interview set up is. Apart from thinking about the where its always vital to give the prospective interviewee time to think about the answers and to tell them what the process is. Here’s the questions we asked:
- Tell me about the circumstances and the drivers behind the original knowledge retention program and who was involved?
- How did you go about determining what knowledge to try and capture/retain?
- Give me a brief snapshot of how you went about capturing it.
- What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome?
- How did you convince your management to go for it? ‘Business Case?’
- What difference do you think it made to your organisation? What was the actual return on investment?
- Is there a particular highlight you remember?
- Having done this if you had to do this over again what would you do differently?
- And finally what would you tell someone about to set out on a programme to capture and retain knowledge?
We also added:
- If there is one book you felt helped or inspired you what would it be?
Conducting and recording the interviews:
We had a list which grew from 12 to 18. Patricia volunteered to do the interviews (she is good at it) as we felt continuity in style was important.
We thought about using technology to help with the cataloging and analysis. Instead we agreed not to transcribe verbatim but to each listen to the interview and make our own notes / key points which we’d discuss face to face in January 2016.
We learned a lot (remembered a lot) about the importance of having technology back ups and also that many corporates don’t allow Skype. We found that taping the conversation proved good enough for us to listen to and that Dropbox was an effective and secure storage vehicle for the tapes.
Analyzing & Sensemaking:
What I found interesting, the varying drivers for starting KM across the interview base. Most were due to Risk, a lot were down to Innovation & Process Improvement, some were as a result of the CEO’s Vision and a couple because of Regulatory or Audit findings and a call to action.
- The Story of the book: A presentation at Petronas HQ KL
- Killing knowledge management: What to look for
- Organizational Knowledge: From Onboarding to Succession Planning
- Knowledge Management at the NRC
- The NRC’s Knowledge Management Program
- KMWorld Conference
- KMWorld 2019 W20: Preparing for ISO 9001 KM Standards
- KMWorld 2018 C104: War Stories, Insights, & Surprises
- KMWorld 2012 A201: Communication & KM Practice — Slides
- KMWorld 2009 A204: Social Learning Strategies: Best Practices from the Government & Military — Slides
- On Being a Knowledge Manager: Conversation with Patricia Eng by Patrick Lambe
- The KM Cookbook: Stories and Strategies for Organizations Exploring Knowledge Management Standard ISO 30401 with Chris Collison and Paul Corney
My Review: Chris Collison, Paul Corney, and Patricia Eng have written a practical and easy-to-understand guide to knowledge management. The KM Cookbook combines a helpful explanation of ISO 30401 — the first international KM standard — with methods, tools, and stories to support successfully implementing KM. It uses the clever metaphor of a restaurant to describe the KM standard, tools, and stakeholders. The KM Chef’s Canvas is included as a useful tool to assess KM programs applying the new standard.
- Navigating the Minefield: A Practical KM Companion with Paul Corney
- Review by Madanmohan Rao
- Review by Jerry Brong
- Review by Martin White
- Review by Nancy White
- Review by Patrick Lambe
I first met Patricia Eng when she was describing her KM program at the NRC at KM World in 2009 and was blown away by her candor, her common sense, and her ferocious determination to deliver value. KM practitioners go deep, KM consultants go broad. When you get an alliance between the two, and then add their formidable personal networks, you get something quite extraordinary. This is an unparalleled distillation of learning and wisdom from multiple continents and organization types, on how to go about implementing KM. It should be required reading for KM practitioners (and consultants), those who are new and those who want to reflect on their practice.