We've got a wiki. But I don't use it, and neither do many other folks in the office. Our production team uses it, mostly as a repository for documents. When I queried one of the more active wiki users, he chalked up the wiki's relative lack of success to early technical glitches. The log-in process was initially a pain, though after several tweaks, it now works fine. The wiki was slow and balky at first, though again this has improved over time.
I'd say our wiki fails the test of converting vertical communications into more horizontal ones, one of the keys to effective collaboration. And that's a shame, because wikis seem like one of the easiest and most obvious ways for organizations to tackle the problem of documenting and improving processes largely composed of tacit interactions.
So where did we go wrong? Part of the problem, I suspect, was lack of initial promotion. It was pretty much limited to a brief e-mail with log-in details (and remember those didn't work well at first) and mentions at individual team meetings. We could have and should have used some of the tips contained in my post on <strong>overcoming user reticence to wikis</strong>.
I also think it's a good idea to have folks brainstorm on how wikis might prove useful at work. (An all-hands meeting is probably the best way to go, though that can be tough for all but the smallest of companies.) To prime the pump for ideas, I like this list of eight things you can do with an enterprise wiki, posted by "Wikipatterns" author Stewart Mader on the Digital Landfill blog.
- Using wikis for meeting agendas eliminates the flurry of e-mails that result when folks need to make changes to the agenda. It also gives folks a chance to discuss the agenda before the meeting. (And maybe realize they don't need to meet at all, she said hopefully.)
- How about meeting minutes and action items? That way, everyone present at meetings can contribute to the minutes, which should offer a more rounded perspective on what actually occurred and follow-up that needs to be done. As Mader points out, the poor schmo saddled with producing minutes typically doesn't offer much input during meetings because he/she is so busy taking notes. A wiki also allows folks to publicly check off action items as they're completed, a welcome bit of transparency.
- Project management. I offered several examples of government agencies using wikis for project management in this post from last January. Wikis are especially valuable for obtaining approvals, "which saves a lot of back-and-forth e-mail, confusion about attachments and time wasted," writes Mader.
Wikis are also great for:
- Gathering input from multiple folks.
- Building documentation.
- Assembling and reusing information.
- Hosting an employee handbook , something we do here at IT Business Edge.
- Hosting a knowledge base. Mader offers an intriguing example of an Australian telecommunications provider that hosts a knowledge base that contains lots of instructions for tasks such as setting up a cable modem. Registered customers can add information to the wiki, which is monitored by company staff for accuracy. Intuit similarly brings its customers into the service loop by embedding a community feature in its popular Turbo Tax software that lets users address each others' questions.