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I've been at a company for over two years. It's a small company with only around 35 employees and there is only one other person that actually knows how to do my job. However, he's frequently busy on everything else under the sun. I'm partly convinced that the business would fail if he quit. In contrast to this, almost every other employee does another type of job so they can bounce off each other quite a bit, while I either figure it out on my own or ask this guy.

My problem is that frequently I need insider knowledge from this one employee. I'm supposed to be the public face of this certain area of the company. In reality this happens:

Customer asks a question -> I'm unsure of the answer so I ask the employee -> I tell the customer I have to ask a colleague. I don't hear back from him for maybe two days since he's out of the office -> I respond with the answer.

I'm also required to respond to customer issues the same day, but a lot of times all I can say is "I'm checking on it with X person". Recently, one customer actually just started saying "should X be on this email too?" and to be honest, yes he should be on the email. I'm capable in my field, but there is so much insider knowledge that it's impossible to be effective without asking X questions. Two years in and I still barely understand the systems.

Coming up I have a project that's 10 hours away. X is supposed to give me an overview of what to I need to do, but I know that when I'm onsite something will come up that I don't understand. X will also be unavailable during that time too.

Should I just make it my motto to "do what I can" and let the stress roll off of me?

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    WHy do you not know what you're doing after 2 years? – Kilisi Oct 23 at 2:11
  • What type of questions are you asked about that require consulting the other employee? Working in development, I'm often asked questions about technologies, or the technical aspects of certain components, that I can't answer immediately. I can either consult someone who has that expertise, or I can do the investigation myself to be able to answer the question. Is this other employee gatekeeping vital information, do you just not know how to find the answers yourself, or is there some other factor at play here? – delinear Oct 23 at 13:10
  • @delinear An example could be a customer asking "is this possible with your product". I may think the answer is no, but the other employee has worked here for 20 years so there is a lot of hidden information. – Jared Oct 24 at 13:56
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While the situation is different from the one I address in my answer here, you still have the same basic problem - you have redundancy for all other aspects of the business except for this one. You are expected to be that redundancy in this case, but the information is clearly not readily available.

The first thing I would recommend is raising this with your manager immediately as a risk of The Bus Factor. If anything happens to this employee, then it could impact on the entire business.

Coming up I have a project that's 10 hours away. X is supposed to give me an overview of what to I need to do, but I know that when I'm onsite something will come up that I don't understand. X will also be unavailable during that time too.

You cannot be in a situation where you are on a client site with no backup from the person with the knowledge.

This situation is not of your making, it is of your employer's. You need to raise this straight away to them via your manager. I'm not sure if you are the person who should also have this knowledge, or if it needs to be another member of your organisation, but it needs to be propagated to at least one other person as soon as possible.

Detail the situation as you have here with your manager and work with them to commence the process of information transferral from X. In the long run, your company will thank you.

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I'm partly convinced that the business would fail if he quit.

That sounds drastic and should be communicated to management at once.

I agree with Kilsi's comment (upvoted)

Why do you not know what you're doing after 2 years?

Read up about the bus factor and explain it to management.

This could become problematic as, in order to get the knowledge out of his head and onto paper/hard-drive, some of his other activities are going to suffer.

Poor management might well suggest that he doesn't have time to document stuff, or agree if he says so (and he probably will, as no one really likes documenting their work).

If they do, you must continue to stress the bus factor and ask what would happen if he ... let's say ... wins the lottery (so much nicer than the bus), or marries & moves away, gets a better offer, has to move to look after a relative, etc. If things get bad when he takes holiday, use that as an example.

You may take some flak for not having taken notes. A possible compromise would be for you to start doing so, but somehow his knowledge must be available if he is not.

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