Knowledge Management Systems and the Rise of Slack
This is the third phase of knowledge management. It happens as a by-product of getting work done, so people know what they are doing.
In the late 90s there was a Knowledge Management bubble. KM was at the forefront of what we now call the Future of Work. The idea was people would reveal their tacit knowledge, it would be mapped to an perfect organizational ontology, and people would know what they were doing.
“If only HP knew what HP knows, we would be three times more productive,” oft-quoted HP CEO Lew Platt
The problem was sharing knowledge was a side activity tantamount to filling in a form. People didn’t fill in the form, and many who did tried to game the system. The ontology was a pipedream and many KM startups and BigCo projects went up in smoke. HP never knew what their people knew, and those people still didn’t know what they were doing.
And then along came the web and people went from information scarcity to unprecedented abundance. Searching and finding became a big problem (today knowledge workers spend 2.5 hours a day finding information to do their jobs). People knew more about things to know, but they still didn’t know what they were doing.
I played a small role in the next phase. Web 2.0 created a massive behavior shift towards open knowledge sharing. Who knew what and who knows who started to trend public. Knowledge was not only being shared, but collective and collaborative intelligence that anyone can edit.
Enterprise 2.0 provided a new model that unlocked knowledge flows (decision rights remained). Knowledge sharing happened at company-wide internal and external community scale and context. Email Overload was reduced and knowledge sharing happened, but not enough as by-product of getting work done. Tagging and open faceted classification enabled a lightweight and flexible alternative to rigid ontologies, but carried it’s own problems. Search indeed improved, but unless you knew what you were looking for, you still didn’t know what you were doing.
With the rise of Slack, we are at the beginning of the next phase. At the team scale, real-time group messaging is being adopted by 75% of organizations. 80% of employee time is spent in communication with others. Knowledge sharing is happening as a by-product of getting work done at the team-scale. And fun 💩.
However, there is no structure. A knowledge flow that KM dreamed of, but no knowledge stock. Search, again, is great if you know what you are looking for. And now teams are dealing with Slack Overload, and people still don’t know what they are doing.
There’s a parallel evolution in systems of record and project management software I won’t detail here. But in these tools of process and getting stuff done, more valuable knowledge is siloed and dissipates. And document systems evolved, but less so because PDF is where knowledge goes to die. But as work becomes more agile and systems intertwingled, control structures are changing.
The tools will be born in the era of conversation, the biggest behavior change yet (first with consumer group messaging apps like WhatsApp, now with 20+ enterprise messaging apps), because that’s where people are and how make sense of work .I believe this phase will unlock and make sense of this last trove of where knowledge sharing happens as a by-product of how work gets done. The knowledge stock is created effortlessly, almost automatically, and can be pulled in whenever needed.
The tools will resemble modern project management because it provides a structure within Slack Overload so things don’t slip through the cracks — and create a system of record for projects and workflow — with a network of documents and data that help make sense of them. For every task you can pull what you need from flows and stocks to accomplish it.
You won’t have to ask people what they are doing, or what to work on next, and can pull resources to you to move things forward. This phase has a strong set of knowledge flows, turned into a flexibly structured knowledge stock, good search, and one more thing to come. AI and Bot-augmented collaboration will help people know what they are doing.
This post is also a long-winded way of explaining why Pingpad for Slack is both a project management and wiki knowledge base. Please do try it with your Slack team, and let me know what you think.
(Cross-posted @ Medium | Ross Mayfield)