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In my last post I wrote about communication being an important aspect of knowledge work and decision making.  I can sometimes get a little too academic with how things are supposed to work and so I thought I’d write a follow-up post that uses a concrete example (IRL for some) of how communication helped me and my colleague, Tom Cummings, just the other night.

The setup here isn’t that important other than to to say we were at the beginning stages of a new project and decided a brainstorming session was in order.  We found an empty conference room, a whiteboard and started to get our ideas down.

Social Business Design aside:  This conference room is what we commonly refer to as a silo.  A silo is anything (an organization, software…a conference room) that keeps information within its walls, making it hard for an outsider to discover what is going on behind them.  Tom and I were working alone, the rest of the company had no visibility into what we were doing.

Five minutes in to our brainstorm we were interrupted by a much more responsible group of colleagues who actually reserved the conference room for a meeting.  We packed up our stuff, white board included, and as there were no other conference rooms available, made camp in the hallway.  It’s important to note that this is really the only hallway that exists in our open floor plan office, so by default it is the highest trafficked hallway we have.

Social Business Design aside: A hallway is very much like a dynamic signal, a ‘dynamic information flow produced by constituents.’ As Tom and I were working in the hallway we were being passed by other employees with different experiences, expertise, points-of-view and tacit knowledge. Our activities were now visible to the rest of the company.

In the hallway we were being passed by colleagues.  They could see what we were working on and chose to either keep walking or stop and engage us.  We experienced both.  Within ten minutes, Tom and I found oursleves in a conversation with two colleagues each knowledgeable and experienced on the work we were doing.  Over the next 30 minutes we discussed our current situation, the vision and goals for the project, recent trends and developments and lessons learned from having ‘been there and done that.’  Afterwards, Tom and I literally went back to the drawing board to incorporate what we had just learned.

Social Business Design aside:  I mentioned that colleagues in the hallway would either keep on walking or stop to talk to us.  This is an example of a metafilter, ‘what’s important to one person may be meaningless to another.’   Those who wanted to participate could, those who had other interests could keep on going.  By being in the hallway (the dynamic signal) we were making ourselves visible to the rest of the company so they could decide to participate or not.

It’s impossible to compare the Dave & Tom-only project to the Dave & Tom + Colleague Feedback project (because the former will never happen) but everyone involved felt much better about latter: more input, more experience, more tacit knowledge.  We had engaged in communication and collaboration that resulted in a much more holistic approach to our work.  Our path forward became more clear, informed and actionable.

You might not have the collaboration luxury of working in the same office as the rest of your company, so this might not be your everyday experience.  The good thing is you don’t have to be in the same office to collaborate with colleagues.  There are fantastic tools available that will give your company all the virtual hallways, metafilters and whiteboards it needs.  But, tools are the easy part these days.  Your company is filled with smart people, gathering knowledge and insights every day…are you prepared to use them?

Communication as Work

July 14, 2010 — 3 Comments

A knowledge worker spends a good portion of the day communicating – meetings, status reports, emails, phone calls, water cooler talks.  Much of this activity is considered unproductive overhead; when you look at a calendar full of meetings you wonder when you’re going to get any REAL work done.  And while many popular forms of communication may be inefficient and ineffective, communication is work; perhaps the most important work knowledge workers do.

Knowledge work is aimed at turning information into something decisionable and actionable; too often reports, presentations, survey results are mistaken for such.  While they are a key part of the decision equation, they are not enough.  They don’t provide insight.  The only thing they’re good for on their own is filling repositories.

Knowledge, unlike the data and information contained in reports, is a living & breathing thing.  It can’t be put in your enterprise content management system.  It exists in the heads of employees (often referred to as ‘tacit’ knowledge), constantly being shaped by different stimuli: articles, blog posts, pictures, models, books, conversations with colleagues, etc…  Communication is the process by which this constantly evolving knowledge is applied on data and information to a decisionable end.  This process will generate insights on how to take advantage of the information you have gathered.  Unless the reports, presentations and survey results are subjected to scrutiny and analysis through communication, no insights are created and decisions are delayed or malinformed.

Communication is more than just a block of time on your calendar.  It’s an opportunity to  share knowledge, gain insight, make better decisions and create for your company a competitive advantage.

What does communication look like where you work?  Is it enabling the application of knowledge to data and information?  Where do your company’s insights come from?

In a network economy, major competitive advantage is gained by having a strong developer ecosystem.  The more software that’s written for a product, the better the product becomes.  Generally.  The vast iPhone App Store catalog sets the phone apart from it’s competition.  The phone is a slick piece of hardware, but if it had the Jitterbug’s app catalog I don’t think it would sell as well.  Why not use the same model in the enterprise?

You’re  standing up your workforce collaboration platform, which is a good thing.  But, much like your cell phone, your collaboration platform becomes superior the more applications  integrate with it.  (Your goal is to make everything social, right? )  Why not set up a framework for developers (assumption: your company has software developers with spare time) to build apps and integrations for your collab platform?  Surely, your team doesn’t have the bandwidth to tackle that amount of work in a reasonable amount of time.  Instead of having them catch all the fish, why not let them teach others how.  It scales better.

A couple of benefits I see here:

  1. As you increase the number of systems integrated with your collaboration platform customers (your employees, in this case) will be able to customize their working environment: personal portals/dashboards aggregating tasks, tools, processes, training, policies all in one place.   The promise of these collaboration platforms is that they can do this kind of aggregation, but the reality is that you already have systems that manage many of these things separately and are not ready to get rid of them.  And, to some degree, why should you?  Some of these systems are good at what they do but would be given a big boost if they were made social.
  2. Increased user adoption of your workforce collaboration platform (because of #1)
  3. Software engineers like this idea (at least the ones I’ve talked to).  They not only get a chance to spend more time in their cube, but they get to showcase their ‘gold nuggets,’ as one developer put it to me.  I think the technical term is egoboo.  Not sure if you have the concept of reputation management in your collab system, but this could certainly play into that.
  4. You could possibly crowd-source and prioritize the apps/integrations to be built.  This would help fuel the adoption of #2 and would get the engineers in #3 fired up if they knew they were coding a solution that other employees want.
  5. It’ll  get the good, reusable artifacts out from under that one-off CMS you’ve got.  The more systems you can make social, the more value they provide.  See #1.
  6. Distribute the scope creep.  From what I’ve experienced, it’s easy to get pulled in lots of different directions.  So many customers (again, employees in this case) are eager for social & aggregation capabilities that you end up with scope creep (read: proliferation).  Not only could you distribute the creep, but you could increase speed to market and customer satisfaction.  It’s really like you’re expanding your project team.

Integration into other systems is a must when it comes to workforce collaboration.   If you’ve got the right kind of business, the internal AppStore makes a lot of sense.  The combination of potentially crowd-sourcing and prioritizing development could take your workforce collaboration software to the next level.

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October 2, 2009 — Leave a comment

Ever think you know someone really well and then you meet one of their siblings and they’re completely different?  You never could have imagined it.  Same parents, same church, same school, same neighborhood.  What gives?  One goes out all the time, the other stays in.  One got straight A’s, the other never finished high school.  One likes their beef grass-fed, the other is vegan.  I think you get the idea.

Well, IT projects can be a lot like that.  You can have two projects, same goal and they can be worlds apart.  Same company, same vision, same CEO, same culture, same training.  What gives?  Well, I’ve had the opportunity to work in such an environment (project = e2.0 deployment) and I can tell you what gives.  It’s the requirements.  Well, not so much the requirements but from whom they come.   Talk to IT.  Talk to BD.  Then talk to HR, Marketing, Comms.  Then go and talk to your ‘product’ folks.  Worlds apart.  Even though everyone at the company is committed to the same mission, they’ve each got their own role and their own care-abouts.  The ‘thing’ they want designed is obviously going to be biased to what makes their world tick.

So, to whom do you listen?  It’s a tough decision in the ‘social world’.  My advice is actually the same I offered in this post I wrote in June (I was at the e2.0 Conference in Boston).  The difference is that now (more than 3 monhts later) I’ve got the experience to back it up.  Turns out I was right.  Doesn’t happen often.  But when it does I’m going to blog about it.  Here’s an excerpt:

My advice to you is do your homework.  Know the vendor space, know your architecture, know your security model, know your requirements.  Most importantly: know your business and how this new tool set will help you solve your BUSINESS problems.  Do all of this before even approaching a vendor.  Get a sponsor from your BUSINESS.  HR is not OK.  Comms, eh, you’re getting warmer.  IT…COLD.  Get at the heart of what your company does and find out who does it.  Once you find them, they will tell you everything you need to know.   If you can make them happy and solve their problems you greatly increase your odds of success.

Looking back on that advice, it’s a little rough around the edges, but it absolutely rings true.  Jeremiah Owyang has a new post here where he urges companies to bring ‘social’ beyond just the marketing department.  I agree, but if you’re talking internally focused efforts (and I understand that wasn’t his intent, so this is not a criticism) his advice doesn’t go far enough.  You need to start with the ‘core of your business’ folks.  They will cover many requirements of the other functions, but it won’t work the other way around.  Once you get the right requirements from the right people you’ll have created an excellent foundation from which you can become holistic.

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So you’ve been tasked with bringing social media tools into your company and transforming the way it does business.  That’s a big task; but the boss thinks it’s time…he thinks it might be good for business and anyway all the new hires are demanding it.   So you start socializing the idea and you begin to realize it’s not just the new hires.  HR, Finance, Biz Dev, Engineering, IT, oh my.  Everyone is talking about it.  Innovation, collaboration, expertise location; we’re on our way now.  And you’re the one who’s going to give the masses what they want.  You’re the man!   You do a little research, make a few calls to vendors, maybe even a consultant.  What?  They want to take you out to dinner?  That was easy.  And they’re going to let you pilot their software?  They’re flying down tomorrow!?  You start thinking you’re pretty hot shit.  Well, slow down, because you could wind up in way over your head if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Things can move pretty fast if you’re not ready.  That proof-of-concept (that you were only going to let 25 users in on) becomes a pilot (we’ll keep it to 500) becomes production (how many licenses do we have to buy?!)  in the blink of an eye.  And you might not even realize it.  Employees are dying for their company gives them ‘Facebook for the enterprise.’  You give them something, ANYTHING, that resembles a status update and I dare you to tell them, ‘that was only a proof-of-concept, it didn’t meet our requirements.  We have to go back to the drawing board.’

Good luck with that.

My advice to you is do your homework.  Know the vendor space, know your architecture, know your security model, know your requirements.  Most importantly: know your business and how this new tool set will help you solve your BUSINESS problems.  (And, by the way, only you know what your business problems are).  Do all of this before even approaching a vendor.  Get a sponsor from your BUSINESS.  HR is not OK.  Comms, eh, you’re getting warmer.  IT…COLD.  Get at the heart of what your company does and find out who does it.  Once you find them, they will tell you everything they need.  If you can make them happy and solve their problems you greatly increase your odds of success.

If you’re reading this post, time to market for your social initiatives is the least of your problems.  Don’t be pressured into making a move before you’re ready.  This (r)evolution is going to bring about a major shift in the way companies work and it is not a fad.  You are not going to miss out on the benefits  if you decide to take an extra month or two or three to get it right.  Measure twice, cut once.

Holes in the Dam

March 1, 2009 — Leave a comment

Sounds like an ominous title, and it could be, just depends what the dam represents; in this case, it’s work as usual.  I’m starting to see some small holes that will eventually lead to major culture changes, and the latest step my company has taken in that direction flew completely under the (my) radar.  

While we are piloting Lotus Connections, it’s not having the success or effect we’ve thought.  There are many different reasons attributing to the lack of fanfare around this launch, but those are for another post.  Because we run Notes, we thought we’d reap significant advantages by installing Connections however, the results aren’t there.  As an added degree of difficulty, there’s been lots of hoopla around this pilot and it’s been hard to live up to the hype.  

Enter the acquisition of an Enterprise RSS solution.  I thought I was ‘plugged-in’ but I had no idea we were even investigating this type of tool.  It’s a big company, what can I say?  Anyway, as soon as I found out, I immediately got added to the pilot group and started setting up my feeds (imported right from Google Reader – very slick).  It is AWESOME.  It looks (limited to corporate branding, so there’s only so much we can do here) and feels like a real web-app.  It’s intuitive and does exactly what you’d expect it to do.  This is not an another enterprise app.  

After I imported my feeds (did I mention how easy it was to be able to import them from Google Reader?) the first thing I noticed was that the team running the pilot, instead of sending out updates through email, was sending updates/tips&tricks/how-to’s/FAQs as feeds through the tool.  No emails!  How smart is that?  They get it.  Let me get take a slight diversion here…

…Each day, beginning at 12:00am my Blackberry vibrates for about 3 minutes straight.  I get hit, as most employees do, with automated emails from the different systems/communities/tools/etc… we use at work.  Very rarely do I care about any of the content in the email, but there is an occasion when I need to look at them.  99% of the time these emails get deleted, it’s usually the first thing I do in the morning before I get my coffee.  It’s  really the only thing I do all day that doesn’t require me to think.  

My point here is this:  they aren’t using email.  The automated email issue is easily solved with the enterprise RSS reader; and because automated email affects so many people in the company I predict we’re going to start to see a major culture shift.  This is the tip of the iceberg.  It may seem minor at first, but employees (especially the most reluctant to change) need to be able to see the power that these tools can provide.  Getting rid of ‘junk’ email is something everyone wants and we’re now providing an elegant, intuitive solution to that problem.  This is a small win that we can point to, and say ‘if you liked that, let me show you a few other things…’

This win puts a small hole in the dam of work as usual.


PS – I think it’s important to mention the difference in approach used in marketing the RSS capability .vs Lotus Connections pilot.  The Connections pilot utilized a top-down strategy, everyone knew it was coming and therefore it is trying to live up to inflated (unachievable) expectations.  Everyone has been waiting for this solution, and they want it to be much more than what it is.  To be honest, it’s not fair.  Connections isn’t a bad tool, it’s just been promised to deliver beyond its capability.  Expectations weren’t set appropriately.  It will be hard to be anything but a disappointment.  

The Enterprise RSS solution, on the other hand, was able to stay in the shadow of Connections.  No one was expecting it to be the panacea…no one was really expecting it at all.  It’s easy to exceed expectations when there aren’t any.  They will benefit from viral marketing as well; workers will either stumble upon it themselves or they will hear about it from their colleagues, not their supervisors (and that’s important).  

There is a very good change management lesson to be learned when it comes to introducing social media capabilities to the enterprise.