As your company grows beyond its founders and its first generation of employees, ensuring that the intellectual capital, knowledge and expertise that your company is built on is passed on effectively becomes an important challenge. I worked at a company that had a fantastic knowledge base, which was constantly used and regularly updated.
With at least 30 new employees every six months, this vital resource proved incredibly valuable in ensuring that skills were passed on, standards were maintained, and that even the company culture endured from generation to generation. A knowledge base is not just a collection of PDFs in the HR folder – it has to be a system that encourages use, and remains relevant year after year.
If you’re facing the problem of creating a knowledge base for your company, here are a few things to think about as you approach this task.
1.) Build it Into Your Culture
Before even writing a word, get the buy-in of as much of the company as possible. This will be a large project, lasting as long as two quarters, and taking up quite a lot of time. If people don’t see the value of what you want to achieve, they won’t put all the effort into their individual sections. Creating and maintaining a company knowledge base requires the input of all departments, so it’s important that everyone sees the benefit.
2.) Choose the Right Technology
Keep it simple, and accessible. Don’t pick a platform that requires people to be power-users to edit. If you do this, those with the ability, knowledge and access rights to create resources will never have enough time, or will eventually leave the company. There are many simple Wiki-style CMS (Content Management System) platforms, such as Doku-Wiki, that are easy to install and edit, and use the familiar format of a Wikipedia page.
These have their advantages, however we’ve found that there are significant disadvantages as well such as difficulty in merging video and audio knowledge into the same document. In fact when we looked deeply into it, we couldn’t find a system that worked really well, so we decided to create our own and we are calling it OpusWise.
3.) Plan it From the Bottom Up
From the beginning, your knowledge base should be structured in a coherent way. This structure must allow for growth, but it should also make it so that nobody has to follow six different links to find that page they know is there somewhere. A logical structure will make it less daunting for new staff to use, and will make it easier to spot and update old pages.
4.) Don’t Create Content For the Sake of It
If something is obvious, it doesn’t need to be written down. If a list or spreadsheet requires more effort to maintain than the current system, it won’t be used. Know the limitations of your knowledge base, and restrict its use to pages that provide a benefit, contain vital information, or will be referenced often.
5.) Make Maintaining it Everybody’s Job
Add a KPI (Key Performance Indicator) to someone in every department’s job description that states that they must keep the Wiki updated. Either that, or add it to the SLA of each department that quarterly reviews of all knowledge base content must be done. If you leave it up to one group of administrators, pages will fall into disuse and become irrelevant.