3 Truths every knowledge manager knows

Knowledge managers are a widely varied bunch. We work in different industries. We may be nestled into an org chart under IT, Customer Service, or Marketing. We support an internal audience, external customers, or a mix of the two. We may have a great knowledge program, or know that ours can improve. We may manage a team of individual contributors, or we may be in the trenches, getting personally involved in content creation.

3_checkboxes (1)Over the years, I’ve worked with hundreds of people who manage knowledge programs of all shapes and sizes. No matter what differences divide us, if you asked a few dozen knowledge managers what “Doing KM Right” means to them personally, you’d hear the same things over and over. We execute on our strategies in different ways, but every knowledge management professional holds these three truths at the core of their beliefs:

Good KM needs a vision

To create a great knowledge program, you have to know what success looks like. You, your leadership, your direct  reports, and your business partners need to understand what you’re working on, and how your actions play into organizational goals. So often we get caught up in the day-to-day business of creating content to support products and services that we lose sight of the bigger picture. Getting lost in the details is the difference between striving for improvement and just keeping the lights on.

Good KM needs guiding principles

Having a clearly defined vision of the experience you want your customers (internal and/or external) to have is paramount. Defining clear guiding principles (around 10 or so) that are the highest level requirements that your system and process should never compromise. These give you and your team the ability to make future decisions in the context of the real intent of your knowledge base program. Knowledge programs fail to achieve their potential when they lose track of this vision and the principles that were to be upheld. Revisiting these regularly and socializing them, will drive long-term improvements to your program and ensure a solid user experience.

Good KM needs partnership

Once you know where you’re going and how you’ll get there, you need support – and a lot of it. You need a supportive ear in leadership to green-light your budget and resource allocations. The cross-functional relationships you’ve built with your business partners are an important asset as you develop a holistic knowledge strategy. Of course, your end users, the people who benefit the most from the knowledge you capture, need to be brought into the loop in a meaningful way. Teamwork is critical to KM success.

Operationalizing your beliefs

We can all agree that these three truths are the keys to reaching your knowledge management goals, no matter how you define success. How do you combine vision, principles, and partnership to unlock your organization’s potential? Easy answer: Systematically. Through our experience building and managing successful KM programs, Irrevo has developed the KM Path Methodology to operationalize these core truths that are at the heart of every great KM program.

Our KM Path methodology organizes these pillars into six phases:

  • During the KM Innovation phase, you’ll outline your vision and build a high-level plan to meet your goals.
  • The Architecture Design phase moves further into decision-making, defining the requirements and scope, creating an achievable timeline, and identifying the right technologies to support the plan.
  • Executive Support is the critical phase in which you obtain buy-in from an executive sponsor and communicate your vision, plan, and goals to stakeholders.
  • After you’ve secured buy-in, you’re ready for the Build and Test phase where you’ll create the structure that supports your knowledge program: Processes, governance models, metrics, and content standards.
  • In the Launch phase, your plans come to fruition as you leverage new processes, update or migrate content,
  • The Optimize phase is what marks the difference between a once-and-done project and a living program.

Want to know more about how the KM Path methodology encapsulates the concepts you already know to be true? Check out the detailed plan for a list of actions, decisions, and deliverables you’ll need for your KM program.

3 Lessons learned managing a high stakes knowledge base migration project

The most successful content migration project I have ever witnessed lasted several months and involved nearly 50 people. They were not taking baby-steps; instead the vision was big. This meant that the project felt unruly and extremely chaotic at times. However, in the end, it delivered a dramatic impact to the business with changes in technology and processes. This project is a wonderful source of learnings and best practices.  Here are the big three takeaways.

1. Get ready to show off your leadership abilities.

For many executives, a large content migration project is a “once in a career” effort. It is high-stakes; costly, highly visible and can’t be repeated. So, it needs to be done well the first time. This means that you have to go through all the critical preparations. Most importantly, take the time you need to establish the vision and alignment of the project to strategic objectives. Define what success looks like. Then, make sure you align the right people to this project early on.

Be prepared to communicate the vision, objectives and success criteria many times. Your team will come to you many times asking for more resources, more time and more budget. To help everyone stay focused, be relentless in keeping the vision you establish at the beginning. Setting that vision up front will make it easier to address those requests each time they arise.

2. The content migration project team moves through a predictable emotional roller coaster (many times).

There is a predictable emotional roller coaster that you and your team will move through (probably many times). Knowing this in advance, allows you to use the best leadership techniques that align to what your team needs at that time. Prepare to lead the team both intellectually and emotionally. When the team is doubting itself, you are the cheerleader. When the team has lost the plot, you repeat the vision again and again and again to keep them moving toward the goal. When the team is confident and satisfied, sustain that momentum by celebrating their achievements.

Content Migration Optimism Chart

Most importantly, don’t forget that you will also move through these emotional phases. Anticipate that and have your own support structure in place to keep the positive energy.

3. Stay the course and you WILL be successful.

Leading a team through a dramatic change like this requires much more tenacity and persistence than is needed other times. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Others have done this already and you will be successful too. Maintain the energy and dedication and your team will deliver a dramatic and positive impact on your organization.

Mostly importantly, seek the information you need early on to make sure you are prepared and have all the information you need to make the right decisions along the way. To help you, Irrevo has recently collaborated with the amazing Eventusteam and published the Knowledge Management Guidebook: How to Lead a Successful Content Migration. Read the Guidebook and register for our “How to Lead a Successful Content Migration” webinar to gather the information you need to be set yourself up for success.

Irrevo: An Inc 5000 Company

562 of Inc5000Coming on the heels of our ranking as the 9th fastest growing private company on the Eastside, last week it was announced that we’ve been named to the Inc 5000 list of Fastest Growing Private Companies in the US!

In our first appearance on the list, we’re ranked #562 nationally, #6 in the Seattle metro area, and #10 in Washington State.

We’re overjoyed to have the hard work of our amazing team recognized. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: We wouldn’t be on this list without the support of our clients, friends, and our team. Thank you all for everything you do to contribute to our success.


Irrevo recognized among the top 50 Fastest Growing Private Companies on the Eastside!

After being recognized as one of the Fastest Growing Private Companies in Washington last year, it was really exciting to be recognized again by the Puget Sound Business Journal as one of the 50 Fastest Growing Private Companies on the Eastside.

Last night, PSBJ held an awards dinner to announce the rankings for the top 50 contenders. Laurel Poertner, our newest Knowledge Strategist, and I were excited to represent Irrevo among this crowd of top performing CEOs, Presidents, and VPs.

PSBJ top 50 1

Number 9!

The numbers counted down and the suspense intensified, until number 9 was announced. That’s us! The leaders of the top 10 companies were invited to share the secret of their success in ten words or less. My answer: “Whether we can do it or not, we can do it.” Our goal is to make magic for our clients, and sometimes that means our magicians have to learn a few new tricks, but we don’t believe in failure or the word “No.”

PSBJ top 50

The last year has been a time of exciting growth for our company, full of new opportunities and new faces. We wouldn’t be on this list without the support of our clients, friends, and the amazing team we have behind us. Thank you all for your partnership, support, and friendship.

Are you ignoring your most knowledgeable employees?

As call center leadership, you know that your biggest asset is your frontline employees. After all, they’re the ones who have the power to provide an exceptional experience that creates lifelong customers. Your agents put the Service in Customer Service.

A single Customer Service Representative (CSR) can only help one customer at a time. If he is assisting the team, maybe he can help two or three customers at a time. Of course, all of your customers deserve an exceptional experience, and using the know-how of your ace reps can be a big help in working towards this goal. What can you do to best utilize your superstar reps’ knowledge and experience? Here are some suggestions:

Knowledge Sharing CSRsUse CSR-created articles

Many knowledge bases have the capability for users to create new articles or provide feedback on existing ones. Employees who spend all day speaking with customers know which policies are difficult to manage, which how-to steps are tricky, and which procedures require additional explanation. Using software that gives CSRs the opportunity to chime in and provide feedback on these type of situations helps bring your content creators closer to the customer experience. It also allows agents to help peers in your call centers around the world, instead of only building the expertise of the peers fortunate enough to sit within earshot.

Offer a simple survey

CSRs spend almost a third of their day trying to find the answers to the questions their customers ask. Setting up a simple survey to ask your agents what questions they can’t answer is a great way to leverage their experiences. This can give you useful insight into how to give your customers the best possible service experience.

Listen to recorded calls

Listen to calls. Your QA team is already recording calls, sometimes with screen shots. Take some time to review these calls in detail. Are your reps spending a lot of time filling dead air with small talk while they click around, struggling to find the answers for the customers’ queries? Look for specific articles on your support site that can be improved and be wary of trends that are having a negative impact on your customer’s experience.

Create a mentorship

A more direct step is to open up lines of communications between content teams who likely don’t interact one-on-one with customers and frontline reps who are fully engaged in the customer experience. A mentorship program that partners CSRs with content creators gives agents a peek behind the curtain and perspective on how the sausage is made, and gives support teams access to very detailed knowledge about customer roadblocks.

By listening to your agents as well as your customers, you’re positioning your organization for success with a truly exceptional customer experience while helping your most knowledgeable reps feel like valued members of the team.

Knowledge base spring cleaning – Part 3: Good choices make for a solid Knowledge Roadmap

3-way_arrowIn the beginning of this series, we defined the knowledge management strategies and identified the right knowledge management resources. This time, we’ll talk about what happens when a content cleanup turns into a content migration.

At the early stage of a knowledge transformation project, many organizations discover a few big issues that require more time and resources than initially expected. Your company may decide it’s better to explore a new knowledge base system, thinking that it’s just plain easier to start fresh instead of spending time and resources on updating content where it exists.

And the process begins… 

First, you start with requirement gathering, which usually sounds like this:

What do we need this new system to do?
Wait, can’t our current system support that?
What do we need?
What do we want?

Then, you move on to the Requests for Proposals, where you’re swarmed with 100 word essays from a half-dozen vendors and service providers.

Can this system support what we need out of the box?
What can this vendor do better?
Does this support all of our requirements?
How much will these customizations cost?

And you pick a vendor, and you build a project plan, and you build a project team, and you’re finally ready to move along with your brand new knowledge base, except..

What about the content?

You’ve spent time and budget on picking a new and exciting technology that will help you achieve your knowledge goals. But if you’re truly going to transform your knowledge program, it’ll take more time and budget to fix and/or migrate the content.

The ‘good enough’ way: “Just put it in a new system, we’ll clean it later …”

A lot of organizations go down this path. Yes, you can see some positive change just by switching to a new technology. But if your content is the same, you’re bound to run into some familiar problems.

The better idea: “Let’s clean it up as we go.”

Updating your content allows you to make all of the changes you’ve had in the back of your mind for years. What’s on your wish list? Better searchability? Increased resolution rate? Simpler content? Here are a few strong starting points for setting up your new knowledgebase for success:

  • Get a site taxonomy built before you move it in the new location
  • Define and create content templates to fit the various content types
  • Conduct a scrub for style, presentation, consistency of terms for better searchability
  • Establish clear content ownership
  • Build out the content workflow
  • Enter metadata for tagging

We’re done! What’s next?

Whether you took the easier route of moving your content as-is, or took on the challenging task of cleaning up your content first, eventually, you’ll complete all of your migration-related tasks and call your knowledge transformation complete. But after a little while, those familiar gremlins pop back up again.

We just put a new system in place, why can’t people find anything?
Man, I could really use some help cleaning up this mess of content.

Any knowledge base is only as powerful as the knowledge program that supports it, and that truth is especially loud and clear after a migration.

The bottom line… build a Knowledge Roadmap

An effective knowledge roadmap helps you define the guiding principles of your knowledge program. It outlines the workflows, the processes, the stakeholders, and, of course, your overall goals. Even with the best intentions, plan, and people in place, there are a lot of competing priorities, deliverables, and timelines, but a knowledge roadmap anticipates the demands on your team’s time and streamlines processes so your content, and your entire Customer Service organization, can live up to its full potential.

Stephen R Covey wrote about Habit 2 in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “Begin with the End in Mind means to begin each day, task, or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination, and then continue by flexing your proactive muscles to make things happen.” The same applies to your knowledge program, “…if your ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step you take gets you to the wrong place faster.”

Knowledge base spring cleaning – Part 2: The 2 most common pitfalls in choosing your clean-up team

Last week, I outlined the essential components you need to identify before transforming your knowledge management program. This second post in the series focuses on resources.

Most knowledge managers, when kicking off a knowledge cleanup, look at existing internal resources to help them clean up the content. The two main groups include Subject Matter Experts and front-line agents.

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)

SMEs typically have some responsibility in maintaining the knowledge base’s content and its accuracy. You may feel that they’re an obvious choice to clean up their content. After all, they had a hand in creating it and know the subject matter well. However, SMEs may not be the best resource for a knowledge maintenance project for a number of reasons:

They don’t have time

Your SME team likely has a full workload managing organizational change and keeping product and service releases running smoothly. A content cleanup is important, but new products, services, and other offerings will always take priority.

They don’t know what they “own” or how to find out

Over time, project ownership becomes fuzzy. SMEs transition from one project to another, and older content may not have a specific owner. Naturally, it’s this older content that often needs the most cleanup.

Front-line agents

You may think, “Can’t we just pull some agents off the phone for a few hours a week and have them work through what’s out there?” Yes and no.

Overcoming objections

Although the Subject Matter Experts weren’t keen on taking on a new task, they may not be happy having other people touch their content.  Agents are very knowledgable about the products they support, but since they aren’t typically content creators, there are risks involved in asking them to audit content.

You could put a review process in place so that the SMEs simply review the frontline agents’ output before it gets published back to the knowledge base, but that leads down another bunny trail. Your SME team may realize that the content truly needs to be reviewed by product owners, which brings you back to the roadblocks above. Although the SMEs now see the value in updating the information, they’re still trying to keep their heads above water with their regular responsibilities.

For you chess players, we’ve just achieved stalemate.

Back to the drawing board

What have we learned? There are indeed a few problems:

  • The knowledge base contains outdated or incorrect information.
  • Those who have the key to unlock the door don’t have time or have higher-priority items on their plate.

At this point, it’s easy to recognize that something needs to change within your content strategy, and needs to change quickly. Many knowledge managers, when faced with these issues, conclude that a new knowledge base could be the solution they need. A fresh start with new software can mean improved processes and content, and it could be the right catalyst for change.

In order to keep from creating a new knowledgebase with more of the same issues, there are several things you must consider. I’ll talk about this further next time, as I wrap up this series with a discussion on what a new knowledge base really means to your organization.

Knowledge base spring cleaning – Part 1: Refreshing your strategy

If you’re like many knowledge managers, you’ve found yourself in charge of a mass of historical content and related information that has accumulated over several years. You’re responsible for managing the knowledge and cleaning it up, but you have little or no budget and not enough resources to make it happen. At the same time, you also need to improve the overall performance of the knowledge management system while moving the needle on key metrics.

If this sounds familiar, then you’re likely due for some spring cleaning in your knowledge base. In this three part series, we’ll show you how to create and execute on a knowledge roadmap that will bring about results your customers (and your company) can see.

Start by defining these five components of your knowledge strategy

Getting these five aspects of your knowledge strategy in order before you proceed set the stage for successful, effective changes within your knowledgebase.

strategy_map (1)A crystal-clear picture of your outcome

Before you can get started, you need to understand your optimal final outcome, and create a business case that supports existing company or departmental goals. The reason? Non-operational dollars (capital expenditures) that typically fund cleanup projects are usually tied to these goals and their budgets.

An idea of the level of effort and resources required

At this early stage, you may find it difficult to pin down exact figures that detail the level of effort and resources you’ll need to bring your plan to fruition. The more data you can provide, the stronger the business case, but it’s usually sufficient to create a high-level overview of the work that’ll need to be completed.

A strategic end date

You’ll want to paint a very clear picture of how your plan ties into organizational goals. Choosing a target end date for your project that aligns with the overarching departmental strategy or supports company goals helps present your efforts as part of an overall plan of success.

Criteria for measuring success

While there’s no easy way to prove your project has moved the needle on larger metrics within your organization, there’s no shortage of quantifiable measurements within your control. Some examples include overall usability of your knowledge base, better searchability, fewer articles, or increased user satisfaction. You can baseline using a brief survey to your user base, and then use a follow-up survey to measure your results after your project has been completed. You might try using a trial instance of SurveyMonkey to get started.

Upper management buy-in

In order to make any effort successful, you’ll need your leadership behind you with a strong commitment to getting things done. Defining your new knowledge roadmap with the points above positions you to secure that buy-in.

What’s next?

Once you’ve defined your plan, it’s decision time. Your management team will need to weigh the pros and cons of supporting your request, such as budget, time, resources, priority. In doing so, they’ll probably ask, “Can’t you just use existing resources to get the job done?” You’ll probably answer, “Yes and no.”

Next time, we’ll talk about how you can identify the right knowledge management resources to execute on your cleanup strategy and deliver the experience your customers need.

The most valuable part of a map is being on it. Why Knowledge Base SEO matters.

You’ve got your customer support site squared-away, customers can reasonably find what they’re looking for. You’re fine-tuning the search, and leveraging keywords, synonyms, and white/black lists to help your results. That’s helping, but you’re still not seeing the “adoption” you’re looking for.

But “adoption” implies they’re coming back. We typically measure this by looking at the number of unique visitors or visits to the support homepage. But what if customers are finding your support pages and getting to them directly?

Stop control freaking

There is a real reason that companies aren’t or won’t open their support sites to indexing by search crawlers, control. Once you allow customers to access information directly, you lose sight of the internal paths they’ve taken to get to the information. You lose sight of who they are, and what products they may own. Opportunities for up sell or cross sell are sometimes lost. It may interfere with the way “call deflections” are calculated and the overall success of the site is judged.

Customers won't find what search can't seeBut do you as a customer yourself care about those things? No, you just want to find your answer and move on with your life.

The measure of a support site’s success shouldn’t be how many “calls” it has “deflected” but how many “answers” it has “served”.

Put ’em where they’ll look

Consider that your customer’s first stop isn’t your support homepage. And it shouldn’t be. Their first stop should be the page that answers their question.

Think about it, when you have a problem with a product or service, you don’t necessarily go to the company’s Web site and locate the “Help, Support, or Knowledge Base,” click them and enter into the world of intuitive information delivery. You search the Web!

There is a reason Google is the most popular Web site with 1.1 Billion unique visitors each month. With Yahoo! and Bing in the top 10… When people have a question, they go there first.

So, shouldn’t your answers be the first they find?

If I’ve got a problem with the Xfinity X1 product, where the remote isn’t controlling the menu, my first stop isn’t the Xfinity customer support portal…It’s Google.

My search “Xfinity X1 remote is causing search menu to come up” offers me a broader range of results from all around the Web than a narrow support search would. Forums, blogs, news, articles, announcements, etc…

The bottom line is that I can leverage the collective wisdom of the Web in far less time than I could in accessing your support site and navigating to, or searching for the same issue.

Strut your stuff

So why not fold your answers into the mix, build your support articles to work optimally within and outside of your support site!

There are practices that, if leveraged consistently, will improve your customer’s experience within your own support site as well as make your answers easier to find online.

Here are a few ways to help search engines like Google to understand the content of your articles and improve your customer’s ability to find them online.

  • Page Titles: Make sure they accurately describe the content of the page. They should unique, brief, and descriptive. Also, they should appear in the “Title” tag of the HTML of the page.
  • Summary or Description: The article should contain a unique and accurate description within the first two sentences on the page.
  • Images: Should not be used in place of text, but should be used to supplement or clarify text. They should also include Alt text that describes the image content.
  • Writing Style: The article should not contain any spelling or grammar errors and should be free of technical jargon and terms that are not familiar to your customer.
  • Common or “Preferred” Terms: Ensure that words that you use often are used consistently throughout your page copy and across all articles on your site.
  • Hyperlinks: Links within the page should include text that accurately describes the content of the page that is being linked to in concise terms.
  • Heading Tags: Use heading tags (H1, H2, H3) consistently and sparingly. This will help convey relative importance to the terms within.
  • “Chunking”: Ensure the article is centered around a single topic.
  • Uniqueness: Ensure the article content is unique and does not contain information that is duplicated in other articles.

Lastly, ensure that your site includes a Site Map that is made available to external search engines to index. Also make sure your site provides simple URL stings that do not change very often. Both of these will likely require some assistance by your IT team and/or your Knowledge Base vendor to achieve.

Watch ’em grow

Try doing some searches for your key support articles in the various search engines and record your results. See if they appear at all, if they do, great! Use the practices above to improve their relevancy. If they don’t appear, work with your IT team and vendor to ensure the site map is published to the search engines and that the URL strings are kept simple. Give it a few weeks and try your searches again and record the results.

Once your articles are available, track the page hits or views before and after. See what kind of lift you get. Also, if your pages have a “did this resolve your issue” question at the bottom, compare the results before and after your changes.

Remember, the whole point of putting support information online is to help your customers to help themselves. So let’s make sure we’re paying attention to how, where, and when they want to get help.