The Tettra Guide to Building a Knowledge Management System
A 2018 study of over 18,000 professionals in 96 countries found that 70% of employees work remotely at least once a week. What’s more, over 91% believe that flexible work makes employees more productive. Technology has made this shift possible, and the trend is growing, but remote work poses unique challenges. One of the biggest challenges is how to share knowledge among members of a distributed team.
Even among co-located employees who work in the same space every day, communication can be a challenge. We need to transfer knowledge to one another, which is time-consuming and repetitive. Too often, we rely on in-person conversations and meetings to transmit what we know.
Whether it’s onboarding new employees, documenting processes and tools, or communicating overall business strategy, in-person meetings are no longer the best way to get team members up to speed. Aside from being time-consuming, in-person meetings are prone to misunderstanding. Operations leaders and human resources officers are increasingly turning to knowledge management systems to help.
What is a knowledge management system? Glad you asked!
A knowledge management system (KMS) is a process for documenting and distributing knowledge among the members of your team.
An effective KMS will make your entire team more productive. It does this in a few ways:
- Centralizes institutional knowledge where everyone can access it
- Makes team members more self-sufficient and frees up managers to focus on the bigger picture
- Makes everyone aware of, and helps everyone stay focused on, company goals
- Creates a culture of learning that grows with your company
In this guide, we’ll show you how to create and maintain a knowledge management system that grows with your team. But before we go any further, let’s define “knowledge” in this instance.
What is (company) knowledge?
Aside from your people, knowledge is your most precious asset. As Benjamin Franklin, founding father of the United States, diplomat, and inventor once said:
When we discuss knowledge management systems, we’re talking about managing institutional knowledge. Institutional knowledge is a collection of learnings, ideas, processes, and tools that are developed by an organization over time.
Institutional knowledge can be broken down into two types:
- Common knowledge — publicly available or searchable information, (e.g., how to use Microsoft Excel)
- Proprietary knowledge — knowledge that is specific and relevant to a particular group, (e.g., how your team uses Microsoft Excel to manage client invoices)
As you start to build your knowledge management system, you’ll want to focus on proprietary institutional knowledge because it’s not readily available anywhere else.
Often, institutional knowledge is stored in the brains of the company’s oldest and most senior employees, which makes it difficult to access. Instead of making executives the knowledge gatekeepers, create a knowledge management system that makes learning easier for everyone. A knowledge management system democratizes your institutional knowledge and gives everyone access to what they need.
The first step is recording what you, your team members, and your top executives know.
Centralize knowledge through documentation
There are many ways to create and organize documentation in a team, but, naturally, we think the best way to do it is to build a team-wide wiki. You may have already started to build the foundation of your wiki by writing down internal memos or records of how to complete common tasks or fulfill certain functions.
A wiki simply gathers up all these scattered notes and organizes them in a central location, like a library. A wiki has certain rules, but the content is generally easy to edit, and everyone can contribute. For guidance on how to pick one for your team, check out our post on How to Choose a Knowledge Management System.
Tettra has a simple hierarchy for documentation in a wiki:
- Pages are individual documents (e.g., “Phone screen questions for new candidates”).
- Folders are groups of pages on the same topic (e.g., “Hiring”).
- Categories are macro-level topics (e.g., “Human Resources”).
In our guide Wiki Best Practices, we lay out several important tips for getting started with documentation. Here’s a brief breakdown of how to do it:
- Start by determining your categories. For example, a midsize firm might want to divide the company wiki by department. Categories in this case would be HR, Marketing, and Engineering.
- Then, assign DRIs (directly responsible individuals) who will manage knowledge for each category.
- Invite all team members to contribute in order to gather as much knowledge as possible. DRIs will act as “editors” for these contributions.
- Finally, create a strategy for recognizing when knowledge is proprietary and should be recorded (and don’t forget to document it!).
For the fourth step, create a strategy, we’re a big fan of the Rule of Three. Information should be recorded in your wiki if
- the process has three or more steps;
- something has been repeated three or more times; or
- the process involves three or more people.
You don’t have to always follow this rule, of course, but it’s a good place to start. Over time, as you build out your wiki and your company grows and evolves, you’ll understand intuitively when, where, and how things need to be documented.
Once you’ve set up your wiki, you’ve got a treasure trove of resources that employees can turn to when they need help with their work — all without sending a single email, making a phone call, or having a meeting.
Share the knowledge you’ve documented
To get the most value out of your knowledge management system, people need to be able to easily tap into it. By embedding your KMS into the fabric of existing communication tools, you’ll make it easy to pull up information and send documents or info to the appropriate colleague.
Here are a few guidelines to make sharing your hard-earned knowledge part of your knowledge management system:
INTEGRATE WITH G SUITE
So many companies now use GMail, Google Docs, and other G Suite tools to help their teams run more efficiently. You can use Tettra with G Suite to facilitate various processes. For example, you can embed a Google Doc directly into a Tettra page or make an inline reference to it. You can also facilitate the sign-up and sign-in process with SSO. With our Google integrations, you can reference, rather than recreate in Tettra.
OPEN UP PERMISSIONS
If you want knowledge to flow freely, it should be easy for everyone to publish, edit, and share documents. In Tettra, document visibility is set at the category level, and the default setting allows everyone on the team to edit documents. Once you publish a document, there are several ways to share. The simplest way is to copy and paste the link, but you can also drop the document in an email or in chat.
INTEGRATE YOUR WIKI WITH CHAT
If your team uses Slack, you can make your wiki accessible using the Tettra integration for Slack. You can pull up documentation using keyboard commands and then send documents to your colleagues in channels or direct chats. You can also sync specific Tettra categories with the relevant Slack channel, so that people in that channel see notifications when you publish a new page or update an existing one.
INTEGRATE WITH OTHER PRODUCTIVITY APPS
Maybe you manage a team of data scientists who use Google Sheets, or a team of engineers who live in GitHub. Or perhaps you use various productivity tools, such as Trello, Asana, or Airtable, to keep your workflow moving smoothly. Use the Tettra integrations to make it simple to link your wiki to existing productivity apps for seamless sharing. You can even embed dashboards, tools, and media into your Tettra pages. Whether it’s a Databox dashboard, an Airtable database, or a Wistia video, Tettra makes for an intuitive hub for everything else you use.
EXPLAIN WITH VIDEO
Sometimes it takes a great teacher to make documentation come to life. Make regular video-sharing a part of your knowledge management system by using a tool like Soapbox to record yourself and your screen as you walk through a process. Video is an especially valuable educational tool for distributed teams. For visual learners, using video to explain the concepts you’ve documented in your wiki will make for faster and more effective learning.
Use your knowledge management system to learn over time
Building a knowledge transfer strategy gives your team a competitive advantage over those that don’t have one. By systematizing and structuring knowledge, you increase the likelihood that people can find what they need when they need it. Systematic knowledge sharing means every employee can actively contribute to the company’s success — and that productivity will increase as a result.
A robust knowledge management system makes this process easier and more systematic. When you create a comprehensive wiki that’s open to everyone on your team, you’re taking a step toward embedding continuous learning in your culture and empowering employees to use what they learn every day. Effective knowledge management sharing makes it all possible!
How to Choose a Knowledge Management System
When it comes to documenting your team’s knowledge, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. No one tool is going to be perfect for everyone. What’s most important is that you pick a tool that aligns with how your team works and what they need most. If you’re considering implementing a KMS (or even just getting all those Google Docs and Dropbox files better organized!) check out our primer on how to choose the right knowledge management system for your team. We’ll walk you through considerations like team size, level of complexity, and important integrations, among other factors.
How to Roll Out a Knowledge Management System
Once you’ve picked the knowledge management software that’s right for your team, make sure you’re thinking about how to launch it in the best possible way. By giving people guidance about who will use it and how, you increase the likelihood that everyone will contribute. By equipping people with context about what information to share, they’ll be more inclined to contribute what they know.
How to Migrate Your Knowledge Management System
Migrating information from one place to another can be tricky. If you’re moving over to Tettra from another knowledge management system, this post on How to Migrate Your Knowledge Management System will help you navigate the migration seamlessly. Even if you’re just moving from scattered Google Docs and Dropbox folders, this post includes suggestions for bringing your content into Tettra and reducing your workload.
Ever feel like a broken record at work, repeating yourself over and over again? Yeah, it happens to the best of us. But with good knowledge management, you can stop repeating yourself.
Knowledge management refers to the documentation of important information and processes. By documenting your knowledge, everyone on the team has easier access to the resources they need to do their jobs.
Here at Tettra, we build a knowledge management system to make this process easier. We’ve gathered insights from the thousands of teams who’ve used our product and woven them back into the Tettra wiki.
Whether you don’t yet have a knowledge management system, or you’ve been documenting things in various, scattered Google Docs, it’s never too late to move to a more structured, systematic approach. The Tettra knowledge management system can help you build a more high-performance team.