knowledge sharing

Why is Documentation Important For Knowledge Sharing

Realize why is documentation so important in facilitating knowledge sharing and use best practices to develop a healthy, collaborative organizational culture.

Nathan Goldstein

Co-founder of Together

Published on 

April 30, 2024

Updated on 

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Knowledge remains a critical factor for organizational success. However, while everyone recognizes its value, a mere 9% of organizations report feeling fully equipped to leverage knowledge effectively.

Several factors are responsible for creating a knowledge gap. For instance, valuable expertise may reside solely within a few individuals. Naturally, organizations face critical challenges when those experts walk out on them–close to 3.5 percent of the workforce separated from a job this February! 

Besides employee departures taking expertise with them, the creation of departmental silos also widens knowledge gaps and hinders productivity.

And when knowledge transfer does happen, there’s tribal knowledge and informal communication that lead to errors. Finally, wasted time spent in information retrieval further affects a company’s success.

One crucial way of bridging the knowledge-readiness gap involves strategic documentation. Effective documentation is the antidote. It serves as a central nervous system, capturing and disseminating organizational knowledge, best practices, and workflows.

What is documentation?

Documentation is creation and maintaining of written or visual records of information, processes, and procedures. Institutional knowledge about how things are done can include:

  1. Step-by-step instructions on how to complete specific tasks or functions within an organization. These procedures ensure consistency and quality in carrying out essential activities.
  2. The sequence of steps involved in completing a complex task or project. Its documentation helps identify task dependencies and optimizes overall efficiency.

So, why is documentation important? The short answer is that it empowers your organization. Keep reading for the longer answer:

Shared expertise & strategic decisions

In the workplace, it's tempting to view knowledge as a source of personal power.  We might feel more secure if we're the "go-to person" with all the answers. But here's the secret: sharing expertise makes us more valuable, not less–just look at Sodexo.

Sodexo launched a digital campaign to encourage a culture of knowledge-sharing among its nearly 500,000 employees. They promoted active participation in knowledge communities, integrated these into daily workflows, and celebrated engaged users. Their efforts resulted in increasing adoption of collaborative behaviors and knowledge consumption.

Here's what you gain by carefully developing a culture of open knowledge sharing:

  • Increase in transparency since everyone will have a clear understanding of processes, procedures, and best practices.
  • Enhanced collaboration when teams can work together more effectively by leveraging each other's skills and knowledge.
  • Make smarter decisions because critical information isn't locked away. So, employees will make better-informed choices and see improved outcomes.

Boost in efficiency and performance

Documented workflows empower employees to execute tasks efficiently, eliminating redundancy and wasted time. Everyone on your team will tackle tasks the same way, leading to consistent, accurate results. That's the power of documented institutional knowledge.

Without it, different interpretations of processes and products can lead to inconsistencies. If those errors reach your customers, you end up confusing them and potentially causing product failures. 

Documentation acts as a single source of truth, ensuring everyone's on the same page. That would include well-documented common issues and troubleshooting tips. With documentation, you can empower your existing workforce. On the one hand, it reduces errors, and on the other hand, it makes it easier to find solutions.

Improvement in project management & risk mitigation

Clear project documentation ensures clear communication, task clarity, and proactive risk mitigation throughout the project lifecycle. For instance, many industries face strict compliance requirements. By clearly outlining procedures and guidelines, documentation ensures your company stays compliant. This minimizes the risk of costly fines, legal issues, and reputational damage that can arise from non-compliance. It also mitigates risks. Think of it as a proactive shield against regulatory headaches.

Faster onboarding & skill development

Employee training and onboarding get easier as you perfect your documentation processes.

Onboarding periods can be stressful, both for existing team members and the new hire.

However, comprehensive documentation empowers both. New hires access guides, procedures, and helpful notes, allowing them to ramp up independently. This reduces reliance on others for every question, fostering a sense of self-sufficiency and boosting morale.

According to Bamboo HR, 65% of new hires find no clear points of contact to ask questions, and that results in a frustrating onboarding process. A document library can solve that problem.

Existing team members, too, can use your document library to:

  • Refresh their knowledge
  • Explore new areas within their roles
  • Stay up-to-date on the latest processes and best practices

This fosters a culture of continuous improvement, where individuals can take ownership of their professional development

Enhanced information accessibility

Despite 85% of employees yearning for better access to knowledge and expertise, a staggering 33% believe their current knowledge management software is outdated or obsolete.

When information is readily available, accessible to everyone, companies can eliminate the need for guesswork in all matters. This is the power of clear and consistent documentation. 

It acts as a central hub for all vital project and team information, from login credentials to step-by-step instructions. No more digging through endless emails or files for the latest update. 

How does this help you?

  • Team members, regardless of location, can access the same information, resulting in seamless remote work collaboration and knowledge sharing.
  • Transitions between tasks and projects become smooth and efficient. 
  • New team members can quickly get up to speed without extensive hand-holding.
  • Documenting processes helps identify inefficiencies and bloated workflows. This allows you to analyze and streamline the way your team works, boosting overall productivity.

Building a culture of effective documentation

Ready to set up your own effective system? Then use these documentation best practices for best results:

1. K.I.S.S

KISS stands for Keep It Simple and Straightforward. And it’s one of the best pieces of advice to follow when building a documentation system. 

What it actually means:

  • Use clear, concise language that everyone can understand
  • Break down complex concepts into smaller, manageable pieces
  • Employ numbered lists, clear headings, and short paragraphs to enhance readability

2. Version control

It’s important to track different versions of documents in an ongoing project. When each version–including the most up-to-date one–is labeled clearly, you can access previous iterations without having to go through every draft.

Version control also helps you avoid errors. Here’s how to use it effectively:

  • Track different versions of project documents to ensure everyone has access to the most up-to-date information.
  • Utilize version control software (e.g., Git, Subversion) or internal knowledge base software to manage changes effectively.
  • Implement regular backups and establish clear version naming conventions for easy distinction.
  • Conduct regular review and approval processes to keep stakeholders informed of any changes.

3. Visual assets

One of the best ways of presenting complicated information and analytics is through interactive visualizations. Those assets break down the data and make it more easy to connect with and absorb. So, make sure to add them to your documentation.

What’s more, visual assets give you a chance to tailor documentation to your target audience's learning needs and preferences. Combine different elements like tables, infographics, or illustrations for maximum impact. Integrate them into reports, presentations, and other documents to enhance key takeaways.

4. Standard terminology

Standardization brings much needed consistency to any process. The vocabulary you use in your company’s documentation isn’t any different.

To create effective standardization of terminology in your project documents:

  • Identify key terms and create a glossary or reference document defining their usage within the project context.
  • Ensure all stakeholders are familiar with the standard terminology and use it consistently.
  • Integrate standard terminology into templates, style guides, and writing best practices.

5. Centralized location

The absence of a central hub for project documents creates a knowledge management nightmare. When documents are scattered across various locations (multiple copies, personal drives, email attachments), it's difficult to determine which version is current.

Failing to capture and maintain knowledge at the organizational level also increases the risk of losing vital information altogether.

To prevent this from happening:

  • Store all project documents in a central location to prevent version control issues and information loss.
  • Utilize knowledge base software or designate a team/individual to manage documentation across relevant systems.
  • Include links to important documents within reports, presentations, and other materials.
  • Encourage a company-wide email policy requiring document links instead of direct attachments.

6. Right documentation format

Use the right format for the right job, such as:

Find other types of process documentation here.

Addressing common challenges

Once you’ve set up a strong documentation system, it’s crucial to maintain it. Keep it healthy and functional by ensuring these issues stay at bay:

  • Involve all stakeholders so that documentation becomes a part of your organizational learning culture
  • Focus on clear, concise, and task-specific documentation to prevent information overload
  • Develop a system for archiving outdated content and prioritize essential information to prevent documentation overload

The power of Communities of Practice (CoPs)

But documentation alone isn't the only solution. To truly unlock the power of knowledge sharing and collective expertise, consider establishing Communities of Practice (CoPs) within your organization.

As discussed in a previous article, CoPs are groups of individuals brought together by a shared interest, challenge, or area of expertise. These communities provide a platform for ongoing knowledge exchange, collaboration, and problem-solving.

The synergy between documentation and CoPs

So, why is documentation important? Effective documentation acts as the foundation for successful CoPs. It provides a central repository for capturing and sharing best practices, lessons learned, and valuable resources.

CoPs, in turn, can contribute to keeping documentation current and relevant by providing feedback and insights from the field. This creates a powerful synergy that fosters a vibrant learning culture within your organization.

Ready to unlock the power of knowledge sharing? Consider using knowledge sharing platforms like Together that simplifies knowledge management and for continuous improvement through mentorship.  

Book a free trial or demo today!

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