Scale up to move up

I just finished working on a project for a large pharmaceutical company, looking to tap into the power of the crowds (The Wisdom of Crowds type of thing crossed with wiki power). The idea was to create a proof of concept to make it easy to bring on new staff members faster than traditional ways. Think about it: How long does it take a new employee at your company to "figure things out" so they can work smarter, faster, and effectively? How do these new people learn about the "culture" in which they must operate? In most places, in the time honored fashion, these stories are shared at the proverbial water cooler by those people that may or may not have the best stories or their facts straight.

Utilizing the Mediawiki software, the project put in place a system that had some of the following goals: 1) get some initial content that would gain enough interest to readers, 2) recruit 20 to 50 people to organize and use the 'Pedia (loosely named after Wikipedia as the well known repository of information) 3) recruit about 5 to 10 working groups to utilize the 'Pedia for new staff members as they came on board. Some other less tangible goals: generate buzz and coolness thru constant word of mouth interactions, observe how people react and utilize the 'Pedia, and see if there are other possible uses of participatory software like wikis.

This project would considered an "under the radar" project: little money, no official support, second hand computing hardware, no formal "approved" multi-page business case.

Some of the results in running this projects: While there was resistance, there was also strong interest in the idea of participatory software at all levels of the company. After the first two months, the interest was stronger than the resistance, which allowed for some dollars to fund bringing on line more wiki sites.

Interestingly, the most compelling part (to the company users at large) of the project turned out to be seeing wikis in action, demonstrating functionality that no other "official" corporate platform was providing.

Outside IT support was helpful in establishing 7 or 8 more wiki bases but that resource was not geared to support much more than that. Additionally, the new wiki base users were asking questions on how to modify the wiki pages to fit their needs. Suddenly, the proof of concept infrastructure was starting to turn into an full production system. The scale up needed to turn the proof of concept to a large scale system was not in place. The interest was stronger than anticipated.

The dilemma for all proofs of concepts: the pressure to translate into functional scaled systems after initial success. Scaling needs to be considered but strong leadership is required to ensure the balance is in place to keep the masses from pushing for immediate scale-up before the proof of concept has enough data.


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