Today’s post is written by guest blogger, Frank Caron. Frank is a 10 year knowledge management vet. His career in tech writing and knowledge management has spanned from start-ups to massive orgs, and he regularly consults on and speaks about knowledge management best practices among other less-useful things. Find him on LinkedIn.
The information age is both rife with potential and fraught with peril for organizations of all sizes. While we are in an incredible era of prosperity and opportunity, wherein companies can solve bigger problems faster than ever, these same companies are now required to evolve at breakneck speeds and to treat their knowledge as a first-class asset equal to the money in the bank and the butts in the seats.
Sadly, most companies don’t treat their knowledge as an asset. Agile and lean practices have, in many cases, caused companies to test, learn, and iterate effectively but without considering the incredible cost to the business that not persisting said learnings can have.
As a result, as employees come and go and the product or services evolve, most organizations are inevitably left in a rough spot: key knowledge leaves the building or isn’t properly shared around that building when available within.
So what can companies do? Capture, organize, and manage that knowledge before it leaves the company and support searching and finding it when necessary. Doing so doesn’t have to add needless overhead or boring work, though, and the ROI becomes very readily demonstrable once the processes are in place.
In the first part of this blog post series, I talked a bit about how companies can capture information and empower the organization to treat knowledge as the first-class asset it needs to be.
But that’s not where the story ends. Capturing knowledge and referencing it is only the most basic return on the investment of a good knowledge management strategy.
Once the people and process is in place, a great CIO, COO, or process engineer can begin to leverage that structure and knowledge stream to radically optimize the business, and that’s the subject for today’s second post in this two-part guest series on #InTheLoop: creating multi-dimensional wins with the knowledge now at your disposal.
Creating Single Sources Of Truth
There’s a concept that I always fall back on when it comes to planning and implementing knowledge management strategies, and it has yet to do anything other than help companies succeed. That concept is the single source of truth.
I come from a software development background, so by trade, I hate repeating myself and I hate doing the same thing twice. Those dislikes informed the approach I’ve taken to knowledge management, and subsequently led me to form a few key concepts, including the aforementioned.
So what does the concept of the single source of truth entail? It’s pretty simple: in the spirit of DRY, there should exist no duplicate source of truth for any one piece of knowledge.
That means that when you begin capturing knowledge in your organization, and you begin to direct other teams to reference that knowledge, there should only exist one sole place for any one data point.
For example, if a company keeps product pricing information in SalesForce, that should be the only place considered the source of truth. No investor deck, sales pitch collateral, internal email, or IM chat is right if the number is not what is in SalesForce, and should the number change, it is changed (by a shepherd, if need be) first, foremost, and ideally solely in SalesForce.
This approach ensures that, in very little time, people begin to both trust and rely on the knowledge persisted rather than the knowledge transmitted orally or informally. That trust reinforces the knowledge captured and reinvests everyone in the process of keeping that knowledge up to date (the essence of shepherding).
With that concept in mind, it should become more clear how this is actually a huge challenge for most organizations, but by making this optimization, you create huge opportunities to dramatically overhaul existing processes and tools to pay dividends in ways that go well beyond reducing departure liability and improving inter-team communication.
A Case Study: Lionheart Software
Perhaps the best way to explain what I mean here is to demonstrate it by way of a concrete example.
Consider the following case study, based on a real customer I worked with. While the name of the organization has been changed, the underlying approach is exactly what succeeded for the company in question.
Lionheart was looking to hire a tech writer to fill out the user-facing help of its brand new product. The company’s user testing revealed that its users were still having issues understanding why they would want to use some aspect of the product and had trouble using some of the more advanced tools that enabled the product’s ultimate value proposition.
When I went in there, they were simply looking for 6 months of work to fill out the initial base of content. I naturally inquired about the product’s roadmap, and I learned that they were planning to continue to iterate after launch based on real customer feedback. A great strategy, you’ll say, and that’s for sure. I, of course, asked what I thought was an obvious question: “What happens to the content you paid for me to write after that?”
They had no answer. Ultimately, the product team conceded they’d have to hire again, probably in 6 months time, to backfill the missing documentation needed by new features and update the previous doc for updated ones.
Given that they didn’t have any significant user help section in the current product, I asked how they supported customers today. “We have a customer support team that answers calls and emails”, I was told. The resulting dialogue speaks for itself and is indicative of all of our future conversations.
“How does that group respond?”
“Via email or on the phone.”
“And where is that information kept about who calls, what problems they had, and what solution we recommended?”
The company didn’t have a user experience problem; it had a knowledge management problem. Lionheart was not stepping back and looking at how knowledge streamed into the company, where it could be captured, and solving the root problem rather than bandaging it. And, importantly, key information in the company had no single source of truth other than the heads of the customer service people, who weren’t empowered to share that info with the rest of the company.
To solve this problem, in one month rather than six, we implemented Desk.com into the company’s Customer Service organization and then subsequently into the product.
The development impact was tiny, and the cost to the company wasn’t much more. But the result was huge. The company’s Customer Service process radically transformed. Call times went down, and once the knowledgebase was integrated into the product directly, calls went down as a whole.
A community began to blossom within Desk.com, and suddenly, customers themselves were submitting best practices. This resulted in the company moving forward with a new customer ambassador initiative which continues to this day.
This then went on to inform the company’s sales process, as well. By referencing Desk.com, the sales team could better understand customer pains across a wider group as conversations stopped focusing on minute problems with the tool and began focusing on bigger problems with the customer’s actual pains.
And all of that started from wanting to write down some basic user help docs.
Knowledge Management Is Worth It
I love telling that story for obvious reasons, but to be truthful, not all of the wins that come from investing in knowledge management are that huge. That said, the story is demonstrative of the kind of ROI that can be born from the opportunities that capturing and organization knowledge effectively at both macro and micro levels within an organization can have.
By treating knowledge as a first-class citizen and investing in both the organic processes and the people to drive the knowledge capturing, you can ensure that your business has the knowledge it needs recorded to reduce liability and dramatically improve cross-team communication, especially when you create single sources of truth.
Once those processes are in place and your company’s knowledge can be drawn on as a tangible resource, stepping back and finding the optimizations is the kind of activity that CIOs or COOs dream of, and that’s the kind of activity that can drive huge value for the business while making every individual contributor’s life easier in the process.
And all it takes is starting with just one employee writing stuff down.
Read the Guide to Implementing RFP Software to learn more about how to build out a content library.