The Essence of Knowledge Work, Part 2

📖 3 minute read

Your information supply chain consists of all artifacts that you consume (produced by your colleagues) and the artifacts that you produce (consumed by your colleagues). You produce your output artifacts by applying knowledge to the input you receive. Your knowledge includes everything you know and the input you receive from all possible sources, too. There are three dimensions to the information needs that each knowledge worker has:

  1. Dependencies (who needs your output and who provides you input)
  2. Information artifacts and their format
  3. Timeline for artifact delivery (time frame)

This is part two of a three part series. Part 1 focused on dependencies. This article focuses on information artifacts and their format.

What do your colleagues need from you? Do you know? Did you ever ask? For a software engineer the quick and obvious answer is that they need code. After all, a software engineer writes software, so that’s what others need. True, and it is not the complete answer. Talk to your colleagues to find out what else they need.

Based on my past experience working on software teams here are two partial list of output and input artifacts that are expected from a software engineer and what a software engineer expects.

Software engineer outputs (partial list of artifacts)

  • Code
  • Code review comments
  • Test case review comments
  • Use case review comments
  • Design
  • Design review comments
  • Documentation
  • Documentation review comments

Software engineer inputs (partial list of artifacts)

  • Code
  • Code review comments
  • Test cases
  • Defect reports complete with reproduction steps
  • Use cases
  • User stories and epics
  • Design
  • Design review comments
  • Documentation

Your team might be different, so you must ask to find out what the other people need. Negotiate both the content and the format. There is a good chance that you are not giving them what they need now.

What do you need from your colleagues? Think through your work and identify those artifacts that you need to get your work done. There will be some give and take until you arrive at a list and definition of artifacts that can be delivered to you.

The need for artifacts. Artifacts are the work product (the output) of each person on the team. This can take different formats. These artifacts manifest themselves as writings, drawings, sketches, movies, pictures, etc. Not just spoken words. However, spoken words in an audio file might work. Ask to find out if it does.

For example, for a tester the artifacts created are: test cases, test execution records, defect reports, process improvement recommendations, etc. For a requirements analyst the primary output artifact could be use cases and user stories written in a Wiki, or maybe in an issue management system, like JIRA.

These artifacts could be deemed high quality if the development team can efficiently and effectively use them. They could be deemed low quality if they are too wordy or are missing critical details. The job of the requirements analyst is to take in information, apply their knowledge and experience to it, and produce artifacts that can be quickly and correctly consumed by the rest of the team.

The same thing can be said about many other roles on the team. Each person (knowledge worker) is part of the team because they can contribute something that the others can’t do, or can only do poorly. However, each person must make their contribution accessible to others on the team. If the others have difficulty consuming it, then the person needs to improve their output.

The consumer of each artifact in addition to consuming it, must also provide feedback to the producer and jointly evaluate the format and the quality of the artifact with the intent of improving it. The producer must evaluate their performance at creating the artifact, factoring in the necessary quality requirements.

Some people you work with will not want to create artifacts. They don’t want to write down anything that you ask from them. You have to help them understand that writing forces them to clarify their thoughts and resolve the inherent contradictions that otherwise would not come to the surface. Remind them the quote:

Writing is nature’s way of letting you know how sloppy your thinking is.

Richard Guindon, cartoonist

The need for creating artifacts does not obviate the need to have high-bandwidth conversations about those very same topics. The goal is to arrive very quickly to an agreement on the content and format of the artifacts, so that each person can effectively create their part of the joint work.

Once you identify how best you can serve your clients, and your suppliers identify how best to provide you what you need, your and your team's productivity will dramatically improve. You will wonder how did you ever work any other way.

... continue to Part 3: Timeline for Artifact Delivery.