Do you have that one person on your team who knows everything about your product? Does the thought of that person leaving the company keep you awake at night? And at the same time, are you worried that your new hires might not be getting the best onboarding? Software development is knowledge-intensive, which means that organizing effective knowledge transfer can be a real challenge.
That’s why it’s always a nice idea to check whether a team has a plan in place for knowledge transfer when hiring remote developers. But what does knowledge transfer actually involve?
At Relevant, we’ve successfully managed and delivered more than 200 projects in domains ranging from fintech and retail to travel and construction. A well-thought and established process of knowledge transfer in software development helps us avoid project disruptions and keep knowledge within the company, despite employee rotation.
In this article, we’ll explain the benefits of knowledge transfer for software development teams and describe some effective knowledge transfer methods you can use to keep knowledge circulating in your company, starting today.
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Knowledge is the main resource in software engineering. When knowledge doesn’t flow well between employees, this affects the quality of developed products, which directly translates into profit losses for both outsourcing companies and clients. Establishing a practice of knowledge transfer, on the other hand, has benefits for all parties involved in the software development process. Here are the most essential of them:
Put simply, ineffective knowledge sharing in software development is like rusty steel in construction. Just as corrosion destroys steel’s durability and makes bridges collapse, a lack of knowledge transfer eats away at a software company’s most important resource—knowledge—and can even bring a project to its knees.
Still, you can only get the benefits of knowledge transfer if your development team has a knowledge transfer plan. Let’s look at what that involves.
There are two types of knowledge in software development:
An effective knowledge transfer plan should cover sharing both types of knowledge among team members. Here are the main steps you need to follow to create a plan:
To create a knowledge transfer plan, we suggest beginning with assessing where you are. How is knowledge transfer carried out at your company now? Are you sharing enough and effectively?
The best way to identify gaps and bottlenecks is by talking to your employees. Ask them about their experiences and pain points. Have they had any issues with continuing on a project when the key or senior staff left? Was it hard for newbies to get up to speed when they joined? What do they think could have been done better?
Don’t be afraid to ask your team for suggestions. They’ll be a great source of ideas and won’t suggest something they aren’t comfortable implementing later.
The next step is to choose the transfer methods that you want to implement in your company.
The information you collected in the previous stage will help you identify which techniques could work best. We’ll talk about this in more detail in the next section.
Effectively implementing a knowledge transfer plan is impossible without your employees’ full understanding of what it means. You need to do the following:
It’s possible that some knowledge transfer techniques you’ve decided to implement won’t work.
In this situation, try to find out what went wrong and identify practices that aren’t providing the expected results. Remember that revising the effectiveness of your knowledge transfer plan is an ongoing process. Your knowledge transfer will improve as your team learns more.
Once you’ve committed yourself to developing a knowledge transfer plan, what’s next? How exactly do you keep knowledge and experience inside your team?
Here are some of the knowledge transfer techniques we use at Relevant.
Documentation is a traditional way of capturing and sharing knowledge. It’s easy to access for everyone, so it’s one of the best ways to get new teammates up to speed. Plus, it helps you record your development history, which is especially useful for a long-term project.
Comprehensive documentation is useful not only for programmers but also for a client. If you’re in the middle of a project and have to change the development team, documentation will be one of the most important items on your application handover checklist for the new team.
Giving feedback on someone else’s work teaches developers a lot about their strengths and weaknesses.
But a fresh pair of eyes can also bring other benefits. During reviews, developers don’t just spot bugs and potential weak points—they can also find great implementation ideas that they can later reuse in their own work. Code reviews also help to keep the same style of coding across a project and share project-specific knowledge.
Finally, mutual code reviews can help onboard new team members and train them with hands-on experience by showing them how things are done. It also gets you fresh insights and ideas from developers who’ve just joined the team.
Some people argue that code comments are excuses for bad code. This is not how we see it.
The truth is somewhere in the middle. Code comments should be used to provide additional information and make code written for machines more readable to humans.
Just remember that code comments should not duplicate the code itself but instead help you maintain it. Comments can also mark unfinished parts of a project or places where bugs were fixed.
In this knowledge transfer technique, two developers sit at the same workstation and solve one coding task. They take on two different roles: the “driver,” who runs the coding process, and the “observer.” They switch roles after a while.
Pair programming creates a safe environment for the apprenticeship. Working on one issue together helps team members share subtle hints and uncover things that developers would never think of asking. In pair programming, bugs are caught more easily, which increases software quality. Other benefits are better code comprehension and higher team morale.
You can organize regular face-to-face sessions or set them up just when needs arise.
For example, a good time for a Q&A session is when a team has just had a release. The team can present how they have solved particular problems using recent examples and share the lessons they learned. For a session to be successful, the team who are sharing knowledge should set the Q&A topic and come prepared with clear descriptions and answers.
As an outsourcing vendor, we find that this method of transferring knowledge works perfectly for sharing common coding principles and (most importantly) project and domain-specific knowledge. Face-to-face sessions create a favorable environment for developers to ask more skilled and experienced colleagues all the questions they have.
In this practice, a newcomer or a junior developer is assigned to a mentor or a counselor who is a more skilled senior team member. This is a kind of apprenticeship where mentees can ask their mentor questions and learn the job. This is one of the quickest ways to boost junior staff skills.
Developers mentoring other developers is good for mentors as well. When you explain something you know well, you can get even greater insights into a topic.
The biggest challenge with mentoring is to find the correct mentor. The best mentor won’t just be knowledgeable about development—they’ll have the right soft skills to share, lead, and give appropriate feedback.
Hackathons are great when you need to generate ideas and solve an unusual problem. A hackathon is a short-term event, usually a non-stop 24 hours, where employees work in small teams to crack a particular challenge. At the end, teams present their solution to everyone, which adds to the knowledge shared.
Hackathons are a competitive but friendly way of transferring knowledge where employees can get creative, see how one issue can be addressed from different angles, and learn to use new technologies and approaches.
Brown bag lunches have their origins in real informal lunches, where employees would bring their food in brown bags and share ideas while eating.
BBLs create a friendly atmosphere for knowledge transfer. Usually, companies supply the lunches, and one team member presents a topic to their peers while everyone is sharing the meal.
In this practice, developers write automated test scripts to make sure a piece of software works as expected. Tests can check different things, from individual methods right up to complex business requirements.
Don’t underestimate the power of knowledge shared during writing tests! They aren’t just a means of communicating an expected result. They also help increase knowledge of the business logic of an application and pass on domain insights.
In an office setting, it’s easy to just turn to your colleague and ask for help. But companies are now managing distributed teams, especially with COVID-19 and the global shift to remote work, which has created challenges for team communications.
This is why software development collaboration tools such as Jira, Slack, Zoom, and Asana are fast becoming irreplaceable. Ideally, teammates should be able to get in touch easily with others in the company, regardless of where the person is located and whether the person is on their team.
A community of practice is a group of employees with common skills or a common interest in a specific technology or domain.
These groups run workshops to help solve challenging tasks in their area of expertise and share lessons learned. Because this practice is voluntary and self-motivated, it leads to greater enthusiasm and more effective knowledge transfer.
Knowledge transfer is complicated, which is why it’s often neglected by software development companies. However, having an established knowledge transfer process in software engineering is essential for successful project delivery.
As a result, if you’re planning a development team extension with outsourced programmers, don’t be afraid to ask about how your potential partner approaches knowledge transfer in their company.
At Relevant, we’ve successfully delivered over 200 projects for customers from over 20 countries. Our knowledge transfer techniques help us deliver high-end products to our clients on time and on budget.
If you’re looking for programmers to complete your project or want to hire an entire dedicated development team, just contact us to learn how we can help. You can also check out our other blog articles to learn how to manage remote development teams and the best strategies for effective communication with outsourcing programmers.