Systematization Process - Phase 5: Knowledge Base
Build a Knowledge Base for Operations Manuals
Create Manuals for your business so that anyone can fulfill the roles and tasks in your business...
Phase 5 of the mimosaPLANETTMsystematization Process is; Knowledge Base. This is all about pulling together the collective knowledge that you and every member of your team have about all aspects of your business. In other words, it's a way of protecting the ‘know-how' of your business, to make sure that if someone learns a lesson we transfer that knowledge from their mind to a company knowledge base; an operations manual, a policy manual, a technology manual, a troubleshooting database, etc. Learn how to get your own knowledge base setup so; new employees get up to speed faster, you ensure processes are followed, you protect and build company knowledge, and add value to your goodwill, plus more...
What is a Knowledge Base?
A knowledge base by definition is simply a database for managing knowledge. It gives you the ability to collect, organize and retrieve knowledge. They are most useful in training purposes because they allow people to retrieve specific knowledge and use it. For businesses, some of the best uses are for; user manuals and troubleshooting.
What structure and content can form a Knowledge Base?
Anything can form part of an organizations knowledge base. One of the most important aspects of making sure the knowledge base can be used is the ability for people to easily find the information they are looking for... so the format in which the content is organized is of primary importance. You'll need to ask yourself, how am I going to classify the data? Here's just one suggested classification system:
- Operations Manual
- Marketing Department
- Marketing Manager
- Marketing Assistant
- Sales Department
- Sales Manager
- Sales Person
- Operations Department
- Operations Manager
- Team Leader
- Team Member
- HR Department
- Finance Department
- CFO/Financial Controller
- Office Manager
- Office Administrator
- Executive Department
- Personal Assistant
- Policy Manual
- Technology Manual
- Marketing & Sales System Manual
These user manuals are basically just user guides. They use written words and associated flowcharts and/or images to give people assistance to use a particular system, task, or to fulfill a role. More and more often video can be used, and should be used, to capture these 'how-to' experiences. You can use software to record the screen of a computer to capture a computer task (this is much easier and quicker for people to learn that trying to make sense of just plain text or plain text with screen shots). You also can use a camcorder to record just about anything else.
e.g. A help desk operator has a database of all the customer ‘cases' every lodged and the ‘solution' that was used to resolve that ‘case'. Over time, a huge ‘solutions' database is built which ensures that knowledge is collected in a database not just the employees head. This has massive benefits in small business!!!! How often are you, as a business owner or manager, interrupted by your team asking you "how do I solve this problem?". From my experience talking with business owners, they say it's all the time. Having an internal database of the common ‘SOLUTIONS' that you deal with 90% of the time, will help free up your time by empowering your team to handle the issue.
This is the next step beyond having an internal database of solutions (helps anyone in your team fulfilling the role of customer services become capable to resolve 90% of issues by themselves). Having an ‘External Help' system lets your customers try to resolve issues themselves first before calling your business. In big business, this has saved many companies millions, in small business this can be the difference between having 1 administrator and needing 2. It is now possible, through the internet (private or public), to provide ‘external help'. It is widely used in the software industry. Obviously nearly everyone has used Microsoft's Help to attempt to resolve an issue or find out how to do something, but even small providers have been smart enough to give their customers ‘self help'.
This is more of a ‘solutions' database for an organisations own internal systems, roles and tasks. It's where anyone can go first to get help to something that might not be covered in the user manuals.
How do I put a Knowledge Base together?
If you haven't figured it out yet, the best place to build your knowledge base would have to be an intranet. What is an intranet? It's simply a private computer network where you can securely share your company's knowledge base and systems. It is built using the same concepts as the internet; basically it's like having a website that only you and your employees can see (you can also give access to others if you like i.e. strategic partners or customers).
Traditional paper based operations manuals can still be printed out and created in ring binders if you wish but there are many advantages to having everything online;
- It is always up to date with any of the latest changes. A printed file changes can become out of date quickly and will need to be checked and updated.
- Anyone from anywhere (with permission) can access the same information. If you have team members that need flexibility to work from home or if you have multiple branches this keeps all the knowledge gained from one location accessible to all the locations.
- It's easy to make changes, update or add to.
- It can be protected and backed up.
There are many different platforms or ways to make this happen.
1) Personal Computer: At the very base level you can create a Knowledge Base on your personal computer, copy it to CD and upload to each team member's computer. This would simply be your classifications of files saved in folders.... A content tree, if you like.
2) Networked Computers: The next level of sophistication you can have is computers in the office networked together so people can have permission to view the ‘knowledge base' folder and sub folders. Normally 1-5 users.
3) Server Computer: Like networked computers but no user limits.
4) Intranet Software on a Hosted Server: This is where you and your team can access your knowledge base by logging in to a website. There are many providers of software that is specifically designed to have the basic structure and components that will form your database of company knowledge. All you need to do is upload your content.
5) Intranet Software on Internal Server: As above but on a server (computer) your company owns.
6) Client Relationship Management (CRM) Software - Contact Centre Module: This is where you can store a troubleshooting knowledge base of ‘solutions'. And also provide a customer portal for ‘self help'.
I strongly recommend option 4 for small business owners and also option 6.
What about the actual Content?
Once you know what structure your knowledge base will form and what platform you'll keep it on, you'll then have a better idea of what;
- content you currently have and there for just need to upload it to your new ‘knowledge base' system... or
- content you are missing so it will need to be created.
For the content that needs to be created, get each person in your business to contribute. Get them to complete a ‘how-to' for each task they have. Each role in your business should have a list of tasks associated with it. If each role had about 50 different tasks they were responsible for and you got everyone to capture (in writing, with images, with screen recording software, with a camcorder) 2 tasks a week... in 6 months you and your team would have created your company knowledge base!!!!!
I understand that this is often the hard part. Getting a structure and platform set up can be confusing and then creating the content for each task can be overwhelming. So at mimosaPLANETTM we are working hard to make this easier for people. We are creating a system you and your team can just plug into to form this platform & structure. Plus we'll provide business development tools and templates so you can edit and adapt to use for your business... watch this space... Until then you can create your company specific content as a first step.
This week's Action Points...
Understand the value that transferring knowledge out of your mind and on to a reusable knowledge base will provide you with. A knowledge base of user guides and troubleshooting resources will empower your team and free up your time. It will make sure when key people leave, your down time is minimal. It will increase the multiplier used in the formula to calculate the goodwill value of your business come sale time. So;
1) decide on a structure and classification system,
2) decide on an entry level platform at least,
3) have team meetings and set actions that each person (including you) is to capture the ‘how-to' for 2 of their tasks each week until completed.