The oddest thing I’ve ever seen, really, is when folks ask for collaboration, but then create a process based on heirarchy and closed-door deals.  I see it in nearly every team I work with or on with one exception.  I guess I’m just ‘sold’ on the Web 2.0 stuff, especially Wiki, which I discovered about five years ago and immediately fell in love with.

The point of the wiki is not to oppose heirarchical control, but to augment it.  Heirarchies are really good at making decisions stick.  One person is accountable.  That is very necessary.  On the other hand, they are pretty bad at getting data to flow upstream, which means that the decisions are not always based on the best information.  Decisions are the ultimate GIGO exercise.  If you don’t have the best information, you can’t make the best decisions (excluding lucky choices).

The one exception I mentioned is for the dev team on the project I’m working on.  They are beginning to ‘get’ wiki (after I’ve foisted a couple of wiki’s on them).  It takes time, and trust, to allow others to edit your ideas.  It also takes a certain culture of respect.  That said, wiki sites are fairly good at things like “roll back changes” so if one person provides a comment that someone else doesn’t like, it vanishes.  In order to keep it from vanishing, the original author can come back and just retype, but what usually happens is that the original author returns and writes something a little more “well thought out” and a little less “divisive.” 

That kind of ‘group feedback to the individual’ is pretty cool, and I don’t know of many other places where it works in a business setting, especially for IT folks.  We are used to taking pride in being technically correct even if it is difficult for others to hear.  Making your message palatable is a hard lesson for some folks, but a necessary one, and the Wiki serves as a good ground for that.

So the next time someone suggests that you write up your practices, your standards, or even your project documentation, consider using a Wiki.  If you don’t have one, get one.  They are free.  Sharepoint has one.  There are dozens of different shareware wikis, at least a couple for every platform.  They are not good for documents that capture ‘agreements’ but for everything else, they are a great way to change the way we communicate.


By Nick Malik

Former CIO and present Strategic Architect, Nick Malik is a Seattle based business and technology advisor with over 30 years of professional experience in management, systems, and technology. He is the co-author of the influential paper "Perspectives on Enterprise Architecture" with Dr. Brian Cameron that effectively defined modern Enterprise Architecture practices, and he is frequent speaker at public gatherings on Enterprise Architecture and related topics. He coauthored a book on Visual Storytelling with Martin Sykes and Mark West titled "Stories That Move Mountains".

2 thoughts on “Relinquish control… trust the Wiki”
  1. We’ve recently started using SharePoint for architecture collaboration, and I’ve been considering publishing wikis so that the architecture community can collaborate on integration patterns and architecture roadmaps.  As chief architect, I thought that I would put out a strawman "outline" of what patterns I thought we needed and what I thought the big architectural imperatives might be (e.g. separate our intranet into a B2E portal for employees and B2B portal for suppliers), and then let the architecture community fill in the details.  I also started a blog where I share my take on some of the corporate cultural and political issues affecting the architects.  Do you think using a wiki to create a roadmap will actually work?

  2. Yes, I do think it will work, but you will have to ‘move’ people out of their comfort zone to get it to grow, especially if no one else is used to using it.  That means recognizing folks who contribute to the wiki (my current favorite idea: every three months, random drawing for a prize to all who contributed in a material way).

    The challenge for a roadmap is that it may require an agreement.  At the point where you are ready to pull an agreement out of a wiki, put it into a word document or a PDF and get folks to formally accept it in some way.  The agreement part is not condusive to the notion of ‘flexible content’.

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