There is so much advice on how to manage your tech start-up that it’s a wonder that any fail. All of us who’ve been down this road have our own management peccadillos and one of mine (one of many, others would say) is that when faced with a choice whether to recruit a person or invest in something, the ‘something’ should be the first choice. It will always be cheaper in the long run (and often sooner than that), it will always be more sustainable and it will be easier to maintain. This post is about one of those ‘somethings’ – investment in technology to manage knowledge.
Separating people from their knowledge
One of the clichés that most businesses identify with, is the one that positions people as the most important resource. The reason that this cliché has weight is that people are the repository of knowledge and if the person disappears, so does a chunk of business knowledge.
It follows that separating the knowledge from the people would be a good thing to do. This sounds like a surgical procedure and it’s not that. It’s an objective towards which we strive – it’s important because we try to manage ourselves productively.
In our business, we try to ensure that when one of us needs to know something, there are different ways to find out, none of which involved finding the person who ‘knows’.
Firstly, a confession – an ironic one. I’ve picked up this post from Haritima who put our knowledge strategy together. She left us a short while ago to head home to India and she’s now happily married there. That I can take over this post is testimony to what the post is about and the knowledge she left with us.
What is knowledge?
“Knowledge” can be:
- Explicit: information or knowledge set out in some tangible form.
- Implicit: information or knowledge not set out in tangible form but which could be made explicit.
- Tacit: information or knowledge that would be extremely difficult to set out tangibly.
As a first step, and using our definition of what knowledge is, we’ve tried to identify the knowledge in the business that’s already explicit. Then we’ve identified implicit knowledge and tried to make it explicit. Finally, we’ve thought about all that knowledge which is tacit.
If we do this right, we’ll be able to use and share perspectives, ideas, experience and information and we’ll have knowledge that’s in the right place and available at the right time. In actively managing our knowledge, we’ll not be reinventing the wheel, we’ll reduce the burden on expert attrition, and we’ll meet our customers’ needs better and faster.
In our business, we like lists (that’s a different post!). So here are 3:
List 1: Our TWO knowledge management objectives
Knowledge is created from all our operations, including management and administrative process and functions and from our product development. If we get things right, two things will follow:
- For US, we’ll improve the quality of decision-making by ensuring that reliable and secure knowledge, information and data are available.
- For our CUSTOMERS, we’ll reduce the cost of the services we offer by reducing the need to rediscover knowledge that we have already.
To meet these two objectives, technology plays a big role; we try to gather and store knowledge in a clear and consistent way and standardise our processes using technology.
List 2: Our THREE Knowledge Management Principles
- Knowledge is a corporate resource; it does not belong to an individual or management unit.
- Knowledge should be owned by the person or people closest to it. They must take responsibility for keeping it accurate and communicate change when necessary.
- To be productive, knowledge should be stored once and used many times.
List 3: Our FOUR Knowledge groups
We identify 4 knowledge groups to help us determine which knowledge management platform they should be contained within. These four groups are:
- Static: Corporate, contractual and policy documentation supporting long term objectives and sensitive HR documentation. This knowledge changes little over time.
- Reference: Necessary to guide operational delivery, process, security and compliance standards. Users of this knowledge should understand this content and review it regularly to ensure continuous improvement. This knowledge changes slowly but must be easily accessible.
- Dynamic: Regularly changed ‘live’ documentation which evolves as a part of ongoing development and projects. This includes:
- Our strategic vision: Goals, objectives and KPI’s.
- Product development: Roadmaps, the research and development of our software, design.
- Project products – their scope, design and planning.
This knowledge changes rapidly – in many cases, hourly.
- Conversational/Live: Day-day-day conversation required to support projects, operational delivery and problem resolution. This knowledge is intended for quick collaboration and sharing of ideas around a common goal or function and supports the generation of dynamic content.
We’re Microsoft Silver Partners, so unsurprisingly, we have a focus on Microsoft products. But for much of what we do, we also use Atlassian products. We try very hard not to add tools to our toolkit – that is an overhead we try hard to avoid.
In very broad terms, we use Microsoft products for Static and Conversational knowledge and Atlassian products for Reference and Dynamic knowledge.
If you were to search the question “how to manage tacit knowledge’ you’d find many consultants with solutions for you. However, if it was possible to manage tacit knowledge easily, it wouldn’t be tacit, it would be implicit. So, if the knowledge is genuinely tacit, there’s a challenge. And all businesses have that challenge.
Looking in the mirror, my grey hair is testimony to the volume of tacit knowledge I possess. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is! And yes, the older the person is, the more tacit knowledge she / he owns.
In my case, the tacit knowledge I have includes:
- Knowing about data and how to use it.
- A ‘memory’ of who and what, which combine to form the history of our business.
I know that the old university debate was entitled ‘history teaches us that history teaches us nothing’ but most people recognise that this is rubbish and that history teaches us … everything.
- A set of skills acquired over time that come into play when a business situation demands it.
We’ve not solved the tacit knowledge problem – it’s not easily solved. But we try, and it’s certainly a good first step to recognise its existence.