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Collaboration Through Wikis at Hicks Morley

By Heather Colman, Published on January 29, 2009

As a KM specialist at Hicks Morley, my primary role is to develop better, more efficient solutions for managing and sharing work knowledge and product. When I joined the firm in April 2007, lawyers were extremely reliant on email to find information that resided in many different places including the Shared Drive, Lotus Notes Inboxes, the Research database and on the firm’s Intranet. The firm did not have a document management system, and documents were stored in personal folders on the Shared Drive. The Intranet was published centrally using Dreamweaver, which was installed on only a few desktops at the firm. Searching for a particular piece of information was cumbersome, and information was buried in the various repositories. The quickest way to find information was to send out an email request to all lawyers and wait for a response.

Wikis were an ideal solution because they are quick and easy to set up, require very little IT support, and could serve as central repositories. They offer search capability, email, RSS notifications for the tech savvy lawyer, and the ability to create a taxonomy of subject tags to classify information which appealed to our knowledge management group. Additionally, many wiki vendors, such as PBwiki and Jive Clearspace, offer free accounts where you can test and evaluate their product.

Hicks Morley ended up choosing Domino Wiki, primarily because it resided behind the firewall and is part of the Lotus Notes product suite. The first wiki was created for the Municipal practice group who needed a central repository for all municipal information and documents. It was extremely easy to deploy and required very little set up or support by IT, who were already handling multiple projects. IT set up a shell structure based on a template, and I was then able to create pages and organize and tag the content. In three weeks, our Municipal group had a working wiki and one stop shopping for all municipal documents. This enabled lawyers to answer client questions more quickly and efficiently because everything was in one place. A process was also developed for the group where updating responsibility was assigned to the lead assistant with input from lawyers in the group, and she continues to add and tag content as part of her weekly routine. The ease of finding information after hours and without secretarial assistance, by browsing tags or using the search engine, created immediate Partner Champions and success stories. Soon thereafter, every practice group wanted a wiki and wikis were quickly created for our Litigation Group, the Knowledge Management Group and the Articling Students Orientation program.

Domino wikis were a great interim solution but each wiki required a separate login and became a silo of stand-alone information. The next logical step was to evaluate enterprise wide solutions that could replace our Intranet. A small project team consisting of KM and IT was formed and spent the fall of 2007 evaluating leading Web 2.0 wiki style platforms including Jive Clearspace, Traction TeamPage, SharePoint, ThoughtFarmer and Lotus Quickr. We quickly determined that most of the interfaces were extremely busy and difficult to navigate; and offered too much functionality that would not be used by our lawyers. ThoughtFarmer was chosen due to its simple interface, ease of use and Web 2.0 features such as tagging, RSS & email notification, commenting, and linking. ThoughtFarmer also has email publishing and a profile page for every user that can be used to store emails, personal precedent collections, client information and links to internal and external web pages.

During December and January we ran a small pilot of ThoughtFarmer. The pilot group consisted of lawyers, administrative assistants and members of the marketing, IT and KM groups. The pilot participants were given specific tasks including editing their profile, creating pages and adding documents. They found the interface intuitive and very easy to use with a quick learning curve. By the end of January, based on the pilot’s group positive feedback, we submitted a business case to the Executive which received approval. Based on ThoughtFarmer’s recommendations, we reorganized content on our existing Intranet through an optimal card sorting exercise to come up with common labels and headings for navigation purposes. We also asked our functional departments to review and update their content after it was migrated and successfully launched our new wiki-style Intranet on May 12, 2008.

The launch included group hands-on training sessions for the administrative assistants and demos for the lawyers which were quickly followed by 20 minute one-on-one training sessions in their office. The biggest benefit of the training was the creation of personal profile pages that allow each lawyer to store personal documents and short cuts to favourite external websites and internal Intranet pages. We also highlighted the search bar and the ability to browse by tags as a quick and efficient way to find information. Pages were also created for each practice group along with a unique set of tags, which replaced their old Domino wikis.

Since our successful launch, 768 pages, 384 links and 530 internal shortcuts have been added by individual users. The most surprising statistic is that 1,445 documents have been added as attachments. This illustrates the wiki’s overall appeal including its use as a mini Document Management system. ThoughtFarmer has become an effective replacement for the cumbersome Shared Drive. The statistics highlight how easy it is for users, including lawyers, to add pages and content. The automatic navigational structure, search engine and ‘browse by tags’ functionality makes it easier and faster to find information resulting in a substantial drop in the number of email queries. The Intranet has also become a Personal Knowledge Management enabler with many lawyers using their profiles to store personal precedent collections, articles, presentations, speaking notes, etc. One thing that we would like to see is an advanced search option that allows users to restrict their search to a specific section of the site, making the platform even more user friendly for our audience. However, ThoughtFarmer continues to enhance their product and will hopefully add this functionality soon. The latest version adds blog, calendar and news templates that are already being utilized by individual users.

Some of the lessons learned include managing expectations and realizing that not all users will be active contributors. There is definitely a generation gap with more associates embracing the software although 10 out of 63 partners have also contributed individually to the content. To keep up the momentum, we have maintained a strong schedule of announcements regarding new enhancements, search tips, best practices and refresher training.

Recommendations for a successful wiki implementation include:

And lastly, incorporate page and document creation into the training and constantly highlight the value of the search bar and tags to help find information quickly and more efficiently.