Archive for the ‘Collaboration’ Category

In the same way that the Web has changed the communication habits of millions of people, social computing is evolving to help us work with and in complex adaptive systems. The insights from Snowden and Jackson about ‘foresight’ and complexity, and their relationship with social computing, are fascinating not just for futures planning, but also for re-thinking processes in knowledge intensive organisations like knowledge management, communication and collaboration processes. For instance:

Developing a sensor network: The ability to quickly access authoritative guidance from colleagues, and to regular streams of intelligence regarding clients, competitors, market changes, and so on, is crucial to the development of actionable current awareness. But too often, companies rely on a handful of sources to feed them information, constrain sharing to document and email centric models and squeezed people’s interactions into pre-existing software models and workflows. That leaves the better part of a company’s extensive network of resources untapped and a void of higher level meta-data or collective intelligence derived from people’s diverse activities and contributions to a social computing platform.

If employees, clients and collaborators are able to contribute fragments of information, like tags, bookmarks, comments and links, as they come across or create the information in the course of their daily work not only will this be of benefit at the individual level (e.g. there’s no extra or less effort involved), when that information is aggregated, patterns can be determined which help others to spot trends and focus on hotspots in realtime. That makes for a potent early warning system and truly effective current awareness.

Sharing your way to competitive advantage: To operate in complex networked environments, companies are having to rethink old models based on the control of proprietary information. Snowden articulated it in these terms: “The paradigm has shifted. For whole of last century ownership gave economic power. Now, it is the speed at which you exploit things that matters not ownership. A strategy of openness makes more things available to you. What matters then is your agility and ability to exploit things.”

Over the last few years we have seen some companies become more open and share their learning/information with clients and other organisations. For instance, Innocentive.com enables companies, academic institutions and NFPs to come together in an open innovation marketplace to post challenges, share ideas and devise breakthrough solutions. In the UK, several major international law firms established the Banking Legal Technology portal in 2006 due to pressure from investment banking clients wishing to reduce costs and streamline access to all advice/information from the different firms. Likewise, Legal OnRamp provides another forum for lawyers share information and showcase their expertise, and for in-house counsel to access to precedents of major law firms and the pool their resources with other general counsel.Going forward, we will see companies using increasing volumes of fragmented data (e.g. tweets, blogs, comments, html links and pages) to contribute to social extranets, accessible by clients and competitors alike.

In that way, companies will get to see more and do more for less. By opening up the scanning process, not only will they add to the overall pool from which they can draw, they will also be presented with new narratives and possibilities which would not have been apparent or available in a closed setting. It will then be companies’ ability to interpret and apply the information quickly, innovatively and insightfully that will provide competitive advantage.

Developing new meaning through deliberate ambiguity: This picture presents a classic example of ambiguity. Woman - Young and OldThere’s an old and a young woman in there. Perhaps you see one or both of them. How long did it take you to focus on the different images? Does that mean anything? Is one more persuasive than the other?  Snowden proposed ‘deliberate ambiguity’ as a vehicle for encouraging emergent meaning and contributing to to the effectiveness and richness of a work. Increasing moves toward the use of fragmented materials in our work, like clipping items from feed readers, adding to them notes and tags, linking the clippings to blog posts and engaging people in further online discussions and idea sharing, we are deliberately introducing a higher degree of ambiguity to the system. It is precisely this ambiguity that allows us to interpret and give new meaning to the fragments, which provides new perspectives, ideas and interpretations. This is the source of innovation and difference – not best practice and compliance regimes.

There are also ramifications for traditional information categorisation and classification regimes, the purpose of which was to disambiguate and establish order in the system. Efforts to create order in this way can be counter-productive. If you are looking for something that hasn’t been categorised in the way you expect, then you probably won’t find it (quickly or perhaps at all). You are also less likely to make valuable serendipitous discoveries by stumbling across items that sit outside of traditional categories. As Thomas Gruber (2007) explains in his article “Ontology of Folksonomy: A Mash-up of Apples and Oranges”:

“Tags introduce distributed human intelligence into the system. As others have pointed out, Google’s revolution in search quality began when it incorporated a measure of “popular” acclaim — the hyperlink — as evidence that a page ought to be associated with a query. When the early webmasters were manually creating directories of interesting sites relevant to their interests, they were implicitly “voting with their links.” Today, as the adopters of tagging systems enthusiastically label their bookmarks and photos, they are implicitly voting with their tags. This is, indeed, “radical” in the political sense, and clearly a source of power to exploit.”

In that way, user participation in the form of social tagging offers a far more powerful means of discovering information and meaning.

Using technology to provide decision support: Although previous generations dreamed of artificial intelligence and people feeding computers information and receiving answers, we now understand that the roles should be reversed, and we are interested in using computer networks to augment human intelligence and make it easier for us to make decisions of our own. This is the key differentiating factor about social computing – it has human agency in it. Whilst computers can present more data, human agency is needed to determine the meaning of the information fragments. That requires us to deliberate model/look at things from different perspectives then present the data back for human-based interpretation and decision making.

To conclude: “the whole point about technology is to provide decision support for human beings not to make decisions” (Dave Snowden).


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Think for a minute about how you used to book your holidays, buy your music, find an address or select insurance – 10 or even 5 years ago?  Do you even bother to search for things these days or do you just rely on the recommendations from your network via Facebook, Twitter, Zemanta or even Amazon?

These prolific and radical changes are not limited to social and consumer interactions on the internet.  They also impact the nature, shape and conduct of business both internally and externally.

Companies are increasingly working in networks, whether they be loosely coupled or tightly integrated because of technology and the globalisation that technology has brought with it.  Those networks are essentially virtual entities, and this trend will accelerate over the coming years.  To be in or join a network, people need insight and connections, as well as appropriate processes capable of supporting various business needs across the virtual entity.  That signals fundamental shifts in the way people do business and the underlying business models.

This was one of the issues Leo Apotheker (co-CEO and a member of the Executive Board of SAP AG) and Andrew McAfee discussed during an interview with Charlie Rose earlier this week.

It echoes the message from Pisano & Verganti in their article Which Kind of Collaboration is Right for You? (Harvard Business Review December 2008):

In an era when great ideas can sprout from any corner of the world and IT has dramatically reduced the cost of accessing them, it’s now conventional wisdom that virtually no company should innovate on its own. … [But] greater choice has made the perennial management challenge of selecting the best options much more difficult. … [How] open or closed should your firm’s network of collaborators be? And who should decide which problems the network will tackle and which solutions will be adopted?

Those opportunities and challenges are equally applicable within organisations, with changes affecting the way people are now able to work together and the nature and style of management. Everything happens and needs to happen so much faster just so businesses can stay in the same (market) position and not loose ground to competitors.  But whilst the technology is there to expedite work processes and help people work better and smarter, often barriers in the form of cultural, organisational and behavioural changes are stifling.

As McAfee points out, it’s in this ever-changing technology context that management is being pressed more than ever to rethink the boundary between (i) control -> dictating how things will be executed and by who and (ii) autonomy -> allowing people to organise themselves and seeing what emerges. Frederic Baud explores similar themes in his interesting post Will Enterprise 2.0 ever enter big organisations? More particularly, he considers whether an organisation viewing itself as an internal market where resources can freely recombine to pursue emerging projects can greatly augment the output by loosing control of the nature of that output.  The ensuing discussion is also worth a read!

In any case, the ‘control’ model prevails in many orgaisations, where decision-making processes are closed or simply pay lip-service to employee involvement, the few decide for the many based on their view of what people want, and networking of information and expertise occurs in very localised instances.

Yet when we look around for examples of successful businesses to emulate, who do we look to?  Google?  Proctor & Gamble? Toyota?  Hubbards? Headshift 😉 ? There are plenty more.  And what do they tell us?  Well, to quote Eric Schmidt – Google CEO (The Mckinsey Quarterly November 2008):

There’s a lot of evidence that groups make better decisions than individuals. Especially when the groups are selected to be among the smartest and most interesting people. The wisdom of crowds argument is that you can operate a company by consensus, which is, indeed, how Google operates.  …

One of the things that we’ve tried very hard to avoid at Google is the sort of divisional structure and the business unit structure that prevents collaboration across units. It’s difficult. So, I understand why people want to build business units, and have their presidents. But by doing that you cut down the informal ties that, in an open culture, drive so much collaboration. If people in the organization understand the values of the company, they should be able to self organize to work on the most interesting problems. And if they haven’t, or are not able to do that, you haven’t talked to them about what’s important. You haven’t built a shared value culture.

For me, those views are examples of organisational learning theory in practice.  I’ve described the themes within that theory before, and for present purposes would just like to reiterate a couple of those themes:

  1. Learning requires challenging existing mindsets that form the basis of (possibly out-of-date) behaviour.
  2. Managers should encourage the generation and spreading of new ideas and practices about purpose, values and vision.
  3. That vision requires the maximum number of people to contribute to and share a picture of the where the organisation is going, and how personal and business goals coincide.
  4. Feedback is central to this system as it is critical to learning and adaptation.

Those ideas have been around alot longer than much of the technology that has caused such radical change to the way things are done in the public domain.  That same technology is steadily entering and disrupting the way things are and can be done in organisations.  But for that technology to be of real value, progress needs to occur simultaneously in respect of each of those ‘organisational learning’ elements.  And if you’re reading this thinking that this type of change doesn’t apply to your business or your industry sector, best you start with #1 on that list.

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Oliver Young has kicked off an interesting debate with his post “Web 2.0 Represents A Fundamental Rethinking Of Business, And The Theory Of The Firm.” Young believes that “[o]ver the next 10 to 15 years, on the back of social software, we will go from a fundamentally closed value creation system to a fundamentally open one”.

Andrew McAfee considers this to be an exaggeration of the current situation. He indicates that:

Most of us who study the new technologies of interaction, collaboration, and collective intelligence agree that they have great potential to enable more open systems for creating economic value. But we need to be very careful with our claims about how closed things are at present. It’s not useful to present our current system a fundamentally closed one in which firms work only within themselves to create value. That’s not a helpful strawman; it’s a counterproductive caricature.

Here are a couple of my thoughts on the matter:

Certainly, new social technologies have the potential to reduce barriers to participation and create value for businesses at the same time as they deliver value to customers (e.g. aggregating and connecting content, ideas, behaviours and resources to create personalised buying recommendations, and new product and service offerings).

However, familiar longstanding challenges remain and are compounded by the effect of those technologies. Namely, that people still need the skill to spot opportunities for creating value, and must now do so from increasing flows of information and interaction. Furthermore, a more open value creation system means companies must relinquish (to a certain degree) control over the creation process. Traditionally this has been very difficult for companies to do. The technology may be there, but it needs to be accompanied by the right mindsets and skills to be truly useful.

Originally posted as a comment by PennyEdwards on Andrew McAfee’s Blog using Disqus.

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‘Collaboration’ is being used pretty loosely these days and often in the same breath as enterprise 2.0. But, simply because people work together to meet objectives and reach goals, doesn’t mean they are collaborating. Other ‘c’ words like communicating, co-operating or co-ordinating may be more appropriate descriptions of what is actually taking place.

By recognising the nature of the interactions, we can better understand the restrictions of, and relationship between, the associated behaviours. We can then focus more sharply on initiatives which (i) improve controls and efficiency, or (ii) add value through creativity and innovation, or more ambitiously (iii) both! In terms of technology, that aids in the design and implementation of appropriate spaces for people to work in, equipped with the right tools to facilitate the capture, exchange and creation of information and expertise.

In his article “Collaboration vs C-Three (Cooperation, Coordination, and Communication)“, Leo Denise (1999) distinguished between those terms as follows (and to which I have added a few thoughts):

  • ‘Communication’ refers to how people understand each other and how information (including prospects, rumors, feelings and failures) is transferred. Often the problem of communication is thought to be solved with more newsletters, memos and meetings – which often serve only to waste more time by circulating floods of irrelevant generic news and distracting people from the critical activity of listening. Now there’s nothing wrong with noise, provided the means are available to filter the things worth listening to, and then something constructive can be done with the filtered information.
  • ‘Coordination’ is about efficiency and making sure people know when and how to act. Because of natural overlaps in organisations, it is important for people to have visibility of what others are doing to avoid redundancy or inconsistency. Whilst coordination tries to get people pulling together, the effort must nevertheless be directed towards a desired goal.
  • ‘Cooperation’ is a factor in moving in a unified direction, but highest value doesn’t derive from group think and continually following established norms. Consequently, it needs to be balanced with diversity, and the spark of creativity which comes from ideas, dissent and debate.
  • Whilst the above ‘C’s tend towards controlling and centralising efforts, ‘collaboration’ is about creation and is the driver of innovation. It involves bringing people together to achieve a goal which cannot be achieved by applying more effort to the other ‘C’s. ‘Collaboration’ thrives on difference, insight and spontaneity, rather than structural harmony. As such, it requires a shared space, time and environment to allow people to devise the solution to meet the goal.

Conventional enterprise technology that accelerated people’s productive 10 years ago no longer has the same impact, and in fact is counter-productive for many workers in today’s global, information overloaded environment. The classic example here is the systemic overuse of email as the means to facilitate each of the ‘C’s. Whilst email doesn’t necessarily need to be replaced, it does need to be put in its place. And with the range of social tools presently available, companies’ competitiveness will depend on identifying and adopting those tools which best suit their work processes. In fact, when integrated in a platform, social tools can facilitate new models of interaction, co-creation, collective intelligence, networking and user participation, whilst supplementing traditional face-to-face, telephone and email communications.

This is precisely what Gary Curtis of Accenture was reporting in yesterday’s Financial Times (5 November 2008):

“At Proctor & Gamble … an internal social network modeled closely on YouTube is proving effective for communicating complex programme initiatives and for better connecting large, geographically dispersed teams. … Other consumer-oriented [social tools] are proving equally beneficial in enterprises. Members of a team at a multinational had been sending as many as 150 emails a day discussing their project while never being certain of involving the right people. When they moved the discussion to a blog, their email boxes emptied, and the key team members joined in as needed.”

These examples illustrate how efficiencies can arise from facilitating better communications and coordination of efforts. We are also seeing improvements to these ‘c’s through the use of personal dashboards. They are ideal for allowing people to easily add content, and organise their feeds and information widgets. As a result, people have precisely the information they want, in the manner they want to receive it, which helps increase their productivity and connections. And because people’s activities and interaction with content are aggregated, everyone has a clear up-to-date picture of each other’s work, status, interests, favourites and connections with other people in the firm.

Enabling people to interact with information and each other in this way has a dramatic (measurable) effect on people’s productivity, by reducing the amount of time spent looking for information and expertise, or re-doing work completed in another business unit. It also means that people send and receive fewer emails and instead get more precise requests for assistance.

We have also seen how teams are better able to co-ordinate their resources through group spaces (e.g. in wikis) and online discussions (e.g. in group blogs). Those tools give people visibility of a range of information, including recent or important projects, actions, discussions, comments, news and events, and ensure people know who’s working on what. With greater delivery of information, and its filtering using tags and ratings, the immense flow of information which now inundates people can instead be tailored to their needs, put into context (e.g. of a project, client matter, pitch or operation issue), and made more relevant to daily work.

Instead of broadcasting information in mono-directional newsletters, people can engage in discussions. And through those discussion, views can be debated, actions negotiated and common goals established. But that requires the creation of spaces where people feel confident about participating and that it is worthwhile to do so. In other words, to ‘get with the group’ there needs to be a culture which accepts that people don’t necessarily add value by contributing non-contentious thoughts. Consequently, ‘cooperation’ in the enterprise 2.0 sense provides the space and leadership to cope with challenges to existing norms, processes and assumptions.

Improvements to each of the above ‘c’s sets the stage for a culture and organisational structure conducive to creative and collaborative work practices. Practices that thrive on spontaneity and interaction, and result in the types of innovative products and processes which give a company its edge. Practices that are so well supported by new social technologies, such as facilitating social connections between employees split by geographical and organisational distance, increasing people’s peripheral vision and thereby enabling them to stay up-to-date with and share information, ideas and expertise, and ensuring they can easily create communities of practice built up around conversations and common interests revealed through on and off line activity.

Therefore, providing workers with more flexibility in how they communicate with each other, and customers, can result in new forms of cooperative action, more fruitful collaboration, faster decision-making, and greater productivity. And whilst its a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ companies introduce social tools, having a clear view of the driver for their introduction (i.e. tending towards efficiency or value-added/innovation) will ensure the appropriate technologies are implemented and organisational behaviours nutured.

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The 13th annual technology survey of AM Law 200 firms makes for a disappointing read from a social software/organisational change perspective.  The report suggests that firms are grappling with issues like “what emerging technologies are worth investing in – and which aren’t ready for prime time”.  However, in respect of ‘collaborative’ technologies respondees were asked only whether their firms use web conference software, blogs or wikis.  What!  No mention of RSS, feed readers or aggregators, let alone micro-blogging, friendfeeds, personalised pages, social tagging or content filtering.

The report blandly states that:

“While some firms have dipped their toes in the water — 43 percent run one or more blogs; 24 percent use intranet wikis (Web pages that let users contribute or modify content) — it’s been fairly ho-hum stuff by Internet standards. Blogs with lawyer posts on happenings in a practice area and wikis to collaborate on interoffice documents are the norm. It’s still unclear what sort of future these technologies have in a law office. But seemingly everyone is thinking about it.”

Of course firms are thinking about it!  Else they will find themselves sitting on the wrong end of the technology commoditisation process which turns yesterday’s shiny innovation (*email*) into today’s ubiquitous baseline or even legacy tool.  Not only do such tools offer no competitive advantage, they also trigger negative consequences, like information overload and silos of out-of-date content.

And the examples in the report of how blogs, wikis and social networking tools are being used in firms certainly are ‘ho-hum’.  From adoption and knowledge sharing perspectives, the Allen & Overy use of group blogs (integrated into wiki spaces) for knowledge networking is far more instructive.  As for wikis, they can be used to capture ideas, questions and comments in respect of groups or projects, and then to aggregate all interactions with content, so as to highlight recent activities, popular and/or salient items (from an individual or group perspective).  All these collaboration activities are quite distinctive, yet supplementary to, document management activities supported by other systems, as these articles illustrate:

Those are just a few examples of how firms are endeavouring to adapt and apply new techologies to help people work in smarter more social ways.  And there are even greater opportunities for the ‘re-engineering’ of knowledge intensive processes in business through technology.  As Simon Wardley has emphasised, unlike previous generations of technology, which essentially offered the opportunity of ‘substitution innovation’ (doing what had always been done a little better), new technologies like RSS, micro-blogging, social tagging and networking tools, offer possibilities for radical change in the way in which things are done.

These are some changes we are seeing or expect to see very shortly through the use of integrated platforms incorporating a range of social tools:

  • Reducing information retrieval costs by encouraging users to employ monitoring and delivery modes of information retrieval rather than searching for information or navigating to static destinations (like external sites).  The former modes rely on RSS feeds delivered to feed readers, blackberries or mail accounts.
  • Helping people to get out of their inboxes by offering alternatives to email.
  • Using micro-blogging to spark quick reaction to breaking news, increase awareness of on-going work and to strengthen social ties across the firm
  • Eradicating the static expertise directory and instead pulling information from the user’s activities, including blog posts, comments, tags, feeds and favourites into a dynamic ‘public’ profile which provides a rich picture of the user’s status, work, professional network, expertise and interests.
  • Providing personal dashboards to allow people to design and control his/her interactions and information flows to best suit their changing needs.  That means allowing people to easily add, organise and view activities, discussions, news, feeds, communities, colleagues, etc,
  • Delivering more targeted relevant information by recommending and filtering information based on the individual’s tags, subscriptions, or activity with content, communities, projects or individuals.

All examples of how firms need to continuously adapt just to stand still.

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Over the last few weeks there’s been some interesting exchanges around mandating the use of social tools (in particular blogs) within an organisation as ‘reflective’ tools for sharing and learning (see Abraham, Leberecht, Leyden and Cornelius). Those exchanges dovetail nicely with another weighty debate around tailoring the functionality of tools like ‘Facebook’ and ‘Twitter’ to suit the enterprise context, and more particularly, whether their use should be given a top-down or other informal nudge to ensure contributions are sufficiently work-related. The former is now moving through a spectrum of mandating -> encouraging contributions and the latter is focusing on channeling or containing them.

Moving away from a ‘they just must‘ perspective, we can instead observe how people are communicating and with whom, and why in other instances they are not. We also have the opportunity to consider how to channel ‘twittering’ behaviour to help us work in a more fun, informed and effective way.

The working paper “Communication (and Coordination?) in a Modern, Complex Organisation” by Adam M Kleinbaum, Toby E Stuart and Michael L Tushman (Harvard Business School, First Look, 29 July 2008 ) provides some extraordinary insight into the structure of communications in a modern organization. In other words, who is communicating, how often and with whom? To answer the following question, the study analysed millions of electronic mail messages, calendar meetings and teleconferences for thousands of employees in a geographically dispersed, multiunit enterprise:

What is the role of observable … boundaries (i.e. business unit, office location, gender and tenure in the firm) between individuals in structuring communications inside the firm?

The salient findings include:

  • The extraordinarily high similarity and parallel relationship between email and face-to-face/social networks within the firm.
  • The striking relationship between e-mail activity and hierarchical level; the average executive (members of the top four salary bands) in the sample sent and received more than twice as many e-mails as the average middle manager who, in turn, sent and received more than twice as many as the average rank-and-file employee.
  • That women, mid- to high- level executives, and members of the executive management, sales and marketing functions are most likely to cross the company’s social structure gaps and participate in cross-group communications.

What we don’t know is whether (and if so the extent to which) other communication/collaboration technologies were available within the firm. Of course the authors warn against generalisations based on results from a single organisation, but given well-known issues associated with email overuse, abstinence from traditional ‘above-the-flow‘ KM/collaboration, and the need for buy-in from management, I think the study supports some principles which can guide behaviour in other instances.

If social tools are thrown into the mix, any adoption strategy should look to the participation of the groups identified above, who are key information/social networking nodes and would be invaluable to any social software pilot. But engaging the high-level executives (in particular) could be a very large mountain to climb. Whilst that group has a considerable amount to gain from ‘above-the-flow’ activities and slight changes to behaviour (like micro-blogging instead of emailing), they usually have well established preferences for face-to-face, email or phone communications, and need to cope with a variety of political/power dynamics. And as for a “they just must” approach with this group: forget it!

Simply articulating the value to be obtained from experience will clearly not be enough, even if people are being given the time to take up the opportunity. Instead, barriers to the participation, reflection and learning processes need to be lowered. Amongst other ways, that can be achieved by giving people the means to capture their thoughts on a platform in a more informal conversational way – whilst they are working (i.e. more ‘in-the-flow’ of daily operations). Whether that be through micro-blogging, sticky notes or commenting, status updates or wall-postings, the process should reflect people’s preferences for technology and communication style. As we are seeing, that means enabling ‘twitter-ing’ quick-fire style exchanges during people’s work, which can be rapidly embellished and/or responded to by others.

And rather than defining the scope of the tools (like “please use this for client and not social purposes”), use tags, aggregators and RSS to manage/channel the flow of content. Having started the debate, McAfee on further reflection notes “… norms and policies might not be the only ways to make a tool like Twitter work well for enterprise purposes”. The idea is to “tag” the tweet, perhaps by prefacing it with characters (like @FM) corresponding to a client or contract. In that way, it would be possible to categorize and organise the flow of information.

In fact, that may be one use case for PagesPlus (which Paolo Valdemarin from Evectors very kindly demostrated to everybody at Headshift yesterday morning!). Since the core of PagesPlus is an aggregator, it can digest any form of RSS/Atom and use tags to organize everything it aggregates. Because the aggregator supports tag schemas not only can it distinguish between a topic-tag and a category-tag, but it also allows you to create your own schemas to address specific needs. With the WYSIWYG application allowing users to easily create content at the front end, it would be a small step to continually auto-save the content and for the system to recommend to the user tags based on an analysis of the text being typed (and other tags applied in the past). That content could be pushed out to the categories and pages corresponding to the tags, and to the users who are subscribing to feeds from those categories.

Essentially, designing the tools around people’s preferred styles of communication and collaboration will help to support behaviour rather than control or mandate it – a poor counterpart. People may then filter content and functionality depending on their style and preferences, and then hook other people and content into the process by creating actions and feeds out of their activity. All up, that approach should help to get people on board and keep them there.

In the same way the famously contrasting perceptions of the nature of organizational communities has animated a great debate in organization theory during the past few decades, so too perhaps will the issues discussed here continue to test knowledge workers. Kleinbaum et al cite the study of Hannan and Freeman (1977), which posed the classic question, why are there so many organizational forms, and DiMaggio and Powell’s (1983) rejoinder, why are there are so few. Likewise, I wonder about the levels of diversity of communication and collaboration actually being facilitated in organisations, and why there aren’t more.

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During my research I found that the majority of wiki implementations have resulted from grass-roots initiatives (67.65% of businesses surveyed), which relied heavily on high levels of grass-roots facilitation and self-learning and motivation to use the wiki. However, 17.82% of survey responses reported no significant wiki growth, with key barriers to use being content maintenance, wikis being too unstructured and appearing chaotic, and lack of integration with other tools. Interestingly, the survey responses also indicated that no content maintenance occured in 18% of cases – a direct reflection of the figure regarding no significant wiki growth.

Given that 47% of the wiki implementations survey were under a year-old, the responses may suggest that people are still discovering their uses, how to integrate them into work processes and existing systems, and how to cope with issues regarding content maintenance. More particularly, whilst the user community in the majority of cases indicated content maintenance was being undertaken, in light of the key barriers noted above, its skill/diligence in doing so may be inadequate, suggesting that even ‘technical users’ may not yet have effectively learnt how to adapt their behaviours and the wiki to best suit their needs. In other words, even people who are highly motivated to self-learn and adopt wikis struggle to maintain the wiki and overcome barriers to its use. Consequently, to overcome these issues and to encourage the spread of best practice in wiki usage throughout the different stages of wiki adoption by different adopter categories, grassroots activity should be balanced with directed usage/active managerial promotion and support.

During my discussion with Ross Mayfield, he considered that a key determinant of wiki’s success is the investment made in up-front ‘training’ of the wiki community, not just regarding technical wiki features but also in the generation of a shared understanding of the practices required to support the collaboration goal (including distributed responsibility for content maintenance) and imbuing those practices in the community. He went on to describe how wiki’s growth and maintenance is inextricably linked to its incremental roll-out to an initial core group, who through such ‘training’ establish how the wiki can be used to best suit their needs and build the community to support that use. That group should then be encouraged to ‘invite’ others to undertake the same process, and so continue the cycle, growing the wiki across the organisation with each group establishing their routines/norms to suit their needs.

Apparent in that process are:

  • elements of grass-roots determinism regarding the wiki’s use so that it best suits people’s everyday needs, and the community practices to be developed to support such needs, coupled with
  • managerial facilitation to assist people’s learning and the spread of such learning.

Euan Semple highlighted another factor to be aware of during that process, namely the importance of engaging a broad cross-section of people who will (voluntarily) fulfill different roles in the wiki “since some people are naturally drawn to create ideas, others to write and some to refactor/garden”.

In summary, managers should be more involved in the adoption and growth of wikis by giving people time to become accustomed to, experiment with, contribute to and maintain the wiki, being responsive/alert to how the wiki should be integrated with work processes and new areas for its use, and leading by example and reminding (e.g. placing information and tasks on the wiki). Consideration should also be given to the benefit of providing initial adaptable structures to guide users and the support/training necessary to encourage people to be responsible for the wiki. In that way, people will be encouraged to capture tacit knowledge (which could be otherwise lost in casual/social problem-solving encounters) that is valuable to them in their everyday tasks and which they care enough about to make it worthwhile maintaining.

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