Management
March 1, 2022

Taming the Technical Know-How Mess - Building A Switchboard For Engineering Teams

This ever-growing mountain of information and technical expertise is spread across documentation repos, code review comments, project tickets, and in engineers’ heads. It’s no surprise engineering organizations struggle to grow under the heavy weight of communication barriers and technical knowledge silos.

Software companies of all sizes face a problem: their technical know-how is a complex, disconnected mess. And that know-how is constantly updating and evolving as engineering teams rapidly solve technical problems, creating a mountain of out-of-date expertise and documentation.

This ever-growing mountain of information and technical expertise is spread across documentation repos, code review comments, project tickets, and in engineers’ heads. It’s no surprise engineering organizations struggle to grow under the heavy weight of communication barriers and technical knowledge silos.

There are two issues at play when trying to tame the complexities of technical know-how and knowledge sharing.

One, as engineers experiment, learn, and perfect new methods, there will always be more technical know-how, often added on top of the older, out-of-date documentation. The less-organized the informational mountain is, the less useful and usable the information is to engineers trying to solve new problems.

Two, without a tool or process to organize, maintain, and share know-how, everything becomes siloed, and individualized, creating an anti-team environment. The engineering organization becomes a shaky system dependent on a few key individuals and their expertise, which bottlenecks productivity, hampers growth, and is impossible to scale.

This contributes to the negative impacts such as impaired developer engagement, coordination, and decision-making; a cryptic environment that’s difficult for new hires to learn and grow; and failure to effectively leverage the accumulated knowledge and subject matter expertise.

To help end this cycle of mess and miscommunication, you need a switchboard for your engineering teams.

Why Engineering Teams Need A Switchboard

It might seem like the solution to better organize technical know-how for your engineering teams is to implement better communication consistency by creating a few good documents and code repositories. Documentation and code repos are great tools for just storing information, but they fail at highlighting, connecting, and updating knowledge.

A switchboard does the opposite. It uses context to locate and share the specific know-how an engineer needs to complete their next task. Like telephone technology, the concept of a switchboard for engineering teams is very similar. A caller to a switchboard didn’t need to know much beyond the name of the person they wanted to reach. It was the operator that made that connection based on context, so you were connected with the right Ann Jones in Peoria, Illinois.

Building a switchboard helps engineering teams have a single source of truth, without the painful process or rebuilding or migrating doc repos. 

What makes Edify’s platform different from your existing doc repo—a wiki, a Notion index, Confluence, etc.—is how it integrates into an engineering team’s communication channel. It acts as a UX layer, uniting those resources with the experiences of subject matter experts on the team. Just like a switchboard, connecting information, people, and know-how, to save time while increasing social connection and collaboration.

A switchboard provides the framework to help engineering teams overcome:

  • Lost knowledge from inadequate mapping and maintenance
  • Siloed expertise
  • Expert fatigue and distraction
  • Information overload for new hires

A switchboard for engineering teams is the central hub, one that maps where all the knowledge and expertise lives, and connects an inquiring caller with the right piece of documentation or process. The McKinsey Global Institute found that having a hub of connected knowledge reduces the time employees spend searching for relevant information and subject matter experts by 35 percent.

It helps give an engineering team’s communications a home, so vital information isn’t bound up in DMs or presentation slides.These context-driven connections are what allow engineers to share their expertise at the right time and with the larger team—preventing their expertise from staying siloed in their head.

This centralization and systematization of information helps bring transparency to everyone in the organization, so important updates and cross-functional milestones can be seen across teams. The ability to see and understand what everyone is working on helps increase collaboration and reduces the need for excessive check-ins and progress update meetings.

How To Start Organizing Technical Know-How And Communication

How does an engineering team transition their expertise out of developer’s heads and into the switchboard’s repository? Through strong communication practices and a documentation workflow that’s easy for everyone to adopt. Engineering teams have started leveraging empathy as a tactical skill to build better communication practices.

Edify’s best practice templates help engineering teams identify those documentation gaps where expertise or processes haven’t been actually written down by engineering teams. Helping anyone build technical onboarding and training paths, even if they’ve never done it before.

Central to Edify’s philosophy and tooling is the need to build a culture of communication. Engineering teams can build up their communication architecture by writing down communication best practices, including documentation workflow, expectations around response times after-hours, and a framework for decision making. 

Like any tool that helps build team connections and collaboration, engineering teams building a switchboard with Edify also need to have a strong engineering culture that supports and enables engineers. The more an engineering organization builds good communication practices into their culture and philosophy, the higher the momentum loop for maintaining documentation and sharing technical know-how with a switchboard.

HashiCorp is an example of a company that built their culture around communication, by leading a culture of writing and documenting decisions. Their framework starts by outlining the problem they’re trying to solve, followed by a proposed solution or design that needs feedback and approval. This process lays out the background context defining the problem, along with the problem itself and its requirements. 

The proposal for a solution is a request for feedback on its impact, implementation, and alternative ideas. These two documents are linked so new employees or team transfers can quickly understand the background influences on the solution, along with the documentation of the entire creative problem solving process.

Edify is the Switchboard for Technical Collaboration

Edify is built around Slack because that's the daily work environment for engineers, and where most of the communication outside the code takes place, enabling a smooth addition to their already established workflows and developer environments. As a Slackbot, eddy responds to questions from engineers in a context-driven way, linking to both documentation and subject matter experts in pursuit of the right answer for the present scenario.

Edify’s switchboard framework is built on the foundation of technical onboarding; not only are new hires learning what they need for their role, they’re learning where to find knowledge, what tools to use, and how to ask the right questions. The switchboard is baked into the onboarding process, which creates a win-win: faster, clearer learning for the new hire and strengthening the culture of communication and expertise sharing.

Engineering teams using Edify build an answer sheet to the most common organization questions, cutting down on both miscommunication and duplicative work. The next time a common question is asked in Slack, eddy can instantly provide a link to relevant documentation and experts. By helping the team navigate documentation, expertise, internal processes and common questions, eddy saves the team time, reduces errors, and helps make sure everyone is on the same page.

Having a switchboard lowers the barriers for continuous learning, by reducing the noise when engineers are searching for answers to questions. Engineers are problem-solvers, and a switchboard helps reduce the friction between learning the right know-how and applying it to the right problems. 

 By connecting a curious engineer with the right subject matter expert, a switchboard provides more opportunities for mentorship, cross-team collaborations, and more productive collaborative engagement on engineering teams. And as those engineering teams grow and iterate, their technical know-how and documentation scales with them in a holistic way.


By
for Edify

Software companies of all sizes face a problem: their technical know-how is a complex, disconnected mess. And that know-how is constantly updating and evolving as engineering teams rapidly solve technical problems, creating a mountain of out-of-date expertise and documentation.

This ever-growing mountain of information and technical expertise is spread across documentation repos, code review comments, project tickets, and in engineers’ heads. It’s no surprise engineering organizations struggle to grow under the heavy weight of communication barriers and technical knowledge silos.

There are two issues at play when trying to tame the complexities of technical know-how and knowledge sharing.

One, as engineers experiment, learn, and perfect new methods, there will always be more technical know-how, often added on top of the older, out-of-date documentation. The less-organized the informational mountain is, the less useful and usable the information is to engineers trying to solve new problems.

Two, without a tool or process to organize, maintain, and share know-how, everything becomes siloed, and individualized, creating an anti-team environment. The engineering organization becomes a shaky system dependent on a few key individuals and their expertise, which bottlenecks productivity, hampers growth, and is impossible to scale.

This contributes to the negative impacts such as impaired developer engagement, coordination, and decision-making; a cryptic environment that’s difficult for new hires to learn and grow; and failure to effectively leverage the accumulated knowledge and subject matter expertise.

To help end this cycle of mess and miscommunication, you need a switchboard for your engineering teams.

Why Engineering Teams Need A Switchboard

It might seem like the solution to better organize technical know-how for your engineering teams is to implement better communication consistency by creating a few good documents and code repositories. Documentation and code repos are great tools for just storing information, but they fail at highlighting, connecting, and updating knowledge.

A switchboard does the opposite. It uses context to locate and share the specific know-how an engineer needs to complete their next task. Like telephone technology, the concept of a switchboard for engineering teams is very similar. A caller to a switchboard didn’t need to know much beyond the name of the person they wanted to reach. It was the operator that made that connection based on context, so you were connected with the right Ann Jones in Peoria, Illinois.

Building a switchboard helps engineering teams have a single source of truth, without the painful process or rebuilding or migrating doc repos. 

What makes Edify’s platform different from your existing doc repo—a wiki, a Notion index, Confluence, etc.—is how it integrates into an engineering team’s communication channel. It acts as a UX layer, uniting those resources with the experiences of subject matter experts on the team. Just like a switchboard, connecting information, people, and know-how, to save time while increasing social connection and collaboration.

A switchboard provides the framework to help engineering teams overcome:

  • Lost knowledge from inadequate mapping and maintenance
  • Siloed expertise
  • Expert fatigue and distraction
  • Information overload for new hires

A switchboard for engineering teams is the central hub, one that maps where all the knowledge and expertise lives, and connects an inquiring caller with the right piece of documentation or process. The McKinsey Global Institute found that having a hub of connected knowledge reduces the time employees spend searching for relevant information and subject matter experts by 35 percent.

It helps give an engineering team’s communications a home, so vital information isn’t bound up in DMs or presentation slides.These context-driven connections are what allow engineers to share their expertise at the right time and with the larger team—preventing their expertise from staying siloed in their head.

This centralization and systematization of information helps bring transparency to everyone in the organization, so important updates and cross-functional milestones can be seen across teams. The ability to see and understand what everyone is working on helps increase collaboration and reduces the need for excessive check-ins and progress update meetings.

How To Start Organizing Technical Know-How And Communication

How does an engineering team transition their expertise out of developer’s heads and into the switchboard’s repository? Through strong communication practices and a documentation workflow that’s easy for everyone to adopt. Engineering teams have started leveraging empathy as a tactical skill to build better communication practices.

Edify’s best practice templates help engineering teams identify those documentation gaps where expertise or processes haven’t been actually written down by engineering teams. Helping anyone build technical onboarding and training paths, even if they’ve never done it before.

Central to Edify’s philosophy and tooling is the need to build a culture of communication. Engineering teams can build up their communication architecture by writing down communication best practices, including documentation workflow, expectations around response times after-hours, and a framework for decision making. 

Like any tool that helps build team connections and collaboration, engineering teams building a switchboard with Edify also need to have a strong engineering culture that supports and enables engineers. The more an engineering organization builds good communication practices into their culture and philosophy, the higher the momentum loop for maintaining documentation and sharing technical know-how with a switchboard.

HashiCorp is an example of a company that built their culture around communication, by leading a culture of writing and documenting decisions. Their framework starts by outlining the problem they’re trying to solve, followed by a proposed solution or design that needs feedback and approval. This process lays out the background context defining the problem, along with the problem itself and its requirements. 

The proposal for a solution is a request for feedback on its impact, implementation, and alternative ideas. These two documents are linked so new employees or team transfers can quickly understand the background influences on the solution, along with the documentation of the entire creative problem solving process.

Edify is the Switchboard for Technical Collaboration

Edify is built around Slack because that's the daily work environment for engineers, and where most of the communication outside the code takes place, enabling a smooth addition to their already established workflows and developer environments. As a Slackbot, eddy responds to questions from engineers in a context-driven way, linking to both documentation and subject matter experts in pursuit of the right answer for the present scenario.

Edify’s switchboard framework is built on the foundation of technical onboarding; not only are new hires learning what they need for their role, they’re learning where to find knowledge, what tools to use, and how to ask the right questions. The switchboard is baked into the onboarding process, which creates a win-win: faster, clearer learning for the new hire and strengthening the culture of communication and expertise sharing.

Engineering teams using Edify build an answer sheet to the most common organization questions, cutting down on both miscommunication and duplicative work. The next time a common question is asked in Slack, eddy can instantly provide a link to relevant documentation and experts. By helping the team navigate documentation, expertise, internal processes and common questions, eddy saves the team time, reduces errors, and helps make sure everyone is on the same page.

Having a switchboard lowers the barriers for continuous learning, by reducing the noise when engineers are searching for answers to questions. Engineers are problem-solvers, and a switchboard helps reduce the friction between learning the right know-how and applying it to the right problems. 

 By connecting a curious engineer with the right subject matter expert, a switchboard provides more opportunities for mentorship, cross-team collaborations, and more productive collaborative engagement on engineering teams. And as those engineering teams grow and iterate, their technical know-how and documentation scales with them in a holistic way.


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