Not Everything Needs to Be a Document: Using Wikis, Activities and Forums
Does your organization squirrel away documents until it gets out of control?
Historically office documents have been overused in organizations as a default method of documenting information. However this does not need to be the case. With new collaboration tools, we can find better ways to collaborate.
Why so many documents are created ?
When business users don’t have a system in place for a process or type of information, they won’t wait for one. They will, by default, use applications on which they can be self-sufficient and accomplish the task they need to accomplish now, without delay.
Because of the complete ubiquity of documents, spreadsheets and presentation files, virtually every knowledge worker has skills, spreadsheets and presentation files are the go-to format for creating and managing information when there isn’t an agreed upon system for unstructured or semi-structured information. People will always default to them because they have control over the creation of the content. This isn’t really in dispute. Content can be created and formatted by an individual using office file formats. The problem occurs when we extend the scenario from an individual to the team.
Why is it problematic that business workers store so much information in office documents?
If documents are stored in shared folders on a network, storage in a unified manner that is convenient and productive for the workforce is a lost cause. We have yet to meet a customer whose primary file storage is shared folders on a network file server and whose workforce feels positive about their file server. The conversation usually starts with “You have no idea how crazy our file storage is. We had these meetings to agree on folder structure we would all follow, but as soon as we walked out the door the wheels fell off and the file server got crazy again”.
The outcomes are that team members cannot effectively share and find the information they need. They resort to acting like squirrels who “squirrel away” nuts (documents) “just in case’ and the reason for this behaviour is that they don’t trust the team’s versioning or storage practices. It gets even worse when employees begin emailing files to each other. The end state is that files are stored in multiple redundant network locations, in employee’s personal network folders, on their local hard drives, in their email mailboxes, or worse, in personal file sync and share products under consumer accounts.
How do workforces first approach the problem created by the preponderance of office documents?
When the realization is reached that network shared folders aren’t working, organizations often seek a better way to manage their documents. They fail to realize that they are treating a symptom.
A Better Way: STOP making office files for everything and consider social application alternatives.
When you adopt a social business platform as part of your Connected Collaboration strategy, you gain access to social applications that are a better way to author much of your unstructured and semi-structured information.
Forum: The Question / The Discussion
When the point is to ask a question to the team, to solicit the feedback of others in an open-ended manner, or otherwise spur a conversation that isn’t aligned to a specific deliverable or artifact, and isn’t to discuss work tasks and timing, a Forum is often the right choice. If you have specific expectations that others will take specific actions on things, look at an Activity instead.
Wiki: The Answer
When the usage is information capture and sharing, the wiki is very often the right tool. We like to say that the wiki is the answer. When all the reader cares
about is the answer, she should look first to the wiki. We will talk primarily about Wikis as the preferred tool for the balance of this article.
Activity: The Work
As indicated under Forum, the typical litmus test for an activity is passed when you expect others to take specific actions on things, especially if there is an associated date expectation.
Most office documents that are avoided via social business applications are displaced by wikis.
- Most of the time you don’t need to.
- When something needs very intense formatting, that is sometimes a good use for an office document or even another more visual format like a publishing format, diagram tool, or presentation tool. That’s reasonable.
- When you are in receipt of the complete file in an office format, upload it into the pertinent community within your social business platform in order to share it with others on the team, and move on with your life, unless the document is really simple and can be copied and pasted into a wiki.
The conclusion: STOP before you make another office document.
Truly, not everything needs to be the birth of yet another office document.
Before you make every office document, stop and ask if its purpose can be accomplished with a wiki instead. Your team will thank you of you stop, and create your content using social applications in a thoughtful manner. You will thank yourself when you can actually find and navigate the content yourself at a later date. Most importantly, your team and yourself will achieve material savings in time, and avoid wasted effort.
When should you make office documents or other files?