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How to accelerate DevOps teams by bringing knowledge to Slack

Slack is redefining internal workflows by establishing itself as the operating system of the modern workplace. As more productivity tools continue to invest in deeper and deeper integrations with the Slack platform, they solidify it’s status at the nucleus of operations. This of course, extends to knowledge management, and Slack’s ability to enable knowledge access, capture and sharing. There would be gigantic void without knowledge merging with the communication and collaboration that happens in Slack.

If we zoom in from an org-wide workflow to take a closer look at the DevOps scenario in more closely, the Slack dependency rears its ugly head. This is evidenced by the troves of unanswered question, misplaced messages and issues that should have rightfully been resolved through a self-service channel instead of polluting Slack. That is why tools that integrate with Slack must be committed to building faster and more enjoyable ways to connect knowledge to knowledge seekers.

Knowledge seekers in action

What does seeking for knowledge look like in Slack? You might imagine it resembling an engineer combing through troves of specs and volumes of documentation. That might be the case sometimes… but mostly, it looks like this:

  • “how does one gain access to our VMs?”
  • “When did Slack API deprectate channels.info?”
  • “can anyone show me our deploy process for the main site?”

Far less glamourous, but these are the kinds of issues that block productivity. Productivity is about ensuring the day-to-day workflows are unencumbered by overwhelming amounts of information created by notifications, emails, messages and shoulder taps.

Consider this common and all-too-familiar workflow.

  • A support seeker asks a question in Slack looking for a resource.
  • They know the answer is probably in Confluence, but they’d rather just ask the question in Slack because maybe someone else will be able to quickly provide an answer.
  • One or more subject matter experts takes time out of their busy workflow to try and aid the support-seeker.
  • The subject matter expert switches context and accesses Confluence, grabs the link and shares the resource back in Slack.
  • Meanwhile the support seeker is blocked by a lack of knowledge and the subject matter expert is distracted from their original task.

Fear not – this can be optimized.

Consolidation

It seems tempting to get granular with your Slack workspace setup. Channels for every situation and scenario create confusion and unnecessary silos where questions and knowledge can get lost. This tends to happen outside of the bounds of the Slack workspace as well, with knowledge getting dispersed among repositories like Google Drive, Confluence, Box, Dropbox and the list goes on.

So distill your Slack channel list down to something smaller and more manageable. Even in companies with thousands of employees, less channels mean less confusion. For example, consider creating a single channel for frequently asked questions. It poor practice to create channels dedicated for sub-teams and special projects; this reduces oversight and transparency..

This extends to Slack Enterprise Grid (SEG), as well. Avoid spinning up a new workspace for what could have been a channel.

Documentation, meet Slack. Slack, Documentation.

One of the most underutilized native Slack features is pinning. Take advantage of Slack’s “pinned” feature by attaching FAQs, readme’s and help articles to your Slack channels. Don’t forget to utilize the channel description and built-in welcome messages for streamlined onboarding into these channels. Channel consolidation also reduces search time for documents that have been uploaded to Slack.

Because of the maturity of the Slack ecosystem, most knowledge base tools or documentation storage platforms have Slack integrations to connect information in channels. A word of caution though, some integrations are robust and some are quite limited, so be prepared to manage your expectations.

You might also consider dedicating an “Announcements” channel to alert the team of breaking changes to the product or company knowledge in an attempt to limit an onslaught of repeated questions and reduce channel noise.

As you continue to try and refine your Slack workspace, there are a wide variety of Slack-based knowledge and file management apps that can suggest articles and answers to common questions.

The goal with all of these systems and strategies is to enable better self-service and greater access to the collective knowledge of your team for streamlined ops.

Knowledge Format

Why restrict your knowledge to the traditional wiki or long-form knowledge base formats? The main reason is that some knowledge is optimally stored in a different medium. Would you store a guest wifi password in a video file? Probably not. So, it seems intuitive to dedicate a knowledge format to the most frequently asked questions or reused snippets. Consider this example:

A set of config options frequently used in YAML files for spinning up servers is stored in an snippet for easy search and sharing, directly within Slack. 

  • limited styling
  • character limits (i.e. 1000)
  • Simple copy and pasting

This ensures that the proverbial fat is unapologetically trimmed in every way humanly possible to ensure the fastest capture, access and sharing happens in the individual workflow. 

This knowledge format doesn’t require a tool, but can be achieved with something like Confluence Questions. To tie your FAQs more tightly into Slack, you might consider tools designed specifically for Q&A.

Beyond knowledge

Self-serve support cannot resolve all issues that arise in the workplace. Eventually, some of those issues require human intervention. At some point, the path either ends in resolution or begins an escalation. Within Slack there are a few ways, both natively and by integration, to traiage issues that cannot be resolved by self-serve support documentation.

A component of these workflows that is often overlooked can be escalation of issues and questions that come up in Slack. You may have checked all of the boxes on our tips for streamlining internal support up until now, but it’s important not to forget about the workflow for triaging an issue when documentation isn’t enough. The path of least resistance is to ping a colleague on Slack instead of adding, say, a Jira issue. Or, perhaps, your team doesn’t yet have a formal process for escalating these types of situations.

  • Use Slack workflow builder to create an easy-to-use request form triggered by a Slack shortcut
  • Use reacji (an emoji based language) for subtle and light-weight service desk system that requires less interruptions
  • Otherwise, take a look at the list of existing Slack integrations that bring tools like Jira into the flow of work