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Knowledge Management


David Bettwy

December 14, 2018

Knowhow for all the Know-It-Alls

Every department in today’s corporation has information that must be communicated — to each other, senior management, to customers. Whether you’re in IT, HR, Finance or Sales, you have department-specific information and some form of requirement to get it across.

Though the task of capturing this knowledge is essential, it can seem such a straightforward exercise it doesn’t get prioritized as it should. How hard can capturing knowledge be? Procedures that seem simple often require tedious instructions to achieve their full scope. If you’ve been asked to lead a Knowledge Management effort, and were never involved in one before, you’ll be surprised how challenging it can be.

“Back in grade school our teacher had us write a set of instructions for someone to follow. I chose ‘How To Tie A Shoe” as that seemed pretty easy. Wow was it cumbersome to describe — in unambiguous terms — the steps required! To ensure that anyone, regardless of intelligence, could successfully complete the task required something like 13 steps! Thus I discovered how a simple 15-second task demanded a lengthy page of direction. One of the more indelible assignments I ever took on!” — DB

An organization captures several kinds of knowledge. Work instructions, departmental procedures, user guides, FAQs, etc. Today we focus on How-To documentation that any organization with customers produces. Typically FAQs or User Guides.

When approaching a knowledge-capture effort keep in mind: Producing quality documentation is not for everyone. The four F’s representing our primal human drives are not Food, Fight, Flight, and FAQs. Man does not instinctively know how to write FAQs; it was another F that made the list.

Most people are not wired for the detail that produces good documentation. When you acquire someone with that talent, reward them and keep them in that role.

Unsexy tasks like documentation often fall to the bottom of our daily To-Do list. Getting it done right of course makes for a far easier next-time. Following are five suggestions to make your knowledge capture process more successful:

1: Branding & Templates

Develop a template for presenting your Knowledge content. Anyone in your potential audience recognizing the format will know they are looking at one of your official and authoritative pieces. A familiar arrangement of information allows users confidence that they can rely on the information, an essential attribute whose value is often underestimated.

The template should have a title section, departmental image or logo, a date box, author, category, etc. The visual clarity this provides adds value whether presenting the info online, in the body of an email, or hardcopy. Examples:

  • visual clarity
  • not so much

Using templates to structure the look & feel of your content also simplifies the task for the authors. If you ask each of your Subject Matter Experts to frame their answers without a common template you will end up with very different looking products. That lack of a standard will impede absorption of the content.

2: Examples of Success

As authors need a framework for how the output should look, give them a sample of a successful product. You can also aid the process with examples considered UNSUCCESSFUL. Then discuss what specifically made it unsuccessful. With yes and no clearly presented your content generators will know just what you want.

3: Write for the Audience

Different audiences require different constructs. Consider the contrast between documentation for internal IT vs. end-user. For employee/customer How-To material, here are a few critical items to address:

  • How do I do it?
  • Where do I start?
  • What will happen at each step?
  • Where can I get status and updates?
  • Highlight what the employee will need to perform
  • Avoid acronyms, colloquialisms or unfamiliar jargon

“Don’t just point them at a new start, take them all the way to the Finish Line.” — some guidance I share when advising a team on knowledge capture.

4: Assigning the Right Resources

This is not the kind of work one can easily subcontract out so you are likely to require internal resources. Be sure those charged with completing the work have the necessary time not just to get it done, but to do it well.

5: Executive Commitment

As with most IT initiatives it is rarely a groundswell from the working class that launches the project. Almost always it takes visible support from senior leadership to ensure everyone knows the project matters. Without a senior management commitment, it is difficult to define a common finish line, gain employee trust, or overcome even the smallest project hurdles.

Knowledge Management stands at the crux of any IT Service Management initiative. These pointers apply to HR Service Delivery just as well as any kind of service management. When a well-designed knowledge system functions as an example for other departments to emulate, Customer Satisfaction goes up. AI and ChatBots, these fast-approaching technologies, will benefit from and possibly even rely on a robust Knowledgebase. Compliance efforts are greatly improved with accurate procedures. The list of benefits goes on and on …

What’s your take? Comments are welcome. And best of luck capturing your organization’s Knowledge.

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