First off, congrats on pursuing better knowledge management for yourself and your team! Good documentation around what you’re working on and how you do things is an investment in your team’s future success. When people can more easily tap into what others know, they’re able to do their own jobs better. It also means the team can grow and thrive together; the onboarding process for new employees becomes more efficient over time.
Good knowledge management is also an investment in yourself and your own sanity. When you document commonly-used processes, others are the team are less likely to interrupt and ask you for a reminder about how to issue a refund, publish a blog post, or onboard a new contractor. By documenting what you’re working on in a given month or week, it’s less likely that anything falls through the cracks or that people double up on the same task by accident.
Important Skills for Good Knowledge Management
Though you might be new to knowledge management, you likely have transferable skills that will prove extremely useful when it comes to documentation. Since you found this post, you’re probably a proactive, organized individual. I’d wager you also get impatient when things are done in an inefficient way. Most of our customers tend to share those two attributes, and they seek out knowledge management because they want things to be organized and handled in an intelligent way.
Most likely, you already engage in a number of valuable habits. You probably write things down somewhere and in some way: whether in a paper notebook, on Evernote, in a Google doc, or on your phone. Perhaps you already document bugs, issues, and sprints in GitHub or JIRA. All of these personal attributes and habits will serve you well as you get deeper into the practice of good knowledge management.
5 Knowledge Management Tips to Get Started Right
These tips are intended to help you reach a very specific goal. They’ll help you document your knowledge better, such that all the people on your team have access to the info they need to do their jobs well.
1. You don’t have to build everything at once
You and your team possess an immense amount of knowledge: about your business, your processes, your customers, your company values, and a host of other areas beyond those. You don’t need to write down everything at once. Chip away at documenting your knowledge over time. Invite others to help document the things they know and the work they’re doing. Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good.
2. Start with shorter pages, and add to them over time
This is a corollary of the above tip. As you’re getting started, it’s ok to keep things brief. Focus on documenting just a few processes or pieces of information. Over time, you can add to and refine what you’ve written down.
For example, let’s say you have a complicated process for refunding customers. Jot down the basic steps, and share your documentation with others. If and when someone on the team bumps into a question about the process you documented, ask that person to suggest an update to the page. It can be hard to spot the gaps in your own work, but those on your team who are seeing your documentation with fresh eyes can help pinpoint info you might have missed.
One other way you can augment and improve your documentation is by adding images and screencaps of the process. As high school English teachers are famous for saying “show; don’t tell.” Share knowledge with your team by showing them firsthand. If you’re checking out a competitor’s onboarding process, for example, use QuickTime to capture it, and embed the video on a Tettra page.
3. Build “just in time documentation”
Rather than trying to document everything under the sun, be opportunistic. Document knowledge when it’s relevant to the situation. With “just in time documentation”, you write things down if and when they come up. The idea borrows from Toyota’s famous “just in time manufacturing” process. With Toyota’s JIT system, items are only received when they’re actually needed, (rather than well in advance, requiring the company to warehouse items they don’t yet need.)
Rather than trying to document every possible piece of knowledge, write things down when you actually need them. Wait until someone asks you how to do something or when you struggle to recall the steps in a process. This will help you prioritize the most important information and save you from documenting knowledge that no one actually needs.
You can make this even easier on yourself with suggestions. If a question comes up in a meeting, you know the answer is information worth documenting. Create a suggestion in Tettra and assign it to yourself (or to the person who’s most likely to know the answer.)
This suggestion acts as a placeholder, alerting the team that someone needed access to a key piece of knowledge. Rather than interrupting what you’re doing at the moment, you have an easy reminder to go back and write things down at a more convenient time.
4. Don’t institute too much process
Though it’s tempting to create systems around your knowledge management, try to keep the process as lightweight as possible. The more open and flexible your documentation process is, the more people are likely to document. Try to avoid creating bottlenecks that could slow things down or dissuade people from using your knowledge management system.
For instance, resist the urge to choose a traffic cop. Don’t assign one person to write or approve all new documentation. Don’t put every page through a vetting process. Rather, allow people to make and/or suggest updates to pages if they discover something that’s incorrect. If you want to keep a finger on the pulse of all newly-documented knowledge, you can do so by scanning new pages in the Tettra daily digest emails.
5. Ask a few people for specific input
To jumpstart your team’s involvement, get a few individuals involved early. Pinpoint people on the team who manage a particular process or a distinct area of the business. Create a suggestion to document that piece of knowledge, and assign the suggestion to the person who’s most familiar with the process.
The more specific you get with your suggestions, the better. This will help the members of your team feel confident that they’re documenting the right things. This, in turn, will help others feel confident about documentation. By getting a few people involved and committed early, you can build a groundswell of others who’ll share what they know.
What Success Looks Like
You’ll know you’re doing it right when you have an ever-increasing database of important information, processes, and knowledge. But even more important, success occurs when others then tap into that information. Every time a member of your team refers to Tettra for something they need, that’s an instance when they didn’t need to interrupt someone else. It’s time they saved, rather than hunting around for the info they need to do their jobs well.
Ultimately, success looks like a more efficient, effective team. It looks like time saved, mistakes avoided, and opportunities captured. When people have easier access to the knowledge of those around them, everyone benefits. The team performs better and customers are more satisfied. Though you might be a beginner with knowledge management now, you’ll develop deep expertise quickly, helping your entire team to do its best work.