One of the biggest challenges for businesses is how to capture knowledge so that it’s easy to find and use. In the fast-paced digital world we live in, important documents, information, instructions and reference material are often quickly stored away in many different places and systems. Most people have information stored in email folders, on devices, desktops, drop boxes and shared drives. This knowledge is ‘captured’ in document form but it’s not easily accessible and usable except to the person who owns it. Usually the most important knowledge is not even documented, but exists only in people’s heads. Often you won’t notice this problem until you need to make changes to your business, or an employee leaves.
Your business’s knowledge is valuable because it represents hundreds of hours of investment in training and development of expertise. It’s your business’s intellectual property. You need this information if you want to change your business processes or implement new systems and policies. Or you might want to understand your customers’ buying journey to optimise your service offering.
So just how do you go about capturing your valuable knowledge? And how do you make it accessible and easy to find?
1. Create a knowledge management strategy
The first step is to create a knowledge management strategy. This may sound complicated and ‘too hard’ but the time and level of complexity will depend on the size of your organisation and the areas you need to focus on.
The strategy will consider how your business uses information and what you want to achieve. It will usually include an information audit and assess your current knowledge assets, where they are kept and whether they are accurate and up to date. A thorough audit will also identify any gaps where important knowledge is not captured – which can be a real risk to your business.
If you invest in help from an expert, they can do this for you with minimal disruption to your day to day business activities. They will work with you to identify your business issues, what you want to achieve and develop a plan for getting there.
2. Design a business process framework
Something that is often overlooked when capturing knowledge is the design of a business process framework. Such a framework can be a good way to develop and organise your knowledge repository. It identifies your main processes, and the related job roles. Once you have this documented, you can add the relevant policies, procedures, tools and training information that relate to each process (steps 3 and 4 below).
A business process framework doesn’t need to be developed using any specific software. We recommend starting simply with a set of Word or Visio files. Eventually these can be migrated to an intranet site so that they are easily accessible and kept up to date.
3. Map your business processes and sub-processes
Now that you have identified your high-level business processes, you are ready to start mapping them in detail. Develop a plan that allocates a few hours to mapping each process. We recommend a focus group session that includes the key people who are involved in the processes that you are mapping. It’s not unusual to find that different people carry out the same process in slightly different ways or use different systems. This is an opportunity to gain agreement on best practice.
Some process mapping tips:
- Business process mapping can be time consuming so schedule focus group sessions over several days or weeks, allowing 1-2 hours for each process.
- During each session, note information about any systems or tools used at each process stage.
- Be careful not to confuse ‘policy’ (guidelines and rules), ‘process’ (how something happens), and ‘procedure’ (the steps to do something). Identifying these 3 different types of information will ensure your process maps are clear and easy to use. It’ll also be important later when you come to organise your knowledge assets and develop user focused information.
- It can be helpful to allocate someone as your assistant to make notes and ‘carpark’ any unresolved issues to follow up later.
- If you need help with the basics, join one of our regular Process Mapping courses. You will learn process facilitation and diagramming techniques. Our expert process mapping consultants can also help you get started quickly or facilitate for you.
4. Document your policies, procedures and tools
Using your business processes as an overarching framework makes it much easier to identify, document or structure your knowledge assets. These may include policies, procedures or work instructions, and systems that relate to each business process. You may also want to add legislation and references and training information for new recruits.
Keep in mind when developing your documentation that it should be focused on the people who will be using it (the target audience). Think about:
- What do users need to know?
- How, when and where will they be using the information?
- Have I included the right level of detail for the target audience?
5. Make your knowledge accessible and keep it up to date
To make the most of your knowledge assets they need to be easy for your users to find. Keep them in an online knowledge repository as part of your intranet site, a shared drive or content management system.
Wherever you store your knowledge assets, it’s essential that you have an ‘information architecture’ or overall structure that makes it easy for users to navigate and find the information they need. The business process framework you designed in Step 2 may be the best way to structure your knowledge assets. Alternatively, the knowledge management strategy in Step 1 may have identified an organising principle that is more appropriate for your business, for example, by department or job function.
Lastly, you need to maintain your knowledge assets. Make sure that old information is identified and archived, and that there is no duplication of information to avoid confusion.
Having a version control strategy will help keep your information up to date. The size of your organisation and the number of staff who own the documents will affect how this is best managed. You could schedule an annual review of each document by its owner or the appropriate subject matter expert. Or implement a system where out of date information is flagged by the users and escalated for updating.
Ask us a question or tell us about your experience implementing a knowledge management strategy.
About the Author
Lianne Hansen has a background in business development and technical writing. She is skilled in crafting responses to complex RFP’s and managing client relationships. Lianne has managed the documentation and training requirements for large transformation and compliance related projects. Read more…