In Part 1 and 2 we build on the definition of Knowledge Management and by extension Documentation, and we then took a look at how it was the foundation to foster a culture of transparency. In the Part 3 and final part of this series, we’ll look into 6 practical principles that you can leverage from and use to build your own organizational principles.
But how to “actually” create a culture of transparency through documentation?
Now that we know what is knowledge, what is not, the principles of knowledge management, and we know that a great Knowledge Management practice is the foundation for building a culture of transparency, let’s take a little more practical look at what you can do to slowly build it within your organization.
Clarify Knowledge Management within your organization
First, clarify that what we are talking about is really managing knowledge. As pompous as the term is – and you are free to use another nomenclature that works better for your organization, it is still a requirement.
However, you don’t have to make it feel complicated. It is, in fact, rather simple. Take the following principles and discuss them within your team or organization and come up with your principles that can be observed internally to make this a success.
Principle 1: Not all the knowledge accumulates value over time
Therefore, the question: “What does?”. The answer is likely to be different between any two organizations, and that’s perfectly fine. There isn’t a one-fits-all answer here, and it will greatly depend on your organization and culture. But, as we’ll see lower down, keep it simple. Pick the obvious ones and start small, reflect often, and keep growing or shrinking the list over time as your organization learns more and becomes more familiar with the practice.
Principle 2: Embrace change
The principles and rules of knowledge management should evolve. Just as a piece of knowledge, the very principles of Knowledge Management require maintenance as part of its lifecycle. What this means is that what you found to be relevant today may not be relevant tomorrow.
Taking a practical example from the first principle, the list of knowledge that is likely to accrue value over time is very likely to change as time goes because you will have a better perspective of what actually did accrue value*.*
Implement a simple 30 minutes monthly principles review, offer anyone in your organization to opt-in – this should give you a good hint of who are your key opinions leaders, and send monthly or quarterly forms to everyone asking simple things like “What have you found working well within Knowledge Management this past month / quarter?” and “If you were to change or add one thing, what would it be?”
Principle 3: Make everything transparent
As we have discussed earlier, a good knowledge management practice can be the foundation for a culture of transparency. Quite obviously, to achieve this, you need to make things transparent first.
But what does transparent mean? Simply, it means that “anyone who wants to see it, can”. It doesn’t mean they will, but they just need to know they can. On top of this, to boost information flow, it is a good idea to figure out a good pro-active transparency, so that people know they can, but also know when and where they should be looking. That way you are already boosting your knowledge travel function.
The hard part with broadcasting is to not overflow people with unwanted or unneeded information. There is no one-fits-all solution here, so you will have to figure this out within your organization and identify who is interested in which area of knowledge, so they can watch just the bits they feel they need or desire to, and know they can search for the rest whenever needed.
Principle 4: Keep things simple
One mistake I have personally done in the past about Knowledge Management is trying to come up with a perfect solution that fixes everything holistically.
Obviously, this doesn’t work, and is relatively wasteful because you spend so much time trying to figure out what perfect means, without even knowing what the first step would be. Clearly, a recipe for disaster.
Therefore, it is strongly recommended to keep things simple. The only thing I would recommend you do early on, is to try to have a good sense of how you will refactor the knowledge you have in the future. When you have a LOT of data, it is very challenging to refactor things in a way that is now seen as making sense. It could be a huge effort in itself. Worthy, but huge. So having a good understanding of how you can refactor things when the time comes will really save time the moment your organization needs to make it happen.
Other than that, once you are clear with how you can refactor and reorganize things, and that you know that searchability and transparency are respected, just do it. Start somewhere, start with a first team, a first set of early adopters, start building and keep on reflecting regularly.
Note: When you start, I would recommend having a Knowledge Management review – see “Embrace Change” – more frequently rather than less frequently. Every week may even make sense, depending on your organization and team.
Principle 5: Always keep others in mind
As we have seen in part 2 of this blog series, this is critical to build the right culture. If you manage to build the needed transparency and start simple, all the team really needs to do is anytime something is done within your organization, anyone should pause for a moment – possibly as part of the workflow – and ask “Who could make use of this knowledge in the future?“.
Said differently, “How can we accrue value from this knowledge?”. If the answer feels like “It won’t accrue value”, then either log this somewhere, so you may be able to come back to it someday without spending the time to actually document it, or even record the decision that “We did not find that XXX would accrue value over time”, log who was there and the time. It’s possible that these logs themselves will accrue value over time, since they will help you build value from the decisions taken in the past, and understand, for these decisions that became observed as incorrect some time in the future, what made that they were taken the way they were, and how to improve over time. That’s value, right there.
By keeping others in mind, and keeping the concern of helping others in the future grow faster, you will slowly breed a culture of transparency, but also of generosity and value-driven effectiveness.
Principle 6: Journaling is the easiest way to accrue value painlessly
A stretch goal here. Most people see “documentation” as a painful process, sometimes even wasteful, because of the time it takes to just write, time that is diverted from other activities seen as more productive.
In reality, there is a sweet spot somewhere where too much documentation yields diminishing returns, and no documentation is usually a time-bomb in the making and will bite you back big time in the future. As with all things, the key is balance, and staying within the range around the middle between too much documentation and none.
A simple trick that I find extremely useful is journaling. I, personally, find it extremely useful because journaling can be elementary – a few lines at each update, think 2 tweets worth of text – and has the same benefits as a mind map, that if you read the journal bottom to top, you will be able to visualize the progress, one step at a time, but also the context in which the progress was made and the team’s mindset at the time the decision was made, all this generating a lot of value.
The other benefit of it, is that since each update should be simple, it’s very consumable by others, back to the 2 tweets example, and therefore broadcasting more often becomes a possibility.
Follow these principles, build on top of them with your organization, keep on reflecting regularly, and you should quickly build a great store of compounding value for your organization.
Get in touch, would love to hear your story
If you have more questions, have done this in the past, can see it in your organization but do not know where or how to start, or if you simply have comments or feedback, please feel free to reach out anytime.
You can also join semdi Business Agility ThinkTank S01E03 on using Knowledge Management to create transparency.
Looking forward to talk with all of you.