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PICMET 2010 Proceedings, July 18-22, Phuket, Thailand © 2010 PICMET

Accelerating Knowledge Adoption: A Perspective of Social Network Analysis


Hung-Chun Huang1, Les Davy2, Hsin-Yu Shih1
1
Department of International Business Studies, National Chi Nan University, Puli, Taiwan
2
Department of Computer Science and Information Engineering, National Chi Nan University, Puli, Taiwan

Abstract--An individual who has the ability to focus and successful organizations [3], specific discussion regarding
learn quickly is at a distinct competitive advantage over those how team structure influences knowledge diffusion remains
who do not. As difficult as it may be to accelerate an individual’s vague. Our study approaches the latter topic by studying a
learning rate, it is even more complicated to accelerate the team of computer software developers to examine the
learning rate of a group. Knowledge management has devoted a
great amount of study and research into learning efficiency. In
influence of team structure in learning new technology.
theory, managing knowledge behaviors greatly affects As global competition forces rapid changes technology,
knowledge management. However in practice, knowledge is an efficient knowledge absorptive structure should be
difficult to manage directly. The structure of a working team considered a strategic resource. This paper will refer to social
represents a miniature social system as well as an internal network analysis to explore knowledge diffusion within
collaboration network. Differing teamwork structures conduct differential teamwork structures. Additionally, a
different knowledge behaviors. Social influence theories suggest reinterpretation of Nonaka & Takeuchi’s redundancy
that different social proximities evoke distinguishing contagion structure in knowledge creation is proposed.
effects. This study applies a social network perspective to
explore the knowledge behaviors of computer software
developers. Our findings show that controlling network
II. RESEARCH BACKGROUND
redundancies can effectively enhance knowledge diffusion
efficiency. Furthermore, if a team fails to manage knowledge A. Knowledge Creating and diffusion
diffusion, it will potentially offset any competitive advantages Nonaka & Takeuchi[1] proposed a model of the
that might be gained via upgrading technology. Based on our knowledge creation process in order to understand the
findings, this study suggests a new approach for implementing dynamic nature of knowledge creation and diffusion. The
knowledge management and R&D strategic planning. knowledge creating process consists of three elements: a
knowledge spiral, social context “Ba”, and knowledge assets.
I. INTRODUCTION When these elements interact with each other organically and
dynamically, the knowledge assets of an organization are
How to make a team exploit and utilize new technology mobilized and shared in a social context. In their model, the
faster is an important issue for knowledge management. tacit knowledge held by individuals is converted and
Learning through teamwork does not merely concern amplified through a spiral of knowledge using socialization,
knowledge acquisition, but also absorption capacity. externalization, combination and internalization [2]. Under a
Speaking in terms of absorption, team membership structure clear leadership structure, the three elements integrate so that
affects the performance of team activity. In general, new the organization can create knowledge continuously and
technology is introduced to an individual or a few members dynamically, creating a disciplined approach for organization
of a team. These early adopters gain initial knowledge, and members. These aspects come together into what is referred
then translate this tacit knowledge into explicit documents or to as “the process model of creating organization
other forms of diffusion to other members of the group. Early knowledge”. Additionally, Nonaka[1] proposed critical
technology adopters are the first to apply a knowledge spiral enabling conditions in terms of environment or social context,
to a new technology. Although the new technology may be as well as a five-phase model of sharing tacit knowledge,
public knowledge, the initial process of team learning creating concepts, justifying concepts, building an archetype,
transforms this awareness of a new technology into team- and cross-leveling knowledge for a good environment to
specific knowledge. Nonaka & Takeuchi [1] studied Japanese support individual and organizational knowledge creation.
companies and technology development; they found that Using this model, an environment with redundant
successful teams master the dynamics of innovative progress communication is important for both the knowledge diffusion
to seize opportunities. Facing technological change, they and convergent knowledge necessary to organize knowledge
nurture wellsprings of knowledge to sustain sources of activities. It not only retains the advantages of organizational
learning. knowledge but also enhances the speed of knowledge
Knowledge as a strategic resource represents the creation. The model stresses three aspects of redundancy in
capability to create and utilize knowledge, thus allowing a knowledge creation and diffusion. First, information
firm to develop a sustainable, specific, competitive redundancy[3]: information redundancy among team
advantage. This resource-based view of strategic resources members is an advantage under conditions of unexpected
holds that knowledge behaviors are causally ambiguous, environmental fluctuations. This provides additional working
unique, and imperfectly imitable. Although previous studies information and allows members to focus on an overall goal.
have suggested this critical point of knowledge creation in This is achieved through consistent informational meetings,

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such as regular and irregular conferences, formal and information comprised of the same knowledge and
informal communication management, and off-duty sessions. opportunities. That is not to say that hard ties are not effective;
Moreover, team members can readily access information, and Krackhardt [8] noted the strength of strong ties. Strong ties
share the benefits of clear information. Secondly, through may be beneficial by providing a strong social environment
internal competition [1]: A developed production panel and mutual support for network players. Network redundancy
consists of several competitive sections, developing not only provides transmission benefits but also produces
independent solutions to the same cases. Additionally, these network robustness. Burt [9] pointed out the spread of new
groups explain and defend their work to each other. Using ideas and a practice often argued to be contingent on the way
this method, a group panel can examine many different in which social structure brings people together. Adopting an
possible solutions and methodologies, and forge a common innovation entails a risk, an uncertain balance of costs and
consensus. Thirdly, strategic technology diffusion[2]: benefits, and people manage that uncertainty by drawing on
employees can tactically understand their firms’ affairs from others to define a socially acceptable interpretation of the
several different points, in terms of task assignment or job risk. Social contagion arises when people in a social structure
rotation. This method provides and additional benefit of use one another to manage the uncertainty of innovation. This
diffusing a common language of technique and approach, network closure gives rise to a form of interpersonal trust.
creating “common knowledge” in an organization. Social closure can reduce the risks posed by cheating. The
However, information redundancy, internal competition more closed the network, the more misbehavior will be
and strategic technology diffusion concern team structure detected. Network actors who don’t wish to lose a reputation
more in terms of theory, leaving discussions of actual practice built up over the course of a long-term relationship with a
and implementation as vague at best and non-existent at group of colleagues will cooperate with other people in the
worst. Further study in actual practice is necessary to prove network. There is clear evidence of trust being more likely in
the validity of these theories. a strong tie than in a weak tie relationship[10]. This feedback
loop of longer-term relationships both increases and depends
B. Social context and the influence of Social Structure on network redundancy in their teamwork structures.
Lundvall [4] indicates that cooperation or display of a
singular form in a organization is conducive to the C. Knowledge creation and redundant structures
development and diffusion of new technology in an Nonaka and Burt provide a meso-view to an
organization. Accordingly, by studying the influence on the organizational activity and knowledge creation. Nonaka
performance of technology transformation, our study can provides a redundant framework for organizational
recommend an appropriate mode of social interaction among knowledge generation through the means of information
team members. Social influence occurs when actors’ behavior, redundancy to organize personal knowledge, and invoke the
attitudes, or beliefs involuntarily follow others’ in a social knowledge spiral process between explicit, tacit knowledge
system. This social influence processes is often referred to as and individual, interpersonal knowledge. Additionally, Burt
contagion. Within the field of social influence theory, there proposed social network perspective for new knowledge
are two mechanisms, communication and comparison, used diffusion in network redundancy and provided a structural
to diffuse knowledge among people[5]. interpretation to manage information benefits.
Team membership is a social network activity. Two nodes However, these previous studies fail to distinguish
in a term contact for some propose, and as this linkage between structural redundancy and personal redundancy in
provides an increasingly valuable resource, their relationship knowledge management. Teamwork is a micro-social
becomes more and more interdependent. Meanwhile, other structure, which requires internal trust to achieve some
nodes are deriving benefits indirectly. These groups depend purpose [11].
upon this; a unique bridge node will turn into many bridge
nodes, diffusing benefits. It is important to note that network III. METHODOLOGY AND DATA COLLATION
redundancy aggregates transmission obstruction until
unhindered. Watts[6] indicates that redundant linkage causes This research applies Nonaka’s proposed knowledge
by network traffic crowding. On the other hand, redundant creation and redundancy structure for knowledge behaviors.
network linkage can be interpreted as a consequence of However, knowledge behaviors are often causally ambiguous.
resource interdependence or value contagion. Thus, this study combines quantitative and qualitative
In contrast, Granovetter [7] proposed the strength of weak methodology as necessary for data collection.
ties for acquiring information benefits. Since strong ties This study examines case studies using two principles:
contain redundant information, weak ties provide information First, and industry characteristic; the chosen teams are both
that is much more useful. The more open a network structure knowledge creators and knowledge consumers. Explicit
is, the more weak ties exist. Open social contexts more easily knowledge is their product and tacit knowledge is their
introduce new ideas or assess job opportunities to their foundation. As a result, the value creation process and
members than redundant tie-laden closed networks. In other knowledge flow can be clearly observed. Secondly, the team
words, social contexts with overly redundant ties only assess background: the targeted cases concern the same event and

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share a common foundation, allowing for a comparison of ego and a particular alter, j. The piq is the proportion of actor
organizational performance. i’s relations that are spent with q. The mjq is the marginal
The team activity of computer software development is a strength of contact j’s relation with contact q. this is j’s
form of knowledge creation; investigating team activity interaction with q divided by j’s strongest interaction with
allows for direct observation of knowledge behaviors. A anyone. For a binary network, the strongest link is always 1
major organizational event, in this case platform and thus mjq reduces to 0 or 1 (whether j is connected to q or
transformation, causes the workers to discard a familiar not - that is, the adjacency matrix). The sum of the product
platform and shift to a new technology. This provides a clear piqmjq measures the portion of i’s relation with j that is
study of organizational knowledge management redundant to i’s relation with other primary contacts.
discrepancies between groups involved in the transformation Redundant size: The network size N minus effective
process. network size is the redundant size, R.
⎡ ⎡ ⎤⎤ (2)
R = N - ⎢∑ ⎢1 - ∑ p iq m jq ⎥⎥ , q ≠ i, j
A. Data Collection and Analysis ⎣⎢ j ⎣ q ⎦⎦⎥
For qualitative purposes, this study applies Nonaka’s field
study redundancy pattern. This provides a basis from which IV. CASE ANALYSIS
to construct a case data for pattern matching. After internal-
case pattern matching, our study compares the activities of Our study selected two teams with a similar background
two teams for cross-case analysis. In the cross-case analysis, in technology transformation, whose different team structures
redundant patterns that distinguish differences between the influence their overall goal achievement.
two groups are identified as the quantitative investigation is
concluded. A. The profile of case team and diffusion process of new
In terms of quantitative investigation, this study uses technology
Burt’s [12] social capital survey questionnaire. In the study of Team A is a computer software development department
personal networks, the name generator has become the founded in 1994, whose main business centers on the
standard method to enumerate networks and delineate mapping design of information systems. It maintains a lead
network characteristics and structure. Team members are in integrating technology, even though it has experienced
given one or a series of questions that elicit a list of network various technological transitions, including changes in
alters, such as those people with whom they discuss client/server hardware, distributed databases, and data
important matters, or the people with whom they chat or visit. warehousing. Team A is primarily a project-based
Once a list of names has been produced, participants are collaboration; after a given project terminates, the working
presented with a series of name interpreters: follow up group is dismissed and incorporated into other projects.
questions that gather information on the demographic Team B is an information management department
characteristics of each alter, the relationship between ego and formed 1990, whose major domain focuses on development,
alter, and the relationships between alters. The data collected management and maintenance of information systems for the
through name generators and interpreters provide individual organization. Due to hardware technology and application
profiles of respondents’ personal network members that can software renovations, their information systems developed
be aggregated into measures of network composition. from large-sized to small-sized hosts.
According to the results of social network analysis, two An essential expertise of software engineers is being
higher redundancy degree members are taken for a second conversant in the technology of platform development.
stage of investigation. However, gaining engineering expertise requires long-term
accumulation; thus, an engineer continually faces career
B. Network redundant measurement challenges as technology shifts. Meanwhile, technology
Burt [12] suggests the network size minus the redundant shifting impacts an organization in terms of market
size is the effective network size. The redundant size can competition. An information system is not a constantly
calculate the network size and deduce the effective network operating structure, especially in terms of decision-making, it
size. Below are the analysis formulations: requires coordination with the overall commercial
Network Size: The number of contacts in a network is the environment. A system development platform will not merely
network size. influence developmental efficiency, it will also determine
Effective size: Burt [13] develops a set of measures based on information system performance. The speed of acquiring
ego networks. It defines the effective size of a person's leading technology greatly affects an organization’s
ego network as competitive advantage.
⎡ ⎤ (1)
∑⎢ ∑1 - p m , q ≠ i, j
iq jq ⎥
On Team A, seven members studied a new platform.
j ⎣ q ⎦ These members represent those directly concerned with
where j indexes all of the people that ego i has contact with, management and information resources. The average time of
and q is every third person other than i or j. The quantity membership in the group is 5.8 years. The administration
(piqmjq) inside the brackets is the level of redundancy between hierarchy consists of one executive manager, one project

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leader, three senior engineers, and two junior engineers. formal technology documents. After obtaining preliminary
Team B also involves seven members. The average technology results, they pass their experimental findings on
membership time of each participant is 10 years. The team to the other members of the team.
members include one department manager, two senior Team B has three technology explorers; the department
managers, and four engineers (See Appendix A. team manager, senior manager and one engineer. After an initial
member table). new technology evaluation, the department manager assigns
Each team adopted different technology diffusion engineer B5 as early-phase researcher. Then, after acquiring
processes. In Figure 1, Team A selects member A2 as a new preliminary technology, B5 acts as a diffusion source to other
technology explorer, with A1 and A3 forming a panel members of the team. Team B expands its technology
studying the practical benefits of the new technology from a diffusion from a single point, and builds common technology
competitive advantage standpoint, and then begin preparing documents via group discussion.

Fig. 1 the team structure of new technology diffusion.

The time required to accomplish technology shifting is members. Member A5 was a software system engineer. As a
significantly different between the two teams. Team A senior engineer, member A3 also played a major role in
spends four months to complete the shift and implement diffusing knowledge of the new technology.
projects using the new platform technology. However, B In Team B, the personal redundancy degree of members
team spends ten months finishing technology shifting. B5 and B2 was higher than the others. Furthermore, all of
them were system engineers. B5 was the only member acting
B. Network analysis of team member as a diffusion point for the new technology. B2 was the only
In Team A, the degree of personal redundancy of engineer responsible for maintaining hardware and software
members A3 and A5 were higher than the other team systems.

TABLET 1 NETWORK ANALYSIS OF TEAM MEMBER


Team Team A Team B
Member A1 A2 A3 A4 A5 A6 A7 B1 B2 B3 B4 B5 B6 B7
Network Size 8 13 8 7 7 9 4 9 7 7 9 7 10 8
Effective Size 5.50 10.93 5.05 4.17 3.85 7.00 1.80 6.23 3.22 4.10 5.93 3.58 7.18 4.69
Personal
2.50 2.070 2.95 2.84 3.15 2.00 2.20 2.78 3.79 2.90 3.07 3.42 2.82 3.31
Redundancy
Team
2.53 3.15
Redundancy

FIG. 2 Network graph

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V. RESEARCH FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION eccentric ideas and even that, from time to time, there is some
hesitation in the submission of creative ideas [3]. However,
A. On organizational structure and knowledge diffusion Nonaka did not discuss the information redundant to
The team redundancy of Team A is 2.53, significantly less knowledge transfer and rarely discussed internal competition
than Team B. Furthermore, Team A spent only four months mechanisms as enhancing knowledge creation.
to shift technology, compared to Team B’s ten months. The However, if a given network is overly redundant, it will
process of knowledge diffusion occurs when elements of one experience difficulty in transmitting knowledge.
culture spread to another without wholesale dislocation or Organizational viscosity [17] illustrates an organizational
migration[14]. The knowledge creator used certain channels structure for a new technology unhindered by diffusion. Once
to communicate among the members of a social system[15]. structural redundancy is effectively managed, it not only
Team A’s success shows that properly arranging the provides a competitive cooperation situation, but also releases
teamwork structure can greatly influence knowledge personal redundancy to the group. Structural redundancy can
diffusion. prevent personal over redundancy from reducing efficacy.
On the other hand, the information benefits of a network In terms of structural redundancy, this study concludes
define who can identify these opportunities, when they find with the finding that structural redundancy can reduce
them, and who gets to participate in them. Players with a personal redundancy and efficiently increase knowledge
network optimally structured to provide these benefits enjoy diffusion.
higher rates of return to their investments, because such Despite Nonaka’s [3] arguments that information
players know about, and have a hand in, more rewarding redundancy in the innovation generation process is of an
opportunities[13]. So the information benefit is naturally unusually high cost, there exists a tremendous reward for
affected by information sharing. teams to implement new technology. Therefore, this study
However, this finding does not conflict with the debate of infers that properly placed team manager can control
weak ties versus strong ties, as the information property structural redundancy, allowing the team to exploit and
differs. Strong ties between business units facilitate the utilize new technology faster.
transfer of complex knowledge that in itself can contribute to
an improved technological performance of the B. On Personal Redundancy and Member Specific Property
organization[16]. Restated, weak ties are benefits for Our case analysis shows that members with a higher
codifying and explicating knowledge diffusion, strong ties are degree of redundancy member can be regarded as those who
benefits for ambiguous and tacit knowledge transfer. have wide network range with others. However, based on the
Information redundancy can potentially nurture group think. interview questions regarding for their job duties, this study
While information redundancy can translate into flexible and finds the more redundant member plays a major role in team
rapid innovation generation, it can also give rise to activity. This appears to be in agreement with Nonaka’s
compromise in the pursuit of innovation to its ultimate, [18]assertion that redundancy of information helps team
potential limits. Even within the most heterogeneous of members share their tacit knowledge.
groups, information redundancy implies that there are no

Exploring Team A A2 Team B B1 B5 B7


Phase

Early adopt A1 A3 B5
phase

Late adopt A4 A5 A6 A7 B1 B4 B2 B6 B3 B7
phase

FIG. 3 The higher personal redundancy member in team structure

In this study, A3, A5, B5, and B2 members with higher Then the member acting as a knowledge supplier, had to
redundancy act as technological developer or chief system transfer their tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge,
maintainer (see Figure. 3). For instance, member B2 was both externalizing the technical specifications, teaching materials
an MIS maintainer and software engineer. Members A3 and and working manuals through common technique language.
B5 member were early adopters for the new technology. The new technology was disseminated out to larger group
Those members were required to internalize extensive through meetings and discussions with the members to
external knowledge and turn it into personal tacit knowledge. combine workable methods into a general technology.

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Additionally, examinations of redundant linkages in the accelerate knowledge diffusion. A person with the more
initial network stages proved unusually illuminating. In redundant networks is the one provides more technical
regular network linkage, strong ties and redundant linkage knowledge. On the result, we can not only identify the major
existed[13]. Therefore, redundant linkage gave the technology provider, but also can rearrange team structure for
appearance of the larger state of communication within a further technology diffusion. Accelerating team adoption of
network. In personal knowledge acquisition, redundant new technology enhances a company’s overall competitive
linkages ensured someone would maintain plentiful advantage. This finding suggests a new implementation for
information access, with strong ties appearing to reinforce strategic planning and managing R&D activity.
this structure of frequent communication. This networking
phenomenon can be represented as knowledge diffusion. The REFERENCES
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diffusion. Restated, controlling the structural redundancy can

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APPENDIX A

TABLE OF TEAM MEMBER DESCRIPTIONS


Years on
Member Job position Working Field
teamwork
A1 senior engineer programmer 4
A2 executive manager System Planning 10
A3 senior engineer programmer 5
A4 project leader System Planning 8
A5 junior engineer programmer 4
A6 senior engineer programmer 8
A7 junior engineer System pilot 2
B1 Senior manager System Planning 8
B2 Junior engineer programmer/ hardware Maintain 5
B3 Senior engineer programmer 15
B4 Senior manager programmer 10
B5 Senior engineer programmer 15
B6 Junior engineer programmer 2
B7 Department manager System Planning 15

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