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The problem: As an employee in a big organization, I frequently experience the uncertainties associated with a general lack of domain knowledge and understanding of the big picture and the wider company processes that are beyond an individual's assignment as a software developer.

The question: Do companies generally speaking have the mindset that it is better spending time up-front training employees and providing them with a birds-eye view of the company processes and the required domain knowledge given the application domain the employee will be working on?

Based on my experience with big companies, apparently it is a common accepted practice to just drop an employee in a "sea of unknowns" so that it is the employee itself who finds all answers as needed, no matter the level of stress and the lack of productivity that it entails.

What are we talking about here? Is this simply that when organizations are so large things get out of control and there is no other way of operation? Or are we talking about Need-to-Know basis? Or is it simply that from a cost perspective it is accepted that is just too expensive to train every employee that comes into an organization?

I am of the school that spending time up front, providing domain knowledge, and giving employees birds-eye view of companies processes are worth the expenditure. I wanted to get opinions from other project managers that maybe have better insights than me. Thank you.

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    The answers provided will largely be opinion based, which is against the rules for this site, but this is a great question! I hope this stays open so we can entertain some critical thinking here. – David Espina Jun 16 '15 at 19:55
  • Yes, I feared that it might fall into opinion-based category. I tried to find across all StackExchange sites and this project-management site seemed like the best fit. There's a core question though about the general and more accepted strategies companies use. I hope as well that the question remains opened. Thank you! – Jose Cifuentes Jun 16 '15 at 19:57
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From the business standpoint, the organization needs to be able to measure some degree of efficacy in its training it provides to employees. Training is very expensive and it needs to provide a return that exceeds that expense, both qualitatively and quantitatively. And while training seems intuitively a smart thing to do, it is very hard to show meaningful changes in performance post training. Companies rarely test (many have questions you have to answer but the scores don't seem to go anywhere) the employee after training and I have never seen anyone weeded out of employment because of failing a training class. So correlating pre- and post-performance with training is near impossible.

Further, the types of tasks employees do range from tactical to strategic, with tactical being more prevalent at the lower rank employees and moving more strategic as one climbs the organization. An employee at whatever rank in the organization needs to have the proper knowledge, skills, and abilities to execute the mission of his/her role. At the lower ranks, where tactical tasks are more prevalent, having deep understanding of the domain, the industry, and the big picture may be a nice to have but may do nothing to move performance. At the higher ranks, where one needs to be more strategic, this would come in to play, but it is also expected that this person would already have more knowledge of the domain, industry, and the bigger picture.

This doesn't come across to me as a need to know, secret thing. It seems more like a smart business decision, spend where you have measurable return.

  • So far I'm choosing this as the most appropriate answer. It is the one that best addresses the original question as to what is the rationale. I did like the reply by OSFox as well and he brings many interesting points. – Jose Cifuentes Jun 17 '15 at 14:44
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I hear you. I had a job in a large organisation before and it was unique. It had a knowledge base with work instructions and corresponding process maps to allow an individual to do their best. It meant consistency and accuracy in approach. This was done on Sharepoint with visio and word. There was version control of all of the work instructions. They were only published when they were peer reviewed.

This is a lengthy process but it really pays off in terms of return on investment. It was great to see a nice knowledge management system in place.

In contrast, I am now working in a very big organisation and left to my own initiative. A great deal of the knowledge is tacit (in people's heads).

One day I asked different team members as a manager about one subject. I noticed some did not want to part with the information they knew as it would mean they loose power. I noticed they all understood it differently.

I really believe a proper knowledge manage system is in order here, along with training. Mistakes cost more in terms of reputational damage and inaccuracy of information in the long run. This approach was taken in line with six sigma.

Pearlson and Saunders have written extensively on knowledge management systems.

This is Just my view from experiences and my learnings. Hope this helps. If you need any further info I have tonnes of academic stuff that I can send your way. :) But this is it in a nutshell.

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    Hi and welcome to PMSE. Could you include some links to literature in you answere? I tried too google Pearlson & Saunders but was not successfull on the first approach... – Tob Jun 17 '15 at 4:42
  • Thanks! I understand the points explained by David Espinosa as the why things happen the way they do. I still do believe that there are alternatives to expensive training up front. You show an excellent example of how things can flow much more smoothly by using knowledge bases. Something as simple as creating a stack-overflow kind of KB can make a huge difference. I do believe it pays off to remove the uncertainty factor, it empowers employees, makes them confident, and in many cases it is very critical to understand the context in order to create a proper solution, even of technical nature. – Jose Cifuentes Jun 17 '15 at 14:47
  • Hi - this is a really good book if you are in management and can get your hands on a copy. It has been updated a couple of times and I always refer to good old Pearlson and Saunders. eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1118322541.html I had to buy it for my final year (2014). Even if you can get your hands on one from a library this is a must as it is quite expensive. I will atttach some articles or case studies I found when I have some more time. Hope this helps. – Treasa Jun 17 '15 at 17:36
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I think it varies widely from company to company, but in general it seems the larger the company, the more silo'd groups become (it's the common way they deal with scale), and the less perceived benefit there is to domain expertise and process knowledge outside of their immediate work.

Personally, I think domain expertise is critical regardless of company size or organization; it allows employees to make good local decisions due to context, which boosts autonomy, which boosts engagement, which is the foundation of great teams and orgs that hit high performance. I know Product Management is all the rage the last few years, but TBH, I think a good Product Manager should attempt to make themselves obsolete over time by dispersing their domain knowledge (similar to the goal of Scrum Masters) rather than keeping it local to themselves.

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