The APQC Blog

Ways ConocoPhillips Created a Wiki That People Actually Use

In a recent KM webinar, we heard from Suzan Pickels, Knowledge Advisor and Supervisor at ConocoPhillips. Pickels talked about how ConocoPhillips developed and maintained a successful knowledge sharing initiative. Audience members really wanted to hear more about ConocoPhillips' enterprise wiki, as well as the ways the organization captures knowledge from retirees. Check out these highlights from the question and answer session below, and watch the free webinar for more.

Audience (A): Some people have a hard time getting their heads around the idea of a corporate wiki. Does ConocoPhillips provide guidelines to help employees know when to write a wiki article, how long to make it, and what content to put in it?

ConocoPhillips (COP): We do not try to control the length of OneWiki articles; our business knows and owns their content.  We do help them create the web of information through training and governance models.  A general rule of thumb is that a “good, rich content” wiki article is about two Microsoft Word document pages in length.  When more content is needed, we suggest breaking it up into chapters (i.e., pages that are linked throughout the article).  The length of an article can be shortened if links to other related and more detailed categories grow. 

We don’t have guidelines but rather suggestions on the type of content that belongs in OneWiki. We show people how to identify potential wiki content and we provide details on the advantages of using OneWiki over other available technologies.  In addition, we also help our employees identify good sources of content to translate and link to OneWiki articles—these additional sources help tell the story of an article or piece of content. In these ways we also help employees know which technology or repository is best for which types of content. 

A: Since you can’t use a formal process to capture knowledge from everyone who retires, how do you select the best people to focus on?

COP: Actually, we don’t define or target the audience or people from whom to capture information. You may recall that the presentation we gave was a case study of a process we created that is repeatable.  It just so happens that one of the members of that case study was a retiree.  Within ConocoPhillips, the target audience for that process is any individual who would like to capture information.  We encourage the business to define what is critical and what would need to be referenced in the future, which is targeted content—rather than targeted audience.  There are many other instances of pairing individuals so that learning and capture can take place simultaneously. 

For example, we have a strong program of retirees contracting back to ConocoPhillips and working part-time.  Many of these retirees not only identify gaps in missing knowledge but also create the necessary content. Their experience incorporates their “know how,” “know what,” and “know why,” giving rich context to the content.  We really aim to weave together what would normally be disconnected pieces of content into the story of why that content is important along with the historical context.  We didn’t cover our many other content creation activities; but we often hold trainings, WikiThons (fun and focused sessions designed to create OneWiki content for a defined theme), and employee and intern challenges around building and weaving together content in OneWiki, all of which are all “real time” capture techniques.

A: Your current process seems to focus on sifting through documents and separating out what’s broadly applicable and valuable. What approaches do you recommend to capture deeper tacit knowledge that is stored in experts’ heads but not sitting on a hard drive somewhere?

COP: I think we have covered this in some of the above answers, and I would like to remind folks that the presentation used a case study to bring a process to life by giving a tangible example.  However, we have a myriad of mentoring programs pairing up newer employees to capture and store information that fills gaps in their learning and experiences that they glean from experts at the time of need.  Capturing tacit knowledge as it is being transferred is difficult, and we have chosen to take a multi-pronged approach.  A specific way we have done this with OneWiki is to allow people to create “Stub” pages, which are place holders identifying a need.  The OneWiki team then moderates and assists in the process of finding the content or the people to create that information.  Our talent management and formal learning teams also ensure we combine lectures with experiential learning in the field delivered by subject matter experts.  This gives our employees at all experience levels, not just new hires, hands-on experience away from the office and our testing labs.  It also helps develop the people connections we rely so heavily on at ConocoPhillips.

A: Your process uses interns to help organize and contextualize critical documents. How can an intern, with so little experience, understand what’s critical and what isn't?

COP: Due to time constraints of the presentation, I probably didn’t emphasize that this process was a structured review and mentoring effort. Our interns are not expected to work alone or in a silo; the Network of Excellence(NoE) lead and near-retiree were completely involved in the review and processing of information so the intern could learn in real time.  The intern, in this case, was tasked with defining an approach to capture content that he would see the need for in the future, but the actual content review and clean-up was done with the entire NoE core collaboration team, roughly 14 people.

A: What kind of time commitments are involved in the end-to-end process, and how do you convince all the different generations to get engaged?

COP: We have a full-time OneWiki specialist on staff with a near full-time technical support expert to assist with Wiki development, database structure, and maintenance.  Those two resources are part of the larger Knowledge Sharing (KS) effort at ConocoPhillips and engagement of the end-to-end process is ongoing from a KS perspective.  Articles can take a little as a few hours or as much as a few weeks to create, depending on the complexity of the topics being addressed.  OneWiki is one of many tools that enable our employees to address the needs they identify.  Rather than target generational differences we find it is best to find the business problem that we are solving and focus on what is in it for the individual. 

The younger, less experienced employees are speeding their time to competency and gaining recognition by senior employees with their involvement.  Mid-tiered experienced employees, I believe a Lockheed Martin coined term is “nex’perts,” help identify and fill gaps by storing critical knowledge and applying it via real-time collaboration, making connections and learning from the experts as well.  Our more experienced employees or experts gain recognition and are able to leave their legacy both to the organization and to a younger generation.  All groups are able to solve problems faster and with more accuracy, which drives the business value of the entire Knowledge Sharing program.

A: Is the kind of legacy knowledge you're compiling compatible with the work habits of the digital generation?

COP: This is actually one of the topics we are most proud of regarding knowledge capture.  Because we involve the digital generation in not only the content creation but also the search-ability of that content, we are able to truly engage their habits.  Also, in our industry, legacy knowledge and fundamentals are essential to the speed of problem solving and preventing re-creating the wheel, or worse, making mistakes that can be avoided.  Also, as mentioned previously, this case study has highlighted only one of our enablers as a demonstration of how we engage our digital generation.

A: How do employees find out about the available information if they’re not directly involved in the process of capturing it? What kind of search, metadata, and other tools do you use to make people aware of what’s out there, especially if they don’t know what they don’t know?

COP: During my presentation I emphasized that our Networks of Excellence—groups of people who come together globally to solve problems—are at the center of helping others know about the resources that are available.  We rely heavily on people-to-people connections at ConocoPhillips, leaving technology as an enabler to those relationships.  I would like to reiterate that we have so much more than one process, or one technology, or one rollout of Knowledge Sharing.  We have an entire program that provides business value and is a cyclical, iterative, ongoing process.

Building on the Networks of people, yes, we have an enterprise search capability built on metadata and a business-driven taxonomy.  But we are also well aware that we cannot rely on just searching because we do not yet have push technology that will do the work for them.  OneWiki is one of many enablers, and it is part of a much larger program that provides solutions to our employees.  The beauty of OneWiki’s categorization and links to related and deeper information is that employees can follow a train of thought through the links of OneWiki as one would using Wikipedia.  So search is definitely available, but OneWiki provides contextual guidance for further exploration of relevant information.

Follow Susan Pickels on twitter @PickelsSMP