Knowledge management is the process of sourcing, organizing, storing, and distributing information in a way that allows for a select group of people to access it. Standardizing a knowledge management process helps your team stay organized and maintain efficiency. Get started with knowledge management in four easy steps.
Every day, you process new information that eventually turns into knowledge. You probably don’t think of the fact that you need to “manage” this knowledge—for most of us, that’s second nature. But actually, your brain is constantly recategorizing all of the knowledge you receive to make sure you don’t forget anything. A common way to ensure that no information is left behind is simply by writing a to-do list or a reminder. This is a form of knowledge management.
Managing the knowledge of an entire company is a little more complicated. That’s because a company consists of hundreds, sometimes thousands of people who all have different areas of knowledge and expertise. In this article, we’ll take a look at different forms of knowledge, how you can organize it to best fit the needs of your company, and best practices for sharing information to the right people.
Knowledge management is the act of sourcing, organizing, storing, and distributing information to make it easily accessible to a select group of people. Knowledge management is a proactive strategy for workplaces to ensure that the information your team needs to know is shared across the right people and teams—even if an individual leaves the organization. Since there’s so much information your team (and only your team) needs to know, managing that knowledge is essential to keep your processes running smoothly.
Knowledge management isn’t just used in the workplace. Public libraries are a form of knowledge management. Compiling your to-do list is a form of knowledge management. Whenever you gather information in one place to access it again later, you’re using knowledge management.Create a knowledge management template
“Knowledge” is such a broad term that it can feel overwhelming. But to keep things simple, you can divide all information into these three main categories:
Explicit knowledge: This is the most common form of knowledge. Explicit knowledge is information that is readily available, easy to understand, and easy to share. For example, a map of your office clearly dictates where certain rooms are located and where you can find doors, exits, and meeting rooms.
Implicit knowledge: Implicit knowledge is knowledge you gain from applying explicit knowledge. In simpler terms, implicit knowledge is learning by doing. For example, you can read explicit information about how to conduct a great meeting. However, you won’t actually learn how to conduct a meeting unless you do it yourself first. Riding a bike is another good example of implicit knowledge—you can read all you want about riding a bike, but you’ll never actually learn until you get on the bike and do it.
Tacit knowledge: Knowledge that you gain from personal experience is known as tacit knowledge. This type of knowledge is often very personal or cultural in nature. Tacit knowledge is a challenging type of knowledge to transfer from one person to another, because it often involves skills that need to be practiced over time. While similar in nature to implicit knowledge, tacit knowledge is more about applying information and past experiences to inform your behavior. For example, being a successful leader is a good example of tacit knowledge. You can read about leadership all you want, but that doesn’t necessarily make you a leader. You can have the title of a leader, but that alone doesn’t make you a leader. Being a leader requires having certain traits and qualities, such as strong active listening skills and empathy. These are not skills that are easily transferable from one person to another—they’re skills that individuals have to learn and practice on their own.
Knowledge management and a knowledge base are two closely related ideas, but they’re not quite the same. Knowledge management is the act of organizing information, while a knowledge base is the actual database of knowledge itself. A person will use knowledge management to create a knowledge base.
Knowledge management is beneficial for any form of organization. If you’re looking to organize a group of people under a common cause, knowledge management helps ensure that your organization has the right information to succeed. Here’s how:
Each team member at your company has a little piece of the knowledge puzzle. In a perfect world, everyone would bring their pieces together regularly to share knowledge. However, this isn’t necessarily scalable, and there’s plenty of room for error. As organizations grow over time, the puzzle pieces get smaller and more nuanced. Because the pieces become so granular, that information may not be shared with other people on the team who need it.
This kind of information is known as institutional knowledge. Institutional knowledge isn’t explicitly written down anywhere, but it’s essential information your team members learn on the job. This makes it challenging to train new team members, or transition people from one role to another.
If you compile all the information your team members need in one place, they don’t have to rely on another human being to relay that information to them. This releases the responsibility of knowing from one team member, and gives others the ability to find it on their own when they need it.
When knowledge is siloed within specific teams or kept to a single team member, other employees don’t know how exactly a process works. As a result, they may develop their own process that might not be the most effective, streamlined, or scalable. When team members aggregate and share information via knowledge management, everyone benefits from everyone else's expertise, knowledge, and lessons learned. Teams can take those learnings and use them to standardize processes and improve their own workflows. In turn, this helps your company get more consistent results.Read: Process documentation: The ultimate how-to with examples
Not only can you standardize processes for your team, you can also standardize communication. This helps establish expectations for how your team communicates. For example, does your team know where to go to find works in progress? What about final drafts? What about when they need to ask a question about a certain project? Knowledge management helps organize all of this information in one place, so everyone knows where to look for communication regarding a specific project.
The other great benefit is that knowledge management helps catalog specific individuals' communication styles. One person on your team may prefer email discussions, while others may want you to ping them on Slack before hopping on a quick call to chat face-to-face. Understanding how to best communicate with individual team members means that everyone gets important information in the way that works for them. One easy way to do this is to create a communication plan and house that plan in your team’s knowledge management platform.
Deciding what kind of information to include in your knowledge base can be challenging. Though it’ll vary from organization to organization, take a look at some common topics different departments cover:
When and how to submit an IT request
Policies and procedures for downloading new software
How to access pay stubs
How to submit a time-off request
Brand design guidelines
Social media best practices
Who to contact for press inquiries
Sales assets such as one-pagers and brochures
Centralizing knowledge is important for companies of all sizes. However, it’s important to organize that information in a way that is most beneficial for your specific team. Here are four steps to start the process:Create a knowledge management template
The first step of knowledge management is to gather as much relevant information as possible. You can do this by interviewing current team members about their roles and responsibilities and team structure, or by gathering existing documentation.
For example, it’s useful to know who on the team is responsible for certain things. Here at Asana, we use a system called Areas of Responsibility (AORs). If someone has a question regarding that individual’s area of responsibility, they know to speak with that specific individual. This gives people ownership over something, but also provides a point of contact for those who need more information.
This is the bulk of the work. Your team has to decide what kind of knowledge base to use, how to store information, and how information should be organized.
The best way to figure this out is to ask yourself a few questions:
How do you want people to access the information you’re storing?
How often will people be accessing this information?
How much information do you need to store?
These questions will help your team decide the best way to organize and store information. For example, large organizations need to store a large amount of information, so putting everything in one collaborative Google Doc isn’t sustainable. Instead, finding a knowledge management tool that allows you to catalog and search different pages might be more beneficial for your team.
Once you decide on a way to store your information, you have to make the knowledge accessible to everyone who needs it. Properly train your team and regularly communicate with them when and how to use the new knowledge base.
When you introduce a knowledge base to your team members, you don’t want to just share that information out of the blue—this can cause confusion or friction with already existing processes. Instead, use change management best practices to help ensure that your new knowledge base works for your team and is built into your workflow moving forward.Read: What is change management? 6 steps to build a successful change management process
Once you establish your knowledge base and your knowledge management processes, you can begin reaping the benefits. Your team should now have the ability to access company knowledge whenever they need it.
Make sure your team is regularly updating information to ensure accuracy. Assigning one person from each team to update and audit information once a quarter is a good place to start. Once your team becomes more familiar with the knowledge management process, they can start updating the knowledge base consistently as part of their workflow.
Knowledge management is a powerful tool, but if not maintained correctly can cause problems. Check out some common mistakes that can happen during the knowledge management process—and how to prevent them from happening.
A team member may intentionally withhold information to maintain their status within a company and others may do this unknowingly. No matter the intention, when crucial information is not shared with the team, it can cause issues for other team members. When only one person knows how a process works or has essential information, this becomes a problem for the rest of the team. If that individual leaves, the rest of the team has to figure out the nuances of that process on their own. This makes it more likely that important information will fall through the cracks.
To prevent this from happening, document processes consistently and ensure that more than one person is trained with this information. This prevents one person becoming a single point of failure for your team.
A knowledge base is only beneficial if information is consistently updated. If the knowledge base is not updated, team members will be accessing outdated information—which in turn can disrupt new processes.
To prevent this from happening, encourage team members to update information about processes they’re responsible for. Here’s an example. Since we each have specific Areas of Responsibility here at Asana, updating documentation is simple. Everyone knows which processes they’re responsible for and what documentation they need to update.
If the target audience of your knowledge base can’t access the information they need, the database might as well not exist. This can cause people to divert from set processes or use outdated or incorrect information to complete their work.
The easiest way to prevent this is to ensure that your knowledge base is extremely user friendly. This means for both sides: finding information and adding new information. You don’t want the process to be too complicated that it becomes a pain to use. The less steps your team has to take to get the information they need, the better.
As your team works to develop a knowledge management strategy, it’s important to establish a central form of communication—or a work knowledge base. Using a work management tool like Asana ensures that your entire team has an organized understanding of what work needs to be done by when.Create a knowledge management template