Often, development companies will face multiple changes inside the organization, whether it’s about new projects, shifting developers from one project to another, or employees leaving or coming, one thing is for certain. A proper knowledge transfer management system has to be implemented to turn these changes into a positive experience led by progress and not regressing.
Knowledge, observed from multiple perspectives, is one of a software development company’s greatest assets. But, how you manage it and utilize it, is how you create cohesive and successful teams. Prioritizing knowledge transfer should be on your to-do list to allow for smooth transitioning and to minimize knowledge gaps when changes occur inside your company.
What actually is knowledge transfer?
Knowledge transfer is the process of relaying or transferring information, advice, procedures, and know-how between members of your team. It’s the act of ensuring each team member has the targeted knowledge to understand their work better and perform tasks.
This process is done in service of breaking knowledge silos and towers of knowledge. These towers occur when one person holds all the knowledge and insight on the project or the code itself. The point is to minimize the power and influence that kind of person has, in case they decide to leave the project or the company. Yes, knowledge transfer can be observed as a risk mitigation tool.
If we observe software development teams, they can be best described as a unique collective. Each team has its specificities, strengths, and weaknesses. It’s a different set of relationships inside one team, so knowledge transfer should be adapted to that. But when we talk about knowledge in general we can identify two main types: explicit and tacit.
This is documented information, procedures, best practices, coding patterns, and techniques one might need to perform their job. It is mostly shared through documentation, written rules, presentations, or even golden paths. They are not individual-specific, but rather a collection of, a sort of common, knowledge everyone can access.
This type of knowledge is individual-specific and it represents personal knowledge one gained through experience, learned competencies, intuition, and skills. It is not as easy to transfer this type of knowledge as the explicit one since it’s linked solely to one person, their characteristics, and understanding.
Methods of effective knowledge transfer
The most effective way to transfer knowledge is by using multiple methods. It will be different for each company, team, or project. You must find what works best for you and use a mix of techniques or methods to achieve the best results and break those knowledge silos.
One-on-one mentorships are a great way to convey tacit knowledge. It’s usually done by assigning a senior developer to mentor a junior developer. Here the mentor can transfer his know-how from years of experience to his mentee. They can share tips and tricks, and best practices when it comes to specific types of projects or technologies.
This is an agile software development technique where two developers work at the same station, meaning on the same computer with one keyboard and mouse. They work together on designing, coding, and testing while solving a specific problem. It’s one of the best ways to transfer knowledge, but it has its drawbacks we explored in our previous blog post.
Brown bag lunches
As the term says, this is where everyone brings their lunch and has it together while discussing topics regarding their work. It’s an informal setting where everyone is encouraged to participate in a relaxed manner and share some valuable insights or updates on their projects or work. This has proven to be a great tactic to connect senior or high-level executives with juniors and others in the company.
One of the ways to transfer explicit knowledge is through documentation. Great documentation is integral to providing insights into the code and project as a whole. If you ask any developer what’s important to them when coming onto the project, they will all say it’s properly written documentation. The only thing you must be careful about is that it doesn’t become obsolete. Documentation has to be regularly checked and updated. Otherwise, developers will have no use of it.
If you get everyone involved in code reviews, they’ll get acquainted with the whole code and how it was written. Not only will they get insight into how something works and what the project is about, but they’ll also share their knowledge and guidance on how to improve the existing code or approach. This allows senior developers to guide less experienced ones, which in turn fosters collaboration and improves code quality.
Golden Paths are defined as an opinionated and supported way to build something. They are an explicit type of knowledge of written instructions, knowledge, and insights on how to develop applications and software. If a developer or anybody else doesn’t know how to do something, they can always consult the Golden Path for help. They are a great way to transfer knowledge since they contain anything a developer might need to know and are updated frequently.
Team leaders can organize one-on-one sessions to convey expectations, and team culture and set the tone for the project. This is an opportunity for them to share knowledge, but also assess other team members in their skills. Leaders can use this to answer any questions or doubts others may have by providing their tacit knowledge. They can also gather information and updates from team members on how to raise the quality of performance and the code itself.
Hackathons have been around for a long time. A lot of teams organize them to set a fast-paced environment to produce fresh and new ideas under challenging time constraints. These events bring together team members of various backgrounds, developers, sales, marketing, and others to bring in new perspectives. It’s a quick exchange of knowledge through a competitive environment.
Talk to your team. An efficient knowledge transfer starts and ends with your team. From all these methods mentioned above, some might not be a good fit for your developers. And using only one will not garner the results you wish. Knowledge transfer is not an impulsive decision or process, it should be well thought through.
By identifying which knowledge areas there are, you are well on your way to creating a full knowledge transfer management plan. These areas can include domain knowledge, development tools and techniques, knowledge of projects, and knowledge regarding company culture, processes, and workflows. This is the first step in determining what’s valuable that you have in your company and what you want to convey to each team member.
You should also structure this knowledge, along with the above-mentioned methods, to create fully functional and effective knowledge transfer plans. Use them as guidance and insurance that vital information will be passed on. This is your way to knowledge democratization across the whole organization.
Let’s not forget that this is a continuous process and you have to organize employee training, evaluate and improve the process, as well as foster a collaborative and learning environment.
KT over KO
Knowledge transfer (KT) is a way to avoid a knockout (KO). What does that mean? Well, it means that if you create a culture of knowledge sharing, you won’t create knowledge silos or encounter the “Bus factor”. So ultimately, your team will not be left hanging and scrambling for pieces when a member suddenly leaves or can’t perform their work. Your projects will stay on track and the quality of your work will not decline. There shouldn’t be any fear that the projects will fall through. So this, in the end, also stimulates stability and improves performance.
KT is not a selfish approach to ensuring your company is performing well. It’s about creating a culture where employees will feel motivated to learn and evolve. Employee growth is as important as company growth. One without the other just doesn’t work. A fully transparent process of knowledge sharing is the way to reach goals faster and with efficient support. It’s a fallback solution when you’re in doubt. It is a continuous investment into one of the most valuable assets in software development – developers’ knowledge.