Your lead developer runs the show. They’re the one your entire engineering team goes to for guidance and support. They know all the context around each release cycle and how to fix the bugs that have popped up along the way.
While it’s helpful to have a point of contact on the team that has such rich historical context for your products and features, it’s not advisable to rely too heavily on any one individual contributor. They might need to take extended time off, putting them out of touch with day-to-day activities. They might leave for a role at another company, taking all of their institutional knowledge with them. Your team may even have to suddenly work distributed across locations and time zones.
Their loss would leave your team flailing and trying to fill all the knowledge gaps haphazardly, drawing information from old emails and chat messages without even knowing if it’s up-to-date. On top of this confusion that can create a less than optimal experience for your team, there’s also the productivity concern that faces teams who fail to establish a foundation of shared knowledge.
If one person is too essential to your project, it’s a problem. And not just for you—for everyone on your team.
In order to avoid chaos from a single source of failure, it’s important to ensure that your team has multiple, known subject matter experts who can be generous with their knowledge. So, how can you future-proof your team to ensure that business runs smoothly, even if your most senior members aren’t around?
Make sure that the team is meeting regularly as a group to disseminate their knowledge to the rest of your engineering team, with opportunities for questions and answers. This is easily done in the office, but remote teams can make this work as well through video chat. Without a regular cadence of check-ins, teams often naturally fall back on old behaviors of working in silos. This means that behaviors will override any tools and processes that you try to put in place to disseminate information.
Create a digital knowledge library
In addition to live discussions, it’s also critical to share your subject-matter expert knowledge through an online platform, where it can be archived and regularly updated. Use a knowledge-sharing platform where your entire team can contribute by asking questions, responding, adding notes, and voting on the most relevant replies. Unlike a traditional wiki, this type of model will ensure that your team will always see the most up-to-date information. They should also be able to categorize knowledge based on tags, and filter based on keyword searches so that they can quickly and painlessly find what they’re looking for.
Understand areas of expertise
What often happens when a team member leaves or the team as a whole is forced to work in a new environment is what was once a standard process of information gathering is now upended. Team members don’t have a lot of context around what others know and don’t know, meaning they may be asking the right questions of the wrong people. By establishing multiple subject matter experts within the team by various categories or products and communicating broadly, you’ll ensure that folks know exactly who to ask--either digitally or directly--for more information.
By making sure your institutional knowledge is shared among multiple internal experts, and disseminated in a transparent and open knowledge-sharing platform, you’ll be able to future-proof your organization and ensure that even if a key person leaves suddenly, or your team is suddenly distributed, they’ll have the tools and support they need to keep business moving forward.