You probably know the age-old axiom: knowledge is power.
This might be true, however, it comes with a few conditions.
First, you need to have a way to access knowledge. Easily and quickly if possible. Also, this knowledge must be accurate, and it must be used the right way. Unfortunately, in the workplace — these 3 conditions can hardly be met. And it can be incredibly costly to a business.
That’s why managing knowledge the right way is key to a company’s success, and we’ll help you here by providing knowledge management best practices and tips to choose the best knowledge management system for your company’s needs.
What is knowledge management?
First, what is knowledge?
Let’s begin with the Cambridge Dictionary definition: knowledge is the “understanding of or information about a subject that you get by experience or study, either known by one person or by people generally”.
Two important notions here: first, the fact that knowledge can be acquired not only by study but also by experience, and that it can be known not only by one person but by people in general. In that sense, the experience and skills gained by a collaborator across the years are aimed to be shared across an organization. A typical example would be the onboarding of a new employee, a time when it is essential to transfer the company’s knowledge and practices.
What is knowledge management and why it’s important?
As defined by Atlassian, “knowledge management is the process of creating, curating, sharing, using, and managing knowledge across an organization”.
Knowledge is one of the greatest assets of an organization. When an employee leaves the company and the knowledge acquired by this person has not been stored or passed along to others, it constitutes a high risk of information loss for the company.
Knowledge management’s goal is to maintain all the company’s learnings and history and make it easily accessible to all.
This is even more crucial nowadays, with teams working from everywhere with different schedules and across different time zones. Going to the desk or office next door, and tapping the shoulder of your colleague for information might not be possible anymore. All team members must be able to asynchronously share their knowledge and learnings and get access to it whenever and wherever they are.
What are the benefits of knowledge management?
Half of all respondents in a recent survey conducted by Deloitte identified knowledge sharing as a key driver to team success. From offering a single source of truth to improving collaboration and productivity, managing knowledge efficiently can be highly beneficial for companies and teams.
Better collaboration & team communication
Effective knowledge management is the path to successful knowledge transfer. Sharing learnings across teams and team members prevents company silos and enhances communication throughout your organization. It fosters collaboration as people are more aligned, have clearer goals, and have more transparency in their work.
Single source of truth & high-quality data
Having multiple tools to store information usually leads to time loss, looking for what you need, duplicated data, or outdated information. To have a single, reliable source of truth where everyone can find the information they need, is one of the main goals of knowledge management. It gives efficient access to knowledge as well as improved quality of information.
According to a McKinsey study, employees spend nearly 20% of their time searching for the information they need to do their jobs. With an effective system to share knowledge and information, productivity could be improved by 30 to 35%.
To give the right information to the right people at the right time. That’s the key to making more informed and data-driven decisions. When information is shared transparently across the entire organization, everyone has the tools to work toward the same goals.
What are the main types of knowledge management?
Explicit knowledge is the most apparent form of knowledge: it includes any formalized documentation, written processes, or reports. Everything that is easy to write down and pass along.
Explicit knowledge is usually the first and the easiest type of information you can store and make accessible to your team. The challenge here will be to keep it accurate and up-to-date.
Examples of explicit knowledge: reports, formalized processes, product documentation, and technical user guides.
Implicit knowledge is the practical application of explicit knowledge to a specific situation.
For example, if explicit knowledge is the user guide of your new camera, implicit knowledge will be gained when you apply that information in order to take beautiful portrait pictures.
It can be hard to capture and document, as it’s, essentially, learned skills or know-hows.
Examples of implicit knowledge: best practices and how-tos
Tacit knowledge is the knowledge that is gained from personal experience.
Think of your grandmother’s famous recipes. It is usually never written down. She just knows how to cook them from the thousand times she already did it. Which quantity of flour to add, the right way to mix the ingredients together, the exact time in the oven… You will have a hard time learning how to make those, as this knowledge is based on experience and intuition.
As tacit knowledge is intangible information, it becomes really difficult to write it down and explain it in a straightforward way.
Examples of tacit knowledge: how to speak another language, cultural traditions, and customs, missions like sales or leadership where complex social skills are involved
Your organization’s ability to capture and retain all types of knowledge is at the same time essential and challenging. But once mastered, it can represent a huge competitive advantage.
Knowledge management best practices
Knowledge is one of your organization’s most valuable assets. But only if managed efficiently. Here are 5 best practices we recommend to get better knowledge management.
1. Aggregate your team’s knowledge in a single system
To democratize knowledge, companies first need to centralize it in a digital information hub, usually called Knowledge Management System (KMS). The goal is to avoid having information scattered across different tools, or in your colleagues’ minds. Choosing the right system is important, so we prepare a list of questions to ask yourself when choosing a knowledge management system, available at the end of this article.
2. Increase transparency with open and shared information
Preventing company silos has become more and more of a challenge with the COVID-19 pandemic’s scattering of staff among homes and work sites, and even across different countries and time zones. Increase transparency in your company by providing open and easy access to knowledge, and encouraging team members to collaborate and share information.
3. Make information fun & easy-to-consume
Prioritize brief articles and FAQs to long articles and procedures (you don’t want the acronym “TLDR” to be used to describe your content). Share your information in a user-friendly way to that readers will be eager to read it. As you know “a picture is worth a thousand words”, so don’t hesitate to use images and graphs to convey your message. For instance, at Elements, we create sprint posters for each development sprint to illustrate its main objectives. Atlassian also suggests creating a project poster for every major initiative, to share your goals and progress with the rest of the team and stakeholders.
4. Foster a knowledge-sharing culture
Faris Behme and Sandy Becker of Deloitte explain that “in the context of generating, sharing, and managing knowledge, organizations cannot underestimate the human factor.” If team members don’t have the will or the motivation to share knowledge and information, even the best platforms and tools will be useless. Enable employees on knowledge management best practices, and foster a knowledge-sharing mindset so that they recognize the value for themselves and for the company.
5. Measure and improve continuously
Don’t let your KMS gather dust. Adopt a “kiwi gardener” attitude to keep it clean and up-to-date so that it continues to be a relevant and valuable resource for employees. Measure user engagement and participation in knowledge transfer, and run regular audits to check if the platform and knowledge management processes are still aligned with user needs.
Choosing a Knowledge management system
It is no coincidence that we listed “Aggregate your team’s knowledge in a single system” as the first position in our knowledge management best practices. As Nate Martins from Notion says, “without a system, knowledge isn’t tangible. It lives in employees’ heads.”
But before jumping into selecting the software for your knowledge management system (KMS), you must consider several elements, from administration capabilities to usability and user experience.
Here are the key questions to ask yourself to make the right choice for your KMS:
Download this checklist here, to help you choose your KMS.
Atlassian tools for knowledge management
Several software can be used for knowledge management. From more generic ones like Notion or Monday, to specific ones like Document 360, Confluence, or Tettra, the offer is wide.
If you are already using some tools from the Atlassian suite (like ourselves), such as Jira Software or Jira Service Management, getting Confluence can be a great addition to manage knowledge and link your tools together.
With easy content creation, organization, and a powerful search engine, Confluence provides an accessible platform for knowledge management. Also, combined with Jira Service Management when used for customer support, for instance, it can offer a self-serve knowledge base so that customers find themselves the answers to common questions, without having to create a new ticket.
To go further and learn how to implement knowledge management best practices with Atlassian tools, check out our article on how to create a knowledge base article in Confluence directly from a Jira ticket.