Capturing what your employees know, and then formatting and presenting it to the company, has become a huge need as the amount and value of knowledge, along with the efficiency of getting to it has become increasingly important. The amount of internal knowledge is growing exponentially, just as many cornerstone employees are retiring, taking what they know with them. We will show you what you know, who knows it, how to gather it, and how to transfer that information effectively to others at your company. We have found that with the proper champion, the implementation of a solution is the simple part of the problem. Realizing there is the problem and getting business buy-in is the hard part!
What Is Knowledge Management?
Knowledge management is not something new, even though the phrase may be new to many of us. It has been around in business for every generation of employees going back 100+ years, but never in our history have we had the number of generations, along with the varying degree of technology differences within them, that has revealed the need to ensure that we pass on all of our knowledge to the next generation of our companies!
This set of unique circumstances, including multiple generations and the differences in how they communicate with their teams, has caused a knowledge drain from our project teams and companies; as the Traditionalists and Baby Boomers retire, important knowledge is not passed on to the Gen Yers and Millennials as a result of these generational communication differences, and the tools that they use.
We have a generation of employees that went to school before computers and email were widely available. Information was presented on paper and updates were captured in libraries to be future reference for projects. The current generation has always had computers in their pockets, never used a phonebook or answering machine, and doesn’t wait for content, they go get it. These differences in life experiences and communication styles have to be accounted for so that a company can collect its critical institutional knowledge and to be able to disseminate it to new employees in a format each generation can easily digest.
Knowledge Management has had two recognized definitions that are similar in scope but the second one is definitely more descriptive in identifying the task at hand:
“Knowledge management is the process of capturing, distributing, and effectively using knowledge.” –Davenport (1994)
“Knowledge management is a discipline that promotes an integrated approach to identifying, capturing, evaluating, retrieving, and sharing all of an enterprise’s information assets. These assets may include databases, documents, policies, procedures, and previously un-captured expertise and experience in individual workers.” –Duhon (1998)
Now that we know what we are dealing with, we can focus on how it can have a measurable impact on our companies when made a priority and given the correct resources to ensure its success!
Where are we and how did we get here? What is the true impact of doing nothing?
So here we sit in a world with knowledge siloed by generations; this begins the information drain as employees leave the business world without a simple method to pass on their knowledge to a new generation whose methods are vastly different. We need to all speak the same language, or have a way to translate knowledge between generations.
The hidden complexity of knowledge management is the unseen financial and efficiency impacts to our companies. Management is often unaware of the knowledge gaps left behind when key employees are removed from processes, projects, or even the company as a whole.
Real Examples From Our Firm
When employees leave with and without notice, the impact on the company and project teams is often overlooked, under the belief that everyone is replaceable. To a degree this is true. But there are costs in replacing employees and minimizing those costs are important to companies and project teams.
What happens when you have time to emergency knowledge share?
Mechanical Designer — Revit Champion, loaned to a competitor
- • Mechanical & plumbing discipline champion
- • Helped develop and document many of our standards and processes
- • Was the go to person for questions about mechanical & plumbing
- • Two week notice before leave of absence
Left a great set of knowledge that could be referenced by employees at all levels and in all disciplines minimizing the impact on projects and the company as a whole.
What happens when you don’t have time to emergency knowledge share?
Visualization Champion — 3ds Max Specialist, here today, gone tomorrow
- • Only visualization employee
- • Silo of knowledge
- • Had full control over all aspects of job
- • Provided great product
- • Never documented standards or process
- • Left unexpectedly one day
Lack of knowledge sharing created quite the mess in projects both current and future. Has had a direct impact on the quality, speed, and type of services that we can provide!
How do we find the important and often undocumented knowledge?
First, understand that not everyone will see the issue and comprehend its impact on your company. Look for champions that can identify the issue and want to help in this process. These employees will be instrumental in the success of this process at your firm. Very few will fit into this group, so keep them energized and active to have a positive impact on other employees.
Another group of employees, and likely the largest group, may see the issue, but not see the total impact on themselves or the company. They will use your knowledge management solution but will need a little nudging along the way.
The final group of employees will not see the value, will not invest the time, and will only slow you down if you focus on them. Do not judge the success of knowledge management on the results of this small group. We have all heard the phrase that you cannot make all people happy all of the time, and this is equally true when it comes to knowledge sharing.
Next, you need to find and gather the knowledge that needs to be available. Some of this will be easy to gather and organize like company processes, company standards, and even client standards. Other parts of this you will need to go out and pull from the employees, many of whom will not know the value they have locked inside themselves.
Our best way to find the knowledge gaps is simple interviews and polling. Talk to the project managers, the project engineers, and the project assistants to see what they truly did on a project.
- • Who are the specialized resources for processes, projects, or even the tools that people use?
- • Was there a process or aspect of the project that only one person could complete? Why?
- • Was there anything complex that should be documented and shared with others?
- • Who would you recommend have this knowledge?
Now that we have found the issue, and identified the impact it is having, we need to capture this knowledge and pass it on to the future generations of our companies.
How to Document Our Knowledge
Here you again need to look at where the knowledge is and to whom it needs to be transferred. A lot has changed in our industry even during the past generation of employees, Generation X.
In the past 20 years, we have gone from architectural libraries that were managed and updated by dedicated staff to ensure they were current and organized, to manufacturer’s websites packed full of PDF cut sheets, DWG Details, Revit Families, and marketing materials.
Standards as an example
Ten years ago, every employee had a binder full of company standards to reference. These were great, but always out of date and often misplaced! It was time consuming to update, expensive to print out, and often resulted in employees keeping several versions because they had their own hand written notes on older versions of them. Also they were tedious. Employees had to manually page through them to find the desired content.
Today, we have intranets full of standards that are hopefully simple to use, up to date, quick to search, and available to everyone in every location. Many of us have even them available on the computer in our pockets!
Training as an example
How many of us when we needed to learn a new design program went to an Autodesk Reseller and sat through two days or more of training that was held off site in their lab? Most of the time the training was not customized to your firm, your standards, or processes. This was hard set time to which employees had to commit to.
Today, we have on-demand training, that can be pulled up at any time and in many formats. This can be done in any location from the workplace to the home, or even in the car while waiting to pick up the kids from school. You can jump around to the topics that are important for the tasks that are needed, not just for the project you are working on, but the task at hand now! This is typical of just in time training. Custom video tips and search functions bring quick, personalized answers that are directly applicable to the question facing the employee right now.
Remember that our kids, who will become the next generation of employees, are growing up in a DVR world where you can not only skip to what you need now, but always find it available. They also have a personal assistant in Siri or Google that is happy to try to answer any question that they have.
Documentation can no longer be simply on paper in order to keep up with the digital world and to be effective at communicating in an on demand world. So how do we document our knowledge today?
Our documented knowledge is placed on a SharePoint site that runs with Synthesis by Knowledge Architecture. Think of this as “Facebook” for your company. No matter what solution you implement, there are a few rules that need to be followed to ensure success.
1. Make it fun
- • It can’t always be just about business
- • Let this happen, as fun will create traffic
2. Make it direct and accessible
- • Make the browser open directly into it
- • Provide access across many formats
- • Employees will use it from their phones if available
3. Make it well organized
- • Give it structure for employees who want to find their way
- • You will be surprised by the amount of employees that don’t want help
4. Make it searchable
- • Add keywords to get you to the correct knowledge
- • Ask your staff what terms they use most frequently
- • Ask what formats they need (PDFs? videos?)
5. Make it usable
- • Group knowledge by what is used together
- • Don’t lock it down
- • Let all your employees add content
6. Make it a hub of knowledge for all
7. Keep it fresh and current
- • Pick specific days and update specific content (#AppTip Mondays; #Standards Wednesdays; #QTF — Quick Tip Fridays)
- • Remember that many of the employees still get the daily newspaper!
Our knowledge sharing site has pages for each internal business unit, as well as other groups we call Knowledge Communities. These are dedicated to groups of people, such as electrical engineering or GIS users, who work across business units but still need a place to share their knowledge.
Being CAD/BIM managers, we are going to focus on the page we have set up for all our CAD and BIM users called the CAD BIM Lounge.
In this Knowledge Community we have links to our own:
- • Technical standards
- • Reference documents
- • Support contacts
- • Meeting minutes
- • Blog posts
- • Tips & Tricks
- • Awards
We also have specialty links to client standards and to external blog sites. We award prizes each month to active employees. While everyone is encouraged to participate in these knowledge sharing communities, the designated community champion is responsible for keeping the information up to date.
For our users who want to easily search for an answer, we added a Wiki page. The Wiki includes links to all of the frequently used content we saw users accessing and was compiled from feedback on what employees thought they needed more readily available in one location. This even includes topics that do not directly fall into the CAD BIM Lounge, but have an impact to these users.
Then we have employees who would rather have information packaged and delivered to them, so we have included directions on how to “follow” the CAD BIM Lounge. This will sign the user up for updates to be delivered directly to his or her start page or email, ensuring that they never miss any topics. We also provide directions on how to filter these email messages in Outlook so they can be found organized in employee inboxes, as again, everyone references knowledge in different ways.
Just as important as its content and structure is the format of the knowledge. We use blog posts to try to get information into employees’ hands in easily digestible bites. This format works well for younger generations and doesn’t clutter up email boxes.
When writing blog posts be sure to:
- • Keep them short and to the point
- • Make them fun and frequent
- • Include searchable keywords
These blog posts become the basis for our monthly newsletters that are emailed to employees.
Besides the Knowledge Champions posting information, all employees can post questions, generating feedback on a topic and providing a forum for open discussion that anyone can reference later. And again, each post is tagged so that it becomes searchable.
We know that employees may need to share a lot of our knowledge with team members outside of our company. To allow for this, we capture much of the final data in simple PDF format. This format is accessible by all on any device in any location and can be printed for employees that need to hold it in their hands.
Beyond PDFs we create short videos to explain processes that are easier to explain visually than with words. We document our virtual reality advancements by creating videos of a VR environment. And we also create videos used for visualization in 3ds Max or Infraworks to help win work.
Single Source of Data
While this might be the final destination for employees, make sure you have simple ways to get to it. If you are updating this content, make sure you have simple posts and paths to get here. Also make sure you are not duplicating this content, which will create failure points when only one point of the data is updated. We accomplish this even with our email updates by never sending out the data, but instead, pushing links and pictures that are hyperlinked back to the final data or knowledge that is needed.
How do we draw our employees to our knowledge?
Here are the three methods that we use to reach out to our employees. Each of these has its merits and target audience based on how they acquire knowledge. We have found it takes all three methods (and then some) to catch everyone.
- 1.In-person meetings work well for all groups as many times employees are too preoccupied by “work” to be proactive to find knowledge. You also have a better chance at retention because there are less distractions.
- 2. Email blasts work well for most generations as a supplement to the other methods. These are easy to catch, but for some employees emails are lost in the clutter of their inboxes and are never read.
- 3. Blog posts work great for millennials and employees who are proactive in reaching out for data, and have a sense of community in the workplace.
How do we measure the success of Knowledge Management?
We will break this down to two core parts that we focus on, the numbers and the breakdown of the silos of knowledge. First look at the numbers. If you have been capturing and documenting your knowledge in a public location like an Intranet, you should have the capability to see many details on the knowledge accessed. Reviewing the raw numbers, we can filter them into a graph to show our success:
Here we have the Daily Visitors to our CAD BIM Lounge, our technical site on design software. While looking at this graph, there are many points to keep in mind.
1. What is the shape of the data?
- • Peaks = employees come when driven to the site by email or blog posts
- • Flat = a good amount of general proactive traffic
- • In this example there are both, indicating that active days are driven by blog post/email.
2. How many employees are using the Knowledge Collaboration site?
- • What percent of the target audience is this? Is this an appropriate number?
- • We see a range of 25% to 75% of our target audience about show up per week.
3. What dates relate to posts, emails, or meetings?
- • What makes the largest impact to the numbers?
- • We see that the largest impact is from email blasts of our monthly newsletter.
Beyond overall general site details, we can quickly drill down into what knowledge employees are viewing and when. With access to these sorts of metrics, we have gone so far as to post the newsletter at the end of one week, wait until the next week, and then email specific groups the following week, one day at a time, and watch the logs to see what the numbers tell us. The numbers don’t lie and may in many cases surprise you.
See what documents are being used, what days, and how often. See if you can draw connections to the different groups of knowledge being referenced at the same time. This can tell you how employees are looking up and referencing your content.
1. Take important note of what types of knowledge are being referenced.
- • News
- • Standards
- • Tips & Tricks
2. Ask yourself and your employees, what knowledge they are looking for, and are they finding it?
Now that you know what knowledge employees are looking at, you will want to see who is searching for it. This is just as important because with this you can determine:
- 1. Are these the right employees for this knowledge?
- 2. Are these the employees that you are even targeting?
- 3. Where are these employees located and what role do they hold?
You can see patterns of employees in the data, how often, what department, what discipline, and even the offices in which they work. Make sure you are analyzing this and building an action plan based from this data. If you don’t learn and act from the numbers here, they are of no value to anyone.
The last way to look at the numbers is how we can leverage the employee’s metrics against knowledge accessed. This can give us spreadsheets that can be automated, graphed, and then shared with department or discipline managers showing the true corporate impact.
- • Do the numbers mirror the performance of teams?
- • Do the charts match the quality of our projects?
- • Can we leverage the difference for targeted training or team updates?
The second part of this is more difficult to directly measure, but by polling your disciplines and different departments you can figure out if there are still silos or islands of specific important information that need to be documented.
If you asked employees for input at the beginning, you can ask them the same questions again after implementing the steps outlined above. See now if more than one “Champion” or go-to person for that knowledge exists. Make sure that there are at least two champions in each discipline covering all of your specialties. Make sure that you have documented this information somewhere so that when it is needed, it can be found and used again. Lastly, make sure that you are pushing the knowledge out to the appropriate personnel because you never know when it will be needed.
Potential Stumbling Blocks
There are many circumstances that you will run into that could become speed bumps in creating a Knowledge Management solution.
- • Not every employee wants to knowledge share as it could weaken their importance.
- • Employees are too busy to share; key personnel are often under heavy workloads.
- • Employees don’t realize they need to share as they have been the sole keeper of this knowledge.
These or other speed bumps don’t have to throw you off track. Here are some of our suggestions to keep the momentum going.
- • Start off with creating part-time Knowledge Champions to share the burden.
- • Use metrics from first efforts to get management buy-in to expand program.
- • Mentoring — make the mentee into a Champion if the Mentor isn’t interested. Personnel about to retire might love to tell a good story or show a new engineer how to do something, but may not want to write it down. Have the mentee do the documentation to help solidify the learning process and let others benefit from it as well.
- • Make knowledge sharing part of the company culture.
So What Did We Learn?
Knowledge management is something that has come to the forefront for two key reasons. The amount of baby boomers that are retiring and the differences in knowledge acquisition that the newer employees are accustomed to using.
The cost of doing nothing at times can be hard to define, but when knowledge at your firm leaves with a departing employee and needs to be available for a project, it directly impacts not only the efficiency of your company, but also at times can be measured in the direct cost to outsource the services.
With a simple plan and a little effort you can capture the important knowledge and documents it so it is available to everyone, especially employees that are used to having the world at their fingertips. Many times, just asking face-to-face or with a survey inquiring what employees need will get you started in the right direction. They will be able to tell you what they need, what they use, and what would help them become more efficient. Filling the knowledge gaps will ensure that you have enough overlap to maintain project and process efficiency in each and every location.
Proving the success of this process can be captured with simple metrics that do not take too much effort to grab and process. These metrics provide you with the real impact and usage reports to show the success of your endeavors and assist in planning the future efforts within your company.
Dan Dankert is a CAD/BIM/VDC manager at Mead & Hunt with over 20 years of experience in the architecture, engineering, and construction market. Dan is an alumnus of Milwaukee School of Engineering, and he has worked as draftsman, designer, engineer, IT director, and lastly CAD/BIM manger. He is the knowledge manager for the technical engineering documentation site at Mead & Hunt, leading the company by example.
Rebecca Yu took on her new role as a Civil CAD manager at Mead & Hunt, Inc., 18 months ago. She previously spent six years there as a CAD coordinator in the Water Resources department mentoring new employees, creating standards, and performing CAD quality control before transferring to the big leagues. Now she spends her days training and supporting hundreds of users in a variety of departments and disciplines in dozens of offices across the country.