KM: 6 ways to extract knowledge from an expert

6wayextractionIn one of my earlier KM posts I have discussed various knowledge products.
Before you can create a product, you have to extract the knowledge from the (leaving) expert.

That sounds more painful than it is 🙂

The most painful part is probably finding an internal or external person who is capable of capturing the knowledge and processing it into a useful product.

Knowledge extraction with the successors

If one or more successors are known (and this could be the remaining team) there are several options to choose from. This way knowledge is transferred directly from one person to the other. It is recommended to add “creation of the appropriate knowledge product(s)” to the objectives of the knowledge transfer, to check a correct transfer and to have something tangible to fall back on later

  1. Observation/Shadowing

Shadowing focuses mainly on transfer of knowledge by imitation. Employees who should take over the activities of an expert could join him/her and watch closely how a person performs the job. The successor repeats the activities when the next activity comes in. To make the shared knowledge explicit the observation period can be evaluated by a short ‘debriefing’ session in which the expert explains certain decisions and in which the other party can ask for explanation. The successors can then create a product in which they make their knowledge explicit.

2. Coaching

In daily life knowledge is transferred when an expert coaches trainees/juniors in their new role. In coaching the expert verbalizes much of his knowledge ‘on the spot’. Unfortunately much of this feedback disappears in action but when properly documented this feedback could be used to create more tangible products. One could ask the successors to document the feedback they receive from experts and translate this feedback into a top 5 of do’s and don’ts, a decision tree, a mind map etc.
A leaving expert might coach the successor in his new role. The successor takes over the activities and receives feedback while doing so.

3. Workshops

Workshop can either be very focused (how would we solve this specific problem together?) or have a more open structure (discuss the area in more general terms). Workshops are especially beneficial when the knowledge should be shared to a team of people at once.
For leaving experts an exit workshop may be useful, where successors can ask all kinds of questions to the leaving expert. Successors have the opportunity to ask their specific questions and address the issues they think are most crucial to be transferred. Preparation is key for success: successors should prepare what they would like to know about.
Preferably the outcomes of the workshop are reported into an FAQ, top 5 do’s and don’ts, a list of resources etc.

4. “Ask the expert”

Building a repository of questions and answers could be done based upon the actual requests for expertise. An expert could agree on answering requests from people in the company via the enterprise social network or another tool. This helps day-to-day problem solving but also allows for recording of expertise because questions & answers are documented at the same time. Employees could use this growing set of questions & answers when they encounter problems before they ask the expert for help.
For a leaving expert, you could organize an  “online workshop” or “leaving expert chat” on a certain date and time.
This method can be used to create FAQ-repositories based upon an analysis of actual questions.

5. Lecturing on internal programmes

The knowledge of an expert may be so valuable that it should be part of an internal training program. This expert can act as lecturer and share the knowledge with several other employees at various times. Of course the experts should be supported in the process of creating educational materials (slides, stories, exercises, reading materials, E-learning modules) in order to achieve the most optimal results. This instrument should be applied in collaboration with the training and development department or people who are responsible for internal training programs.
This is generally used when the expert stays in the company.

6. Keep connected

For leaving experts one could arrange a so-called ‘Keep connected initiative’. It might be that the leaving expert agrees on being available for some time afterwards for questions of his successors. This could be organized by telephone or email, or via LinkedIn or other networks.
One of the important prerequisites for these types of initiatives is an up-to-date Employee Directory allowing the successors to find their predecessors, if they stay in the organization.

In my next post I will mention the methods that can be used without the successors present.

If you have any  other suggestions for person-to-person knowledge transfer, please let me know!

Once again, I am indebted to Rob van der Spek .

Image courtesy of stockimages at


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