Are we communicating reflection on knowledge management approaches in semiconductor industry
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Are We Communicating? Reflection on Knowledge Management Approaches in Semiconductor Industry. By: - Stephen Dun-Hou Tsai, Professor, National Sun Yat-Sen University - Ching Fang Lee, Assistant Professor, Shih Chien University

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Are We Communicating? Reflection on Knowledge Management Approaches in Semiconductor Industry

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Are We Communicating? Reflection on Knowledge Management Approaches in Semiconductor Industry


- Stephen Dun-Hou Tsai, Professor, National Sun Yat-Sen University

- Ching Fang Lee, Assistant Professor, Shih Chien University

- Mansour Amjadi, PhD student, National Sun Yat-Sen University

- Hong-Quei Chiang, PhD, Director of Taiwan Tobacco and Wine Corp.

Contact person: August 11, 2009


The Complexity of Semiconductor Industry


The typical trend:

Integration of Knowledge

Management (KM) and

Information Technology (IT)

for competitive advantages

(Grant, 1996; Kogut

& Zander, 1992)

  • Example: Xerox Corporation and the development of “Eureka” (Bobrow & Whalen, 2002; Davenport & Prusak, 1997; Nonaka, 1994; McDermott, 1999).


  • Conventional Approach to KM:

    • Introducing advanced information system,


    • Encouraging members to codify a systematic

      documentation of their experience (Alavi & Leidner, 2001)

  • The conventional approach resembles Resource-Based View (RBV) (Wernerfelt, 1984; Barney, 1986)

Prologue (4)

  • According to RBV:

    • Firms have different collections of physical

      and intangible knowledge and capabilities

      which RBV calls ‘resources’

    • Competitive advantage attributed to the ownership of valuable resources

      (Wernerfelt, 1984; Barney, 1986)


  • Contemporary Approaches to KM:

    • Knowledge can only emerge or created during

      real-time interactions and work practices

      (Kellogg et al., 2006; Tsoukas, 1996).

    • Knowledge is an ongoing product of practice (Orlikowski, 2002)

    • Knowledge and practice are not independent entities (Orlikowski, 2002, 2007; Wenger, 1998)

Research Questions

  • What are the challenges and difficulties implementing the conventional approach in troubleshooting?

  • What is the nature of organizational knowledge?

Research Method

  • Grounded theory techniques

    (Eisenhardt, 1989; Glaser & Strauss,

    1967;Strauss & Corbin, 1998).

  • Comparative analysis of two companies in Taiwan

    • ChipMaker and ChipTest (the names are pseudonyms)

  • The two companies selected are leading in semiconductor industry with some similarities

Research Method (2)

Data Collection and Analysis:

  • Adopt a process-tracing methodology

    • (Langley, 1999)

  • Qualitative ethnographic approach

    • (Golden-Biddle & Locke, 1993)

  • Observation of engineers’ practice:

    • Troubleshooting activities, installation procedure, routine maintenance

  • Interviews: KM team members, managers, and engineers

  • Research data included: ChipMaker: 83 interviews with 63 participants

    ChipTest: 26 interviews with 12 participants

Semiconductor Fab and Packaging Process

➊ Diffusion:

Repeat Similar Cycles


➍Thin film:


Sequence of production processes: Intellectual Property, IC design,

IC fabrication and IC testing.

IC fabrication process: diffusion, photo, etching and designing thin film

Knowledge Management Models: Two Case Studies

  • Case #1 : Object-Based KM (OBKM) model at ChipMaker

  • Case #2: Community-Based KM (CBKM) model at ChipTest

Case #1 : Object-Based KM (OBKM) model at ChipMaker

  • Introduction of Best Knowledge and Practice (BKP) model:

    • ChipMaker: A global supplier of semiconductor

      equipment and technological services.

    • Incorporating four key elements:

      • technology, strategy, personnel and process

        into a centralized KM system

    • Established a knowledge repository database: “BKP”

Case #1 : Object-Based KM (OBKM) model at ChipMaker (2)

  • Implementation of BKP:

    • 1) Recording work experience routinely

    • 2) Follow a systematic and structured format

    • 3) New knowledge logged into the BKP system

    • 4) Approved knowledge in BKP system was rewarded

  • Significant adjustments:

    • “knowledge exchange protocol” to improve communication

    • Development of “lessons learned” concept

    • Hired professional editors to make BKP more readable

Case #1 : Object-Based KM (OBKM) model at ChipMaker (3)

  • Paradox Consequences:

    • Successful quantitative indices of KM performance:

      • 1= Increase in the number of knowledge sharing submissions

      • 2= Reduction in time spent to identify valuable and workable knowledge

      • 3= Reduction on installation time of new equipments

      • 4= Increase of utilizing BKP and learning from the database

  • Contradicting Qualitative Comments:

    “It is impossible to write down my experience on-site in detail. I don’t have that luxury to sit down and spend time writing my best practice tips. To address a troubleshooting problem is like to save a life in an emergency”.

Case #2: Community-Based KM (CBKM) model at ChipTest

  • Introduction of Technical Knowledge Community (TKC) model:

    • Company: ChipTest: A global semiconductor manufacturer in Taiwan

    • TKC goal:

      • a) Accelerating the output & increasing the speed of R&D capabilities

      • b) Shortening the time of learning curve

      • c) Improving troubleshooting abilities

    • Creation of “Technical Knowledge Community” (TKC), based on engineers’ job functions and departments

Case #2: Community-Based KM (CBKM) model at ChipTest (2)

  • Implementation of TKC:

    • Four basic principles

      • Time-pacing

      • Flexibility

      • Direct participation

      • Evaluation

Case #2: Community-Based KM (CBKM) model at ChipTest (3)

  • Outcome: Shifting from passive to active participation

    • Senior engineers active participation, and sharing their own experiences

    • Participants’ new discovery and innovative ways for resolving work-related challenges and troubleshooting

    • Putting into practice the tips discussed in TKC and became convinced of the usefulness

Case #2: Community-Based KM (CBKM) model at ChipTest (4)

  • Some positive comments:

    • “I can call help from knowledge communities at the moment when I encounter tough technical problems. After discussion I have some alternative feedbacks which I couldn’t imagine before”.

    • “While I was preparing, I had to reflect retrospectively on the whole process of how I had tackled the difficult problems. It triggered me to rethink the reasoning logic. The direct feedbacks from participants not only gave me invaluable tips, but also revealed my professional myopia”.

    • “The TKC is like a platform of social networks. Though the knowledge content is important, the timely professional idea from others is even more attractive”.

Comparison of the two models

Discussion and Implications

  • In BKP (case #1), it is the individuals who learn and create knowledge. Organizational knowledge accumulates to construct a company-wide capability for troubleshooting by a workable IT system.

  • In this object-based model, organizational knowledge comes from coding the tacit knowledge located in individual heads and translating that tacit knowledge into explicit forms available to the organization.

Discussion and Implications(2)

  • In TKC (case #2), systems, database, and written artifacts are considered as records that can only become knowledge when people use them as tools or boundary objects in their process of gesturing and responding to each other

  • In TKC, new knowledge is not a given; it does not exist anywhere in the network in any form other than a potential, the form of which is to be unfolded by the experience of relating between agents at the local level.


Lessons learned:

  • Management’s role as ‘scene-setter’, not as a ‘scriptwriter’

    • Initiating some simple rules

  • Management’s role as ‘community builder’

    • Focusing on relationships and communities


  • Reflection:

    • Management’s role as ‘facilitator’

      • New voices: welcoming a wide diversity of views

      • Constructive dialogues: Encouraging communication across previously isolated knowledge sets

      • New perspectives: being open to new ways of seeing /doing things

      • New passions: fostering a sense of shared destiny in the organization

Thank you for your attention

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