What is Knowledge Reuse?

Reusing knowledge is an effective, scalable way to improve productivity, accelerate organization-wide initiatives, and engage and retain tech talent.

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When knowledge is transferred from someone who has it to someone who doesn’t, “knowledge reuse” means that transfer is public, repeatable, and beneficial to future answer-seekers. Knowledge reuse is a recycling process; an individual or group reuses knowledge gained and shared by someone else. Examples of knowledge reusability include finding an answer to a question that someone already asked, looking up something in a document, or a colleague telling you a hack they’ve found at work. 

Knowledge management platforms have two major elements: the content itself, and the people who share it. Both elements play an important role in knowledge reuse, whether through informal communication or documenting something in a formal repository. Companies sometimes struggle to see the tangible impact of knowledge reuse in knowledge management platforms.

Knowledge reuse and sharing knowledge is a self-sustaining process – the more knowledge shared, the more it’s reused, the more advanced knowledge is shared, and so on.  

Why is Knowledge Reuse Important?

Developers and technologists have a lot of institutional knowledge in their heads, but writing it down for posterity is another matter. It’s difficult to be productive or onboard new talent when teams are distracted searching for answers, processes, or key information. An organization’s knowledge reusability can make or break important initiatives like digital transformation and attracting top-tier talent. Knowledge reuse in knowledge management drives growth, value, and return on investment by anticipating that critical information will be needed again and again. 

Knowledge Reuse Process

Unlike simply sharing information, knowledge reuse takes collaboration a step further by creating a system where ideas are shared, quickly accessed, improved upon, and then put back into the system. Instead of taking a break to search for help, a worker remains in a flow state, thereby increasing productivity and innovation.  

The knowledge reuse process can be described in terms of the following stages:[1] 

  1. Capturing or documenting knowledge 
  2. Packaging knowledge for reuse
  3. Distributing or disseminating knowledge
  4. Reusing knowledge

Capture or document team knowledge

First, capturing or documenting knowledge needs to start with the users’ needs – something that’s flexible, intuitive, transparent, searchable, and organically organized. Look to capture knowledge proactively based on an anticipated need (documentation) or reactively based on immediate need (someone has a question).

  • Begin with an inclusive space where everyone can contribute.
  • Capture knowledge through both Q&A and long-form documentation.
  • Find a platform with a proactive approach to getting information to and from users, onboarding and engaging them, nudging users to reuse knowledge, share knowledge, and collaborate.

Package knowledge for easier reuse

Next, repurpose and package knowledge so that both experts and novices can utilize the information. One packaging consideration is turning tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge. The other is defining the question and matching it to appropriate experts.

Reactively and proactively distribute knowledge

Explicit knowledge can be easily disseminated and repurposed because it has defined and searchable features. It is code or process or documented education. Tacit knowledge is institutional or proprietary information that is stored with a knowledge worker and difficult to pass-on or reuse. However, creating great knowledge sharing and reuse processes can unlock tacit knowledge. The more novices and experts interact through knowledge capturing, the more tacit knowledge can be passed on, “codified,” and reused. Further, software tools can assist in tagging tacit knowledge and help turn it into explicit knowledge.

The next step, distributing and disseminating knowledge, should be both proactive and reactive. By actively bringing knowledge to the user, you are facilitating knowledge reuse. The system should also be rigged to be easy for people to discover knowledge – a quick scan for information should bring them to what they need. One of the other challenges of incomplete knowledge or collaboration platforms is trust in the knowledge being shared. We call this content health. Content health should be maintained by everyone, rather than being siloed to a single individual or group. It should allow users to simply edit content when it’s out of date or flag teammates to update the information. 

Rinse and repeat to effectively reuse knowledge

The natural outcome and last step of this system is reusing knowledge – the only scalable way to improve productivity and accelerate organizational initiatives.

Roles within Knowledge Reuse

There are two different roles within the Knowledge reuse process. Those with knowledge need easy ways to share it for reuse. Those who seek knowledge must have easy avenues for finding information, then adding other data and takeaways back into the system for further reuse. 

Those with the knowledge are called Subject Matter Experts (aka SMEs). They are the best people to judge specifics about something in which they have expertise. They likely have a lot of knowledge about specific things like languages, tools, projects, and products. These are the people with the institutional knowledge in the company. 

Those seeking knowledge are the users. They can be new teammates, partners, or colleagues. The commonality is that they are looking for knowledge that will unblock them or make them more efficient.

How Can Knowledge Reuse Benefit Your Team

DevOps and SRE Teams

DevOps and SRE teams have their hands full. On any given day, they’re dealing with availability, latency, performance, change management, testing, monitoring, emergency response, and capacity planning. 

That’s why any efficiency – any shortcut – is a huge help. As these teams move at lightning speed, they need a platform that captures and disseminates team knowledge for everyone who needs it, when they need it. 

SRE teams reuse knowledge by creating useful documentation for their team, whether that's current members or any new hires that onboard. They maintain a good list of runbooks and procedures to inform new hires. In case of an emergency quick fix, these runbooks summarize standard procedures that are easily referenced. 

Key to all of this is the ease in which everyone – developers, SREs, and new hires – can ask questions, raise issues, and offer suggestions for better solutions while continually sharing knowledge and reusing knowledge from others.

Onboarding New Engineers

What if everyone knew as much as your smartest, most-experienced senior developer? When vital team members leave, it can make a big impact. On the other hand, when new team members join, the learning curve can be steep. Accelerate team acclimation with knowledge reuse and knowledge sharing, no matter who leaves or joins. 

Knowledge management done right means a wealth of team engineering knowledge is available in just a few clicks. New hires are on the receiving end of institutional knowledge and are expected to reuse knowledge.  

Product Management

Product managers are obsessed with ensuring customer satisfaction. With each new release, they strive to come closer to the perfect product-market fit. And there’s always more to learn.

That’s why product management teams need to tap into knowledge reusability. They need to communicate features and functionality, both new and historical, across their people. Every launch, every release, brings the opportunity to learn and refine a process or framework. Making sure that hard-won knowledge is documented and reusable is critical. “What did we build?” “Why did we build it?” “What happened?” “What can we do better?”  

Tech Adjacent Marketing

Information is the currency of marketing teams. What you know – about your product, customers, user behavior – defines your marketing campaigns. The more you know, the better decisions you make. Marketing teams need to surface key information. From training videos to product demos to sales resources and FAQs, marketing teams keep ahead of the curve through this valuable information hub. Marketing teams can’t predict the future. But they can learn from the past and make better decisions if they have the right information. That information lives on comes from reusing knowledge.

How Can Stack Overflow for Teams Support Knowledge Reuse

Stack Overflow for Teams is the only knowledge-sharing platform that can measure knowledge reuse. We focus on flexibility, intuitive organization, and actively bringing knowledge to the user. Stack Overflow for Teams integrates with tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams to make them more powerful and drive more collaboration. It reduces the amount of time teams spend on common questions, quickly gets new hires up to speed, and keeps employees up to date as team technology evolves.

With the platform’s foundation of transparency and discoverability, async collaboration and knowledge reuse happens effortlessly between individuals and across teams. This makes it an inclusive platform where everyone can contribute and benefit from day 1. The platform’s flexibility really shines when people start making it their own.

Companies that take advantage of knowledge reuse will benefit from: 

Stack Overflow for Teams helped Intuit’s developers and technologists break down silos between departments and improve communication across the company. Intuit is seeing knowledge being reused by engineers almost 120 times a day since they launched the platform. 

Reusing knowledge is the only scalable way to improve productivity to accelerate org-wide initiatives and to engage and retain tech talent. 

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