Establishing good habits

A knowledge management program is a change management program, and lasting behaviour change needs rewired routines. One of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to reinforce new behaviours is to make those expectations visible with posters in the work area. The Consortium for Service Innovation was smart enough to develop simple and memorable statements to help practitioners remember the activities most critical to the Knowledge Centered Support methodology.

Knowledge Centered Service doesn’t have a big following in Australia, yet, but it’s well-known in IT service management circles, and it’s perfectly suited to support environments like call centres and IT help desks. But KCS is in no way limited to those applications and the fundamental techniques are just good habits for all knowledge workers.

Search early, search often

Most of the time, the answer to any question you have already exists in your organisation or in your knowledge base (if you have one). Search first, so that you can understand what you already collectively know.

Reuse is review

Every time you reuse an existing knowledge asset, review it and improve it. The best thing about KCS is that it’s demand-driven maintenance, and means you aren’t wasting effort on maintenance overhead where it doesn’t add value.

Capture the customer’s context

This is a friendly reminder that the most searchable and reusable knowledge articles are those that are written in the customer’s words. The way a customer sees and phrases a problem is different from the way a knowledgeable person describes it. By using the customer’s words and context you can push that knowledge towards customer self-service, and that’s where you get your time back for interesting and less-repetitive work.

Download these PDF posters to help set good habits in your team.



“In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.”
― Phil Collins

In the first of my KnowTech reports, I am focusing on applications that facilitate formal mentoring programs.

What is mentoring?

Mentoring is a concept we’re all familiar with. We often form a mentor-mentee relationship organically, and it may only be through reflection that you describe an individual as your mentor. Some of us seek out mentors, and some of us are approached to be one. It doesn’t seem to go the other way quite so often, and I think that’s to do with a lack of self-worth and confidence, and perhaps the perception of it being a one-way benefit.

Mentoring is a knowledge management practice from the Growth quadrant. As individuals, when we feel a need to develop our understanding, we look for someone who can guide us there. They’ve been there before and they have a map. (A coach, on the other hand, has a torch and shines it in the direction you think you want to go.)

Why organisations offer mentoring

Organisations establish mentoring programs to grow the capabilities of their staff and to safeguard against the loss of knowledge from staff turnover. Mentoring programs are particularly helpful for onboarding new staff and for developing competencies where no external training exists. However, right now, we’re seeing a surge in organisations establishing formal mentoring programs as a strategy to achieve diversity and inclusion goals, and as a way of tackling hiring challenges where access to senior recruits and skills are limited. Two such organisations, in Australia, are Envato and Hooroo.

Mentoring technology

Mentoring is often facilitated manually with a staff member acting as a co-ordinator to match mentors with mentees and administering the program with spreadsheets. Mentoring pairs are then left to work the rest out between them. There are some consulting services that work to make your program more effective, and there are applications that exist to relieve the administrative burden of running an in-house mentoring initiative:

*Disclaimer: I’ve submitted an EOI to become an angel investor in Australian startup, Mentorloop.

When comparing mentoring software, consider the availability of in-product guidance to mentors and mentees, activity tracking, measurement and reporting, and intelligent matching functionality.

The future of mentoring

Artificial Intelligence will add a lot to this space and is a big opportunity for vendors looking to build out matching platforms, not just limited to the boundaries of an organisation or membership community but across whole industries and regions. The desire for millennials, in particular, to learn from their professional communities is strong enough that LinkedIn has caught on, just announcing a new feature that matches potential mentors with mentees.

From the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey:

Where it exists, mentoring is having a positive impact and six in ten (61 percent) Millennials are currently benefiting from having somebody to turn to for advice, or who helps develop their leadership skills. Again, this varies by market and appears more prevalent in emerging (67 percent) rather than mature (52 percent) economies. Mentorship levels are particularly low in Australia, Germany, Canada, The Netherlands, and France, where only a minority of respondents said they have mentors. Improving these levels can not only advance the careers of Millennials, but it will also go some way toward strengthening loyalty.

The demand for mentoring solutions is only going to increase with the recruitment pressures in the software development space, the collaborative attributes of millennials, and perhaps even the approaching mid-life crises of Gen X and the resultant desire to build a legacy before we turn our backs on our professional careers and become urban subsistence farmers or Etsy artisans.


KnowTech reports focus on emerging tech in the knowledge enablement space. Please leave a note in the comments or via contact form to let me know what else I should be looking at. Consider sharing a product review, too, if you like.

The strategic KM map: a model in progress

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.
—Donald Rumsfeld

All individual and organisational knowledge falls somewhere on a spectrum. From unknown unknowns, to unknown knowns, to known unknowns, and finally known knowns. When Donald Rumsfeld elevated the concept to public awareness at a press briefing in 2002, he wasn’t presenting an original idea. He had taken a cognitive psychology tool from the 1950s and adapted it for his own means. The tool he drew his inspiration from is called the Johari Window and it was developed by two cognitive psychologists, Luft and Ingham, as a means of creating an individual’s self-awareness.johari window

You can read more at the Wikipedia link about how the tool works in a personal development setting, but it’s also been built on as a workshopping tool for uncovering corporate and project risks. Here’s Dave Gray’s step-by-step adaptation called, The Blind Side.

It struck me that the Johari Window is a solid basis for a map to guide leaders on selecting knowledge management practices to contribute to an wholistic knowledge sharing strategy. Taking the quadrants as shown in the above image, I’ve described them  each in the context of organisational knowledge.

Leverage – the Leverage quadrant represents our known-knowns. We know we know these things and now we look to practices and tools that help us put that knowledge into operation. Process integration is crucial here. It’s no good collecting lessons learned, for example, if we don’t then interact with them routinely to help us to make better decisions.

Growth – the Growth quadrant are our known-unknowns. We know there are things we don’t know within our domain, so we actively seek to expand our understanding and depth of knowledge. Learning and Development programs sit in this quadrant on an employee level, while industry conferences and competitor analysis can provide insights at the organisational level.

Reveal – the Reveal quadrant relates to the unknown-knowns. Luft and Ingham described this region of awareness as the façade—it is where an individual knows things about themselves that they keep hidden from others. In a corporate sense, this is our tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge is that which is constantly in use but remains unarticulated (and unwritten) until someone happens to ask the right question. It’s what happens when we become unconsciously competent at something.

Discover – the Discover quadrant is where we can work to mitigate risk within our organisation. Our unknown-unknowns are where the potholes lay—budget blowouts, unexpected project failures. Deliberate exploration is what takes place here. NASA conducts some of the riskiest activities both on and off Earth, and through necessity, have a rigorous knowledge management program. See page 15 of this paper for what goes into their Risk Mitigation Plan. For anyone else, noting the steps that might get you to imagined worst-possible outcomes of a project—a process called backcasting—can provide useful insights that can be addressed in the planning stages.

When we expand our organisational knowledge through Growth, Reveal, and Discover practices, it is ideal to find ways to improve our practices so that new knowledge can enter the Leverage quadrant. Continuous improvement of the design and functioning of our products and services is another way to leverage the knowledge we uncover.

If I take the processes I’ve mentioned, and then add a few more examples, we begin to get a map that gives us guidance on how we can apply practices in a more strategic way.

Often, knowledge management stops at providing a knowledge base or document management platform such as Sharepoint, when there are many practices and platforms that form the knowledge management ecosystem. This model is not yet complete, but it’s a good place to start thinking about where your organisation’s weaknesses are and how better knowledge management can be used to strengthen it. The leaders who actively look for opportunities to re-apply knowledge from each of these quadrants will have the most productive and successful teams and organisations.


Sustaining customer experience through growth

Extending Slack for better KM

Slack apps for KM

Slack is a great tool for just-in-time comms, but it hits a wall when it’s your only centralised knowledge source or when conversations and channels get so vast, you have no hope of finding something that’s already scrolled by. Thankfully, there are a few add-ons that are coming to the rescue. It’d be nice if collaboration tool vendors would put a focus on building/acquiring good search in the first place, but it seems to be a universal condition, so let’s take a look at your options.

1. Niles

Niles is a bot that lives in and logs channels to learn the answers to common questions, and can be referenced directly within Slack. Anyone that’s supplied an answer will be prompted via email to review and refresh, if needed. Bots like this rely on machine learning, natural language processing, and time, so it won’t work perfectly out of the box. However, a great thing it has going for it is that there’s no external apps or extra logins. Interaction with the knowledge is all contained within Slack. It can be hooked in to your Google Drive to search docs and into Salesforce, which is great for sales teams. It’s filed under HR in the apps directory but it serves anyone that does any kind of support. More info in this Techcrunch article.

2. Obie

Obie is similar to Niles but has hooks into its parent product, Tasytt. Tasytt offers a CMS, process flows, and a built-in reward mechanism for knowledge contributors; and it integrates with a whole range of apps including Google Sites, Dropbox and Evernote.

3. qPod by nimeo

qPod takes it up a level and hits the enterprise right where it hurts—Outlook, Office 365 and Sharepoint; plus all the cool kids. Nimeyo aims to eliminate any friction by surfacing what you need directly in whatever you’re currently using. Intended for enterprise, pricing is on an annual per user basis and the baseline config is email analysis only. Context is king when it comes to knowledge and nimeyo is all over that.

4. Tettra

Tettra is a simple wiki that bolts onto Slack. Invoked with a slash command, it’ll show you a knowledge article within Slack and provide an option to share it with the channel. You can also allow requests and assign page ownership to domain experts. You can see what it looks like just by checking out their own support page.

5. Guru

Guru offers a Slack bot and a browser extension providing easy accessibility from wherever you spend most of your time. Guru’s schtick is trusted content, so they provide functionality for domain experts to verify knowledge articles and for search results to be prioritised by popularity score and filtered by tags, categories and collections. This is my pick if you’re in a chat-ops environment and you need to level up your reusable knowledge assets.  Integrates with a bunch of sales and support solutions.

6. Notion

Notion is a unified workspace, rather than a knowledge repository. It brings together your dispersed systems into one workspace that you can then customise based on your team’s processes and workflows. It integrates with Slack, but it also accesses content across Trello, Confluence, Google Drive, Basecamp and more, allowing you to move things around in a drag-and-drop fashion in a way that makes sense to how you work and what you need to know about.

KM for strategic advantage


Original photo by Flowizm

It’s easy to see the benefits of knowledge management when its applied to a support function. Problems are solved more quickly, customers are happier, analysts are less stressed. It’s almost a no-brainer to look here first for improvements to knowledge flow

Knowledge management has application across the whole lifecycle of a product or service, though—from strategy, to design, to delivery and operations, to support, to continual improvements, and finally, to sunsetting (and even failure).

So, imagine the wobbly movie image as we flashback to the early days of a new service offering when it was just an idea in the CEO’s mind. She heads up a successful organisation servicing a healthy niche, and she’s looking to the future to offer a new kind of service in hopes of deepening relationships with existing clients and broadening market reach to gain new clients. A CEO that doesn’t look for new opportunities, isn’t a good CEO.

If you were the CEO, what you do next? (Is there a market for Choose Your Own Professional Adventure books?)

I want to focus on the organisational knowledge that’s locked away on your side of that equation for now, so we’ll assume that the customer’s context, in terms of your existing service offerings, is well understood. You gain competitive advantage when you understand your market intimately, you see and sense the market trends, and you know your competitors well enough to differentiate your service in way that makes you more attractive to the people you want to sell to. You have to understand what your particular mojo is and draw that connection to the new service/product, especially when it seems a little distant from what you presently deliver.  

How does our imaginary CEO do that? How would you do that? Well, we’re all guilty of making assumptions, and they happen pretty regularly in businesses that aren’t big enough to fund a research team. When you gather your people together to surface the unknown knowns, articulate your particular kind of mojo (the combination of internal skills, passions, mission and values), and then co-create the strategic positioning for your new offering, that is knowledge management applied to strategy.

When you use knowledge management practices at the strategy phase you have:

  • A “stickier” product/service, as a result of mindful positioning
  • Better decision-making along the way
  • Broader buy-in from the in-house expertise who will be delivering the new offering
  • Increased speed to market

The entrepreneurial culture has glorified failure, but if we embrace a knowledge culture from step one, we’re taking one big leap towards mitigating that risk. And I think we’d all rather succeed, right?


How active is your directory?


Getting the most out of Confluence’s personal spaces

If your organisation has been using Confluence for several years, already, chances are it’s adoption has happened gradually—organically, even—as one team started using it for documentation, and then another, and then another. Your organisation’s Confluence may have become many things to many people. One of the often untapped benefits is the personal space feature. In terms of basic info like name, location, department etc, it’s very much like any other directory service; it relies on the profile owner to keep it up to date, and hopefully a little bit interesting, so that you can quickly find contact info for whomever you happen to be looking for. But that’s just one small part of it.

Customisable home page

When you create a personal space, you’ve got your own dashboard view of your workday, in a way. The sidebar can be configured with links to frequently used other parts of Confluence—like project pages or a knowledge base—and even external links to oft-visited websites, like eBay. Just kidding; no one goes there, anymore. We’re all using Gumtree. You can use it as a home base for draft documents, meeting notes, tasks and project to-dos, and you’ve also got a ready-made platform from which to share your intrapreneurial insights via the blog.

Using labels

Confluence also gives you some pretty need functionality that can help you as your business grows and you find yourself working with so many people that you can’t possibly remember which team everyone belongs to. Labels allow you to improve your findability. You could label your personal space with fire-warden, JP, and projects or groups you’re associated with. It’s easy to go crazy with labels, though, so it’s a good idea to have a conversation with other team leaders and HR to find out what people wish they could search on when they go looking for people in the staff directory.



5 steps to better search with RightNow Answers


I’ve been working on an interesting project with a higher education institution. They have Oracle Service Cloud Enterprise, which ships Knowledge Foundation as standard. Knowledge Foundation is what used to be known as RightNow Answers. They came to me with a need to fix their knowledge base—the search returned irrelevant results, there was a lot of outdated and incorrect answers, and there hadn’t been a knowledge manager role in the organisation for more than a year. The platform was good enough to do the job, but their previous workflow had a built-in bottleneck and the state of the knowledge base had only gotten worse since that one person left.

Knowledge Foundation allows you to serve knowledge articles to different audiences via interfaces and respective access levels. My client had three interfaces, each with a matching access level, set up to serve separate and distinct audiences—current students, prospective students, and internal staff. But, with an unclear knowledge strategy, content relevant to one audience was often appearing in more than one access level, making the whole experience of using search a difficult one, no matter the audience. There were also a few basic features that could be enabled, and some minor configuration changes that could be made, all of which contribute to a far more effective knowledge base. I’m going to share the steps I took so you can improve the search effectiveness of your Oracle Service Cloud knowledge base. For now, I’ll leave the roles and workflow process for another post.

1. Know the reason your organisation may have more than one interface and/or access level, and clearly communicate the differences between them. In my client’s case, when a staff member searched for information to do with lecture recordings, for example, they were getting a lot of answers relevant to students. That results in frustration and disillusionment with the knowledge base. I bulk-edited answers to update them with the appropriate access level.

2. Enable Search Result Limiting. How many pages get returned when you use a common search phrase? If you’re getting pages and pages of results, many of which are irrelevant, it’s worthwhile going into the configuration settings to tune the search results. Search Result Limiting uses an AND search except where there are no answers, then it falls back to an OR search. As an example, students like to know when the coming “census date” is. This configuration setting took 60+ results of “census” or “date” down to six relevant results of “census” and “date”.

3. Oracle doesn’t use keywords in the same way that you probably do. When you put key phrases into the keywords field of an answer, it artificially boosts that answer’s weighting in search results when that term is used. Most of us use keywords as synonyms, but Oracle provide a text file to do this job. Monitor the Keyword Searches report and add commonly occurring synonyms to aliases.txt in the File Manager of your configuration settings. Keep the keywords field blank unless necessary.

4. Enable SmartAssistant Auto Tuner across all your interfaces. I don’t know why this feature isn’t turned on by default, because it’s so helpful to search effectiveness. The Auto Tuner is continually learning answer relevancy and makes adjustments automatically. It’s influenced by how often agents reuse answers in response to incidents and will push those most reused answers, thereby deemed most relevant, higher up the results in both customer portal searches and the Smart Assistant suggested answers in the agent console. When you click on SA Auto Tuner in the config settings, you see a bunch of weightings under the current search configuration, and what the suggested config would be for a tuned search config. From here you only need to click one button “Accept new config” to have those suggestions applied. Once a week, a new datapoint is collected for the search relevancy graph that is also on this page. It’s early days for my client, but I suspect that the more the agents interact with SmartAssistant and Best Answer features in their ribbon, the higher these relevancy percentages will go. I’ll have to revisit this theory later.

5. Ensure you enable the Best Answer button in your agents’ workspace. Related to the previous step, the Best Answer button allows agents to select the best answer from those that were reused in the incident reply. This is a significant input to the SmartAssistant Auto Tuner algorithm and helps that work more effectively.

Separately from Knowledge Foundation, but foundational to knowledge management in general, is to embed a Search First culture. If your OSC agents aren’t using the search features within the console, you won’t see the productivity benefits available with the platform, so don’t skimp on the communications and training.

Support: the wild west of documentation


Earlier this year, I was listening in on the Twitter stream for #writethedocs—a conference for technical writers—when one of the  speakers mentioned turning documentation from passive to dynamic.


Gregory Koberger is a developer and founder of ReadMe, a documentation tool for developers. It’s intended to fill the need that developer communities have for up-to-date API documentation, but I could see a fit for DevOps in the enterprise, so I went digging some more, by way of hitting up Gregory with some questions.


Developers are notorious for hating on documentation. Can you explain why that is?

The biggest reason is probably that it feels like busy-work. If you think they hate writing documentation, though… it doesn’t compare to how much they hate how bad other people’s documentation is.

Programmer’s live in a very logical world. An out of place colon can bring a whole program crashing down. The API is written in a logical programming language, and it’s consumed by a logical programming language. Yet we’re forced to serialize knowledge about it in English, which is incredibly ambiguous. Lots of logic and meaning is lost or mutilated when transferring knowledge of how something works via written language.

What are the mistakes you see people making with documentation?

The biggest mistake is just dumping people into paragraphs of text, with no warning. We know so much about the user and about the API or code library, we should be able to remove everything that’s not relevant to the user. New users should get a nice high-level onboarding flow, while more experienced users probably want information on error messages or reference guides.

Taking the time to read through your documentation as though you’re a user is another big thing people don’t do. Do your best to forget all knowledge you have. Does your documentation have working examples? Does it mention if the API key should be passed as a header or a query string? Do you mention any weird edge cases? Make sure you don’t leave out details that are obvious to you but wouldn’t be to other people.

What makes documentation great, and do you have any examples to point to?

Great documentation realizes you need more than just paragraphs of text. You need to provide a cohesive experience, and that requires everyone to be on board. Documentation should be seen as the frontend for the API or code library, not relegated to an afterthought.
For example, this means that well-designed SDKs count as “documentation”. After all, they can be self-documenting. Should the API key (which I mentioned in the previous answer) be sent as a header or a query param? Should it be sent each time? Doesn’t matter! You just do “Whatever.setKey(“abc”)”, and it takes care of it for you. Sure, you still need documentation – but you can reduce the complexity of the documentation.
A good support section is also really important. For something like PHP, it’s the only reason the language exists (because someone will have had the issue already and posted an answer). Support can be the wild-west of your documentation site. Documentation should be cohesive and fit together and be structured well; support (with a good search) is your way of having unorganized questions and answers that don’t fit the main narrative.

How does ReadMe work to solve those well-known roadblocks to documentation?

One of the biggest things we do is let people deploy documentation from semantic metadata. That sounds more complicated than it is – basically, it just means that we let people sync Swagger (and other similar specs) from GitHub. This let’s us divide up the work. Humans can still write paragraphs of text, but ReadMe can do things like generating code samples and letting users test out the API inline.

Of course, we’re just getting started! Our goal is to “redefine” how people look at documentation. Look at Slack, for example – it’s a “chat app”, but it’s quickly becoming a full-fledged platform that brings everything together into one cohesive workflow. That’s what we want to do with documentation. Documentation is the center of the API ecosystem; it’s the glue that brings it all together.

What kind of outcomes can a business expect when they put time and effort into well-maintained API documentation?

Look at Stripe vs Braintree. Similar products, similar pricing, similar everything. Stripe won out, because they had a huge focus on documentation.

Your API is your best bizdev hire, and documentation is the entire user experience. Partnerships aren’t made by people in suits anymore; they’re made by developers who share information and functionality via APIs.

How do you see the way we approach documentation evolving?

I’m biased, but I think we’re going to see documentation becoming much more interactive. Look at, say, O’Reilly books. They’re static, and everyone gets the same book. We’ve really just digitalized the way documentation was done in an analog medium. Most documentation is written using Jekyll or Sphinx, and is deployed statically. We know so much about both the user and the API! We should be able to give everyone a custom-tailored experience that takes into account their skill level, programming language, time using the site, activity on the site, and more.
Are there opportunities for ReadMe to be used beyond documenting APIs? What’s on the horizon for ReadMe?
While we definitely love APIs, there’s a ton of great uses of ReadMe. A good portion of our users use it for internal documentation. (StatusPage just wrote about how they use ReadMe, here.) Another big use-case is open source code libraries.
I’m incredibly excited about the future. Making the documentation the central hub for your developer experience is our main goal. That means we want everything from support to dashboards to API statuses to have a home in ReadMe. We’re looking to become a true “developer hub”, that sits right in the middle of your entire ecosystem in a simple, beautiful way.
About Gregory Koberger:
Gregory Koberger is a designer and developer living in San Francisco. He founded ReadMe, which makes it simple to create beautiful documentation.

An open letter to software vendors

Dear Vendor,
I saw a tweet today and it made me think of you.

We could say this about anyone, couldn’t we? The truth is, people have limited time and as long as the new tool meets the basic business-as-usual needs, your customers are unlikely to go exploring the boundaries without provocation.

Too often, customers’ purchase decisions will be influenced by the length of your feature list or your responses to a spreadsheet. This isn’t sticky marketing, because you’re all addressing those same BAU capabilities. Where’s the magic? Where’s the value?

Remind me of those features I’ve forgotten about. Design email marketing campaigns with protips for my use case. Uncover and share those customers like me who are already doing innovative things with your solution. It doesn’t even need to be all that innovative, it just needs to be better than how I’m currently doing it. And you can see what I’m doing; you own that data.

What about your sales team? Does your product marketing team pass on that information about the goldmine of unexplored features? Do you give your account managers the ammunition to make a call to existing customers, provide value in the form of a few tips and how-tos, and potentially up-sell?

So, what do you say? I showed you my protip, why don’t you show us yours?

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