Dos and Don'ts for Managing IT Projects With Wikis

Wikis are deceptively easy to use and install, so are nowadays found in all sorts of IT departments, especially as quick and simple project management organizers.

Although wikis are used mainly as project management tool, says Stewart Mader, principal at the GrowYourWiki consultancy, they can provide other advantages as well, such as in customer/client collaboration, documentation, and developing an online community.

However you use them -- as a lightweight project manager or as a document repository and knowledge management database -- Mader warns that you should know how to use them to their best effect.

Wikis Can Be a Challenge for IT to Manage

Dell subsidiary Dell MessageOne, which offers Internet-provisioned disaster recovery, e-mail archiving, business continuity, and emergency notification, uses wikis throughout the company for project management as well as for the dissemination of companywide information.

Dell has found that the use of wikis in areas other than project management can lead to IT playing "whack a mole," says Scott Griffin, a product manager. "Everyone is putting in data," says Griffin, and keeping it organized is at least a part-time if not a full-time IT job. "You end up in a mess," says Griffin. Furthermore, the information is often added to wikis but not deleted when no longer relevant or accurate or updated when changed, he notes.

Within IT, Griffin says wikis work well to keep things organized, because version control is their forte.

Wikis Can Be a Challenge for Users to Learn

Although it's easy to set up wikis, it's not always so easy for users to take advantage of them. "Wiki platforms have a bit of a learning curve. You have to dig in to learn how to use it. It can turn people off," says Brady Brim-DeForest, treasurer of Data Portability, a nonprofit organization focused on making data portable among various systems.

At software development firm Globant, infrastructure manager Pablo Villareal says that most wikis aren't as polished as an intranet site managed by a collaboration tool such as Microsoft SharePoint. So for nontech workers, using wikis does require upfront training. "SharePoint is cute to use, and all users have at some point used Word or PowerPoint, so it is easier for them than a wiki," he says. Still, Villareal notes that despite wikis' rough user interfaces, it took the company's finance staff just a half hour of training to get started with them.

Wikis Help Share Information, Not Manage Projects

Although wikis aid in project management, they don't actually provide tools for project management, notes Mike Schultz, president of Topcoder, an independent application development company that uses wikis extensively for its distributed group of software engineers. He finds that wikis offer an excellent way to manage documents, but they aren't a good source control mechanism.

"A wiki is good for search. But if I am involved with you on a project, I don't care about search. I want to know what is assigned to me," says Mark Mader, CEO of SmartSheet.com, an on-demand provider of project collaboration software. If a member of a project group has 10 things to do, a wiki is not the tool that will tell that person the next step, he notes.

Globant's Villarreal says wikis are ideal if you work in a company with, say, 30 or 40 engineers and you want that knowledge to be fully documented and available to everyone. But wikis aren't appropriate if your engineers all want to have control over the knowledge, he adds.

And it's critical to think through the information organization that your wiki will use before you deploy it, Villareal advises: Everyone must be on the same page in developing the criteria used to organize information. But he says that step is often neglected in a wiki's deployment.

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