I had never even heard of Washington Group International (WGI) until I started chatting with Jim McKeeth at the Boise Bloggers Dinner on Monday night. Jim, it quickly became clear, is WGI's internal blog evangelist and he asked me to drop by to talk about blogging with his boss Andy Snodgrass yesterday afternoon.
It turns out the WGI is among the world's leading engineering, construction and large, complex project management firms. I does business in 30 countries and 40 states. It is a conglomeration of large chunks of Westinghouse, Raytheon and Morrison Knudsen divisions and as the legacy of the people who built the Hoover Dam, TransAlaska Pipeline,the Mars Land Rover, chemial weapons destruction facilities, light railways and a good deal more.
The company's interest at this point is only for internal blogging, at least for now and they have two enormously suitable project for internal blogging and perhaps wikis:
(1) Passing generational wisdom--WGI is bracing itself for the retrement of a significant ercentage of its existing workforce. These guys are the "Old Joe's" who have been there, done that and have the wisdom and sagacity aggregated over a lifetime of trials, errors and successes. Andy talked to me about using an internal blog, to let this generaion tell their stories of what they saw and what they did along with how they did it. The blogs, and perhaps podcasts, would serve as a digital history for the company and for the next and future generatios of new employees. This is a wonderful idea. I have not previously thought of using a blog this way but it is so clearly an idea that is easier to implement than most of the complex engineering projects that is the company's core competency. Social media is simply a superior way to deliver storytelling and it lasts forever.
(2) Interdepartmental collaboration--Andy told me a story about the company having stored a pair of massive turbines for a particular project. When it came time to deploy them, the team discovered they had been corrupted by some sort of pitting. They called in a pair of outside "experts" who solved the project for a tidy fee. Several months later the company's CEO would discover that these experts had learned their trade from a book written by GI employees in another division. It is an enormous challenge for global companies to know what it's collective staff knows and we discussed how blogs and wikis could help the company effectively share knowledge.
Both of these projects involve the use of social media to prevent the need to continuously reinvent the wheel, a problem for a great many companies. I left impressed with their interest and enthusiasm.
For me, there was an additional lesson. I ave to admit that part of me is a start-up snob A key reason is that I just hate being bogged down by process. I said good night to Jim a about 10:30 Mnday night. By 10:30 yesterday morning, he had been able to set up a meeting with a corporate VP. This morning I asked Jim for permission to post this at 7:20 a.m. Andy gave me his blessing at 7:42. Now thats the kind of focus and execution that takes my breath away.
NOTE: This post has been reedited with a typo being removed and some irrelevent financial mentions being deleted.