Thursday 18 February 2016

Zooming in to knowledge - just like Google Earth

Think of how you find your house on Google Earth. Maybe we can package knowledge that way.

You can browse to your house very quickly on Google Earth.

  • First you find your country, 
  • then your city, 
  • then your suburb or village
  • then your street
  • then your house. 

Sure, you can get there very quickly indeed if you know the postcode, but if you don't know the code, you can still find your house by zooming in.

Can you find your way to knowledge just as quickly within your own knowledge base? If you don't know the exact title of what you are looking for, can you zoom in and find it?

The "zooming in on Google Earth" analogy comes from an excellent blog post by Tomas Bj√∂rkholm entitled Lean Documentation.  Tomas recommends six practices for really good, helpful knowledge transfer through documentation;

  • Practice 1 – Identify your consumers and their reasons for using the documentation (what we call "writing for the unknown user")
  • Practice 2 – Structure it like Google Earth - with each level linking to the next
  • Practice 3 – Keep it small
  • Practice 4 - Make the text inviting to read
  • Practice 5 – Incorporate visuals
  • Practice 6 - Make it easy to maintain

The first practice is about identifying the user(s) for the knowledge, and Tomas suggests that there may be multiple users, each requiring different levels of detail. This is true, but even if there is only one user (i.e. the knowledge worker who needs the knowledge to make decisions), they still may need that knowledge at different levels of detail as they work through the topic:
  • The high level knowledge to give them a heads-up as an introduction to a topic 
  • The medium level knowledge that maps out the things they need to address
  • The detailed work guidance, which they will refer to as they progress with the activity
  • Access to original documents, templates and/or people who can offer further advice, if the guidance turns out to have gaps in it.

Package knowledge in layers

This means you have to package knowledge in layers. Giving people too much detail - too much granularity - in the early stages is counterproductive. It will just overwhelm them.  Giving them too little detail when they are deep in the work and need detailed answers is just plain unhelpful. They need the right level of detail at the right time. They need to be able to zoom in; just like on Google Earth.

As an example, we recently created a "knowledge asset" (packaged set of guidance on a particular topic) for an organisation, covering the topic of "partnering along the supply chain". We created this with the following layers:
  • A high level quick-start guide
  • "Top lessons" for each of 14 sub topics
  • A full FAQ for each of the subtopics
  • Links to a library of supporting documents and to people with relevant experience
These layers allow the next partnering manager, whoever he or she might be, to be able to rapidly zoom in on the answers to the questions she doesn't yet know to ask, at the time the answers are most needed.

This packaging takes time, it takes thought, but it is an investment in lean and structured knowledge. As Tomas says in his article - 

People use documentation to find answers to the questions they have. The quality of the documentation can be measured by the time it takes to find the answers.
Make sure people can zoom in on their answers very quickly.

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