The key to do something fast but still doing it right is knowing what you are doing, simply to take away the element of uncertainty. Living in a complex world, that changes all the time means dealing with a lot of uncertainty, thus creating a huge need for knowledge. The wonderful world of Information Technology is not any different; I would say it is even more complex due to an even faster changing world. Therefore, you could say that the need for knowledge in IT is even greater. Historically this has been managed by having very clever people, learning and remembering everything, I usually call these people the heroes of IT. In many cases, these very people neither had the time nor the motives to document nor spread their knowledge. We still need heroes but their bravery should be targeted against helping our business maximizing the value of IT, not bridging our lack of knowledge management.
In my opinion, all organizations must master the capture, distribution and maintenance of knowledge to survive in the long run.
Unfortunately, there is a great misunderstanding about the wonderful world of knowledge management. The very core, the actual perception of what is knowledge. Some organizations seem to think it is simply a folder structure with the different document this organization produces, such as project plans or change requests. Other organizations considers templates to be knowledge. The answer however is that neither of these examples are what should be defined as knowledge. Just consider for a while what you would like to know to be able to carry out a task of medium complexity.
In the ITIL framework, knowledge is defined using the so-called DIKW model: Data, Information, Knowledge and Wisdom. Using context and understanding as what defines the higher value and use of something. Going back to practice this means that simply passing a template, some data or even structured information, just does not cut it, this is not enough.
Knowledge management is about the corporate wisdom, the experiences of people, made available to everyone that needs them, when they need them.
As I always do, I would like to provide some pragmatical advice when establishing, or improving, your own knowledge management. These are the main things you have to manage.
- Define what knowledge is in your organization
- Master knowledge capture, distribution and maintenance
- The tool factor
- The carrot and the whip
- Define what knowledge is in your organization is fundamental. The more experience and personal touch that adds value to a knowledge article, the better. However, you need to be humble, start with simply not allowing document templates or used documents of a certain type. Just by adding personal comments to a document, or a template for that matter, to help the next person avoid spending time on the same things the author did, is in fact very helpful, and in fact experience. Be pragmatical about this but make sure to avoid the most common pitfalls such as overflowing the knowledge source with articles that contain very little or even no knowledge at all, merely the actual design of a document. I good rule of thumb is to simply consider what you would have liked to know when you did this task and then try to apply those pieces of advice, knowledge and experience.
- Master knowledge capture, distribution and maintenance is what will create and maintain the overall value of knowledge management. You need to find the balance between not permitting low value content get in and spend too much time reviewing everything together with the author. As always, in the beginning, there will be more effort needed and after a while, things will settle. However, what you absolutely have to do is to make sure to have a knowledge team, containing knowledge reviewers and a few (limit this for your own sake) knowledge managers that publishes approved articles. It is of outmost importance to perform quick and timely reviews of the articles and it cannot be a few people, this will only work, if even then, in the beginning. You also need to make the actual posting of knowledge article candidates widely available and easy to use, let everyone suggest new knowledge items but make sure that everyone understands that there are certain house rules to make it into the actual knowledge source. These rules also needs to be widely available, normally using a policy. Last, but not least, you need to perform knowledge article reviews from time to time, making sure that the articles are still relevant and correct. The quality, value and thereby organizational use of your knowledge management source will be depending on this.
- The tool factor is also very fundamental. To manage the knowledge article lifecycle and to make them available you need a tool. This topic is a blog post in itself but let us at least boil it down to a few important hints. First of all, the tool needs to have some form of authentication to allow the different process roles (contributor, reviewer and approver). It also needs to be platform neutral, preferably even web based, allowing access from all types of devices. Perhaps, in these days, even an organization wide app, for your co-workers to reach the corporate wisdom from any place, any time, and yes, there has to be an element of security to protect your knowledge.
- The carrot and the whip is always needed. You need to incentivice people to contribute to the knowledge base, especially your heroes of IT that knows pretty much everything. You need to be smart about it, making sure that people know that sharing their knowledge will enforce them rather than making them expendable, after all, using the knowledge also requires skill and that is impossible to document or automate. The easiest thing is to make it part of the role descriptions or even include this into personal objectives and/or personal KPIs. Reward frequent contributors and make sure that everyone knows that this organization considers sharing knowledge or top concern. Unfortunately, based on a lot of experience about human nature, you need to have negative mechanisms in place as well. Not sharing at all or sharing things that are simply wrong or will have a negative outcome, mostly the first one is always a challenge. Sure, everyone could imagine what a wonderful world, filled with pink fluffy clouds, it would be if everyone shared, but at the end of the day the human nature is a bit more egocentric than that, so you need carrots and a whip to make your knowledge management fly.
IMHO these are the most relevant aspects, most organizations focus too much on tool and misses totally to set the organization and to incentivize the knowledge sharing. Now at least you know better than this so let us get your knowledge management up and running, or even flying, already!