Institutional Memory for Manufacturers

March 25, 2021

Company growth. Adding to your team. Audits! These are all reasons that you may want to build an institutional memory strategy for your manufacturing business.

If you’re a young business, it can feel funny to be thinking about your business’s institutional memory—something that even some Fortune 500 companies don’t get right. Today, we’re going to share some of our best reasons for incorporating an institutional memory strategy into your business plan, and how an ERP like Wherefour can support that strategy.

Institutional memory is sometimes defined as the stored memory within an organization, or a collection of information about the tools, techniques and records that make up an organization’s history and knowledge. Very often, governments and big companies will have processes in place to store these memories, but it can be useful for companies of all sizes.

Some of the core reasons for maintaining robust institutional memory practices are outlined here:

  • To record research and development work.
  • This may seem obvious, but so many companies go through iterative design processes, and don’t have methods of sharing that process with their team in the future. This can lead to repeated trials with the same parameters over and over again, especially if the results aren’t maintained for future (or current) team members to access.
  • To build a sense of history and identity.
  • Strong, successful companies have a keen understanding of their mandate and mission, and maintaining records of how and why certain decisions came to be help define the roadmap for what kind of company you will be in the future.
  • To preserve knowledge that withstands company turmoil and turnover.
  • For example, in 2020, nearly a hundred thousand jobs were lost in manufacturing each quarter in the US (Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 2021), posing a significant risk as businesses found themselves operating with smaller teams in order to see their business through the pandemic.
  • To mitigate the challenges of employee turnover.
  • It’s not always bad to try something again every couple of years, but it’s definitely not efficient. Especially with how career trajectories are turning out these days, with fewer and fewer “career” employees that stay at an organization for a generation, it can be useful to have information systematized and catalogued for everyone to view in the future.

What are the core components of an institutional memory strategy?

There are three core components of an institutional memory strategy. First, it’s important to create this strategy with your team. Buy-in from your company team members will help create a robust strategy—and remember, this is about making their jobs easier too!

Second, create a plan to ensure that the strategy is maintained and shared with future employees.

Third, have a technology-enabled process to support your strategy. Paper files may have been the way of the past, but there’s nothing like being able to pass debrief documents from the past to your current team members, enabling them to have an easy and simple way to learn what the company “already knows”.

Some of the questions that you might pose while building this strategy are:

What are you doing effectively now? How do you want to record that?

This is a great way to start, on a positive note, capturing everything that you and your team are proud of doing. It can highlight processes that go unnoticed, cement good manufacturing practices and indicate where a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) might be missing, if what is effective currently isn’t being recorded.

When do you want to capture information?

This will depend highly on your business. Define some key checkpoints where your business can take away important learnings. This may be debriefs after audits and mock recalls, post-holiday or busy seasons, or a return-to-work period as you onboard or bring staff back from layoffs. Major business changes can be difficult to navigate, but having a set of tools and history to rely on will make it much easier to move forward.

Another, more practical point to capture data might be machine maintenance, health and sanitation inspections or general management meetings. At all of these points, your business will be learning something about itself, and having that data to make informed decisions in the future could be crucial.

What information do you want to capture?

In businesses where individuals make up parts of key processes, it can be challenging to decide what to record. For instance, interpersonal data is by nature difficult to put to paper. In particular, non-tangible experiences, such as customer experience and engagement techniques, goodwill between your company and your clients, research and development experiences are the most difficult to capture. It may be useful to record these via written or video storytelling, or other methods of sharing iteratively with the team through internal meetings and conferences.

Of course, tangible data is useful too. Many companies will switch business systems over the years. Tools, such as ERPs, CRMs, point-of-sales-systems, help capture data that may be lost. Whenever you change these systems, or move to your next system, ensure that your data can move with you, or design a way to save that data.

Building an institutional memory strategy is definitely a challenge, but by incorporating it into your company culture from the beginning, you’ll create a confident, ready-to-grow business.

That said, it doesn’t matter where you are in the lifecycle of a business, there’s never a bad time to start capturing that data.

How can an ERP be a core part of your strategy to build institutional memory?

  • Use an ERP to store and tag documents with historical data
  • Use reporting functions to capture data surrounding growth, pain points and challenges
  • Understand and represent how processes have changed over the years, especially important for innovative, fast-changing businesses

If you’re interested in ways that Wherefour can support you in building this strategy, reach out to us at Our compliance and document storage module has many creative uses, and we’d love to help design a system that helps you and your company take your history and turn it into a tool for the future.