How easy is it for you and your fellow knowledge workers to access and use the information you need to do your jobs? The answer should be: supereasy. If it’s not, you need a better knowledge management system, one that is easy to use and makes sharing information with team members a breeze.
With an efficient knowledge management system in place, your teams have fewer obstacles to overcome and spend less time waiting for the information they need.
What is a knowledge management system?
Organizational knowledge management is a system for gathering, storing, sharing or retrieving, and using knowledge. This includes any resource, document, file, database, or tool that your teams need access to so they can do their jobs effectively. The purpose of a knowledge management system (KMS) is to improve collaboration, learning, and process alignment.
You don’t want, for example, knowledge scattered across different locations — personal hard drives, company drives, intranets. That level of disorganization has a real effect on teams:
- They can’t find a file that’s been saved to a personal drive.
- They can’t access a file without waiting for someone else to grant permission.
- They don’t know where to save files for everyone to access.
A knowledge management system can solve these challenges. Having a process in place to gather, store, distribute, and use company knowledge helps your teams make the most out of the information available to them. Each step of the knowledge management process is crucial to creating a comprehensive and efficient knowledge management system.
Gather all your existing internal and external resources. Be as thorough as possible and make sure you gather all the knowledge your company has on file. There are three types of knowledge to include in your management system: tacit, implicit, and/or explicit.
Remember, a knowledge management system is only as good as the information included in it.
Folders, knowledge management tools, drives, and intranets are all great ways to store your knowledge. The way you store your knowledge depends on how much information you have. For instance, if you have 10,000+ files to store and organize, you need a tool or a drive that has the capability to hold that much data. Stored knowledge should be organized in a way that makes information easy to find, like in specific and obvious categories or by department.
Knowledge sharing & retrieval
Employees access your knowledge by retrieving it themselves or through sharing. A strong knowledge management process can remove some of the obstacles that employees encounter when they try to access information, like needing an original file owner to grant file permissions. Because a knowledge management process requires you to gather, store, and organize all your information in one spot, it’s easier for managers or IT teams to go through and make sure the files are accessible to the teams who need them.
Your teams can share knowledge through a messaging system like Slack, for example, or via email. Or they can retrieve the information themselves by going to the folder, tool, or database where the information is stored.
Your teams use knowledge to get tasks and projects done effectively. You have to make sure that all knowledge is accurate and ready for teams to use. This way, teams know they’re using the most up-to-date version of a file or are privy to prior knowledge on a task or project related to the file.
Common elements of a knowledge management system
Once you obtain knowledge, you need to store it in an organized way for easy distribution and use inside a knowledge management system. Most stored knowledge is hosted on a server-based system or a cloud-based system, depending on your current infrastructure. For example, if you operate a remote environment with teams all over the world, a cloud-based system makes more sense than a server-based system. Regardless of where your system is hosted, there are a few elements you should include based on the needs and preferences of your teams.
A knowledge base
The foundation of your knowledge management system is a knowledge base, which acts as a single source of truth for all your files and documents. A knowledge base lets you store and organize information into easy-to-find folders and categories.
There are many use cases for knowledge bases. For example, IT teams can use knowledge bases to organize internal resources, like troubleshooting and onboarding documents. Sales teams can use knowledge bases to store customer data, sample scripts, and more.
If your company needs a knowledge base, there are tools and platforms you can employ. Google Drive, for instance, is a cloud-based storage platform where you can store and organize all your information into folders.
Information stored in a database is usually, well, data based. A database is a platform where you can store facts and raw data in its most basic form. Databases are helpful if you have a lot of raw customer data to store or if you conduct a lot of industry-related research. Storing data in a database can make it easier for your teams to access and use because they always know where it’s located and how to find it.
A knowledge-sharing tool lets you share files with your colleagues and company stakeholders. If your knowledge base is a single source of truth, then knowledge-sharing tools are how you access the truth. The overall goal of a knowledge-sharing tool is to make it easier for your teams to distribute and use information.
Knowledge-sharing tools help you cultivate a culture of collaboration and accessible information. Tools like OSlash help turn your files into easy-to-share URL shortcuts, and Slack helps your teams with easy and convenient communication.
Communities of practice
Communities of Practice (CoPs) are methods of knowledge sharing where information is shared from person to person rather than through files and documents. CoPs are a natural part of a knowledge management system in most companies. Knowledge can be shared through skill shares, brainstorming sessions, mentorships, and more.
CoPs are especially helpful for skill-building and sharing implicit knowledge with other team members. For example, if you have an employee who is an expert at sales pitches, have them host a skill-share event where they share actionable tips on pitching ideas or products. Your other sales team members will learn how to build their pitching skills, so they can be more effective, which benefits your company as a whole.
Top 3 benefits of a knowledge management system for your teams
When companies have an effective knowledge management system in place, teams are more productive and efficient with their tasks, saving you time and money. Here’s how.
1. Knowledge management systems designate your knowledge base as a single source of truth
Your employees need a single source of truth for the knowledge they use every day, so they confidently know it’s the right information or version of the file. A single source of truth helps you avoid duplicate information across your company. It helps you avoid situations like saving files and folders in multiple locations or copying designs to different tools. Duplicate information creates confusion and frustration for your knowledge workers.
For teams that need ready access to accurate and updated information, knowledge management systems let them easily see when something was last updated and by whom, so they know whether it’s current or not. Anyone can access the file and have prior knowledge on the project or task. A single source of truth is especially helpful when you’re onboarding new employees. New employees need access to the most accurate information about the tasks and projects their predecessors were working on, so they can get up to speed on their job duties.
2. Knowledge management systems organize your knowledge base
A knowledge management system allows your teams to categorize your knowledge so that it’s organized in a way that anyone can easily find what they need, right when they need it. With a knowledge management system in place, you can sort through information by topic or department, and you can filter it by name or content.
An organized knowledge management system is easy to navigate, so your teams spend less time searching for information and more time on important tasks. Let’s say one of your marketing folks needs to reference your company style guide for a project they’re working on. Without a knowledge base, the employee doesn’t know where to look. They search through multiple drives and folders with no luck. After half an hour, they decide to track down someone who knows where the guide is, which takes up even more time. A knowledge base could have prevented this — your marketing employee would have known where to look right away.
3. Knowledge management systems make knowledge more accessible
A knowledge management system breaks down internal silos. It lets you store information where everyone has access to it, regardless of who owns the file. Instead of each employee following their own way of saving and storing information, the entire company has one location where every employee can go to access what they need.
When employees constantly have to request file access or track down people who have a file they need, it prevents them from being able to work on a task or project. Accessible knowledge management removes these obstacles.
How to develop an effective knowledge management system for your company
Okay, so now you know why you need a great knowledge management system. But how do you build one? These three steps give you a simple process to create the perfect KMS for your company.
1. Define your knowledge management goals
Defining your goals helps you understand and identify what your knowledge workers need. Goals should be specific to the challenges your team or company has and provide a solution. The best way to identify needs is to talk with or survey your employees. As the people who use knowledge every day, they can help you better understand what needs to be fixed.
For example, maybe your teams are frustrated because they spend a lot of time searching for the right file. Your goal would be to create an organized knowledge base. Or maybe your sales teams need better access to customer data and other resources. Your goal would be to employ a highly accessible knowledge management system.
2. Write and document your knowledge management strategy
A knowledge management strategy is an action plan that details your knowledge management goals and the steps you’ll take to meet them. It should benefit your teams, organization, and stakeholders and include:
- Limitations that could affect your ability to meet your goals, such as too much information scattered across many drives. In that situation, it that may be hard to obtain everything you need to complete your project.
- Advantages that will help you meet your goals. For example, an established knowledge base gives you the advantage of having a central location for all your information.
- Identification of what’s missing from your current infrastructure. You may need knowledge management tools and software to help you reach your goals. For example, if you’re a remote company, you may need to adopt a cloud-based storage service where you can store all your information.
- A course of action that lays out the detailed steps you’ll take to meet your goals. It should include adopting and employing any knowledge management system components that your company needs.
- Roles for each step or stage of the action plan to tell everyone involved what they need to do and at what stage of the strategy.
- A plan to measure success to identify whether you met your goals or not. One way you could gauge success is by measuring the usage of your knowledge management system. You can measure how often your teams use specific tools, folders, or drives.
An effective knowledge management strategy will help you meet larger company goals, too. As an example, if your brand is trying to increase awareness, then you want the best team of designers to create a consistent and recognizable brand identity. To set your design teams up for success, they need ready, convenient access to company knowledge, like branding information, and customer information, like user feedback.
3. Execute your knowledge management system
Implementation involves letting your teams know about your new (or updated) knowledge management system. They need to know how it affects them and whether they need to adopt any new tools or software. Include any processes or guidelines that would help them understand how to use the system and the tools involved.
It’s also helpful to include a list of best practices for using the knowledge management system. A list of best practices can help them understand the system’s purpose and how it can best serve them. For example, you may include a tip for the best ways to search for information or a certain file.
Depending on the system you implement or the tools you adopt, you may need to provide training for your teams. If there are complex processes that would be better shown through in-person or virtual trainings, let your teams know how they can sign up for or attend those trainings.
Continue to monitor and update your knowledge management system
Treat your knowledge management system as a cycle: acquire knowledge, store it, distribute it, and make it easy for your teams to use it. By continuously monitoring your knowledge management system, you can identify ways to improve it. With an efficient knowledge management system in place, your teams will be able to do their work seamlessly with fewer interruptions and obstacles.