Good morning, my name is Bret Tushaus and I from Eppstein Uhen Architects, a 100 person architectural firm headquartered in Milwaukee Wisconsin. And I am here to ask you if you would like a wiki for your thoughts. This is a story of how my firm found a way to help destroy some of the silos of information that existed within the organization.
Imagine if you will a company of 100 people – 100 brains, 100 opinions equating to thousands of different experiences and vast array of knowledge and expertise. Each person with their own valuable insight that when aggregated could be extremely powerful. But therein lies the problem, this vast array of knowledge was not nearly as collective as it needed to be to harness that power.
Instead much of each of these person’s valuable knowledge was contained within their own silo, if you will. Separate and disconnected from the knowledge and experience of their colleagues. In most cases these silos of information were not easily accessible by outsiders, because we rarely knew what colleague’s silos contained nor were we able to see any relationships between the various silos.
This knowledge covered everything from the maintenance of a client relationship to construction technology. And to further complicate things each of these silos managed the information it contained in different ways. Some of it simply stored in the brains and minds of all these people, some stored in computer files for software applications like Word, Excel or Outlook. Some as hand written notes or some on the web.
The only thing all of this information had in common was that it could not be shared in an effective way. This challenge of silos of information is not new, I am sure we are familiar with it at our own organizations. We all share a common goal of creating a single silo of organizational knowledge, and we understand how significant of an asset such a creation would be.
Technology, of course, is undoubtedly the solution to this problem…right? So the IT group in my firm developed a fairly sophisticated Microsoft Access application that consisted of a lessons learned database that could be used by everyone. This lessons learned database would become that single silo of organizational knowledge. You know what…it failed.
With that failure in mind, our IT group when back to the drawing board and realized that the Microsoft Access interface did not provide the front end necessary for the lessons learned database to be effective. So they created a similar solution but this was an integrated part of our intranet and became a frequently asked questions portal that would become that single silo of knowledge. You know what…it also failed.
Again the IT group went back to the drawing board and tried to get away from the database concept and introduced a solution that was more accessible and perhaps a bit more mainstream. It was a corporate blog and the IT department asked everyone to start blogging about their experiences and knowledge. Again, hoping this would become the single silo of organization knowledge. You know what…it failed.
Now what do I mean when I say these solutions failed? Technologically these attempts were slam dunks, but that wasn’t enough. Each one of these solutions was introduced and championed by this guy, otherwise known as me, and as a result became immediately tainted as technology solutions to technology problems. I failed to understand that to make these concepts resonate with the masses, a different approach was required.
And that’s when I thought it might be time to give up. Until these guys came along and made me recognize that this was not a technology problem and the way to approach it and be effective was by using the power of the people. These guys were a group of people from our healthcare studio that approached me with a need, and more importantly, a real desire to manage all the knowledge their studio was trying to cultivate.
This group wanted to find a way to start rounding up all of this information into a single silo and the circumstances within their studio, that is the complexity required within their projects, was creating a real business need. As a result, a grass roots initiative was born based on the desire to manage knowledge. Best of all, our IT group was not going to have to champion this one.
This group of knowledge management pioneers combined with the familiarity and power represented by the web 2.0 movement, for the first time created an opportunity to be successful with a knowledge management initiative. And it would be championed and managed by this knowledge management team. And with that, the concept of a corporate wiki within our firm was born.
Would this be another lessons learned database or blog like solution? Technologically, perhaps it was but this time it was championed by the same people that wanted to use it. The mantra was for the people by the people. And the mission statement or goal of this group became “create a dynamic knowledge network that supports a culture of knowledge sharing through interactivity”.
Thereafter the knowledge management team led the effort with me providing logistical support. Their first task was to understand and come up with ways to mitigate the challenges commonly associated with wikis. The KM team then presented the concept to our management group to get their support. And then the team decided on the best wiki platform and started creating that first batch of content.
Determining the wiki platform was a big step in this process and this too was lead by the knowledge management team themselves. It was crucial that the platform that was settled on was user friendly and something that made it easy for people to contribute. All in all we looked at 8 different platforms, and live-tested 4 with real content, ultimately deciding on SharePoint.
Next the team trained the rest of the firm by attending departmental meetings and creating a wiki tutorial page that was clear and concise. The knowledge management team then seeded the content by engaging various people throughout the firm and asking them to create wiki pages for specific topics. To help encourage contributions we also created some metrics that were visible for everyone to see.
The early results are good even though you must understand we are only about 10 months into this effort formally. The wiki has been growing steadily and these are some examples of what it contains knowledge on. Construction composition techniques, building technology, building products, construction detailing, and even personal pages for each of our employees.
And the metrics tell the results of the story as well. As of this screenshot we have 159 unique wiki pages with 52 people contributing. And the activity still remains fairly consistent today. These may not seem like huge numbers, but given the previous false starts and failures in this realm I consider it a success and I am excited about where this can go.
And from my perspective it is fairly clear as to why this is working. The idea was not presented as a technology initiative by a IT person. Instead, this effort was initiated by those that were going to use it. They made the decisions, they drove it and championed it and continue to do so today. It was this group of knowledge management pioneers that really made the difference.
So are the silos destroyed? It is too early to say they are destroyed, but I can say they are starting to crumble. We fully realize we have ways to go. But for the first time in my experience there is been good consistent progress in trying to create a single silo of organizational knowledge. So my question to all of you is, could your organization benefit from a wiki for its thoughts.
A Wiki For Your Thoughts A Grassroots Effort to Destroy Silos