Following best practices is the royal road to success for a lot of today’s companies. The basic idea behind this approach to management is of course to learn from the best in the business and thus to avoid all the trouble of learning from your own mistakes. No need to get your hands dirty, right?
Unfortunately, the world is just a little more complex than that. Others’ best practices may well work for them, but there is no guarantee that they work for you. On the contrary, it is more likely that they don’t work for you at all. Reasons are easy to come by: Different products, different markets, different organizations, and so on, and so forth.
Instead of doing what others do best, try avoiding what others do worst. It is much more harder to follow best practices than to stay away from worst practices. With respect to managing wikis in organizations, then, here are the top 3 worst practices:
Employee Motivation. Managers keep asking me how they can properly motivate their employees to work with the wiki. Some already tried giving away incentives for edits (”Ten edits for a free cup of coffee, a thousand for a trip to Vegas!”), others make writing a part of employees’ workload (”A thousand edits by the end of the year and you’ll be fine!”). I always answer them with a counter question: Why do you have to motivate your employees at all? My point is to give your employees the benefit of the doubt. They don’t need extra motivation to work with the wiki as long as they see a benefit in using it.
The Purpose. What’s the purpose of the wiki? There is no more central question that managers have to answer before they go about telling someone from IT to install a wiki for all other employees (and not just the nerds in IT who had a perfectly running wiki for years). So, what is the purpose of your wiki? Say it in one sentence, even one word, I dare you. If you cannot answer in simple words such as “software documentation,” “to-do lists,” or “project notes,” then you may need to rethink you mission statement (you have a mission statement, don’t you?). The purpose of the wiki directly translates into the benefit that, ultimately, employees see in using the wiki.
Management. Yes, that’s right, management is the worst practice of them all. A wiki is a highly democratic medium. There is no easier way of killing it than imposing layers and layers of management upon it. Avoid managing your employees’ interest by making them “page patrons” or the like (so that each employee is responsible for some particular page or pages). If they are experts in some field, they will want to pass on their knowledge in one way or another. And if you can’t get some of them to put down what they know on a wiki page, well, maybe then a wiki is not the right way to do it (try making an interview-type podcast, most experts just love to talk about their work). Instead of putting up roles and rules, think of irritating a wiki by introducing a code of conduct (but be sure to put it in the wiki itself).
These are certainly the worst practices for managing wikis in organizations that we came across in our research. There are others, of course. And maybe even best practices, who knows.