Game of Lexicon: Training Knowledge Managers
It was the Spring of 1997 and I had just acquired my first PC; used, barely capable of running Windows 95, and equipped with a 14.4 Kbps modem. While this pitiful IBM may have taken so long to boot that I would frequently eat dinner while waiting, it was nevertheless a cherished gateway to the broader world. You see, I was still in middle school at the time, living in a very rural area of southern Kentucky. This glorious desktop with its screeching analog modem was my lone connection to everything outside of my community.
One of the first things I learned to do with my computer was find online RPGs. These games often had heavily home brewed rule sets and that was what I loved. This wasn't out of any sense of aesthetics or gaming purism, but rather because I was a teenager with no money to spend on rule books, and the nearest book store was a two hour drive. I looked for online RPGs because they often posted their rules or modifications to their website, even back then. This was a trend that became even more popular with the rise of wikis and sites like Wikidot and Wikia.
This became another case of my gaming hobby preparing me for the white collar world that I would go on to join years later. I had nearly a decade of experience perusing a product's website looking for helpful information by the time I started working in IT. I had a nearly a decade of practice submitting updates to moderators, or being a moderator of such sites. So when I started working for SAIC in 2005 I had no discomfort at all when it came to using our client's Knowledge Base to find answers as a Help Desk Technician. It would be my experience answering the questions of newbies (those who had just joined a game), or planning out plots and documenting appropriate information that would get me in the habit of creating new entries on game websites and wikis. New characters people should be aware of? Add them to the wiki! Made a new area for people to explore? Put a post on the wiki about it so others can keep continuity.
In the real world, this kind of practice is called Knowledge Management. It's the set of processes around documenting information that you should make available to your staff and/or customers. It drives down the cost-per-ticket of your Service Desk, it shortens the amount of time your technicians need to spend on each call, and it enables your customers to be more self-sufficient by finding their own answers without otherwise having to interact with the IT Staff. This latter attribute of Knowledge Management can be a true blessing when your tech writers are more engaging of your audience than your average tech. Whether you're building a custom game or deploying IT solutions, Knowledge Centered Support (KCS) applies.
Create Content as By-Product of Solving Problems.
This is a deceptively simple statement. As you fix something, document it and make that document available to those who would find it helpful. If you just fixed a problem or answered a question, then take a few minutes to write that down in a place that can be made available to others (wiki, knowledge base, etc). The new article is a by-product of the work, not an effort itself. You didn't set out to just make useless entries to fluff out a website, you're creating entries based on actual, real-world requests for information.
Evolve Content Based on Demand or Usage
Content stagnates. Whether we're playing games or working IT Support, the world in which we thrive changes around us. Players do things to change in-game cultures. New technology replaces old. A generation more comfortable with technology no longer requires the same prerequisite training as the previous. These are all reasons we should evolve our content. Update it when the subject changes, delete it when it becomes irrelevant.
Develop a Knowledge Base of Collective Experience-To-Date
This is key! Where do you keep all this documentation? You put it in a centralized location where you can offer it up. You can make a wiki, create a SharePoint library, or take a look at any of the specialized Knowledge Management solutions that are out there. Find what is right for your organization. Just, whatever you do, make sure it meets your needs, is easy for the user to navigate and understand, and is kept up-to-date.
Recognize Contributions and Use.
People like to be recognized. At one of my Service Desks, we had such a strong knowledge-centered culture that we made competitions out of maintaining our knowledge base. Agents would vie for the top spot of the month, sometimes submitting more updates and new articles than our Subject Matter Experts could keep up with. This is a different kind of problem, but a good one to have over lack of buy-in. We would thank customers for submitting questions and link them to new articles they inspired. On a game called The Reach, the staff of the game would frequently post game-wide announcements thanking certain players for their efforts in updating the wiki. It makes people feel good when you recognize their contributions, and this is an excellent place to do that.
Having developed a passion for knowledge management through my experience with gaming, I now offer you this game to help build your knowledge management skills. When you're training new tech writers, knowledge managers, or service desk agents, consider playing Lexicon with them. Lexicon is a game of 26 turns played in a group setting. The first person makes an encyclopedia-style entry about a noun starting with the letter A. Each person that takes a turn leaves two other entries (broken links in a wiki, for instance) in their article that point to other topics in a shared setting. The next person makes an en try for B and so on until you get to Z. Set up a test site somewhere and start them off. Let the team gel together and have some fun with a quirky, silly theme.
Gamification is a growing trend in both business and education. When you make developing a skill or habit more fun by introducing it as a game, you're more likely to see that skill/habit continue once the game is over. Give it a try! I'm eager to hear your own experience with knowledge management. And if you try the Lexicon game as a training tool, let me know how it went for you!