Custodian Mindset

Businesses are usually around for longer than individual employees' tenures. At some point, someone else has to take over your workload.

If you have an owner mindset rather than a custodian mindset this is difficult. Handovers are not easy. Trying to cover all bases and think of everything you might need to get from someone during their notice period is going to result in at least some of their knowledge being lost.

I'm not talking about skills here or knowledge in that sense but the specifics that relate to the projects that person was involved with. How are things setup? Which services depend on which other services? Why is there a metaphorical book propping up a metaphorical coffee table? Is it actually somehow load-bearing? Is an incorrect assumption going to bring the whole house of cards crashing down?

The Custodian Mindset is an approach to knowledge transfer and knowledge sharing that enables business continuity through holidays, sick days, people leaving the business and even general forgetfulness.

It's not really possible to remember every little detail and even if you can, you shouldn't. If your head is the only place a nugget of information resides then how can anyone else on your team pick up an item of work that relies on knowing it?

This also covers you yourself for taking holidays. We all need a break on a regular basis to help recharge and avoid burnout. If you've accumulated and restricted access to knowledge in a misguided approach to self-preservation, you will be the person called upon to step in.

Consider yourself instead as a custodian of knowledge. Follow the rules of the Custodian Mindset.

  1. Document Everything
    Start documenting everything you can. Have someone else read and follow the steps, ensure there's no missing piece of information that ties it together. A good approach is to borrow the technique from pair programming: have the person you are transferring the knowledge to drive whilst you navigate. If there's a third person they can write it down. Otherwise the driver or navigator can make the notes. Verify the final document afterwards.
  2. Fix Things Twice
    This is a critical part of the Custodian Mindset in the sense that you want to follow the 'boy scout rule' of leaving things better than how you found them. When something breaks, document it. Document the initial fix. Fix the root cause and then document that too. When someone (maybe even you yourself) searches for a solution to the same or a similar problem in the future they should easily be able to locate all of this information.
  3. Share responsibility
    You cannot have a blame culture and successfully implement the Custodian Mindset. Responsibility needs to be shared for knowledge to be shared successfully as well. The team needs to share its wins and collectively learn from its losses.