Is your information architecture showing cracks?

Is your information architecture showing cracks?
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You can’t hang out with knowledge management platforms for long without realizing that their structure, or, should I say, “architecture,” gets dated.

It cracks. It goes stale.

Stale knowledge, a litany

Knowledge stops functioning the way it did at the beginning.

The roads go awry.

There are turnabouts everywhere.

Dead ends.

So many dead ends.

Construction projects started, then abandoned.

Detritus strewn about everywhere.

Making do

For a while a company can get by with these things as they are.

You can navigate around the wiki that only gets added to, never updated or cleaned. You can try that file storage system, then that online cloud storage provider, then the former employee’s laptop, before finally rummaging in a forgotten box of extras for a missing flash drive.

You can even let an employee or two or dozen walk out the door with so much head knowledge that now is lost forever.

Yes, every company can manage with such losses for a time. Maybe years.

Acknowledging the cracks

But eventually the cracks show. They don’t just show, they turn out to be huge crevices with obnoxious costs to navigating.

Time lost. Things relearned. Then relearned again. Then relearned yet again. With none of the learners knowing that the knowledge had been there, before, sometime, with someone.

Knowledge management is about capturing those pieces of knowledge, harvesting those Aha! moments when they happen, storing them, and making clear indications of how others can benefit from that same storehouse of wealth without reinventing the wheel or slicing bread for the first time, the thousandth time over.

Knowledge needs

Effective knowledge management relies on just a few key principles

  • Capture knowledge as it happens
  • Share the knowledge in a place people know to find it
  • Make the knowledge discoverable once people are there
  • Keep it clean

Capturing knowledge

Knowledge happens in lots of places.

  • Email
  • Slack (or Teams or a literal watercooler)
  • Brainstorming sessions
  • UX interviews (You’re doing those, right?!)
  • Sales calls
  • Conferences

Wherever knowledge happens, make it easy to capture it.

Automate storing digital content like communication platforms and video recordings. Provide your team members with opportunities to write down and share their learning experiences with others who were not or could not attend. Encourage sharing sessions! (But for the sake of us introverts, don’t require that they always be public speaking events!)

Share the knowledge

Identify a common storage place and make sure everyone knows THAT’s the place where knowledge goes.

Make it a place that everyone can get to, even if no one needs access to every square inch of the space.

Just please don’t let each team choose their own preferred storage solution. That’s a nightmare on elm street right there.

Make it findable

Take the time to invest in your information architecture.

Folder structure matters. Search tools matter. File metadata matters. Keywords and tags matter.

Knowledge that can’t be found is knowledge that is lost. And lost knowledge is a hefty cost companies don’t really want to absorb.

Keep it clean

Someone has to go in and survey the landscape now and then.

The world moves so fast these days, that the knowledge that was good last year isn’t good now. What worked in a pre-COVID world doesn’t work in the current COVID world. You have to dispense with old knowledge so that it doesn’t clutter and get in the way of the current.

Move things around. Create new structure as the beast grows and old houses just don’t fit any more. Keep on top of the changes in the way your team speaks and talks and does its business and adapt the knowledge you need to keep to the situation that is present, now.

And don’t be afraid to throw out old stuff. It doesn’t do anyone any good when knowledge has outlived its usefulness.

Put in the work, reap the rewards

With good care and the right environment, meaningful knowledge can be captured, stored, and made available to your team. But like anything else, knowledge is an investment of time resources.

Unlike some investments, this one will definitely return dividends.