Investing in mentoring: why it matters

I grew up in the family business of ticketwriting & screenprinting. I went to TAFE to learn foundational skills in calligraphy, brush lettering, and screenprinting, and I spent time in the workshop with my parents showing me how to apply those skills. I was able to build on that learned foundation and they were able to transfer the kind of knowledge that can only be gained from years of hands-on industry and organisation-specific experience, such as why certain decisions were made. Essentially, it was a period of apprenticeship.

Corporate life typically doesn’t work the same way. The closest I’ve experienced to that is double-jacking in a technical support contact centre, allowing me to listen in on calls and learn how to do the job. Peer learning is valuable but it’s targeted to transferring existing process, and you frequently move your pairing relationships around so you can learn multiple perspectives. Like I said, it is certainly valuable, but it doesn’t do what mentoring does. Mentoring allows for meaningful one-to-one knowledge sharing relationships to form and outlast any particular tactical goals there might be. More tacit knowledge is shared organically throughout the relationship, than what happens with peer learning and e-learning, as the mentee develops trust and the psychological safety they need to ask questions they may have otherwise kept to themselves. For the mentee they develop a depth of knowledge in their subject domain, and for the mentor, their sense of self-worth gets a boost and they learn more from the process of teaching someone else.

I’ve covered mentoring tech on this blog before, and I’m proud to announce my commitment to Mentorloop as an angel investor. Mentorloop takes the administration overhead of spreadsheets and emails and manual matching out of running a mentoring program, making this valuable knowledge sharing format much easier to adopt and manage. It intelligently matches mentors and mentees and offers guidance throughout the relationship to keep both parties on track.

Better human relationships at work aren’t just about a market differentiation from AI-based services, although that is significant strategic move, it’s also about enabling our journeys towards self-actualisation and connection to meaning and purpose. Great mentors help us get there.


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.

7. ClozeLoop

ClozeLoop has one purpose: sales enablement. It brings disparate sources of sales content, like battle cards and RFPs, from wherever you’ve been keeping them and puts them right in the sales workflow. ClozeLoop integrates with SalesForce and Slack, and also has a web app with plenty of useful features. The app gives your sales team a chance to flag content when it needs updating, a simple thing that many knowledge base products forget about. I love that they’re dedicated to this one application of knowledge management with no intention to expand into other use cases, because they really nail it.


How active is your directory?

brady-bunch

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

Searchlight

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

readmeheader

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?


Hexigo pivots: from decision management to email management

still searching

 

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.

Inbox popout

 

Outcomes 1

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.


Document management that doesn’t suck

document-management

Props to @MylesCarrick for the title. He sparked a conversation on twitter this week with that sentiment. So, I’m wondering what you look for in a document management system.

Here’s a few things I can think of:

1. Some sort of built-in, configurable governance for file naming convention—A lot of the problem I have with document management systems is that people still name things randomly and folders are often filled with unrelated, random contents. Some guidance for naming convention that didn’t rely on verbal reinforcement would be ideal.

2. Files and folders default to public. Explicit exclusion for folders/files that must be private—One of the challenges of knowledge management is that, as an organisation, we don’t know what we know. Transparent file storage allows for discoverability when we’re searching for something. The current sharing models require us to explicitly ALLOW access, rather than explicitly DENY.

3. Semantic clustering and recommendation engines—Related to my last post about miscellany, I’d like to see a DMS that can offer us suggestions of similar documents based on keywords and phrases. Of course, this would be dependent on point 2, above.

Are you happy with your document management solution? What are the things you look for?


Jelly, a new visual Q&A app for mobile

FastCompany reported this week that Twitter co-founder Biz Stone has launched a new visual Q&A app, called Jelly.

They describe it as a visual search for answers to a question you might have, but you can’t actually search. You have to take a photo (or choose one from Google images) and ask your question. And wait. You have to wait for someone in your network to respond to your question. You cannot search existing questions or answers for something close to what you need to know, at all. And that’s what I was expecting after watching the product video.

So let’s drop the word “search” from this conversation and look at social Q&A. Social Q&A isn’t a new idea. It’s what Quora does, but Quora is text-heavy and unfriendly to use. We already use Facebook and Instagram for asking our friends and networks questions, often providing an accompanying contextual image, so what does Jelly offer that’s different? It sure is pretty.

I downloaded the app for you, so I could try it out. But not without scrolling through dozens of jelly related games to find it.

Jelly shows us a card with a question obscuring the top half of the image. You tap the image for the question to disappear and see the whole image. The overlay also displays the social connections that exist between the question and people in your own Facebook or Twitter networks, along with an option to answer the question or forward it to someone you know who will be able to provide an answer. That person doesn’t have to have the app, by the way, they can respond via the web.

Jelly screenshot 2

 

At the bottom of the screen you can see how many answers are there and tap them to scroll through each reply.

Naturally, there are some game mechanics included to encourage your ongoing participation—your answers can be nominated as “good” by anyone who reads them, and you can accrue thank you cards from the person whose question you’ve answered.

Maybe I’ve been reading too much IT Skeptic, but I’m…well, skeptical. I don’t think it’s providing a whole lot of value that you can’t already get from Facebook or Instagram. I like the design though, and I love the ease of adding contextual images to questions, so I can only hope Jelly shakes things up enough for enterprise social apps to take those values on board for their own tools.


Decision management, but not as you know it

If you’ve heard of decision management before, you’ll know it as a set of processes for improving and streamlining action items. Decision management systems treat decisions as reusable assets and using predictive analytics, business rules, continuous improvement, etc., can provide automation at decision-making points along the way. You can imagine this happening quite frequently in the production line environment. But what about those decisions that can’t be automated—decisions that happen by committee, in a human environment.

Group decisions can be difficult to arrive at, and not just because of timezone considerations where stakeholders are not in the same location. But decision-making groups are also subject to the human flaws that affect other groups. There’s a terrific explanation of the pitfalls of group discussion on Wikipedia. Once we’ve arrived at a collective decision and we implement it, we might have tremendous success or colossal failure. Depending on the outcome, we may want to be able to repeat that, or avoid it. If the people who were in the room back then can’t remember how they arrived at a decision, or if any of those people have left the company, the tacit knowledge of how that decision was reached is out the door, too. It’s a perennial issue.

There’s a new SaaS product on the market with the goal of plugging this gap. Hexigo enables collaborative decision-making, holds stakeholders to decision-making deadlines, and retains all discussion and agreements/disagreements around the topic for later analysis.

Hexigo software group

Hexigo works around the idea of groups, as you’d expect. Stakeholders are invited to join the group, which contains current and approved decisions. Group moderators are responsible for signing off proposed decisions. At the user profile level, users can see every discussion they’re involved with, including those with approaching deadlines. They’re also notified about decisions they’ve not yet participated in.

Groups can be public or private, but on the roadmap is the option to hide groups from the general listing. Also on the roadmap is the ability to assign action items and KPIs, and there are plans to integrate with enterprise social and project management tools. With some well-known customers already, Hexigo seems to scratch an itch—especially for those organisations who don’t even know whether the decisions they make are good or not—but as a tool that aims to solve one of enterprise’s biggest knowledge retention issues, it’s yearning to be part of a broader project management solution. Hopefully for Hexigo, that kind of integration will come sooner rather than later.

Hexigo software decision


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