Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Not too wiki?

Re-reading Tim O’Reilly’s definition of what web 2.0 is (http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/news/2005/09/30/what-is-web-20.html), allows me to consider another aspect of its relationship to enterprise knowledge management. Lately, we’ve heard much buzz about the wisdom of crowds and wikis for example. I happen to agree that the collective perspective, insights, and solution provided by a group are generally better than that generated by a lone individual (or I wouldn’t be in this business). I also think that wikis have a clear advantage to their users, as the potential participative opportunity should allow users to feel invested in the results produced in a way far greater than simply submitting to a corporate repository.

So what’s the issue? The issue is, “How should organizations develop enablers like wikis to make knowledge management more effective?” By definition, wikis ought be somewhat authoritative. Wikis are not a place for wildly divergent ideas although acknowledgement of differences certainly should acknowledged, as they would be in any well researched document. In any case, where is this authoritative content supposed to come from? My guess is subject matter experts. Which subject matter experts? Probably the same ones in the organizations today. So what are we going to do differently to tease out expertise from this group that we haven’t done in the past? It's easy find experts in any organization. You ask around and you hear the same names come up. It's not always so easy to see their expertise in writing because they're busy making use of that expertise, not writing it down.

We’ve been down this path before. Communities of practice are modeled after communities of interest. Communities of interest get their fuel from the passion each member has for the narrow topic of interest they’re involved in. While I don’t have any research at hand, I suspect that it’s possible that some community of interest members are so passionate about their interest, that they may be involved to an extraordinary degree. We try to get CoPs to mimic the same behavior—sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. What do we miss there? And, what might we miss if we simply tell subject matter experts that now they’ve got a much easier way to publish their knowledge for the benefit of everyone?

Perhaps this will have to be a convergence between the exploratory wiki-thinkers and the stodgy old, formal knowledge management types. Introducing wikis without considering change management, or denying how newer collaboration methods can increase interactivity will likely lead to less than satisfactory results. Neither approach alone will get us there. It’s not a matter of what, it’s a matter of how. So how?


Arjun Thomas said...

We've had the same kind of issues, trying to implement a wiki in an organization where process is a key driver to almost any change that happens. I'm happy to say that the actual concept has been received rather well, where it goes from here only time will tell..

Jim Lee, PMP said...

Arjun, thanks for providing a data point. Now if you'd keep us informed of your progress, that would be great. I don't mind living vicariously through others!

Dale Arseneault said...

Jim, if I understand you correctly, the issues are:

1) “How should organizations develop enablers like wikis to make knowledge management more effective?”
2) How are activities / contributions focused and purposeful?
3) How is content validated?
4) How is contribution / participation encouraged?
5) How???

As I read your post Jim, I thought to myself .. "how?" by letting groups self-organize, self manage and providing them the tools and flexibility to do so. Groups and organizations are social, complex unordered systems. Learning is, for the vast majority of adults, a social process. To be effective in teams, groups and in an organization, everyone must learn all the time. And Web 2.0 (and future tools), as implemented in an organizational context, should support learning, and the different ways that people and teams learn and choose to work together.

Imagine.. (what a great word).. I'm taking on a PM role in an organization, and that role entails all the standard processes and deliverables. Everyone knows about me because I've got my personal space (a la Facebook), which features notable characteristics like where I sit, what part of the organization I'm in, what horizontal initiatives, or communities I'm part of, documents produced, projects worked on etc. automatically extracted, plus a few more personal tidbits that I've added myself.

So, back to the project, I've got to engage multiple internal and external stakeholders, my project team is comprised of full time project members, plus part time internal and external members, plus maybe a SME I've got budget to bring in as advisors/coaches.

So, to help me manage the proejct, I can go to an empty "project" on my corporate intra/extranet space and select from a number of collaboration tools /widgets to help me and the projec team do the job. So I select a blog widget so I can keep stakeholders informed and engage them in meaningful real-time dialog, which of course they can subscribe to via RSS. I select a wiki object (linked to the document management system) for the creation of the project management document deliverabes, because that way I can easily get help from the varous team members and leaders to ensure accuracy and completeness.

So one of my first tasks after bringing the team together is creating a work breakdown structure for the project. After inviting the team to the project space, I launch a conferencing widget, and within it a WBS drawing tool and work through creating the structure with the group on line. Using a voting widget, I verify that everyone's happy with it, then I click and drag the final version, along with the recording of the discussion, over to the appropriate wiki page for the project management documentation..

.. and so on..

So, before my imagination gets carried away, if it hasen't already, I think a productive way way to look at a lot of the web 2.0 possibilities is as a bunch of user selectable / configurable tools in a tool box (of a corporately managed infrastructure) that can be assembled based on the team or group needs and outcomes.

Encourage people to self organize around issues or outcomes, ensure they've got the skills to do so, and give them the toolbox to use what makes sense in the context.
Capture is done part of the collaboration /creation / work process, and the content can be aggregated/made available to others using existing syndication strategies.

Anonymous said...

Dale, i think your comments are very interesting.
My company have started collaborating in exactly the way you mention, and are on the verge of creating a facebook type of tool internally.

Farnaz Afsharfard said...

Hi Dale

I was wondering if your idea of having a facebook type of ability internally (to display where you sit etc) is just theory or if you know of any organisation that has successfully implemented it?

Its certainly very interesting as an idea, but has it worked in practice yet?