Have you ever thought about what to do next when people who know a critical part of your project or company leave? Or if you have to change the vendor? Or if there comes a huge team extension? One of your most important steps is likely to be knowledge transfer.
Often organizations try to document processes hurriedly at the critical point of an employee leaving, or they don’t do it at all. But even beyond employee departures, there are plenty of reasons to think about a knowledge transfer strategy for your business, project, or team, no matter the size. The efficiency of launching a new project, the level of specialists engaged, the process of transferring knowledge to new employees—all of these either take away from your resources like time and money or allow you to increase them. More about — read below.
To learn why knowledge transfer is vital for solving problems in your business, how to carry out a fast and effective onboarding process, and what to know about starting outsourcing — read our article where the NIX experts share the expertise and customized approach.
According to the Panopto Workplace Knowledge and Productivity Report, smaller businesses can save up to $2 million on employee productivity through knowledge retention and sharing, and larger firms can save up to $200 million or more.
These figures are based on reliable data from thousands of employees in businesses that experience knowledge loss daily. In the end, all of these large sums of money are eventually written off under such-and-such circumstances, but in fact, they shouldn’t be, and the transfer of knowledge will prevent the loss of your most valuable resources—time and money. Moreover, it’s an investment in the long-term success of your project. But if this process is not consistent, it’s not what will make you succeed.
Starting with a quick 101: Knowledge transfer is a methodical and focused strategy for obtaining critical knowledge from crucial personnel to store and distribute among organizations/employees/vendors for effective process and staff improvement.
“Knowledge is power. Transferring that knowledge is powerful,” says Mark A. Langley, President and CEO of the Project Management Institute.
The top priority for achieving the desired results is to set clear goals for knowledge transfer from the outset. A few questions to consider when setting goals for knowledge transfer:
Of course, these questions are only the first step, followed by planning.
It seems to be obvious that the major part of knowledge about a project should be contained in the documentation; but in reality, the most vital information is often stored in people’s heads. To remedy this, it’s worth using approaches and practices that will change this situation.
“Knowledge is the business! And the best practice of knowledge transfer should accelerate the business value,” said Jean-Claude F. Monney, Global KM Lead, Office of the CTO at Microsoft Enterprise Services
Talking about knowledge transfer, it’s worth mentioning that it’s divided into explicit and implicit & tacit knowledge.
Explicit knowledge is precisely what lends itself to transfer strategies, such as formal documents, guidelines, and other described codified processes. They are easier to share and quantifiable. Tacit & implicit knowledge, which can be in the form of, for example, coaching, is harder to pin down because it’s a more intuitive type of knowledge. It is intangible, ranging from insights learned from personal experience to accumulated experience.
Also, there are different necessary flows associated with knowledge transfer involved at various levels:
Knowledge transfer to and from the project and organizational levels is essential in a multi-project environment. Knowledge at these levels depends more on the quality of the data warehouse than on the incentive system.
The most crucial and challenging is to transfer knowledge from the person involved in the project work. This situation is dictated by the fact that sometimes the work is done almost intuitively. Ironically, companies often endorse this behavior as a systematic way to manage knowledge, but it is rarely well-organized, if at all.
A well-structured data repository is your remedy. The Project Management Office (PMO) should be responsible for creating and maintaining a well-structured data repository in your project. Document things that have not even been done before. This is not limited to text, but also the knowledge that must be presented through various means, such as audio or video.TIP
A well-structured data repository is your remedy. The Project Management Office (PMO) should be responsible for creating and maintaining a well-structured data repository in your project. Document things that have not even been done before. This is not limited to text, but also the knowledge that must be presented through various means, such as audio or video.
Moreover, people should be encouraged to leave feedback on the quality of the data warehouse in four key areas: accessibility, quality of information, areas covered, and interface ergonomics.
The following are guiding principles of effective knowledge transfer:
The NIX team works directly with customer personnel and guides critical stakeholders to understand each of these guidelines and how they can use them to positively impact program success.
We also have experience with other transfers and know all the risks—from a vendor to vendor, an organization to the vendor, and vice versa. We are not afraid of different stakeholders and ensure effective knowledge transfer by embedding ourselves in your ecosystem. Our experts are ready to take the hit even if you need knowledge transfer but don’t have any existing documentation or previous staff.
NIX’s expert team will conduct sessions with all groups involved in the knowledge transfer process to identify potential barriers to actual knowledge transfer and find solutions to overcome them as quickly as possible. Some of these in detail are:
Once you have everything you need to set up your plan, you can begin the step-by-step planning process.
The basis of effective knowledge transfer is to determine what information you need to collect. Not all knowledge is necessary or important—this is essential to understand when planning to collect information. In the majority of cases, project managers identify knowledge that is most important.
If you don’t have a PMO for now, we’ve made a small pool of the core knowledge elements that need to be collected in terms of three different levels:
Individual-level. This level is assumed by experts to be the most important in transferring knowledge of IT projects. Everything revolves around the code, and it is not enough to understand what’s inside the code. One-on-one meetings—both technical and executive as well as online and, better yet, offline training sessions—are a must to understand the logic behind the code and some established best practices when transitioning from one vendor to another.The NIX team has experienced knowledge transfers of different complexities, thus we help you identify the most critical knowledge with our team of experts.
Now it’s time to identify the contacts who can provide the necessary information at each level. At the organizational level, it could be stakeholders and lawyers; at the project level, managers and technical leads; and on the individual level, meetings between QA-engineers, UX/UI specialists, DevOps, business analysts, etc. It’s important for PMOs to understand critical tasks and also possible pitfalls.
One widespread guideline is to document all lessons learned at each level. Organizations tend to take several of the right approaches to knowledge retention, as one or two approaches are not enough. What the organization does with that knowledge after it is collected is equally important and can determine the success or failure of knowledge transfer.
It’s unlikely that nonstop meetings will allow your new development team to absorb all the necessary information. Our experts believe that important knowledge should be recorded and properly preserved. We use a variety of methods to transfer knowledge, creating a more interactive process for recipients that encourages direct person-to-person knowledge sharing. But some important practices worth pointing out are:
The next time someone takes on a similar project or set of jobs, they have quick access to past teammate experience as a repository to help optimize the process.
The most effective way to measure the effectiveness of the knowledge transfer process is to check for changes in the competence of the recipient of knowledge— whether it is a supplier, a customer, or an employee. Undeservedly this stage is considered the final and therefore a minor stage, when in fact this stage in the lifecycle of knowledge transfer is the most difficult but brings the greatest return. Thus, according to Pulse of the Profession®, only 27% of organizations surveyed are making efforts to determine the value of knowledge transfer. Many find the value difficult to measure because it’s not always tangible or precise.
Everything can be measured by evaluating the quality of knowledge and analyzing the results in terms of quality, completeness, and efficiency. But it’s worth remembering the starting point to be effective, making an effort to measure the success of the knowledge transfer.
You may also be interested in our article — Important Agile Project Management KPIs and metrics.
The process of knowledge transfer is a continuous process of learning, adjusting, and improving. Success is possible in any organization that follows the approach described in our article.
If you are preparing for knowledge transfer in your project or organization, you cannot do without a solid action plan and experienced specialists. If you’ve been looking for a team to take all the complexity and set up the process for a long time – NIX experts are ready to help.
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