Reuse Knowledge: save it before you waste it.

Knowledge is power. We’ve all heard that one before but what do you, your team, office, or organization do with all that power?

Yeah, you. How about the person in the office next to you? Like most organizations, I’ll wager it leaks out into the digital ether like precious radiate heat from an old house with bad windows.

IT’S GONE. Wasted resources. Wasted energy. Wasted money.

There are many ways this valuable information is leaked out of or lost inside your organization:

  • Ridiculously and unnecessarily long email threads
  • Slack channels or DMs
  • impromptu meetings
  • short visits to a colleagues cube
  • and the most obvious — employee turnover.

Collecting and cataloging acquired knowledge to be discoverable is critical to running an effective organization. Every time a unique problem is solved or familiar procedure is completed (via ad-hoc communications or by a subject matter expert) the entire solution is lost, locked away in the back of someone's mind, or improperly labeled/deleted in someone's inbox.

The problem with these situations is that email is never a great archive. Everyone manages their email differently and the information is never available for reuse. Maybe the person who always worked a process or a particular type of issue was promoted and moved elsewhere in your organization. At least then your SME is still somewhere available. Worse yet, they leave your organization and take all that valuable information with them. Even if you are lucky enough for your SME to stay with you, it is likely that their move within the organizations no longer allows them time to work these tasks. Maybe they’ve been promoted to a position where their time is too valuable now to be spent on these types of issues.

How do you combat all the rework or troubleshooting that needs to take place when valuable information isn’t well organized and discoverable? You stop allowing the heat out of the house as quickly as possible. You build a knowledge base and some rigid (yet flexible) rules of behavior around it. To get started you first need to know the different types of knowledge in order to properly catalog the information. There are 4 types of knowledge:

  1. Self-Help
  2. Customer Support
  3. Internal Processes
  4. Proprietary

The type of business, as well as the types of situations that consume the most time, will dictate which type to start with when building a knowledge base. Service orientated businesses will want to focus on the customer first while product based jobs will generate internal documentation. The full responsibility of building a knowledge base belongs to the organization and its leadership but each type of knowledge should be generated as close to the area of responsibility as possible. In larger organizations, it is also likely that some areas have multiple types of knowledge related to them and not the rest of the business. I’ll briefly describe the 4 types of knowledge here.

Self-help

This information is publicly and readily available to customers of your service and/or product. This prevents the need for them to reach out to your customer support as frequently. This information contains:

  • a collection of known issues and how to resolve them
  • proper product care and maintenance
  • channels for contacting support if the issues cannot be resolved on the customer's end.

Self-help documentation is critical for enabling the customer to take care of problems themselves. While some customers may feel the need to contact support for every little thing, in most cases if the information is easily searchable and the steps to resolution are clear, the customer would prefer to address whatever problems they are having on their own time. That is why it is vital to have known issues with known solutions shared externally and to have the information labeled, tagged, and organized logically to increase discoverability. Great self-help documentation can save hundreds of hours of support time and money when the customer is empowered to take care of problems on their own.

Customer Support

This is the documentation used in the process for supporting customers. You can’t teach troubleshooting so having shortcuts well documented for customer support is key to educating your customer support representatives. Your customers are your best source of knowledge base information. They are the ones using your product or service rather properly or improperly. When customers engage your support channels with a problem it is important to be able to respond quickly and concisely every time. While customers may not compare their support experience with others, it is likely that any reviews, complaints, or accolades will reflect this experience. The better and more discoverable the information from previous support requests, the quicker support personnel can learn and adapt to unique and ever-changing situations.

Internal Processes

The way you do something is no doubt different than the way someone else in your organization might do something. If you own your own business then you sure as hell want to make sure things are done the way you prefer. But what if you’re wrong? What if the way you do something isn’t always the best way to do something? At times the steps to complete a particular task may need to be specific but in most situations, the end state may be all that matters. How do you track those steps when they are needed?

Documenting internal business or technical processes is important because it enables autonomy. Autonomy allows for the people doing the work in your organization to be able to do it without the need to seek oversight at every slight deviation. When workers can complete tasks through fruition their sense of ownership is increased and quality of work goes up. When processes are properly documented there is more room for growth and processes improvement. Rather the steps to complete a task are specific or the desired result is all that matters, keeping track of how something is completed enables continual improvement on that process. The process may evolve over time. Keeping those changes logged is valuable for historical reference. Depending on the tool used, it happens free and automatically. Your organization keeps improving when processes and people improve together.

Proprietary

The secret sauce, your Cola recipe. This is the shit that has to stay concrete. You never want this information bottled up in someone's head but you may not want it available to everyone in your organization either. Proprietary information to your organization could really be anything. This is the stuff that has very little flexibility in the steps or process.

  • specific client details
  • maintenance schedules
  • purchasing/contractual information
  • current/previous bids on work
  • or most importantly life-and-limb information.

These pieces of information are the foundation of your organization and without them, your building could crumble. While some of this information may be slightly dynamic, you know this needs to be saved somewhere, properly organized for historical reference, and always available.

Get organized and stay nimble.

So where do you keep all of this stuff? How do you organize it so the information is actually worth something?

Document. Document. Document. That’s how. The where is a different story. There are many great resources and online tools available for creating a knowledge base. What you choose isn’t nearly as important as getting the knowledge stored. If you are like many organizations with files/folders strune about across multiple platforms it might be time to choose a single repository and start getting organized. Tactful Cloud has the right solutions for you.

Do you have a robust knowledge base already, have one in the works, or realize all the sudden you need to get your information organized? Share your story, process or situation here in the comments.

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