Knowledge management is a system of established processes for collecting and sharing knowledge and skills within a company. Proper knowledge management in companies ensures that all employees have access to the information they need to perform at their best and grow their skills. It also makes it easier to onboard new hires and transfer projects to other individuals or teams. In addition, good knowledge management helps prevent situations where only one employee knows how to carry out a critical task, which can be detrimental if they take an extended or permanent leave.
Effective knowledge management requires the use of knowledge repositories where employees can easily store and access the information they need. This includes details concerning techniques and processes, strategies, and solved and open issues. These repositories essentially become a detailed history of the company and how it operates, and they serve as a source of knowledge for both current and future employees to learn from.
Who needs knowledge management and why?
Among IT companies, there is a common misconception that knowledge management is simply making sure that information is added to the repository in the correct way. However, the primary focus of knowledge management is ensuring that all of the available information is stored and managed in a way that makes it easy for employees to find and utilize it when needed, and your team members themselves will be able to add information to knowledge base. This goes beyond just repository management and knowledge retention; it means building interdepartmental communication and encouraging employees to share their knowledge with others.
Companies typically need to examine their knowledge management systems if their employees:
- Lack time to share new knowledge or skills
- Cannot properly convey information through speech or writing
- Do not have experience structuring skills
- Are uncomfortable asking questions
- Cannot use the existing knowledge exchange software
People want to work in a supportive environment where they are given all of the tools they need to succeed and are encouraged to grow and develop new ideas. This is why knowledge management is so valuable in companies of all sizes. As for who needs knowledge management systems, QA, marketing, sales, support, and development teams, just to name a few, can all benefit from an effective knowledge management system.
Knowledge management in startups
Knowledge management is especially important for startups, since it allows them to reuse their accumulated knowledge and experience. A startup’s knowledge repository should include things like emails, presentations, invoices, proposals, spreadsheets, pictures, and other files that provide a detailed record of the company’s activities. While startups may not have excessive amounts of data and knowledge to manage, it’s still important for them to establish a method of organization upfront. This will ensure that the data is easily accessible and retrievable, and they won’t end up with an unorganized, unusable pile of information in the future.
Social media is a great way for startups to both market themselves and document their knowledge and accomplishments. For example, they can use things like blogs, wikis, or forums to present and preserve company photos and videos, as well as articles on their achievements. In the future, they can refer back to this information for similar projects or use it to prove themselves to investors.
Benefits of knowledge management for businesses
Effective knowledge management is not just a strategy, it is a culture. A culture that helps companies streamline their processes and support their employees. Knowledge management can help businesses:
- Speed up onboarding, reducing project entry time from weeks to days.
- Make meetings more effective and eliminate wasted time.
- Develop training courses for both new hires and for teaching new skills and methods.
- Establish instructions and detail processes for employees.
- Create instructions for clients.
- Document the work of each department or team.
- Facilitate cross-departmental collaboration and communication.
How knowledge management helps onboarding
Knowledge management can significantly improve the onboarding and knowledge transfer processes and ensure that new hires are brought up to speed as quickly as possible and have access to all of the tools they need to succeed. An effective knowledge management system helps companies:
- Speed Up Onboarding – as a part of the employee onboarding checklist, new hires can access a detailed, thorough walkthrough of company processes and systems that provides the information they need for each step of the workflow, so they can start working sooner.
- Focus On Just-in-Time Learning – rather than learning everything upfront, employees use the knowledge base to find information on processes and tasks as they need it. This prevents new hires from becoming immediately overwhelmed by the sheer amount of new knowledge and ensures that they can easily find the information they need to perform tasks as they come up.
- Improve Productivity – when employees have access to the information they need to solve problems themselves, it increases productivity and reduces downtime.
- Increase Employee Satisfaction – when employees have easy access to the information and knowledge they need to do their jobs efficiently, they feel supported and empowered.
What information should be included in knowledge management?
There is a wide range of information that can be added to the knowledge management repository, including:
- Documents – handbooks, calendars, employee benefits information, product details, release notes, glossaries, info on business trips, birthdays, vacations, trainings
- Team Data – best practices, strategies, development timelines, presentation tactics, current projects, description of business logic, various metrics
- Organizational Data – contracts, locations and contact information, brand details, organizational charts
- Organizational News – IT updates, promotional information, media mentions, NPS scores
In short, companies should strive to catalogue an ample mix of:
- Explicit knowledge – information that is easily written down and shared
- Implicit knowledge – the practical application of knowledge
- Tacit knowledge – gained through personal experiences
How to store and share knowledge
There are many different knowledge management tools that companies can use to store and share knowledge. These tools include:
- Document management systems – essentially centralized, digital filing cabinets for storing and retrieving documents. They are simple to use and can be equipped with some security and backup measures. However, they have limited functionality and cannot automatically collect or analyze data.
- Content management systems – similar to document management systems, but they can also be used to store audio, video, and other media files.
- Databases – can be used to store, analyze, and interact with data. They are indexed, making the information easy to find, and they are also very secure.
- Data warehouses – company-wide systems that can pull and store both current and historic data from across the organization. They are highly useful for reporting and analysis and convert data into usable information.
- Wikis – collaborative web pages where anyone can publish or deposit information. They make great centralized, easily-accessible locations to store things like product catalogs or business documents.
- Social networks – can be used as spaces for people to connect, form groups, and share information. They can also be used to document company events, accomplishments, and media.
It is important to keep in mind that different types of information can be stored in different ways, and you should understand what types of data are used in your project in order to create the optimal set of tools specifically for your company. This will let you, on the one hand, not to overpay for unnecessary tools, and on the other hand, to get only those that increase the productivity of all employees.
Don’t forget that people are used to receiving information from those channels that are convenient for them. You can ask your HR to collect analytics of how information in your company reaches employees the best, and announce the most important things in several sources of information.
The importance of knowledge managers
While it seems that specialists in each area would be the best people to contribute to the knowledge repository, that is not necessarily the case. They are typically quite busy with their regular work and do not have the time to assemble, organize, and manage their contributions. In addition, they are likely not adept at technical writing and will have difficulty presenting information in a way that makes sense to non-specialists.
This is where the knowledge manager comes in. While they may not be a specialist in every field, their entire job consists of creating knowledge resources and making them accessible. They are well-versed in knowledge management strategies and know how to consult with specialists and take the technical information they’ve learned and make it understandable to those who will need it. They can utilize the knowledge sharing best practices and techniques to facilitate information collection and transfer across a variety of departments, from customer service knowledge management to knowledge sharing between developers & QA.
How to improve knowledge management?
Knowledge management implementation or improvement requires a multi-faceted approach, and there is no one-size-fits-all process for setting up a knowledge management program. It requires detailed planning and preparation, effective strategies, goal setting, and careful selection of knowledge managers.
The best way to learn what needs to be improved in your knowledge management system is to ask its consumers. You can use surveys and web analytics to find out what changes your employees need in order to use the system more efficiently. However, face-to-face conversations and open communication with your team are the most effective ways to ensure valuable feedback and the development of better knowledge transfer plans.
You can also use knowledge mapping to learn where improvements can be made in the knowledge transfer process. There are many advantages of knowledge mapping, which can help you locate and sort knowledge assets and identify areas where information is lacking or where it could flow better. Building a knowledge mapping allows you to identify gaps and improve knowledge flow by providing a visual representation of your information assets.
Finally, you should make sure that your knowledge management system is well-constructed and organized by developing a strategy and standardizing processes across the organization. This will help ensure that information is submitted and stored correctly, so that it can actually be accessed and utilized. Knowledge management is an internal service that you are providing to your team, so, like any service, it’s important to make sure that it is valuable, efficient, and beneficial to those who use it.