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Top-Down is Out: Democratizing Knowledge in Industry 4.0


Flip your top-down thinking on its head and democratize knowledge with digital work instructions. The manufacturing industry is changing, and so is the way we organize our companies.

9 September 2019

We’re in the middle of another industrial revolution. Industry 4.0 is making the world of manufacturing, faster, more digital, and more connected at an unprecedented rate.

But this isn’t the first time that we’ve changed the way we work on the shop floor, and it certainly won’t be the last. 

In order to stay competitive, you should carefully consider the way you organize knowledge management and approach knowledge capture and distribution. Democratizing knowledge with crowd-sourced or collaborative digital work instructions allows you to embrace a lean organizational mindset.

The problem with top-down.

Traditionally, most businesses have followed a similar organizational structure. Decisions are made by a small number of people and these decisions impact the many. This is known as the top-down  structure and is only effective in situations where “there is a set of clear rules and only a single solution.” 

In the complex and fast-paced world of manufacturing, there is rarely ever one solution to a problem. In fact, this idea goes against the very idea of lean manufacturing.

bottom up vs top down

Bottom-up lean philosophy.

The familiar projects of Total Productivity Management [TPM], Training within Industry [TWI], and lean manufacturing started by valuing the worker. These initiatives reimagined worker-focused training on the shop floor as a valuable opportunity to increase productivity, efficiency, and product quality. 

Lean manufacturing encourages strategic thinkers to democratize knowledge as a way to increase operational excellence.

Lean pioneers in the 1960s discovered that a dependance on the many rather than the one made an irreversible impact - not only on the work being done, but on the structure of the company itself. Emphasis was placed on collective learning, proper education, and the effective distribution of knowledge. Successful implementation revealed just how powerful a resource the teams on the shop floor could be.

In lean manufacturing, employees performing tasks are asked to continuously analyze processes and their own methods of working in order to find problems and develop solutions. These solutions are then incorporated back into a standard way of working. Improvements start on the shop floor and this knowledge is:

  1. shared with other workers in order to make higher quality, more efficient work for all and,
  2. incorporated directly into management techniques and used to create effective, standard work.

The success of lean manufacturing techniques in the 20th century was an undeniable use-case for the success of democratized knowledge and a bottom-up way of working.


Share the knowledge of your experts.


“Knowledge is the most democratic source of power.” - Alvin Toffler


This reimagining of the top-down structure is known as the “bottom-up” way of working, and is a working proof of democratized knowledge in action. It’s as simple as the name makes it sound.

While CEOs still lead the way by developing overarching business strategies, decision making influence has been shifted to those who work with a product on a daily basis. These are frequently the individuals who assemble or produce on the factory floor - think of the employee who assembles the car you drive.

In a bottom-up approach to manufacturing, these employees are considered the primary source for insights, knowledge, and inspiration for the company. The responsibility of leadership is instead more focused on facilitating the needs of these impact-makers, adjusting business strategy accordingly, and making decisions regarding business positioning and finances.

Consider the example of the car on the shop floor. Who has the most valuable insights about improvements during the assembly process - the manufacturing director, or the employee who performs the task on a daily basis? Her experienced recommendations, fixes, and warnings can be captured, internalized, and shared with others to improve processes and product quality throughout the entire manufacturing operation.

This shift is revolutionary (and particularly effective) because it moves the focus of knowledge capture and generation to the people who have the most expertise and need it the most. Instead of being determined by a single powerful individual, processes are shaped by experience and the benefits are shared by all. 


Bottom-up and lean for the 21st century.

Close to 60 years after the birth of lean manufacturing, the practices of TPM and TWI need to be updated for a changing industry.

Digitalization is the new norm. Processes (both human and automated) are demanding more and more efficiency from those that execute them on a daily basis, and strict manufacturing tolerances and quality controls mean that there is very little room for error.

In order to stay competitive, companies need a way to efficiently democratize knowledge and bring the benefits of this lean, bottom-up structure into the digital factory.

If designed and delivered in the right way, digital work instructions deliver a high-tech and scalable way to bring the power of crowdsourced information to the manufacturing industry. 



Machines or other physical hardware can be hard to change in an efficient and agile way. Digital solutions that embrace a lean and bottom-up way of working are an agile way to restructure the way your shop floor operates. They embrace the spirit (not to mention the benefits) of lean manufacturing in a way that keeps pace with the world around us. 

Crowd-sourced digital work instructions are an incredibly effective solution to democratizing knowledge and embracing a true mindset of lean manufacturing. No longer buried in a counterintuitive organizational structure, the skills and learnings of your team are captured in a shared body of practical knowledge. This allows for the constant re-evaluation and refinement of processes and procedures. 

In this digital world, humans are still essential. Facilitate their best work with an agile solution that supports the mission of lean manufacturing in the 21st century. Typically, digital work instructions deliver an operational impact within weeks.

Share knowledge. Work smarter.

knowledge factory

Picture of Chris

Chris loves to share his expertise on future-proof work instruction software for frontline teams in manufacturing. Particularly, how digital, visual work instructions can make a lasting impact on motivation, productivity, and operational excellence culture.

9 September 2019