Last week, I posted about The Painful But Rewarding Shift from Documents to Wikis.  In the post I shared some of the lessons my partner and I have learned from our experiences helping IT organizations shift to a Wiki approach for creating organizational clarity and getting people in the organization to engage in continuous improvement.  I will continue with this theme in this post.

When to Edit, When to Comment?

I guess this issue exists equally with Word documents – MS Word has its powerful Reviewing mode with its ability to add comments or to actually edit a document.  The same is true on a Wiki – you can comment on a page, or you can go in and edit the page.  The difference is, we have all been commenting on and editing Word documents for years!  But when you get to a Wiki, you typically don’t have the years of experience, nor do we have the shared but tacit understanding of when commenting makes sense compared with editing.  To the Wiki novice, not feeling sure about when to edit versus comment can freeze you into inaction!  You feel much more ‘exposed’ about making either comments or edits – but edits feel somehow more ‘in your face.’

We have found that a few supporting pages (themselves, a natural fit for a Wiki approach) can be very helpful in covering questions such as “edit or comment”.  Examples include:

  • Wiki Collaboration Guidelines and Procedures
  • Wiki Manual of Conduct
  • Wiki Manual of Style

Additionally, we have found that the gentle guiding hand of a Collaboration Manager and/or a Wiki Gardener can both demonstrate by example and, where appropriate, make adjustments to shift comments to in-line text edits or vice versa.  And, for those who can’t wait to find out the answer by trial and error, we’ve found the general principle is – if you are certain about the change you want to make, go ahead and make it!  The Wiki will let others with an interest in the page see the changes you have made, and they can always be backed out – nothing is ever lost!  If you are less certain, post a comment, quoting the text you want to change (most Wiki tools make that easy to do) and raising the points of discussion that lead you to be tentative about making the change.

Blank Pages Are Intimidating!

I’ve run experiments, creating a new page with an important page title (such as Potential Wiki Governance Principles) and asking folk to “weigh in.”  Perhaps not surprisingly, nobody does.  Add a few threads of text, or a contentious issue (that might be addressed by a principle or two) and people start to weigh in.  As I said, this is not surprising.  People are intimidated by blank pages.  Having said that, as a consultant who has facilitated hundreds of workshops, I know that starting with a “clean sheet” is rarely a good idea.  However, there are situations (and team dynamics) where a clean sheet is exactly the best place to start.  Which is why I ran the ‘blank page’ experiment.  At least one lesson learned would be: you can make things happen in a facilitated workshop that you can’t achieve on a Wiki!

Free, Open (and Risky?) Versus Controlled, Closed (and Safe?)

For whatever reason, my partner and I tend to find ourselves working on social media and collaboration initiatives with companies that have traditionally been somewhat “locked down” and conservative – often in highly regulated industries.  They have an inevitable (and understandable) bias towards controls and regulations – more concerned with “stopping bad things happening” than with “making good things happen!”  Unfortunately, this is not an ideal culture for open collaboration and knowledge exchange!  As much as they want to move to a more open and sharing culture, their natural instinct is to “govern and control.”

Given this, one of the issues we find ourselves coming back to as we navigate the changes inherent in becoming more open and collaborative is, ‘Do we manage the change from the current culture or from the culture we hope to change to?’  The temptation is to draw up a list of rules and create governance bodies and processes to manage the environment.  This is what people expect – but the question is, do such approaches serve to reinforce the current culture as opposed to fostering the desired culture?  Do rules and regulations send a message to people, that, “This is business as usual – be careful, think twice before you write or comment!”  And do such messages, unintended as they may be, tend to shut down otherwise valuable dialog and knowledge exchange?  Do they perpetuate the status quo?

We argue (and have demonstrated) that less rules and regulations are more effective in engaging stakeholders and fostering healthy dialog – without bringing the organization to its knees or being overrun with lawyers!  Of course, someone (the role is often called Wiki Gardener) has to monitor the site and take corrective action when needed.  They have to coach accidental transgressors.  Deliberate or malicious transgression is a performance management issue and must be handled as such – with firm and immediate action.

What have your experience been with Wikis in IT?  How have you handled “rules and regulations”?


Photo courtesy of Bionic Band: Home of Bionic Band Sports

Enhanced by Zemanta