I was giving a talk at the Business Analyst Conference on Ten Things about Agile. You can still watch the talk on Youtube if you like. One particular important point I wanted to make is that information is not knowledge.
So knowledge worker’s main capital is knowledge and they spend a lot of their time “thinking” (e.g. architects, analysts, software engineers, scientists, lawyers).
But what is knowledge exactly?
It’s main properties are:
1) Link information items and make them available as knowledge
2) Use this knowledge and apply it
3) Knowledge is context specific and has it’s relevance only in a social context (e.g. a project)
There are two forms of knowledge!
The fact that London is the capital of the UK can be seen as explicit knowledge that can be easily written down, transmitted and understood by another person. However, the ability to speak English is not known explicitly and can’t be transferred to other people so easily. It is called tacit knowledge. The same applies to facts about a person (e.g. name, birthday) which can be stated explicit wherever describing/recognizing his face would also be hard and can just be achieved by tacit knowledge.
So explicit knowledge:
– can be articulated, codified and stored
– transferred easily
– is information contained in encyclopaedias or requirements specifications
– can be used as check-list or reference
However tacit knowledge:
– is hard to express but easier to show
– has too be learned, comes from practical experience
– allows us to perform efficient, we act without explicit reflection of the principle or rules involved
Tacit knowledge to solve complex problems
It is widely known that most of today’s software projects are complex problems (many stakeholders, changing context, huge number of variables) which can not be solved by plan driven approaches. People working on such a project have to sense emergent practices by using agile principles (more later in a separate article). They learn together, work close with customers and build up a very efficient form of knowledge which is the tacit knowledge.
Tacit knowledge comes not for free, as it has to be learned. But as soon as you know how to do something (like using Outlook for writing an e-mail) you are very efficient.
It is not possible to “just” write down tacit knowledge and transfer is to the next person (what we so often try to do with requirements specifications). Such a document holds only information (e.g. grammar of a language, vocabulary, phrases, etc.) but is by no mean tacit knowledge that can be use in an efficient way (in this case, speak the language).
So knowledge transfer is best done by collaborative work rather than writing down information.