Managing internal knowledge effectively is a challenge that every company experiences regardless of size. What tends to happen is that the problem is often ignored or tolerated until the company enters a growth stage at which point a knowledge management strategy shows its weaknesses and the foundation begins to crumble. The good news is that even when it feels like a hair-on-fire problem, its not too late to fix because although making documentation matter in a company culture doesn’t happen overnight, it isn’t something that takes years to fix either. When your knowledge management strategy (or lack thereof) you will likely encounter similar patterns experienced by other companies at a similar growth stage.
There are five common challenges that teams experience as their knowledge management needs get prioritized. They are:
- Improving knowledge access from workflows
- Knowledge verification
- Multiple knowledge silos or repositories
- Frequently asked question
- Identifying knowledge gaps
Accessing knowledge from common workflows
The proximity of knowledge to common workflows is perhaps the most frustrating of challenges in all of knowledge management. Your team could invest months of time and effort into capturing and codifying internal knowledge, but if that documentation is perceived as being located too far from the place where support seekers are working, they will not utilize it to its potential. So the question that knowledge managers must ask is “where are questions asked?” – because wherever support seekers are actually asking those questions must be exactly where the knowledge should be accessible from. With Slack and MS Teams usurping email as the internal communication channel of choice for modern organizations – and a very common place for support questions to be asked, it begs the question, “Is your internal knowledge accessible from Slack or MS Teams?”
Knowledge has an expiry date. Rarely does internal knowledge stay static forever. Management teams, strategies, products, employees, technologies and more change frequently – and with those changes, so does company internal knowledge. Stale knowledge has a doubly negative effect on the quality of internal knowledge. If your documentation is out of date, employees will lose confidence in the knowledge base as retaining the most up-to-date content and they will default to other channels that are not self-serve support mechanisms (like asking for help in Slack). Knowledge verification can be improved in a couple of different ways. First content should contain clear details on when the knowledge was authored or updated as well as when it should be verified again. The second strategy involves assigning verifiers so that they can be responsible to upkeep within their domain of expertise.
Multiple silos or knowledge repositories
Having a single knowledge silo sounds simple, but things don’t seem to work out that way in practice, do they? A common pattern is that various business units choose different technology that suits their needs and that doesn’t always match what others choose. Technical people like keeping their documentation in Confluence. Customer support teams might keep theirs in Zendesk Guide. Product teams might like Notion. The options are endless and so can the frustration. There are two main problems with silos: they are difficult to search without a federated search layer and they create confusion as to where internal knowledge exists within an organization. These two challenges make support seekers give up and default to shoulder-tapping behavior, which is counterproductive. Teams may be reluctant to give up their own silo, so the best solution is one that incorporates a federated search of all silos.
Frequently asked questions
Recurring questions, whether in an internal messaging platform like Slack or in person via “shoulder-taps” are prevalent in scaling organizations where new employees are joining the team at a rapid rate. FAQs are a frustrating because the answer is seemingly so simple – check the knowledge base first!
FAQs are defeated with knowledge formats that are optimized for speed of access. The frustrating thing about FAQs is that the support seekers often feel like the answer must be within a very short reach and if it isn’t they give up on self-serve support. Ultimately solving FAQs requires equal attention to optimizing for fast workflow as it does making sure that the knowledge exists in documented form.
Identifying knowledge gaps
Locating knowledge gaps in internal knowledge can be a painful recurring task that has to be addressed. In the worst case scenario, knowledge gap identification can be completed manually at a recurring interval by keeping track of common questions and tracking frequency.
With the emergence of AI and Natural Language Processing (NLP), this task can be largely automated in internal messaging platforms to identify patterns that look like questions. This can then be used to create a backlog of requests for content to add to the knowledge base, which should help reduce FAQs.
Whether your organization is experiencing one or more of these common knowledge management challenges, rest assured there are solutions that address many of these issues, sometimes all in the single platform. Deciding on which one fits best for you and your team will depend on finding out exactly where self-serve knowledge management channels fail and focus on fixing those problems first.