How MSPs and VARs Can Capture IT Tribal Knowledge

Stop the loss of undocumented knowledge about your clients’ IT systems that occurs when an employee changes jobs or retires.

It’s a given that to operate a highly successful managed services provider (MSP) or value-added reseller (VAR) business, you have to have an amazing team. Technicians committed to providing exceptional service learn all there is to know about your clients’ IT environments — right down to application passwords and where to find spare UPSs.  Furthermore, as your technicians build relationships with your clients, they learn about unique challenges their organizations face and may build one-of-a-kind solutions that overcome them.  Unfortunately, all of that information and more about your clients’ systems may not be documented. Unwritten information, aka “tribal knowledge” in the Six Sigma community, is often essential to your clients’ smooth operation and uptime, but to tap into it, you find the right person on your staff.

The Problem of Tribal Knowledge Grows as MSP Businesses Grow

If your MSP or VAR business started as a one-person shop, you probably didn’t feel a negative impact from undocumented information at first. After all, if you’re the only person providing services, you’re the only person who needs the information. When your business grows, and you add technicians, however, it won’t take long for you to realize that not documenting information from the outset was a mistake. The people you hired to share your workload will constantly turn to you with questions about clients’ and their IT systems. The growth you were hoping for by adding technicians may be limited because techs who need information and answers to their questions are monopolizing your time.

If you don’t build documentation into your technicians’ workflows, you’ll reach a point where they could know more of the details about your clients’ systems than you do. Some of your employees may even think if they’re the only ones who know how to fix certain problems or meet clients’ expectations that it can mean job security.  But, if they leave your organization to take a different job or when they retire, you may not have access to the information you need to continue providing service to your clients efficiently.

Turn the Tide

Generally, the solution to problems created by tribal knowledge is documentation. In an organization where it hasn’t been a standard practice, however, adding documentation to workflows could be easier said than done. Approaching a time-strapped team with what they perceive as added work probably won’t go over well.

A better starting point is to build buy-in and make cultural changes within your organization. Begin by explaining the advantages of IT documentation — and supporting your argument with instances where your technicians needed information they had trouble finding. Focus on the fact that changing processes to include documentation will ultimately make it easier for your technicians to excel at their jobs, and that you’ll provide them with tools that will make it as easy as possible.

There is bound to be an adjustment period for everyone involved, but you can eliminate some of the friction by planning ahead. Give your team a template and instructions for documenting information, and the steps to follow for approvals, when necessary. Also, make it clear from the start that each team member is responsible for documentation, and you will hold them accountable.

No Fear

With a consistent, systematic method of documentation, you and your team will have the peace of mind that if a specific technician leaves, retires, or just takes some PTO, that information vital to the accounts they service is still available.

Not relying on tribal knowledge will also enable you to responsibly and professionally manage your clients’ information. The ability to work efficiently won’t be hit and miss. Your entire staff will have the information they need to provide excellent customer service — regardless of which technician answers the call.