By Alex Cherednichenko, Head of EdTech at DataArt

For much of human history, knowledge was mostly shared orally in stories and folklore. One group  taught another, parents taught children, teachers taught pupils, and peers taught peers. Remarkably,  centuries after the invention of the printing press, humans still share knowledge orally even when oral  knowledge transfer is far from optimal. A case in point is collective corporate knowledge sharing when  onboarding a new employee.  

Collective Team Knowledge Is a Valuable Corporate Asset 

Collective team knowledge is the process- and/or technology-based competence and culture of an  organization, consciously possessed and consistently followed by a group of people. This organizational  knowledge is a valuable asset that should be managed accordingly. When a new person joins the group,  he/she goes through onboarding to receive a “starter pack” of this collective wisdom.  

The core challenge in managing collective team knowledge is that it is always not 100% formalized and  standardized and thus poorly structured, at times flawed, and, most importantly, subjective and  proprietary. Though teams seek optimal ways to collect knowledge in a single repository and keep it up  to date, manual, ad-hoc onboarding is prone to flaws and personal bias. Moreover, people in charge of  onboarding have varying levels of knowledge.  

Account-Based Onboarding at DataArt  

DataArt, as a technology vendor in long-term software development projects, inevitably deals with team  knowledge management in client accounts. We find that account-specific educational courses are the  most effective way to onboard new team members. Using the Open edX platform, we have created a  number of courses and specialized training modules based on account-specific onboarding and  introduction materials. At DataArt, the Open edX platform is integrated with our project management and  time-tracking system, so, when a new member joins an account team, he/she is automatically assigned  an account-specific onboarding course.  

These courses have several advantages over alternative approaches, including:  

• Educational courses are a form of active learning, which has proven most effective.  

• The baseline knowledge is formalized and structured rather than personal and subjective. This way,  the asset becomes more “tangible.”  

• Courses are an optimization tool, as they are reusable and save time that otherwise is spent on  repetitive knowledge transfer for every new member. The team does not lose effectiveness because of a  “newbie.”  

The main disadvantage of account-based onboarding is that the course content must at all times be kept  up-to-date. 

Where to Start with an Account-Based Course? 

Small-scale automation of onboarding with educational courses does not require a huge effort,  extensive upfront preparation, or significant financial investment. The people in charge of onboarding  should simply transform their regular “intro” materials into reusable ones. The learning content could be  then improved iteratively and enriched based on the feedback of every newly on-boarded team  member. For instance, a person in charge of onboarding could capture a demo of system functionality  with a screen recorder while actually demonstrating the system for a new team member. Recording  quality is not as important as usefulness. The video could later be divided into shorter clips, categorized,  tagged, annotated, and complemented with links and helpful resources.  

At a high level, DataArt’s account-based onboarding courses generally include:  

• team code of conduct (communication protocols, daily timetable, tools and lifehacks, vacation  policy)  

· who is who on the team (colleagues on both DataArt’s and the client’s sides and their areas of  responsibility)  

· infosec and compliance standards (to the extent they differ from company-wide standards)  

· business domain (high-level overview of the client’s industry & IT and the client’s long-term vision of the project)  

· project specifics (software requirements and functionality, legacy system overview (if applicable))  

· for some accounts, role specifics (tasks, tools, and areas of responsibility depending on one’s role in  the project). 

Added Value of Account-Based Onboarding Courses 

Account-based onboarding courses are an effective tool for integrating new team members into a  project and mitigating the effects of turnover, whether the new members join the client’s, DataArt’s, or  a subcontractor’s team. As a technology vendor, DataArt has proven that turnover does not have to  disrupt daily teamwork. Account-based courses enable easier scaling of the team and provide a better  overview of the software system and each contributing team role.  

Key Takeaways 

Online, account-based educational courses are a great tool for knowledge management and onboarding  of small groups. Courses can be created relatively easily, without large investments, and can be  improved iteratively with an in-built Open edX platform toolset. In DataArt’s experience, it is feasible to  create a dedicated, account-based course for a team of up to 20 members. Managing course content  and keeping it up to date is a continuous process, but the ultimate value is well worth the effort.