Questions for Confluence – Should I be using it and how?

This post is both for people running Confluence and those using it. It tries to help you understand what the benefits of Questions for Confluence (formerly: Confluence Questions) are and why you and your co-workers may want to adopt it.

Questions for Confluence is an add-on to Atlassian Confluence. It is part of Atlassian’s marketplace with about 4k active installations just as our Linchpin offering or draw.io diagramming for Confluence. It is one of the view plugins, that Atlassian markets themselves alongside their main product line. It’s kind of the brother of Team Calendars, wich is more successful with about 12k active installations.

‘Questions’ is something that allows you to interactively and publicly answer questions within your company. It’s like Quora on top of Confluence. Here is a promotional video from Atlassian about it:

One of our bigger customers has asked me to come up with ideas on how to bring life into Questions for Confluence after installation.

Activities and elements driving Questions for Confluence’s success

Gather a crowd of at least 4-5 people to get Questions for Confluence started

When you implement Confluence a lone nut in your company can create the basis of this success. Although Niels Pfläging told me, it was a fake, I still love the video for it’s visualization power:

This is much more difficult in Questions for Confluence as you need to have at least two people to start with. One who is posing all the questions and the second to answer them. Roles can be switched as well, but it’s obvious, that two are trying to fill the platform. While they do it, they gain a lot of those karma points in the system. That’s another problem that I will address later. That’s much smoother and less obvious with Confluence alone. So the first tip is obvious: If you cannot accumulate a small group, it’s much more difficult to get started and it may look weird. But it’s not difficult to get them.

It’s all about on-boarding new employees

You can come up with way more applications and use cases for Questions for Confluence. But the major one and the one you should be focusing on at first is getting new employees up and running quickly. Especially in large groups and complex environments it helps a lot to get those employees a way to learn the most commonly asked questions quickly and know about the best answers.

If you pitch for support internally, I recommend you play this “onboarding” card.

Write questions and answers with your group: fill Questions for Confluence!

Empty systems look like failed systems. The more interactive and social they are, the more you need to convince people, that they have found a place that gives their questions and their answers the attention that is needed. If no one is active, if no questions and answers have been posted, it’s unlikely that newbies will change that. Your instance should look as if it was buzzing with activity. And basically it will be that way. The only artificial part is, that you will have induced this activity into the system with your effort. It’s still going to be useful if the content is valuable. So please do this with people that have a lot of experience in your company and both know the most asked questions and the best answers to that.

Answer all new questions in record time

Attention for people asking questions means, that there is someone on the lookout for new questions and giving a good answer. In the beginning, this is you and your small team. You may want to try to answer questions even if the topic is not directly within your domain of expertise. Make sure to loop your co-workers from that domain in by @mentioning them and suggesting them to subscribe to / watch a topic.

Welcome virtually and meet personally new active users

While you walk this path, and I admit that it does take time and effort to do so, you’ll encounter followers and new active people who pose and answer questions. There are some people who just use the system to get an answer (=value) or to show off their knowledge. This is fine but nothing you care about in this step. Some other people simply love sharing their knowledge and they enjoy being helpful to others. You’re searching for this type of new active user. Greet them and thank them virtually with a message or email. Then chase them down during your next physical encounter and start thanking them personally. If you’re lucky you will spread the word about Questions for Confluence this way just as well and get some high quality internal marketing.

Recommend to watch questions and topics and generally interact

The more your users interact with content in Questions for Confluence, the more automatic watches are activated. You can encourage you colleagues to actively watch questions and topics. At least your small group of initial “activists” should do so from the very start. The mentions, notifications and reminders the system sends, do help to foster activity, as they are in context of recent activity and interest of users.

Challenges and breaks for the adoption of Questions internally

There is a plethora of problems that occur when you try to make Questions for Confluence successful. I will focus on the most important and on those most special for this specific software:

Your company has less than 150 employees. Do not use Questions for Confluence.

Who wouldn’t like the warm welcome of a dedicated nice and empathetic experienced co-worker to start a new job? He is always in reach and always has an answer to your “easy questions”. In such an environment there is no need for something like Questions for Confluence. And small companies with less than 150 employees can still offer this type of “onboarding” for new employees. They should try to think of how this can be a reality rather than trying to get Questions for Confluence fly.

Even Atlassian itself mentions Dunbar’s number in their pitch about Questions for Confluence. And that number is 150:

Humans can only comfortably maintain 150 stable relationships.

See an interview with the two product manager for Questions for Confluence with me around this and other topics:

Do not turn off email notifications

The first thing my friend Gerrit Eicker does when he joins new platforms is to deactivate their ability to send him emails. It’s his way of putting the new platform to a test: “Will I come back for its value myself? Or will I simply forget about it and never return?” Gerrit is smart and has understood how powerful it is to activate people through email with reminders and notifications. Questions for Confluence does the same thing.

I have seen IT departments do what Gerrit does for the whole Confluence server. No mails at all. That’s quite an effective way to make this system starve (and possibly) die, especially when it is still small and not well established.

De-emphasize the points system

There is a gamification part in Questions for Confluence that can easily turn all good intentions into a weird experience and the collapse of the whole system in the end. It’s the points system for activity. If you ask me, it’s crowding out intrinsic motivation.

It is a very bad idea to set up prizes, rewards or even money to instill activity in Questions for Confluence. Even putting awareness to the rankings can have devastating effects. The biggest problem that I see with this is, that all measures that Questions for Confluence offers today is quantitative. This means that there is very little to no correlation of who has high points and who has increased the business value of the system. Usually you see those most active on top of such ladders. But those most knowledgeable often don’t have time to do quantitative things. They have established paths to share their knowledge and Questions for Confluence can be a side arm at best at first.

If you pretend the guy with the most points in Questions for Confluence was most valuable, you reward the guy with lots of time (In most cases those people have time for a reason.). And you crowd out those who can really make a change and bring value. So please make sure, everyone understands it’s only points and not more the system calculates.

If you are an individual, you can use this mechanism in Questions for Confluence to your advantage. Most people (including managers) do not understand how silly and problematic those rankings are. So if you know that Questions for Confluence is in your company to stay and it has management attention, just make it a goal for you to “conquer” the leaderboards. Once you’ve understood how points are distributed, it is easy to focus on activities that do not take much time but give a lot of points. This can be an effective way of self-marketing in a large enterprise. To soothe yourself: It’s not your fault that some people do not get it. They can come here after all. But make sure, that you do not fall in the same trap by bragging about conquering the system. First, it’s complete nonsense and you know it if you have read this post and seen the videos. And second, it’s creating other co-workers who will get how easy it is to kick you from the first place. You’ll make yourself an easy and early target by bragging about your Questions for Confluence points.

Disclaimer: This is not based on quantitative research. What you are reading is my best effort to help you with the knowledge and experience I have. Please add your own thoughts as comments below to help us to get an idea of what else could work.

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