Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Wiki Wiki Wiki @ Work

I have to admit that last week, I hit a critical point at which I started to get fed up with excessive amounts of process on my team at Microsoft. Each of my teammates and I were asked to create a bunch of Microsoft Word documents following a certain format and naming convention, then upload them to a certain location, at which point they would be consolidated, reviewed, cross-referenced with a complex Excel spreadsheet, used for 2 months, then more or less kicked to the curb. I also felt the work was a repeat of other work we'd spent several months doing last Summer.

Sooo, I found myself pondering... how was I going to rebel and crush this process like a tin can before it ruined my next 2 weeks... and then it hit me! A Wiki! Back at the University of Michigan, I had set one up for a small class of about 10 students taught by Elliot Soloway. We used it for everything! So easy, so informal, so little process... it's also one of the reasons we all know and love Wikipedia!

So I started looking around Microsoft for Wiki solutions. The first I found was FlexWiki (and who says Microsoft hates open source!). It was okay, but didn't have all the bells and whistles that enterprise software requires. Then I remembered hearing about blog and wiki support in the next version of SharePoint (cool Channel9 video here). I did a little digging, and found out that we did indeed have a Dogfooding effort in effect. It took me all of about 5 minutes to set up a new Wiki (with proper permissions/restrictions and all) for my team.

When I raised the idea in my team meeting, I wasn't sure whether or not it would take. People usually fear change, and in the case of a Wiki, fear giving up control. Boy was I wrong! As soon as people started using this thing, it spread like wildfire. It's gotten to the point where we use the Wiki instead of email to have discussions. Hah. Now, instead of writing big Microsoft Word documents, we're jotting down notes left and right on a set of easily moldable dynamic web pages. Of course, we still use Word (and SharePoint's doc library) for official, version-controlled specs and other documents of an official nature (especially if we need to share them outside of our team and/or the company). But for the day-to-day stuff, the Wiki may be transforming the way we work.

So, mad props to the SharePoint team for their Wiki (and blog!) functionality in the next version of SharePoint. It's looking great, and I have no doubt that customers are gonna love it.


Zoli Erdos said...

Adam, you sooooooooooo don't belong in the large corporate world :-)

Zoli Erdos said...

btw., I meant that as a compliment...

adamjh said...

Haha. You're probably right.

Nathan said...


I'm forcing a blog down folks' throats over here for those conversations that seem to be had every month with a slightly different set of folks. Glad to see my manager and I are not the only folks crazy enough to try this 'newfangled' blog and wiki beta technology ;)

Ed Kohler said...

That sounds like a move in the right direction. Do you have any tips on how you managed to get people to adapt to using the Wiki? Was everyone familiar with what a Wiki is? If not, how did you get that concept across to them?

adamjh said...

Hey Ed - Great blog! (Subscribed!)

Not everyone on my team was familiar with what a Wiki is. The best way to get the concept across was "think Wikipedia, but about all things <our product>".

Believe me, people were skeptical. It's one thing to build an encyclopedia, it's another to use a Wiki (or a blog) as a development/collaboration tool.

One of the things that the SharePoint Wiki has going for it is lack of a steep learning curve. The wysiwyg editing interface really helps. So after a few hours of playing around, it seems that the biggest concerns people had weren't at all related to learning a new tool, but rather about maintaining order and organization (a problem Wikipedia faces too!).

Hope this helps!

Ed Kohler said...

Yep, that helps a lot. My biggest concern with this type of application is the lack of group participation I'm anticipate.

The WYSIWYG interface sounds like a great feature. That definitely would lower the bar.

Thanks for the follow-up, and thanks for subscribing to our blog.