Capturing Tribal Knowledge

Someone at work today mentioned the problem of capturing “Tribal Knowledge” in an electronic format and making it easily accessible to new or remote employees.

When some new engineer joins Yahoo!, how are they supposed to know that they should build a website using Apache and PHP on FreeBSD? How do they know to use Nagios and not Big Brother for monitoring? MySQL and not Postgres? (Not that there is anything wrong with Postgres, but our Network Operations Center folks have familiarity with MySQL, so sticking to similar technology makes their lives easier which means you gets paged less frequently.)

We’ve got all of this information in our heads or maybe even in an email archive, but we need to distill it out and come up with a website that can capture it so other folks don’t waste time and energy research options that aren’t a good fit for our environment.

What’s the right software for this job? Some sort of Wiki system? A message boards package? Blogging software? Maybe just a bunch of .txt and .html documents checked into some well-known place in CVS?

8 thoughts on “Capturing Tribal Knowledge”

  1. The best tool for the job probably depends on your culture and the people who would be supplying the “content” on a day to day basis – but I feel that weblogs have a real place with this solution, and am playing around with it at work to test that theory.

  2. Others establish a technical standards committee, drafting procedures, and setting standards, which become requirements, and so on until before you know it, someone has whipped up something in Python that needs to be rewritten in Java because, well, they didn’t follow procedures. Which could be easily remedied by calling those standards, “recommendations.”

  3. the answer is probably having someone spend more than 10 minutes with them on their first day.

    something we never did. it was always more of a trial-by-fire thing for us.

  4. Doesn’t your question answer itself?

    Tribal Knowledge is just that. We technical types always strive to automate and make natural processes for efficient (which is a great thing). But, could it be that to effectively transfer Tribal Knowledge we have to engage the new members socially, verbally, politically & technically in to the culture?

  5. Everything should be full text-indexed and easily searchable. Preferably with full boolean and regular expressions querying. It is ironic and maddening that often easier for me to find some random document on the web (like the way I found this site, searching for “tribal knowledge”), than it is to find a document that was generated by my own department. Ideally, this should be integrated with version-control software such as CVS and VSS. So, if I were searching for a phrase that had been present in the 1.1. version of a doc, but deleted beginning with the 2.0 version, I would still be able to find it.

    This isn’t the total answer, but any solution should, ideally, incorporate this feature.

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