Do's and don'ts for managing IT projects with wikis

Wikis are a simple technology for managing information -- but used simplistically, they can do more harm than good

MediaWiki is a popular open source wiki and is used for WikiPedia

MediaWiki is a popular open source wiki and is used for WikiPedia

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.

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