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This blog is a continuation of Parts 1 & 2.

Throughout this 3 part series, I’ve discussed how the ServiceNow knowledge base can resemble the prisoners’ dilemma, bringing about selfish actions that may weaken the effectiveness of the knowledge base as a whole.  I’ve suggested multiple ways to curtail this effect, including several Organizational Change Management (OCM) efforts.  However, all of these OCM efforts can be rendered meaningless if the quality of the knowledge base starts to drop.  Bad content leads to selfish users in the knowledge base.

Bad Content Leads to Selfish Users

Imagine a user with a question who has two choices – either going to the knowledge base, or emailing around until he finds the correct answer.  Emailing is the selfish action – it will save the user time, but take up time of the people he emails.  Instead, let’s pretend that the user decides to go to the knowledge base, but finds it full of outdated, inaccurate information.  The user is going to say “Why did I bother looking in the knowledge base, anyway? It’s full of junk!”

How likely is it that this user will use the knowledge base the next time a question comes up?

Knowledge Admins – The Garbage Men

As a knowledge admin, it’s important to make sure that authors understand this effect of bad content.  Bad knowledge articles don’t just negatively reflect on that article – they can sour users’ perceptions of the entire knowledge base, making users less likely to use the knowledge base in the future.

In an unchecked environment, this can result in a negative feedback loop.  If users start using the knowledge base less, authors may see a disincentive from writing good knowledge articles – “People don’t check the knowledge base, so why bother writing a good article?”

As a knowledge admin, it’s important to make sure that authors understand that a bad article doesn’t just reflect poorly on the author, it reflects poorly on the knowledge base itself.  To keep the knowledge base running smoothly, knowledge admins need to be the garbage men of the knowledge base – disposing of the trash, and cleaning up the sloppy articles. 

Kaizen your Knowledge Base

One way to clean up the knowledge base is to kaizen the knowledge base – have a culture of continuous improvement around your knowledge base.  One way to implement the kaizen is to force users to improve sloppy content.

In one sense, this could be thought of as the opposite of “rewarding good efforts.” (link to relevant article) If you force an author of a sloppy article to rewrite the article, you are essentially punishing the sloppy writing habits.  This will continue to fix the misaligned incentive structure (link to relevant article) – if the author has to spend extra time fixing a bad article, then maybe it would just be quicker to write it well in the first place.

But more than that, most sloppy articles are not a product of intentional negligence.  A low-quality article may simply be a situation of an author not realizing the standards of a good article.  Also, time can cause article quality to decay.  An article can become inaccurate or obsolete if it stays in the knowledge base for too long.  Like we mentioned above, poor quality articles can destroy users’ faith in the base itself; thus, it is imperative to keep reviewing content to ensure that articles aren’t degrading over time.

How to Improve Poor Content

At my Fortune-500 consumer packaged goods client, we have used a number of methods to maintain high quality articles.  Every article goes through two reviews before being published in the knowledge base to ensure that articles are high quality at the get-go.  First, they are reviewed for style and grammar by the knowledge admin, and then a subject matter expert performs a technical review.

Once an article is published, the author makes use of the built-in feedback tools to help identify articles that may have slipped past the initial review or degraded over time.  The knowledge admin regularly checks the feedback of articles to identify flagged articles that need to be rewritten or clarified.  Articles that are flagged as inaccurate have an email automatically generated to the author to initiate an immediate review.

Finally, all articles are required to be reviewed by the author at least once a year to prevent articles from becoming outdated.  The yearly review is initiated using the “valid to” date.  The author can set the valid to date for up to one year in the future, and the author setting the valid to date is his way of verifying the article is currently accurate and will continue to be accurate until that date passes.    When the valid to date gets within a month, business rules automatically fire an email to the author, reminding him to review the article and reset the valid to date if the article is still valid.  The act of resetting the valid to date becomes the author’s way of certifying the article is accurate.  If the article is no longer accurate, the author is encouraged to either edit it as necessary or retire it. 

If an author ignores the emails, the article will go past the valid to date, and no longer be visible in the knowledge base.  The emails, and the consequence of the article being no longer visible, gives the author the incentives to actually complete the yearly review – often good habits like this one can slip by the wayside if there are no consequences. 

Because the article can become invisible in the knowledge base, it’s important for the knowledge admin to monitor for articles that have passed their valid to date, and validate whether the author simply forgot to review the article, or if the article is actually outdated and needs to be retired.

Knowledge – Energy That Feeds on Itself

Hopefully it’s clear that there’s a certain energy that the knowledge base has that feeds on itself.  When left alone, this can be a negative energy where authors and readers can be incentivized to “betray” the knowledge base by putting in low levels of effort.  This negative energy can incentivize other users to slack as well, causing a negative feedback loop where the usefulness of the knowledge base is continuously declining.

It’s up to the knowledge admins to inject positive energy to ensure the knowledge base functions smoothly.  As a knowledge admin, you are the garbage man of the knowledge base.  You need to make sure the knowledge base stays clean – that junky old articles are either polished up or retired. By injecting positive energy, you can create a positive feedback loop that ensures the knowledge base is running well.

By ensuring good buy-in, rewarding good efforts, and implementing systems to improve poor content, this can tip the scales in favor of using the knowledge base correctly.  The same way that the negative energy can feed on itself, the positive energy can feed on itself, incentivizing both authors and readers to use the knowledge base to its full capabilities, and saving everyone involved time and energy in solving issues.  With this injection of positive energy, you may find less need to police the knowledge base, as people will be fixing their articles as needed.  Ultimately, by injecting this positive energy, you can help keep your knowledge base clean as a whistle.

About the Author

Will FehringerWill Fehringer is a consultant in our Richmond, VA office and has over 4 years of consulting experience, working with clients in government, banking, and consumer packaged goods industries to deliver Lean, Agile, customer-driven solutions. Will has a passion for working with team and program levels to help bridge the gap between business and technology.


About the Author

Will Fehringer

Will Fehringer is a Senior Consultant in our Richmond, VA office and has over 4 years of consulting experience, working with clients in government, banking, and consumer packaged goods industries to deliver Lean, Agile, customer-driven solutions. Will has a passion for working with team and program levels to help bridge the gap between business and technology.