It is about a year now since my boss asked me to suggest a “solution” for a common problem: how to manage the company´s knowledge base. I bet you can understand the value, the treasury which is hidden in a head of every employer or in his files (files on his/her hard drive). Such treasury could help the company in many ways, so it would be just great to be able to collect the materials and use them, not to see any drops on the company´s performance curve.
Side note: performance curve = (the one that drops after an important employee leaves the company and the rest of the company has to re-learn his/her experience, re-gather his materials – like notes about project or tutorials, how-tos and other pieces of content he/she was using to speed up his/her work and/or make it better.
I am thinking about the challenge for months, specifically about questions like the following:
- How to convince people to share what they have in their heads and on hard drives.
- How to reduce the „barrier” which one must overcome to start the knowledge transfer process.
- How to make it fast and easy, so it would only have (potential) benefits but not much overhead.
- What software to use to support the effort.
During that time I didn´t give my boss any answer, any suggestion. Why? Because I notice I have been changing my mind every few weeks. If this problem would be so easy to resolve, why would we all struggle to find a way? We would already know the “solution” for the “problem” (it´s more like an opportunity, not a problem).
Let me briefly described the Ideas I had. By the way, I didn´t select any one of the following to be the One.
- At the beginning I though a shared folder would work. People would only upload their “treasury folders” into a common folder (be it a folder on a file server drive, be it shared folder on Exchange server etc.). The cons are obvious: to be able to find something useful in such shared folder one would need a crystal ball. Or you would need a person, who would create a reasonable folder structure and maintain the “knowledge base”. Much work and very uncertain outcome.
- Then I started thinking about using Outlook/ Exchange tools to stay in touch, share things – ideas, documents, vote etc. Would be fast, no overhead, no special software, history as a post folder. Cons: this is much more “creative” than the folder idea and you need people who wants to do this, who would actively share – send ideas, discuss things, exchange documents, collaborate. But not many people like to do things like this; it is difficult to find people to keep such thing running.
- Then I thought about a blog or a wiki. It is more “social” than email or shared folder, people could open up more. And one can stay passive if he/she does not want to contribute. The problem is (my company tried both wiki and blog “approach” – both things are still running, but nearly nobody is interested).you need passionate and open people to run this. And if this should work for a small group of people, where you can find like one, two passionate people, but not more, you again don´t have enough people to keep things running.
- I was also thinking about some kind of collaboration software. Like Adobe connect, Skype, Streamworks or something like that. But after some consideration I came to realize that these tools offer nice things which you don´t need. If you need to “talk” with a colleague, a cell phone solves your problem in a second. And this “approach” would not produce any “knowledge base” anyway, right?
- I was asked to check the ticket tracking tools if one which would fit our needs exist. So if somebody would have a problem, he/she would create a ticket, which other members of the team would receive and start working together on a problem. But you can imagine the overhead of the system right? How many things does one have to do to create a ticket, work on the in and then provide some feedback? In my opinion it is much less elegant than SCN, you need to run a piece of software (and make sure users understand how to use it), big overhead with uncertain result and even if one gets the result, only few people can benefit from the knowledge.
I am sure you could add some more items to the list. Please do so, post a comment and tell us about your experience, maybe you use something what others would welcome as well. Anyway, I hope it is clear that those things I mentioned don´t work, at least don´t work under some conditions (like were mine).
What works is SCN. We all come here to get some answers, learn something new etc. Come here because of the similar reasons we would use the company´s knowledge base (if your company would have one and it would work). Here comes the natural question: what would we have to do to turn the current SCN little bit more into a company knowledge base? I don´t want to have some restricted area, where employees could exchange messages, I would like to have something more open. Something that would support the way we use SCN and could benefit from the SCN how it is built now.
Let me cut this post here. I would like to get some feedback about the ways you do it in your company. I will be back soon and describe my idea in the soon-to-come blog post. Stay tuned, cheers Otto