Saturday, July 9, 2011

Lessons from Wikipedia for Knowledge Management in Enterprises

I have experienced Wikipedia for at least 4 years and Wikis used in enterprises for about 4 years. I have thought about what each one can offer the other for achieving the respective goals. I presented about how PM practices can help Wikipedia projects in Wikimania 2010. In this blogpost, I consider what enterprises can learn from Wikipedia, which celebrated its tenth anniversary worldwide in January 2011.

Enterprises started exploring use of Wikis as a  Knowledge Management tool for over 5 years.  The idea that anyone can contribute to knowledge base attracted lot of attention and Wikis were setup by an enlightened IT organisation working with a business unit. Awareness was created among the employees and they are asked to help improve the Wikis. While there is rapid growth in terms of users, articles, initially and few success stories, the same is usually not sustained for more than 1-2 years.

Let's look at what hinders the continued growth of Enterprise Wikis.
*Structure: Enterprises despite claims of flat organisation are hierarchically organized in running projects. Projects are typically run again in hierarchical form with limited sharing of information and that also at a predetermined review interval. Wikis have been primarily deployed as a communication tool to share the updates and the responsibility is given to Project Manager or PMO. So the involvement of the team in  contributing to the Wiki is not sustained.
*Nature of contributors: Anonymous contributions discouraged. 
*Workload on project team: Expectation from project team  in term of deliverables and conforming to the organisation process leaves  little time for the team members to contribute to Wiki.
* Organisation usually has some other web based tools  to capture input and process it in a structured manner. Wiki  does not get used  where it is best suited to gather inputs from everybody and engage them.

*The feeling of Experts that by  sharing  expertise through KM, their worth is  devalued is not countered.
*Employees do not expect to see life time employment with the enterprise and so hesitate to contribute wholeheartedly to the initiative.
*Goals for deploying Wiki are not tracked through appropriate measures. So users do not normally get to see the usage metrics of Wiki pages.

On the other hand if you look at Wikipedia, users  contribute anonymously or under a psuedo name on their areas of interest. Few people interested in a particular area engage vigorously to improve articles or create new articles. Though the pace of progress could be slow, the outcome is good.  Wikipedia has become the fifth largest in terms of page views among all internet sites and first in terms of not for profit sites. Metrics in terms of active editors and page views are regularly shared which motivates contributors.

When we analyze the differences, we can see that Wikipedia grows as it is focused on capturing explicit knowledge rather than creating new knowledge. Even a school student can add content after understanding the policies. Enterprise KM Systems on the other hand are actually trying to capture tacit knowledge and hence  receive secondary treatment as the first priority is given to structured documents required as per process.

To improve Wiki as Enterprise KM tool which can improve collaboration, reduce communication gaps apart from capturing Knowledge, it is essential that  employees understand Wiki concept well. As an example innovation, bottoms up strategy development initiatives can be suitable for Enterprise Wikis as the entire organisation can participate on a single topic. Employees need to be encouraged to contribute to  public Wikipedia for part of time or during their personal time as relevant with proper guidance, so that employees can continue to imbibe the spirit of knowledge sharing from Wikipedia and its practices and apply  the same as appropriate for Enterprise initiatives.

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