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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
— Aprill Allen (@knowledgebird) May 19, 2015
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?
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 saw a tweet today and it made me think of you.
— Martin Thompson (@itammartin) July 1, 2015
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?
I last wrote about Hexigo back in 2013. Back then, Hexigo was a tool for shepherding the decision making process and, ideally, capturing why particular choices were made. You can read back over the old post for an understanding of what decision management is in its truest form.
Things have changed since then. While many of us are trying to use more collaborative platforms, email is inescapable as the place where decision-making by committee happens. When it’s not face-to-face, at least. So, Hexigo have surrendered to it. Instead of fighting to get people to log into something else and use yet another tool for tracking accountability and conversations, they’re working towards making our stubborn attachment to email more efficient.
Hexigo now comes as email plugins that work with Gmail and Outlook to provide visual cues to an email’s priority. You can also track the status of an email thread where a decision or approval has been called for, and you can @ mention names to notify recipients that their particular attention is required.
If you’d like to see how it works in Gmail, here’s a video.
We’ll be stuck with email forever, but at least there are tools out there to help us do it better.
This is not an ad. No money changed hands for this post.
One of our biggest challenges in service management is explaining what it is and why it’s useful. The ITIL definition is dry and completely unsellable.
A set of specialised organisational capabilities for providing value to customers in the form of services.
It’s a problem ITIL has more broadly—it’s dry and bureaucratic in its worst form. It’s the nature of most best practice guidance, though, so don’t blame ITIL.
A recent thread on my Facebook wall prompted James Finister to challenge us to Seussify ITIL. Perhaps he thought it couldn’t be done, but Phil Green stepped up and posted a response. Following on nicely from my Return of Service post, here’s Phil’s representation of the definition of service, Dr Seuss style.
An outcome to achieve is what I desire,
Today, tomorrow, is what I require,
Will you help me achieve the outcome I require?
Can you, could you, should you be my provider?
I’ll help you achieve the outcomes you require
I can, I will, exceed your desires,
I’ll facilitate the outcomes you wish to require,
I’ll be your Type III service provider.
But what about specific costs and risks?
I don’t understand, my thoughts they whisk,
I don’t want to manage those costs and risks,
My service needs provided in a way that’s brisk.
Specific costs and risks, I’ll own them all,
I’ll own them all whether large or small,
I’ll own them today, I’ll own them tomorrow,
Providing service so great you’ll get no sorrow.
You’ll facilitate the outcomes I wish to achieve?
With service so consistent in you I’ll believe,
And you’ll own the specific costs and risks?
Let us draft up the contract and save it to disk.
And so, I challenge you: can you Seussify an ITIL concept?
You need a product
It’s not about the product