Since a wiki does not replace discrete pieces of software or processes whose use may be highly structured and/or obligatory, thought needs to be given to:
- the wiki’s purpose;
- its relationship with existing work processes;
- how the wiki should be designed (e.g. should be unstructured or should some basic structure/templates be provided to guide users);
- the level of openness, and whether permissions should be used to restrict access to certain pages/areas;
- how users will be encouraged to use the wiki and move away from more familiar less efficient tools;
- how people will learn how to use the wiki – not just the technical features but the practices required to support their collaboration goals; and
- how and who will maintain the content,
all of which can help ensure the wiki provides a substantial positive impact on people’s ability to work efficiently/effectively, and thereby facilitate its uptake.
However, to what extent does such ‘thought’ equate to ‘planning’ and how much latitude should be given to allow the wiki’s use to emerge? In other words, can the wiki implementation be ‘managed’?
I discussed this issue with several consultants advising on the introduction of Web 2.0 technology. Euan Semple indicated that a different mindset is required for the implementation of wikis in organisations, where implementers encourage and repond to emergent uses and users with different expectations, rather than trying to preconceive/control how the wiki should be used. Ross Mayfield indicated that clearly defined goals/targets can help guide emergent behaviour and provide parameters for later evaluation. Jeff Weinberger indicated that in his experience during grassroots implementations people were making good use of the wiki from the outset, despite their being unplanned. However, he noted that the lack of planning may have stymied the wiki’s adoption in other parts of the company and the spreading of best practice in respect of its use.
In practice, I found that the majority of current wiki implementations have resulted from grass-roots initiatives (67.65% of businesses surveyed), so it was perhaps unsurprising that people also characterised the ‘management’ of the wiki as more emergent than planned (38.24%) or indicated that no wiki management activities were apparent (19.61%). These implementations relied heavily on high levels of grass-roots facilitation and self-learning and motivation to use the wiki.
However, such approaches have resulted in a myriad of barriers hindering wikis’ use and growth, including lack of clear purpose in using the wiki, reliance on email and chaotic/badly maintained content. Consequently, to sustain wikis’ use by these early adopters and grow it to other groups, emergence should be balanced with more up-front direction to ensure those barriers are circumvented from the outset.
Such ‘direction’ does not refer to ‘management’ in the traditional sense of ‘command-and-control’. Because wikis are different from other IT implementations, and represent a reaction to existing technology shortcomings, their management requires a different mindset, which actively engages and supports people in their use, structuring and maintenance so as to best suit people’s work needs.
Interestingly, Jim Highsmith has recently shared his thoughts on this type of ‘management’ style (which he coins ‘light-touch’ leadership) in the context of self-organising teams and the agile community. He indicates that:
“Light-Touch Leadership means that decision making is delegated to the lowest level possible and as many decisions as possible are delegated to the team. However, delegating decisions in an organization isn’t a simple task; it requires tremendous thought and some experimentation. To me, Light-Touch conveys the right mix of delegation of decision making to teams while retaining appropriate decision-making authority with the leader or in other parts of the organization.
While Light-Touch Leadership may be “light” in terms of decision making, it is heavy in articulating goals, facilitating interactions, improving team dynamics, supporting collaboration, and encouraging experimentation and innovation. These characteristics of a leader are more critical to success than delegation of decision-making authority, but decision making is still an important piece of the leader’s role. When a good Light-Touch Leader is working, she or he is nearly invisible. Things seem to happen smoothly and the teams operate seemingly without a leader.”
Whatever label is placed in the ‘management’ needed during a wiki implementation (or development of an agile community or self-organising teams), the themes are clear – the leadership style needs to embrace both planning and emergence to encourage and direct a deep broad set of people in their consideration of how they currently work, what their needs are, how things can be improved, setting goals and making decisions to those ends, and supporting them throughout the process.