Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Knowledge Networks

Knowledge Networks

Knowledge Networks deal with communication strategies between participants (which include networking of key and similar participants) as well as documentation strategies.


While process owners have their own teams, the process end users are the team leaders for teams implementing those process. This separation of concerns allows for efficiencies by focusing on what is required by who. This also requires a robust communication strategy between process owners and users.
The benefits for this is a triaging of problems within the team as "first-tier support" to solve the majority of problems affecting users. Advance problems are escalated by the Local Business Experts back to the process owners for resolving. This allows a more streamlined approach and a reduction of repetitive support requests. It also provides a trigger for a training needs analysis within the teams which can be actioned and supported separately to reduce re-occurrences.

Knowledge Networking

Forming working parties or "user groups" with Local Business Experts as members allows for a synergy and sharing of ideas and solutions as well as a way of finding common problems that may lead to further enhancements to processes or supporting systems. Business improvement can tap directly into the these groups since they are the experts in the implementation of the processes.

Knowledge-bases and Documentation

A robust and easily accessible knowledge store is the cornerstone of Knowledge Networks. Previously, documentation has consisted usually of multiple read-only files stored in a number of locations. An example of this can be found with the Case Study: Achievement Planner - Documentation. The end result is a juggling of multiple documents from different sources with analysis and user feedback of the Achievement Planning system indicating that the documents are not being referred to when initiating the plan process, causing a loss of quality. The barrier to maintain that quality seems higher than what is expected from the end users.
The fact that they are documents causes limitations in their use. Ultimately, what the end user is looking for is the context-based information within the documents, not the documents per se. If a user was to search for a specific term, keyword or phrase across multiple documents then it would be a case of opening each document and searching within them individually. For efficiency and ease of use, people today are expecting web search-engine experiences. Two software products that have extensive search-engine capabilities specifically for documents are Xerox's "Docushare" and Microsoft "Sharepoint" - both able to search within documents for specific terms returning easy to understand results in a format comparable to those found from web search engines.
This leads to a second limitation: the relationship between information contained across multiple documents. By using documents to store information, the ability to link or cross-reference different information sources is often impossible, or at best fragile and easily broken when documents are updated or the link targets are moved. This makes it difficult for users to drill down for additional detail or easily find supporting or related information. A typical end-user is not concerned about documents per se, they are simply trying to access information as fast and as easily as possible to then support their duties. Difficulties to finding the required information easily has impacts on productivity and occasionally quality as end-users give up looking for the information they require.
Exceptions: The exception to the limitations of using documents are forms used for capturing data for processing. Such documents are designed to be controlled but they do have a specific role, different to providing information to users. Supporting documentation (instruction guides, etc.) can be easily become the containers of such documents with the forms available as attachments to that information.

Using Wiki Software as a Knowledge Base

The use of a Wikis as a knowledge base has become increasingly popular. They solve the problems of easy storage and retrieval of information as well as providing cross-linking and drilling down to child/supporting information. More information on the benefits of wiki use can be found here: Wiki - 111 reasons.xls (from

Documentation Formats

When using documentation to support end-users of processes, the core aim is provide information to the users in a way that will adequately support them. Some possible formats include
User manuals: suitable for the use of software or "click this, do that" approaches.
Flow Charts and Process diagrams: providing a visual aid to understanding the steps in a process.

More information about creating documentation.

Advanced Documentation Formats

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ): provides easy to read answers to common questions.
Lesson Plans: Small processes or sub-process examples captured as distinct series of steps or instructions
Packaged Training: A collection of lesson plans (including content and examples) developed by, or on behalf of, the process owners. The training would be delivered officially to Team Leaders (or wider: Local Business Experts) and would then be used as the basis of internal team training. Packaged Training provides the content for "Train The Trainer" strategies.
Simulation Animations: animations are designed to look and work like the real product
Presentation and Demonstration Recordings: The recordings provide "just-in-time" training and knowledge transfer.

Finding Information from Multiple Documentation Sources

There are many examples where a "kitchen sink" approach to documentation means the end-user is overwhelmed with information. In some cases this is acceptable if the users have time to sift through and find what is relevant for the user at that time. For efficiency, however, some advanced searching capabilities are required as a way of handling the volume of information. Some Advanced Searching techniques include:
  • keyword or specific phrase search
  • being able to excluded a keyword or specific phrase
  • Search by Author and/or date published/last updated
  • Search by Subject/process area
The ability to combine multiple advanced searching techniques provides even more power to find specific information. NOTE: Where this is not available (such as documentation across multiple systems), a more pragmatic approach should be adopted: providing the minimum accepted amount of information in the easiest to comprehend format.

Multiple Responsibilities

Documentation within the Knowledge Networks strategy has a focus on being created for the benefit of the end-user, with compliance, while important, a consideration after satisfying end-user needs.

Above is a workflow showing the process of updating documentation in concert with system upgrades. Highlighted in red are the sections dealing with documentation updates. Who has the responsibility for updating what documentation depends on their access and use. A process owner can provide core documentation to the teams using this process. It is the responsibility of the teams to ensure this documentation is sufficient for their needs and either negotiate with the process owner to expand on this as necessary or develop their own resources. It is also the responsibility of the teams (and specifically the team leader) to ensure they correctly and fully understand the business rules and workflow of the process when expanding the documentation for the teams needs.

Training Champions and Networking

Training Champions, whether they are team leaders responsible for their local (team) documentation, or system/process owners needing to support their end-users, have a stake in ensuring their documentation becomes valuable asset for their target audience.
In the case of teams, fast and efficient access and accuracy is paramount. A team member should not be required to ask a fellow staff member to find out information about a process (the exception is changes of data that occur over a short space of time).
If the team leader becomes aware that implementation (use) of a process is not clear or incomplete (perhaps by their team members bringing it to their attention), it is the responsibility of the team leader to notify the process owner of where the documentation is deficient and then collaborate with the owner for a suitable improvement.
For system/process owners, the documentation needs to adequately support the end users without being an unsustainable burden to the owners themselves. This can, in a lot of cases, mean a lot less documentation may need to be written, or written in a simpler format.
NOTE: Team Leaders (as Local Business Experts) and system/process owners need to be granted the responsibility to create and publish documentation for their end users (i.e.: team members, system/process users) with minimal need to have such documentation further verified, amended or approved. It is the responsibility of the system/process owners to be the experts of the processes they own and that between themselves (as a team leader of their process) and their own Power Users, know all the pertinent business logic and factors their processes require. Similarly, Local Business Experts (and specifically the Team Leader) are responsible for ensuring they are fully knowledgeable on all aspects of the parts of the system that have a direct impact on their team. Documentation published by system/process owners (for their process users) or Team Leaders (for their team) reflects this responsibility.
With this in mind, documentation requiring further verification or approval becomes redundant, providing no further value. The responsibility of authoring correct and suitable documentation, and it's subsequent verification of quality, is recorded as a performance outcome within the achievement plans of the affected staff members (see Achievement Planning).
If documentation does not match the organisational style required, this is corrected as a learning process for the authors based on feedback and best practices that must be followed, but is not an impediment of publishing. Another performance outcome (again, see Achievement Planning) for these authors of documentation is the ability to write usable documentation suitable for their target audience of an acceptable quality. This is NOT to mean that such authors must be proficient in writing documentation for a myriad of formats, simply that the documentation written matches the needs of their end user, following standard templates, formats and style-guides that are applicable.
Example: for a series of FAQ written by a team leader for their team, use of suitable templates, following style guides for layout (fonts, heading use, etc.), correctness of content, and accuracy in grammar and spelling would be sufficient. The format would mimic other acceptable quality FAQ's, and where the quality is unacceptable, this would be a recorded performance measurement, and the improvement placed on the author as an action item.
The aim for this process is to be able to publish as quickly as possible and allow the documentation to evolve rapidly over iterations as required, with feedback from users to suit the end-users needs.

More Communication Strategies

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  • subscribing to important pages within a wiki so any changes will send a notification to subscribers alerting them to the changes (and prompting their review of the changes for updating their own knowledge or providing feedback or corrections to the authors). Related to this is the ability for some Wiki software to send a periodical (usually daily) summary of changes within a  specific "Wiki Space" to all subscribers (team members) of that space. The induction process for new staff members within that team would include information of what Wiki spaces the staff member is required to subscribe to.
  • Email newsletter broadcasts regarding areas of expertise (eg systems or processes). This is already occurring at BNIT, but may benefit from more use. It is important for Team Leaders and Power Users to ensure they are abreast of all broadcast changes of system/processes they deal with and then disseminate this information to their teams accordingly.
  • Invitations to new systems previews, workshops and User Acceptance Testing. This works hand-in-hand with "Train-the-Trainer" approaches in upskilling the Team Leaders and Power Users to then disseminate this new knowledge back to their teams, incorporating it into the induction process of new staff members and ensuring the knowledge is shared within the team.
  • More points here

Training Champions

Training Champions

The Training Champions strategy aims to achieve the following goals:
  • Promotes expertise and knowledge of business processes within the workplace
  • Provides a method to quickly train staff and commence their duties.
  • Allows ongoing training self-sufficiency within the team.
Fundamentally, the Training Champions strategy is a collection of knowledge sharing, instructional skills and team structure design. This is matched with appropriate team member workloads, recognised duties and contingency and succession plans.
There are two aspects to the Training Champions: the team members themselves who act as "Local Training Champions" and any accredited and recognised "Champions" who are considered experts in a specific area and are capable of passing on knowledge to local teams.

Team Members As "Local Training Champions"

It is the responsibility of the team as a whole - and the team leader specifically - to ensure the team are fully and correctly trained for the tasks they are expected to perform. This means a personal responsibility (from the core tenant "Be Responsible and Accountable/expect responsibility and accountability") by staff members to pro-actively seek training/skilling/knowledge to support their duties, for team leaders to ensure their team members receive adequate training, and for fellow team members to pro-actively support other team members, especially when inducting new staff (following another core tenant "Openness, sharing and community").
There are four distinct members who make up the Local Training Champions, collectively hold the local business process expertise and knowledge, and play a part in making the Training Champions a success:
  • End users: staff who impement the process within the team.
  • Mentors: End users who have either received more instruction from power users or are senior staff with a wealth of experiance, and provide some support and mentoring to fellow end users.
  • Power Users: who may also be end users but have deep knowledge of the business processes, underlying logic and detail. Power Users are responsible for actioning training to end users to ensure they are sufficiently skilled and knowledgeable in the business processes, with assistance from Mentors as necessary.
  • Team Leaders: are decision makers for the day-to-day implementation of the process they are Team Leader for and have the responsibility of ensuring the process and surrounding policy is implemented correctly. They have extensive knowledge (both in depth and width) of that process. Team Leaders do not necessarily have all the specific detail of implementing the process but can confer with Power Users to provide this (making up the "Local Business Experts"). They are the official representatives for communication between the system administrators/support and their team. They also have the responsability to ensure their team are correctly trained in the process, although the deilvery of training to new and existing staff is often (although not exclusively) done by the Power Users, assisted by any mentors as required.
More information

"Accredited Training Champions"

Staff who are "subject matter experts" and who have been authorised to provide system and process training and assistance within their area of expertise. Their role as as accredited training champion, and the overhead of performing that role, is formally recognised within their individual achievement plan.
More information on Accredited Training Champions

The "Assessment and Accreditation in the Workplace" model

This advanced model is where approved assessors provide accreditation of competency by assessing staff that have been trained and mentored within the division. Accredited Training Champions are well placed to be an assessor.
Related information regarding the Assessment and Accreditation in the Workplace model

Succession Planning

To ensure knowledge collapse is prevented, succession planning of team members is critical. This includes esuring there are no knowledge gaps (especially in critical areas) as well as ensuring all functions of Training Champions are covered.
This is to ensure team changes have minimal impact on both the short- and medium-team productivity and quality.
More information on Succession Planning.

Process - Training Local Experts

Below is a process to train local experts when a skills gap has been identified, both when there is an accredited Training Champion available and when there isn't.

Process - retraining process and system upgrades

Very few process are static so some amount of retraining or updating of knowledge is required when processes and systems change. Below shows the process for retraining under these circumstances.

Training Champions and Knowledge Networks

Training Champions and Knowledge Networks

Knowledge Networks, in conjunction with Training Champions, provides a sustainable strategy of skilling staff within the context of the workplace. It uses an integrated series of common and best-practices, specific work practices and some enterprise software for support.
One of the main benefits is to ensure knowledge and expertise of business processes is retained in-house and on-hand so external reliance and associated restrictions to deliver training is minimised. This assists in reducing the impact that changes within the organisation (such as organisational change or staff movement) can place on systems and processes.
Some core tenants underpin the Training Champions and Knowledge Networks:
  • “Be Self-Sufficient and Self-Sustaining”
  • “Be Responsible and Accountable/expect responsibility and accountability”.
  • “Openness, sharing and community”.
The Training Champions aims to achieve the following goals:
  • Promotes expertise and knowledge of business processes within the workplace
  • Provides a method to quickly train staff and commence their duties.
  • Allows ongoing training self-sufficiency within the team.
The Knowledge Networks aims to achieve the following goals:
  • Capture tacit or undocumented knowledge and convert to explicit knowledge
  • Provide an efficient method to access information to support business processes
  • "Closes the loop" by providing a two-way communication pathway between process owners and the leaders of process enablers, useful for efficiencies, improvements and exposing previously unknown limitations.
Knowledge Networks and Training Champions are "two sides of the same coin" with strong and complementary connections between the two strategies.
To achieve this requires the following:
  • Cultivate a knowledge sharing culture.
  • Identify key knowledge areas and knowledge champions
  • Implement mentoring and knowledge building programs
  • Ensure departing employees impart crucial knowledge to their successors
  • Have tools and processes on hand to capture and store suitable employee knowledge
  • Take steps to minimise the risk of knowledge collapse
  • Develop networks to sustain ongoing relationships and improve knowledge retention
While many organisations have knowledge management policies that deal with transferring essential knowledge when a key staff member decides to leave, Knowledge Networks and Training Champions deal with sustainable capturing and sharing of that knowledge in an ongoing way.

Workloads, Responsibility and Performance Planning

Central to the implementation of Knowledge Networks and Training Champions is the requirement that the appropriate parties be given suitable areas of responsibilty to adequately perform their duties implementing Knowledge Networks and Training Champions. Quality is then controlled by a performance planning and measuring process.
Further, efforts, duties and workloads are recognised within Performance Planning to ensure the implementation of Knowledge Networks and Training Champions is done in managable and sustainable way.
For more information, see Achievement Planning.

Theory and Background

The pace of new information occurring in the workplace means new ways of working and leading.
  • Today’s workforce must know a little about a lot but know where to get more detail when necessary.
  • "Unlearning" becomes a skill of the 21st century.
  • Today’s workforce is expected to continually refresh, update, and learn new skills to meet job demands.

From: "Developing Talent In The New World Of Business" by Claire Schooley, Senior Analyst, Forrester Research (October 19, 2011)

The Training Champions and Knowledge Networks deals with these points in the following way:

Knowing a Little About a Lot

In teams where team members are moving from task to task, team to team or even role to different role, it is impracticable to expect everyone will be an expert at it all. For Training Champions within a team (that is, non-accredited training champions), different staff members can become team leaders of each process, adopting a "divide and conquer" approach. The formalised structure of TC/KN assists with the "know where to get more detail when necessary"

For end users, they can call upon
  • documentation supplied by process owners
  • documentation created by their team or other users following "community sharing" principles
  • the Local Business Experts as their internal Training Champions

For Team Leaders, support can come from
  • the process owners
  • Accredited Training Champions (where available)
  • Networking with other team leaders (eg: "user reference groups") using the same processes
  • their own team in validating and confirming processes (and even supporting documentation) is correct

For Process Owners
  • teams using the process, validating and confirming processes when they are applied.
  • Team Leaders providing feedback and suggestions, repeated requests for support showing deficiencies needing correction

Additionally, having full featured and easy to use knowledgebases helps with knowing where to get more detail when necessary (part of Knowledge Networks), employing "self-service" and "just-in-time" strategies for efficiencies.


While the popular definition of Unlearning is "Discard (something learned, esp. a bad habit or false or outdated information) from one's memory", in the context of TC/KN, it is simply learning to see things differently or to at least be open to it. This relates to the discovery of efficencies and feeding that back for evaluation as part of a continous improvement cycle. This does NOT mean that not following established processes is acceptable. However, it does mean continually analyising how well the processes fit to achieve the required business outcomes. Care must be taken, however, that - what may seem poorly designed or illogical for end-users may infact be the best possible (or perhaps the only) way available at the time. In those situations, it is highly desirable to be able to adequately explain this to the end-users, usually via the Team Leaders. Unlearning also applies to the adoption of the Training Champions and Knowledge Networks strategy to replace previous practices.

Refresh, Update, and Learn

In creating a flexible and adaptable workforce, as well as building individual capabilities (that may have connections to leadership building strategies and succession planning), it is becoming expected that staff are exposed to more learning opportunities, and refreshing previously aquired skills and knowledge. With Training Champions, it is not just the responsibility of the Team Leader to support this, but an individual responsibility of all staff to pro-actively engage in their own learning for the ongoing benefit of themselves, and of the team. For end-users, this may lead to becoming a mentor, mentors to power users, power users to team leaders, Local Business Expert (LBE) of one process to LBE of other processes.