Knowledge Transfers Are A Must For Short Timers

It was Monday, January 5th, the start of the first full week of the new year.  I knew that slacking off during the previous month would catch up in a very painful way, I just didn’t know it would come so soon. It was going to be a busy month.

As I walked towards my workspace, my teammate was already settled in at her desk.  She had a major project to complete in the coming weeks and I told her the information I was waiting from my clients would not be ready yet.  She was fine with it.  “Wow, she took that well,” I thought to myself.

Five minutes later, she walked over to my desk and said she had something to tell me in private. I didn’t need a psychic to tell me what she was about to say, it was obvious.

As we made our way forward a small empty meeting room, she whispered to me that she was leaving.

This type of news usually invokes a couple of rather reasonable reactions.  The first being, “Oh crap, I probably have to do twice the amount of work.”  And the second?  Something I call new job envy.

Together, we managed a particular area of risk management in the company.  I managed the business side of things, and her, the information technology side.  If one of us was not able to work for any particular reason, we backed each other up.  It was highly recommended by our manager that we never take the same day off.

I wasn’t surprised she was leaving after been at the company for seven years, and it was only a matter of time until she landed a job somewhere else.  After five minutes of casual conversation, I told her that we start on a knowledge transfer plan soon.  She was leaving in two weeks, and there was no way she would be able to transfer years of company specific knowledge over to me in that span of time.  There wasn’t any doubt that I would be dual-wielding roles until we found her replacement, which would be a difficult task on its own.

Back at my desk, I thought about the best way to coordinate the work and knowledge transition sessions.  A few ideas did come to mind.

Perhaps the Vulcan Mind Meld?

Doc Brown didn’t have much success.

Maybe the brain bug route?  No, too gruesome.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to quickly transfer mass quantities of brains from one person to another.  I opened up a blank Word document and started to type all the transitional tasks that came to mind.  Of course I wasn’t able to note everything down at once.  Over the next two days whenever something came to mind I wrote it down.

  • Talk to your manager to set expectations of the transition and mention there may be a significant loss of knowledge and that gap may take a while to be filled, perhaps never in certain situations.  In my situation, the person who left took seven years of knowledge and experience of a particular software product with her.  I’ve only been in my position for ten months and potential candidates don’t have the experience either.  All the training in the world is not going to amount to anything close to the knowledge she left with.
  • Don’t rush into transitioning items right away. Chances are, the short timer is thinking about his or her own exit strategy. Your list of items is going to continue to grow as you speak to your coworker, manager, and others.  Give yourself a couple of days to think.  Heck, more thoughts will probably come to you when you’re showering or enjoying a good poop.  By the time we met for the transition sessions, I had a list of items to work from.
  • Make sure to prioritize the transitional items from most important to least.  There may be a possibility that you may not get through the entire list, but at least the important stuff got covered.
  • If you’re in a position like I am where you’re still relatively new in the role and have to take over the work of someone’s that has much more experience, don’t worry. Your job is to gather enough knowledge to keep the lights on for that role, and to transfer said knowledge to the replacement so that he or she can get started.  On occasion, management may decide not to fill the vacancy and pour the rest of the work on you.
  • Schedule transition meetings in advance with  more time than you think you will need, extra items not on your list may come up during discussions.
  • Don’t schedule the transition session for the person’s last day of work.  If that person started to not give a crap after giving two weeks notice, just imagine what the last day is going to be like.



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