The Wikipedia Effect on digital transformation: collaboration not dictatorship

This is a guest blogpost by Gero Decker, General Manager SAP Business Process Intelligence & Co-founder of Signavio.

Despite the growing importance of successful digital transformation, a staggering 70% of transformation projects end in failure. With so much at stake, the fact that such a high percentage should miss the mark so badly seems unimaginable.

However, upon closer examination, many of these failures share the same fundamental flaws, ultimately leading to their ultimate demise. In a significant number of cases, it can be traced back to one single issue – a lack of genuine companywide collaboration or belief in the project.

Too often, the task of implementing change falls to one siloed team, whether it be a dedicated transformation task force, or senior management itself. But such a blinkered approach overlooks a key pillar of success, which is that the whole company – not just a select few experts – must be united together if real, long-lasting change is to be achieved. Without this, projects either end up focussing on the wrong areas or stagnating due to lack of wider company buy-in.

If transformation projects are to make any traction, they must be collaborative from the very start. A good way to think of it is ‘The Wikipedia Effect’. Back in the pre-internet days, many of us relied on encyclopaedias for knowledge about things we did not understand or wanted to learn more about. However, the problem with encyclopaedias was that they were written and curated by a small number of experts who not only determined what the entries should say, but also defined what was most important to know about any given topic. As such, readers only ever got a narrow insight that was entirely dictated by somebody else’s point of view. Furthermore, the nature of encyclopaedias meant they very quickly became outdated, with no way to quickly update them considering new findings or research.

Now, compare this with Wikipedia’s approach, which allows everyone to contribute and collaborate on topics at any given time, supported by the appropriate regulation. This massive knowledge sharing creates much richer, more comprehensive entries that leave readers better informed as a result. It’s also a fluid process with new content being added all the time in response to real-world news, events, and discoveries. Of course, moderators play a critical role in Wikipedia’s approach, helping to ensure entries don’t fall victim to a ‘too many cooks’ scenario, or get filled with inaccurate misinformation by rogue contributors.

The same principles can be applied to business transformation and process improvement. Instead of relying on a few experts to define ‘the perfect process’ and then impose it on everyone else, companies should (and must) involve everybody who has a valid contribution to make. Doing so drives ideas, aids understanding and encourages buy-in at all levels from an early stage. After all, people are much more accepting of a new process if they have played an active role in designing it.  However, like Wikipedia, collaboration mustn’t be confused with chaos (where everything is uncoordinated) or worse still, anarchy (where everybody does whatever he/she wants). In the end, moderation and governance is needed to make sure that the organisation as a whole is always moving towards its ultimate goal.

Of course, it’s important to remember that just because one transformation project ends in failure, it doesn’t mean the company itself is also doomed to fail. Successful companies will always learn from their mistakes and use the knowledge gained to achieve success at the next attempt. However, getting the basics right from the start helps avoid pitfalls along the way and significantly increases the chances of sticking the landing at the first time of asking.

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