It’s true that we’re pretty big advocates of the knowledge management practice but in our many years on the ITSM scene, we’ve seen a lot of valiant efforts to create an effective knowledge base fall awry.
If you’re convinced that knowledge management is the way to go but you’re struggling with knowledge base fatigue then check out our twelve top tips developed to help you find knowledge base success.
1 - Appoint an Owner
Without someone to own the knowledge base, your efforts are going to be fruitless. Having an owner—whether a dedicated person or otherwise—will prevent your knowledge base from either going stale or becoming a dumping ground.
If nobody owns the knowledge base then contributions are likely to fall as other priorities get in the way; unless you have a team of knowledgeable writers then it’s likely that articles will be written by staff members who have bigger responsibilities.
An owner can help with assigning articles, providing deadlines, and developing processes that help to keep the practice ticking along.
A knowledge base owner should also be responsible (or appoint somebody else) for auditing articles before they are published stopping messy or inaccurate documentation from being submitted to your live audience. A dumping ground of badly written articles is likely to be more damaging than an empty knowledge base as it will make IT look, at best, incapable, and at worst, as though you do not care.
2 - Select Dedicated Writers
While the owner can be responsible for developing and improving processes and ensuring that the knowledge base is kept up to date it wouldn’t be very fair to expect them to do all of the writing too. Even if it was their full-time role that’s probably quite the ask if you’re looking for a healthy knowledge base. Nor is it a good idea to let just anyone write articles; some people don’t enjoy it and some people are not good at it. Instead, knowledge base writers should be appointed to the role and given regular time away from their main tasks to gather information and complete documentation. Having dedicated writers will ensure that the knowledge base is consistent, accurate, and kept fresh.
Knowledge writers can come from across the organization and don’t have to be solely IT staff, in fact, using people with various knowledge and experience will result in a richer knowledge base.
3 - Use Templates
Carrying on with the theme of consistency and accuracy, using a template for your knowledge articles is a great way to ensure documentation follows the same flow.
Templates are useful because they speed up the writing process and help regular visitors to find what they need quickly. They’re also beneficial when new writers come on board as less one on one training is needed; staff can simply follow the template once they’ve gathered the information they require.
4 - Deal with Issues
Keeping a knowledge base up to date and accurate is a tough task, it’s not uncommon to experience issues with documentation or forget to retire articles when they’ve had their day. Issues in the knowledge base are not a problem and should be expected, they become problematic however when they’re ignored.
Having a process in place to catch and report issues is important if you’re going to keep on top of them. This should include an option in the knowledge base for end users and staff to flag problems with knowledge articles they come across; whether it’s out of date information, an error in the article, or a piece about a retired service, they should be able to easily advise what the problem is. Then there should be somebody at the other end to deal with those incoming issues so as that they aren’t left to stack up.
An inaccurate or stale knowledge base can be just as bad as one that doesn’t exist. If users are regularly spotting errors they’ll soon be put off using it and you’ll find calls to the service desk increasing.
5 - Cut the Jargon
Knowledge article writers need to be aware of the need to remove jargon from any documentation that will be used by end users.
In the world of IT there is a lot of jargon that is immediately understood by those in the industry but it’s important to remember that many end users won’t be familiar with the terminology. Swapping jargon for clear and concise language is the best way to ensure documents are helpful and get used. If you bombard readers with a load of text they don’t understand they’ll just neglect that knowledge base and visit the IT service desk instead.
6 - Use Your Customers
Customers are one of the best ways to discover what kind of content you’ll need to be adding to the knowledge base. Listen to their questions, find out their frustrations, involve them in the practice.
Many knowledge bases have forums that can end users can access to ask and answer questions. Use those insights to publish articles that tackle frequent inquiries and help to resolve basic incidents.
7 - Include Images and Lists
Using pictures to break up the text of a long user guide or instruction article is one of the best ways for making a document more appealing to end users. Faced with a wall of text many people could be put off but a well-laid outpost that uses images makes information easier to digest and more appealing to work with.
Bullet points or numbered lists make following steps much easier too. The more helpful you make your documentation the more likely people will be to revisit the knowledge base next time they need assistance.
8 - Include All Steps
Some documentation fails because it skips out on what the writer presumes is an obvious step. For example, if you’re writing a user guide on how to install a piece of software and a new window pops up in which the user must select ‘next’ that step needs to be included in the process documentation. Just because it seems obvious doesn’t mean it is to everybody. Missing steps from a guide in this way means that end users are more likely to pick up the phone to the service desk for support because something has happened during their installation that isn’t in the guide.
9 - Add Feedback Options
Gaining feedback from those actually using the knowledge base is one of the best ways to ensure that it continues to do the best job that it can. Even something as simple as a ‘was this article helpful?’ section where the user can click on a thumbs up or thumbs down can be useful.
Including a limited free text box or a dropdown option for them to let you know why it was good or bad is even better. This feedback can be used to retire articles, update old documents, or amend errors, and it also helps end users to feel involved which can help to boost engagement between them and IT.
10 - Make Sure It’s Easy to Search
Users are happily helping themselves but only when doing so is simple and quick. If you have a knowledge base full of epic guides and helpful information that cannot be found it won’t be much use however good it is.
Having a search option and considering how users find what they’re looking for easily is just as important as the content you produce. An intuitive search bar, tags, and keywords are all great areas to consider when focussing on how relevant documentation will be found.
11 - Review Your Knowledge Base
It’s no good having a knowledge base that isn’t being updated or that’s housing useless articles. The only way to ensure your knowledge base is fresh is to hold regular reviews where you deep dive into published documents, review feedback and create a plan for moving forward that aligns with your CSI initiatives.
A knowledge base is an ever-evolving asset and it is only through checking and re-checking that you can ensure it stays on the right path and brings you the value you expect.
12 - Launch It
Don’t wait until the knowledge base is complete before you launch it to your user base. The truth of the matter is that a knowledge base is never going to be finished; there will never be a point in time when you can sit back and say it’s done.
A knowledge base is a living project that needs to be regularly reviewed and updated. Begin by writing articles that answer frequently asked questions and make it available right away. From there you can grow the knowledge base over time and, if you commit to regular knowledge sessions, it won’t be long before you have a healthy knowledge base that supports your IT staff and empowers end users by enabling them to assist themselves.
An effective knowledge base is one that is up-to-date, written for its target audience, consistent, and full of helpful guides and information which in reality is no easy task.
Mint Service Desk offers organizations a secure, central knowledge base that can be easily updated, searched, and shared across your company.
For more information and to see what other features we have on offer you can visit our website.