The Knowledge Ops Maturity Model: How Effective Are Your Knowledge Operations?
Many companies come to us saying "We need better documentation," or "We need better search for our documentation."
But, how do you define "better documentation"? And what is "better search"? These terms can be ambiguous.
What companies are really saying is, "What we are doing isn't working and we think that documentation or search is the problem."
To be honest, in the past, it has been hard for us to define what "better" documentation is. Without that clarity, it is very difficult to understand what the current problem is and how to fix it.
After meeting with hundreds of companies for ScreenSteps — a knowledge ops solution — we recognized that what companies needed to understand was:
- How they were using knowledge and
- What specific organizational changes they could make to use knowledge in a way that would have a positive impact on employee performance
They also needed clear language that they could use to communicate to all stakeholders what they hoped to accomplish with a knowledge transformation.
We developed the Knowledge Ops Maturity Model to help companies understand how efficiently their knowledge operations function.
This article explains each stage of the Knowledge Ops Maturity Model. Use these definitions to help you determine which stage you’re in. It will be your benchmark for the future as you set goals for where you want your knowledge ops to improve.
What does the Knowledge Ops Maturity Model help organizations do?
The Knowledge Ops Maturity Model is a model that can help organizations understand:
- How they are using knowledge in their organization
- What steps they can take to use knowledge more effectively
Your company can use the model to understand how you are transferring and using knowledge. Then the model helps you can set goals to improve efficiencies as you move up through the various stages of the model.
Watch this 4-minute video for a brief overview of the five stages of the Knowledge Ops Maturity Model.
Note: Originally, the Knowledge Ops Maturity Model included six stages. We have since simplified the model to five stages. The Answer Stage is now part of the Document Stage.
What are knowledge operations (knowledge ops)?
Knowledge operations (knowledge ops) are the systems an organization has in place to enable employees to confidently and independently perform their job correctly and efficiently. It is an aspect of knowledge management for your business.
Knowledge ops are the process of aligning your team by organizing data and information for everyone to access and reference on the job. It refers collectively to both employee training and employee support materials, such as documented guides.
An organization that has ineffective knowledge operations will have employees that are constantly seeking help from supervisors.
Those with effective knowledge ops will have employees that can work independently and adjust to changes in policies and procedures without extensive retraining or help from supervisors.
The Knowledge Ops Maturity Model
Download a PDF version of the Knowledge Ops Maturity Model here.
There are five stages in the Knowledge Ops Maturity Model, with Stage 1 being the least effective and Stage 5 being the most effective.
The same organization may have teams and departments that are operating at different stages.
The stages are:
Stage 1: Tribal
At the Tribal Stage, organizations rely completely on tribal knowledge. Tribal knowledge is where information is passed by word of mouth. For example, co-workers ask each other how to handle different situations.
New employees are trained by listening to lectures, shadowing, and nesting. Supervisors spend most of their time answering questions and fixing mistakes. Employees do not feel confident working on their own.
Key indicators your organization is in Stage 1
How do you know if your organization is in Stage 1? There are a few key indicators.
You have no documentation. When your employees have questions, they have to ask their supervisors or co-workers for answers. There are no guides they can reference for help.
Your company has no centralized location for information. Typically, this means your employees need to search a variety of different applications to find resources. They might find an answer in chat messages, emails, shared folders, etc.
Stage 2: Document
In the Document Stage, organizations start to document their systems, policies, and procedures. But, nobody uses the documentation on a regular basis.
Employees still largely rely on supervisors to guide them because documentation has not been designed for them to find and follow guidance quickly.
Documentation in this stage often resides in Word, PDF, PowerPoint, or Excel files that are hard to search. Or it may reside in an online knowledge base. The point is that even when employees find them, they encounter massive walls of text that are difficult to understand quickly.
You have captured the knowledge but you haven't designed a knowledge experience that can improve employee performance. The guides weren't designed with the end-user in mind.
Key indicators your organization is in Stage 2
If you are in the Document Stage, you most likely have a lot of documentation, but it is rarely used. The documentation is not designed with an eye for how someone will use the guides to do their work.
You have no analytics around usage or, if you have them, you aren't really using them. It’s difficult to know how or even if your employees are using your guides.
Another sign you are in the Document Stage is your guides are often outdated or have broken links. The guides have old information and haven’t been updated with current policies or procedures. Often, people don’t even know your guides are outdated because people aren’t using your documentation.
Stage 3: Guide
The Guide Stage takes things a step further. Instead of just answering questions, organizations in the Guide Stage design knowledge experiences that guide employees through every task and interaction.
Employees don't just use documentation when they get stuck. They follow digital guides, decision trees, and checklists that help them:
- Complete tasks, answer questions, and solve problems independently
- Work confidently
- Achieve proficiency quickly
- Adjust to changes immediately
Organizations operating at the Guide Stage are more agile and effective.
Key indicators your organization is in Stage 3
In the Guide Stage, your employees are able to handle simple or complex tasks without supervisor assistance. Employees perform tasks very efficiently and correctly. They make little to no mistakes. That's because they are using the digital guides each time they perform a task.
However, in this stage, training is still taking a long time (more than a month). There is still a lot of shadowing and nesting that goes on for new hires.
Stage 4: Train
The Train Stage builds on the foundation of the resources used in the Guide Stage by incorporating your digital guides into the new hire training process. This results in new employees that achieve proficiency quickly and confidently.
Key indicators your organization is in Stage 4
Once you’ve reached the Train Stage, you use the Find & Follow Training Framework to train your employees.
More specifically, this means you incorporate your digital guides into new hire training. Instead of sitting through hours, days, and weeks of lectures and PowerPoints, new hires spend the bulk of training time practicing using digital guides to handle realistic scenarios.
Stage 5: Accelerate
Once organizations reach the Train Stage, they are already working extremely efficiently.
The last step is to move into the Accelerate Stage where knowledge is designed to help employees who are already very efficient work even faster. This is done by analyzing existing processes and digital guides. You optimize the digital guides where possible.
This is a refining stage. The goal is to build on the foundation you've set in the last four stages. In the Accelerate Stage, you are optimizing processes and digital guides to improve performance, eliminate mistakes, and adapt to change.
Key indicators your organization is in Stage 5
At this stage, your company doesn’t just have effective guides and use them. You have a plan in place to optimize your guides and keep your articles up to date.
Typically, this involves having a point person who oversees your knowledge base. Their responsibility is to continue to improve articles, add additional guides employees need, and oversee the overall health of your knowledge base.
What happens when you move up the Maturity Model?
Organizations that move up the Maturity Model can offer better customer service and accomplish more with fewer full-time employees (FTEs).
An organization that is in the Tribal Stage feels chaotic and impossible to scale. Employees and supervisors are always scrambling to find answers. If your company is customer-facing, it is usually a frustrating experience for your customers.
Organizations in the Guide, Train, or Accelerate Stages inspire confidence and can quickly be scaled up or down.
Here are some examples of outcomes organizations have achieved:
- Decreased average task time by 50%
- Decreased new hire training time by 50%
- Decreased Time to Proficiency for complex tasks from 24 weeks to 4 weeks
- Decreased cross-training times from 30 days down to 1
Where are you at on the Knowledge Ops Maturity Model?
Use the model to assess where your organization is at and where you would like to be.
At ScreenSteps, we’ve helped companies from multiple industries improve their knowledge ops. With ScreenSteps, organizations that have started in the Tribal Stage have improved to the Accelerate Stage.
Don’t know where your company fits? Or want to improve your company’s knowledge ops?
Take the free Knowledge Ops Maturity Grader. The self-evaluation only takes a few minutes and helps you determine which stage of the model your company is currently in.
Then, if you want help improving your knowledge ops and advancing on the Knowledge Ops Maturity Model, schedule a time to talk to a ScreenSteps expert.
Our experts can help you identify which stage your company is in and talk about options for taking your knowledge ops to a more efficient stage.