Your own Wiki?
Recently we have installed a wiki in our office, which is something that I have wanted for the longest time. If your company does not already have this option, consider talking them into doing it. There are a lot of uses for a wiki, in the office.
The Lab Notebook
One great use is to document the progress of a project. This is essentially at 21st C. lab notebook. You can embed photos, videos, even audio files. It is an easy way of organizing your work. As you work through a design, creating a well-organized set of wiki pages allows you to document what you have done in the order you have done them. You can show your progress to your team members and to your management or to your customers. When you complete the project, you can easily create the documentation you need right from the wiki. In a year, when you need another widget, you can hand off the wiki to someone that did not work on the project and they will be up to speed in no time.
Processes and procedures
When you do something every day you get to the point where you do it without even thinking about what you are doing. In that case, it is not necessary for you to refer to a wiki page to instruct yourself how to do that task. However, consider the following two cases: 1) You do a task once a year. 2) You get a new hire or would like to delegate a task to someone who has either never done it before, or only does it every once in a while, and so is not as familiar with it as you are. Now you can sit down and explain it to them, and then field the dozen or so questions when they get stuck and don’t know what to do or you can point them at the wiki-page that explains how to do the task, has clear diagrams or photos or even a video showing the task being done. Now that is a very clear explanation of how to do something.
Tools you will need
One of the things I hate about doing infrequent tasks is gathering up all the tools I will need to do the task. One of the powerful features of using an internal wiki, is that you can create a table that lists all the tools you will need to complete the task. You go gather them up, refresh yourself on the procedure and get-er-done.
Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s)
The idea that you have a central location where you keep all your SOP’s, or even that you should have an SOP may be a novel idea. I have worked in many places that did not use them. Tribal knowledge was strong. It is great if you have a strong team that knows what to do, how to do it and when to do it. What causes problems is when Sarah gets promoted to management, because she is an excellent performer and will do great things for the company, and someone must backfill her position. Now the tasks that she performed with ease, in fact the tasks that she optimized (which is probably what got her promoted in the first place) are now being done by someone who has no clue how to do them. What do they do? They go to Sarah who is trying to get up to speed on a whole set of tasks that she is not comfortable with and is constantly being pulled back into the position she just vacated. This is not efficient.
The Kingdom is Mine!
I understand that many employees may not want to write up a procedure that explains what they do every day and how to do it efficiently. Those documents might lead to them being replaced. They want to keep the knowledge to themselves so their job is secure. I have a lot of replies to that kind of kingdom building, none of them are very nice.
From the employee perspective. If the company you are working for is so short sighted that they would let a great employee go who is a demonstrated producer, someone who is organized, efficient and open about what they do and how they do it, someone always willing to help co-workers succeed, then you really should not fear getting let go. What you should be doing is looking for another company to work for.
From the company/managers point of view. This is in your best interest to have this information for smooth and efficient operation of your company. Don’t use it to replace your employees. Why? See above.
What you get from having a wiki containing the best way of doing things, is not a whip to control and manipulate your employees, but rather grease that makes the system work smoothly. Having said that, if I had an employee who refused to do this I would let them know it is a job requirement. If they continued not to comply then I would have found a bit of sand in my gear train. Left unattended, it will be my fault as a manager when things don’t work well in my company.
The benefits of a high fiber diet
I have probably approached this discussion backwards. I have seen people refuse to participate in such a program, I have seen managers pull the rug out from under people because they could. What I am not portraying well is how it should work.
Let’s go back to Sarah. In her company the employees are team players. They work together so they can succeed together. They have a well written wiki, that documents difficult and routine tasks. When new employees come in they quickly and easily adapt to the company’s procedures because the resources to do so are readily available to them. When Sarah got promoted, she did not have her replacement constantly in her new office, frustrated and lost, because Sarah had prepared the next employee by writing good, clear SOP’s.
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