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What Procedural Knowledge Is—and How To Master It Without Memorizing It

What Procedural Knowledge Is—and How To Master It Without Memorizing It

An illustration of procedural knowledge, with a three-step how-to workflow
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💡 What is procedural knowledge?

Procedural knowledge is skill-based knowledge used to complete tasks at hand.

Making an omelet. Tying a shoelace. Running an end-of-month report. Exporting data into Excel. 

None of those things would be possible without procedural knowledge. What else can you add to that list? Documenting what you did so you can delegate the breakfast making, the shoe tying, and the report pulling next time around. 🙃

Picking up procedural knowledge is usually tricky to do without:

  • Guidelines to follow
  • Hands-on experience (or an impromptu screen share) 
  • A clear objective

Procedural knowledge vs. declarative knowledge

You may hear people talk about procedural knowledge as opposed to declarative knowledge. 

Here’s a quick visual to contrast the two:

Procedural Knowledge Declarative Knowledge
What it is Knowing how to do something (specific) Knowing data or facts about something (more broadly)
Synonyms you might see • Practical

• Unconscious knowledge

• Implicit knowledge
• Conceptual knowledge

• Conscious knowledge

• Explicit knowledge
Other ways people describe it Something you can eventually do on autopilot, with muscle memory Something that takes active thought and recollection
What it looks like A sequence of steps A network of related concepts and statements
How to acquire it Through practice and experience Through reading, listening, and observing
How to express it Through action (skills demonstrated, routines performed, procedures completed) Through written or spoken language (figures disclosed, dates remembered, fun facts revealed)
How to evaluate it Effectiveness Correctness
A common example Knowing how to bake a cake 🎂 Knowing November 26th is National Cake Day 🤓

What’s the TL;DR? 

  • Procedural knowledge focuses on “how” (skill-based knowledge, like you’d find in a standard operating procedure). 
  • Declarative knowledge focuses on “what” (information-based knowledge, like a glossary of terms for a product). 

Misconceptions about procedural knowledge 

You may have the sense that procedural knowledge is pretty straightforward. You’d be right, except there’s more to unpack than you might think.

Here are six myths about procedural knowledge—and how to think about them instead:

1. Procedural knowledge can limit creativity and innovation. 

The reality? Being able to zip through a process semi-unconsciously saves brain power for times that *do* call for ingenuity. 

2. We need to understand everything in order to execute.

The reality? It's not always necessary—or the best use of time and talent—to fully understand the ins and outs of a procedure to execute effectively. 

3. More context is always better.

The reality? Too much context can be worse than not enough. According to Tango’s 2023 survey on training guide dislikes, the majority want the minimum amount of information needed to complete a process.  

4. Knowledge retention is the be all, end all.

The reality? Learning how to do something once, capturing how you did it, and forgetting it until you need to re-apply that knowledge often makes more sense than trying to memorize it.

5. Procedural knowledge is less valuable than other types of knowledge.

The reality? Procedural knowledge is the gateway to deeper thinking. Knowing how to do something directly influences:

  • Causal knowledge (the ability to explain why something happens)
  • Relational knowledge (the ability to explain how things relate to one another) 
  • Conditional knowledge (the ability to know when and why to apply other kinds of knowledge) 

6. Procedural knowledge is easy to transfer to others.

The reality? Sometimes it’s far more helpful to show, not tell. Without the right tools, knowledge sharing can be frustrating for everyone involved. 

Benefits of procedural knowledge in the workplace

Whether your role involves being a builder, a doer, or a combination of both, having some procedural knowledge is somewhat of a prerequisite at work. (Even if you’re leaning HARD into learning on the job, and planning to address any skill gaps ASAP.) 

Here are a few reasons to have a rock solid, readily available foundation of how-tos.

Advantages for individual contributors 

  • Less time looking for team knowledge. 🔍 As fun as it is to play detective…it’s tough to top finding the instructions/answers you need, in the exact moment you need them. Without having to interrupt anyone.
  • More time to improve your craft. 🕺 We all have tasks that just need to get done. Procedural knowledge makes it possible to knock that stuff out, in less time and with less mental energy—so you can dive into more strategic, differentiating work. 
  • Greater visibility into your unique areas of expertise. 🙌  At some point in your career, you may find yourself spending just as much time teaching as you do learning. Tools like Tango make it easy to both capture what you know *and* empower others to master key processes. With step-by-step guidance in real-time, without screen sharing.

Advantages for people managers 

  • Faster ramp up times for new hires. ⏱️ Want to speed up your onboarding process? Make a point of capturing more procedural knowledge. 
  • Fewer inconsistencies and mistakes. ✅ Procedural learning may involve some initial trial and error, but in the long run, having well-documented tutorials ensures more consistent, error-free execution across the team. 
  • A more empowered, autonomous team. 🙏 It’s not just you getting pulled away from high impact projects with interruptions, meeting requests, and repetitive questions. It’s your top performers and subject matter experts, too. To reduce context-switching across the board, help people know how to.

Advantages for companies 

  • Better performance. 📈 More efficiency at the individual level drives more operational excellence at the company level. The faster people can move through menial tasks, the more energy they can put towards developing insights that *will* meaningfully impact business outcomes.
  • Less knowledge leaving the building.🚶Procedural knowledge is part of your institutional knowledge—which is part of your intellectual property. Which is part of what makes you different. Which is part of your competitive advantage. 
  • A continuous learning culture. 🫶🏿 Everything you’re learning about how to grow revenue, build products, and serve customers is invaluable. The best way to support knowledge sharing at scale is by empowering everyone to capture, follow, and continuously improve the processes that keep your company moving forward.
A illustration of a bar chart going up and to the right

A better way to capture—and level up—procedural knowledge

If you’re convinced that creating procedural knowledge is worth the legwork, we have good news. Lots of legwork is optional. 🎉

ℹ️ The old way to explain how to do something is no longer the only way.
With a tool like Tango, you can create step-by-step instructions automatically, in just a few clicks, with annotated screenshots and no special skills.

See for yourself:

Capturing procedural knowledge with Tango’s free Chrome extension is:

  • So simple, you won’t feel like you’re making documentation at all
  • So fast, you’ll shock everyone with how many how-tos you can spin up 
  • So effective, you’ll never go back to dense blocks of text or long videos again
  • So gratifying, you’ll get the satisfaction of helping everyone around you succeed 

If you use software to do your job and you’re the one following the tutorial (vs. creating it), there’s a lot going for you, too. 

A before and after style comparison of what following a how-to guide is like with and without Tango.

Now you can perform every process with as much care and expertise as the experts in your company—with minimal time and effort. And without any memorization to be seen. 

Then let’s say you discover a better way of doing things over time. You know exactly which steps you can zoom through without thinking, and where it makes all the difference to be a master. 

With callouts, you can add insights to your Tango how-to guide to help your teammates know:

  • Where to pay attention
  • When to leverage a pro tip
  • How to apply their new knowledge in real time

Here’s an example, in case you find all things in context > all things without context. 👇

A screenshot of Tango's Callouts feature, with a pro tip highlighted in green below a specific step in a how-to guide.

The bottom line

In an ideal world, procedural knowledge conserves cognitive energy. Which is just a fancy way of saying “brain power.” 

Even if your 9-to-5 isn’t really more like an 8-to-8, brain power is probably a hot commodity. 

Tools like Tango make it more possible than ever to complete tasks and teach others to do the same. In real time, without screen sharing. At speed and at scale. And while saving mental energy for when it matters most. 👊

An image depicting a hot commodity (brain power) and a hot take (mastery of a process without memorization).


What is an example for procedural knowledge?

Good examples of procedural knowledge in life at large include riding a bike and playing an instrument. In a work context, replying to a customer support request and submitting a PTO request both require procedural knowledge.

What is declarative vs procedural knowledge?

Declarative knowledge involves knowing about something. Procedural knowledge involves knowing how to do something.

What is another term for procedural knowledge?

Procedural knowledge is also sometimes called practical knowledge, unconscious knowledge, or implicit knowledge.

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