KM – which “knowledge product” do you need?

KM-ProductsIn my earlier post we have identified our experts. Now we have to decide what to do with them :-).

You may want to ask yourself these questions:

  • Which knowledge does this person need to transfer?
  • Which “product” does the remaining team need?
  • What is the best method to create this product?

And you thought you could just apply a simple flowchart and all would be solved!  🙂
No, I am afraid you will have to do some thinking (as with every tool). Some knowledge products will be better for your team than others. Is a simple contact list of  internal and external experts sufficient, or do they need an extensive manual?
It also depends on your expert – is he/she a good speaker and happy to chat freely into a microphone and camera, or do they prefer to condense their knowledge into a mindmap?
You are the one who knows the situation best!

Knowledge Products

In general it will be your expert and your team who will create the product. However you may need other professionals, e.g. writers, education professionals, designers, video editors etc. This is depending on your needs, the aspirational level (is this just for your team or for all the company?), and on the skills of the expert.
The knowledge products below are loosely sorted from generally easy to create (1) to very resource-intensive (14). Not all of them may be suitable for an expert who will leave in 2 months time, but there may be a few that you may want to start creating immediately, before any of your experts leave!

I am indebted for the overview to Rob van der Spek, who was our knowledge management advisor at the time.

  1. Lists of resources
    Examples: A list of contact details of experts, customers, suppliers or organizations; a list of relevant websites.
  2. Blogs
    This can be a “manual in many chapters” and may be easier to digest and apply for the audience than a fullblown manual, especially when the expert starts blogging as soon as possible.
  3. Instruction Video
    A video of how to do something (cleaning a machine, conducting an experiment or configuring a team site) can be highly useful and easier to create and absorb than a written manual.
  4. Frequently Asked Questions
    This tool is especially useful when questions reoccur because the target audience is changing and new people are asking ‘old’ questions.
  5. Mindmaps
    These are especially appropriate for knowledge areas that consist of many relationships and associations, including diverse knowledge sources. They will provide a structure and the relationships of a topic only – the audience should be able to understand this level of abstraction.

    Example of a mindmap. Highly abstract and schematic, but for the right audience it will be useful.
  6. Templates or macros
    Templates provide direct guidance to employees to create products in the company based upon earlier experiences. Think about project statements, market introduction procedures or weekly measurement reports.
  7. Top 5 do’s and don’ts
    This can be a list, a podcast (perhaps with a good story added to it as illustration) or a more fancy format such as an animated video or an information poster. Senior management love them, but be aware that you can easily oversimplify complex situations by reducing them to a bullet-point list.
  8. Decision Trees/ Process Flowcharts
    These are especially useful to structure process knowledge (which steps to take?), problem solving (what might be the problem and which solution should we try?) and selection problems (what is the best way to …?)
    They look simple, but creating one can take some time! Check out my flowchart to retrieve a disappeared web part.
  9. Good practices
    A ‘good practice’ has been implemented in operations and has proven to improve business results. I will show you an example later.
  10. Case studies
    A case study describes a situation from the past including the activities, decisions and outcomes that happened. Case studies are very popular to transfer experiences, and they are especially useful when the knowledge was very specific for a certain situation but provides general lessons for the future, for instance for the launch of a new product, or a merger/acquisition.
  11. Educational materials 
    All the products mentioned in this list are potential training materials. Good educational materials must focus on clear learning objectives, to-the-point information, and exercises and feedback mechanisms.
  12. E-learning
    If you plan to distribute the expert’s knowledge to a larger audience, which is also scattered around the globe, e-learning will be the best solution. This will need an e-learning expert.
  13. Handbooks/manuals
    Handbooks and manuals describe in a structured way how to perform actions, how a technology works  or how to perform diagnostics. They are most useful if the knowledge is easy to structure and does not change very often. You best create a handbook when you have a large audience with similar and repetitive tasks, which is willing and able to read this documentation when necessary.
    Today’s handbook/manual is very visual, with a strong structure, and bite-sized and searchable content.
  14. IT-systems.
    At that time my previous company had no idea which  type of knowledge we most needed to retain and build on, so all vendor attempts to sell us a “knowledge system” were in vain.  New product development? R&D? Knowledge about the customer? Financial risk analysis?
    By now, dedicated products to collect and analyse knowledge have been developed such as IT-ticketing systems and  CRM-suites, which work with large amounts of structured data. Also, knowledge-based simulation software is now more common, reducing the need to do physical experiments.
    IBM’s Watson is a class of its own: it works with unstructured data!

As mentioned, I did this project around 2000. In the mean time, more products may have become popular.  Which knowledge products do you use most frequently? Have I missed some good ones?

Next time, I will show you one of the knowledge products I have co-created. It is about and on SharePoint, so it’s back to the roots of my blog!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

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