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Kick-Butt Organizational Knowledge Sharing

Your company is the model tech startup, creative agency, or even tech giant. The work hours are flexible, the breakroom has healthy food options, teams are empowered to do everything short of selling the company outright, and most of your office real estate is now devoted to helping the creative processes develop. There is so much creativity and energy bursting from the place that it now powers the ceiling lights.

Now what if your team was abducted by aliens in the middle of the night? And what if after the abduction was complete the aliens accidentally set their Memory-B-Gone™ ray to 5 years instead of 5 hours? How far would this set you back?

We asked ourselves this question at Tilted Pixel and we didn't like the answer...

Sure, our source code, design files, client databases and so on would be in tact. But we realized that we also carry around a lot of work information in that spongey stuff between our ears. Information like:

  • Sending out our email newsletter.
  • How the project management processes work.
  • How to solve _______ problem in the build process.
  • Which open source libraries we've standardized on using.
  • How to make a new release of the Platform.
  • How the heck to order office supplies.

This information is incredibly useful, sometimes critical, but it gets lost or becomes inaccessible all the time. Not because of alien attacks, but because people leave, or forget things, or because no one knows that '\\Files\Admin\Misc\Admin Assistant Job Manual v5 Final.docx' exists.

Michael Gerber's E-Mythadvocates the creation of processes as vital to creating a sustainable and scaleable business. This can't be done if knowledge is constantly leaking away, or siloed away where people who need it can't get at it.

How We Solved the Problem: We Installed a Wiki

A wiki is simply a set of web pages that anyone can edit and add to freely (and do so easily). The largest example is of course Wikipedia, the internet encyclopedia that has been collectively written by tens of thousands of people and which can be added to and changed by anyone with internet access. However anyone can start a wiki using wiki software if they care to, and thousands exist around the internet on various topics and running on various wiki software.

Anyone that works for Tilted Pixel has full unrestricted access to the entire contents of this wiki, to read it, edit it, add to it, and to do so without fear of "doing it wrong". Everyone has access to and can contribute their knowledge in areas such as:

  • Documentation on operational processes, from how to launch a new website to billing procedures to how the monthly coffee gets ordered. We learn it once, then we document it.
  • Links to tricks and discoveries that would otherwise never be captured, such as solutions to technical problems encountered before, links to really useful online resources, and even notes on a particular client's server configuration.
  • Employee handbook, company policies, benefits information, etc all exist as wiki pages.
  • Random tidbits of knowledge everyone working for us needs to know, such as links to the cloud services we use.
  • Our marketing strategy, competitive advantages, long-term company vision, "who the heck we are and what our brand stands for".

Here are our wiki guidelines (which themselves are a wiki page) reproduced verbatim:

Tilted Pixel Wiki Guidelines

1. Share your knowledge!

The main point of the wiki is information sharing within Tilted Pixel, "organizational learning" if you will. If you find a cool article, solve a difficult problem in the Platform, come up with a cool CSS hack, etc, there's a place in the Wiki to share it. If there's not make one. This is definitely a 100% team effort, because everyone here has unique knowledge and perspectives.

2. Try to keep the organization tidy/consistent.

Put a little thought into where your addition should go. Wherever there is already an existing way of doing things on a Wiki page, or an existing category where your information goes, stay consistent to that. It won't do anyone any good if all our awesome IE 6 tricks require 10 different navigation paths through the wiki to access. But don't feel too much pressure either, we can always re-organize if an area outgrows itself or we think if a better way to organize it better.

3. Don't get us sued.

Don't post anything that would violate the law, normal workplace rules or could get us in serious trouble if it did somehow leak (eg "Client XYZ is sooo stupid" - however stupid that client may be, how smart are you by posting that?). If you obey that rule wholeheartedly, you should be fine.

Key Principles for Building a Success Organizational Knowledge Wiki

The wiki started as an experiment back in 2011. It now has 160 articles and 1011 revisions, with significant contributions from each person on the Tilted Pixel team (including those who are no longer at Tilted Pixel).

Along the way we have learned a few things:

Principle #1: The Wiki Must Be Democratic

Organization information systems can be easily strangled by bureaucracy. I won't name names, but lets just say I've seen it a lot.

There are gatekeepers, approvals, and forms to fill out. All in the name of a sterile environment with editorial consistency, 100% accuracy, and perfect structure. This is wrong, wrong, wrong. Each restriction created is a 10 foot tall flaming barrier guarded by ill-tempered dogs. Edits now take a long time (see principle 2), each change is scrutinized by a human (see principle 3), and contributing becomes time-consuming and wearisome.

Instead anyone at Tilted Pixel has free reign over the wiki, including information not the least bit related to his or her job. If you're on payroll, you're a user on the wiki. There is no approval process, and unless you intentionally vandalize the wiki or break our three guideliness, there are no reprimands, rejected contributions, or micro meddling.

Principle #2: Editing the Wiki Must Have Low Barriers to Entry

The wiki must be easily accessible to be usable, not some complicated web address that no one even remembers. Ours is built directly into a set of other intranet tools, making it highly visible as part of the navigation we see all the time.

The actual editing process is very straightforward. We purposefully opted to use our own stripped down wiki software to avoid a complex learning curve or excessive features.

Principle #3: Editing the Wiki Must Be a Safe Activity

Psychological safety in an organization is important and this translates to the wiki. Specifically anyone must be able to make a contribution, without their contribution being subject to strict scrutiny and management. We have very simple guidelines, beyond which contributing is a free-for-all. The more control, editing, and (heaven forbid) rejection, the greater the psychological risk of making a contribution.

Principle #4: Contribution Must Be Encouraged and Recognized

Contributing to the wiki should be viewed as a quality use of time and the people who contribute must be recognized not just by management but by their peers. Who doesn't like credit for their work? But a wiki is information-heavy, contains many levels of content, and any single page can have contributions from multiple authors. It's therefore important to make sure that individual contribution does not get lost in the way. We are continuing to experiment on how to better recognize individuals that contribute, in an automated and fair fashion.

Our biggest breakthrough has also been dead simple. A right-hand sidebar exists on every single Tilted Pixel wiki page. This sidebar lists the total number of articles and revisions (which quantifies for everyone the growth of the wiki, in real-time). This is followed by the 25 latest edits, their authors, and the date of the edit. This makes it really easy to see who has been updating the wiki lately, as well as drawing attention to new content (again, it's easy for information to get buried under many levels, and we want new work to get read).

Principle #5: The Wiki Must Become Engrained as THE Source of Company Knowledge

The best way to keep the wiki from drifting into obscurity is by making sure that the information it contains is actually important to the day-to-day completion of your work. We all have good intentions, but life tends to get in the way. If the wiki is not essential, it will (quite rightfully) get forgotten.

Processes, job manuals, core contact information, and other key references should be part of the wiki, and other copies removed. Everyone in the company must know that documentation is supposed to be created in the wiki, and gently asked to put it in if they forget and deliver it as something else (like a Word document).

Note: not all information is suitable to be included in a wiki. Sometimes it's meant to be restricted, sometimes the wiki is the wrong format. In those cases, the wiki can however still point people to where that information can be found.

Creating Your Own Wiki

Tilted Pixel customers are welcome to contact us about integrating a wiki into their own website.

If you are not a Tilted Pixel customer or otherwise insist on different software, that's cool too. The most well known wiki software is MediaWiki, on which Wikipedia is based. However its power also makes it very complex to edit and use, so be prepared to train staff and to go through the process of configuring it properly. If you prefer, check out WikiMatrix for a really detailed listing and comparision of many other wiki products.

wiki

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Aug 14, 2013 by: Jason

Great way of framing the issue, being abducted by aliens and definitely something I'll be thinking about over the next few months and how organizational knowledge is retained/transferred.

Aug 14, 2013 by: Kornel

Excellent article Matt! It's great to see Tilted Pixel not only design great websites, but also provide some great value to make organizations more productive and collaborative as well. I'm looking forward to trying this at my company.

Thanks again, and I look forward to reading more of your articles in the future.

Kornel

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