Monday, August 27, 2012

Word from the Wise: Packaging Branch Preserves Past Lessons for Future


The U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center’s (ECBC) Packaging branch retired two influential members of its team at the end of 2011 - Nancy Waltman, previous Chief of the Packaging Branch and Dean Hansen, a senior packaging specialist.

With Waltman and Hansen having 60-plus years of combined experience, it would seem that 2012 would leave the seven remaining Packaging Branch team members with painful transitions and possible gaps in the knowledge base. However, thanks to strategic foresight on the parts of Waltman and Hansen, as well as excellent teamwork between the remaining Branch members, those 60 years of knowledge were able to remain, despite Waltman’s and Hansen’s departures.

“I think Nancy really understood the importance of retaining knowledge in an aging workforce,” said Ed Bowen, Strategic Planning and Business Operations Branch Chief in ECBC's Engineering Directorate. “As an original member of the Engineering Balanced Scorecard Core Team, she helped the group establish the IP 11 Retain Knowledge and Expertise Relevant to Core Competencies Strategic Objective as a part of the strategy. She put it into practice with her Branch as well.”

In November 2011, in an effort to maintain the momentum of the Branch’s success, Waltman and Hansen hosted Knowledge Retention workshops to pass on their combined 60-plus years
of knowledge to the seven remaining members of their Branch. Their first was a Stand-Down, where the Branch set aside their projects for the afternoon to meet in Waltman’s office and discuss the business operations and strategic management aspects of packaging work.

While hosting the Stand-Down was a more formal method for transitioning knowledge, Packaging team members say it was the everyday practices that set them up for success in the absence of Waltman and Hansen’s knowledge base.

“We were pretty involved in the kind of work that Nancy and Dean were doing before they left,” said Debbie Brooks-Harris, packaging specialist. “We worked alongside them rather than under them. That way, nothing was completely new to us, because they really shared the work and shared the processes with us. We didn’t have to start from scratch.”

Brooks-Harris said that working together helped build the team’s confidence to maintain momentum without Waltman and Hansen, and helped the team familiarize themselves with the work that goes on at the top.

“Keeping knowledge retention at the forefront is essential, especially at this time,” Bowen said. “With the Baby Boomer generation due to retire within the next five years, years of experience is due to walk out the door, but with concerted efforts such as in the Packaging Branch, all that does not have to happen. The IP11 Strategic Objective outlines several Directorate-wide solutions to keeping knowledge readable and accessible.”

Another BSC strategic objective that goes hand-in-hand with IP11 is IP10, Establish a Documentation Repository. “We want to ensure that we have historical documents readily accessible,” said Bowen.

Toward that end, Mike Brown is leading the initiative of scanning historical documents into a searchable format that is available to the Engineering workforce via a SharePoint site.

“The historical documents are very helpful,” Brooks-Harris said. “Sometimes it helps to look through older handwritten documents to learn how something was done in the past.”

The resources available have helped the Packaging Branch transition to working without Waltman and Dean, but hard work and teamwork have also helped the group move forward as well.

“It has been a challenge, and they are hard shoes to fill, but I think we have done well,” said Brooks-Harris. “Nancy and Dean are definitely missed, but luckily we still have a great team here who is able to step in when needed and do what needs to be done.”

“We all have our own styles and talents, so the way we combine our skills together to solve a problem may not be the tried and true method, but we end up discovering a new way to do something that is just as effective,” Brooks-Harris said.

In May, the Packaging Branch was awarded with the Packaging Excellence Award from work done in 2011 before Waltman and Hansen retired. The team is confident that there will be more awards in the future.

“Every day is not perfect, there are still struggles,” Brooks-Harris said. “Nancy and Dean had many, many more years of experience that we can not gain in just five months. It will take time to learn everything to their level, but we know we have the resources at hand to get to that point.”

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