Learnings about using collaborative tools in the Enterprise
In a prior post on Enterprise 2.0 I mentioned in passing that I believe one has to go on the journey themselves to learn what this means and how it changes things. You’ve really got to see it in action and experience it for yourself and you’ve got to see teams starting to behave differently. I should point out that I’ve been doing an internal blog for over 1.5 years and we are heavily using a wiki infrastructure. A few things I’ve learned or changed my thinking about in the past year:
- The idea of co-editing and teams working on things together in parallel is a great idea, but it takes time to get there. We are not used to co-editing and we’ve been conditioned for years to do our thing and then email it to others for comments. The idea of putting your content somewhere that others can edit along with you requires a real shift in thinking. I recently did an important presentation and I posted the draft on-line and then edited the document over several days and invited others to contribute and see it evolve. Very different.
- You need to encourage people to engage and contribute. People are sometimes hesitant to contribute to or comment on or edit content created by others. I’ve had people send me emails telling me something to correct instead of just being bold and correcting it themselves. It is really hard for people at lower levels in an organization to comment on content added by higher levels. This is even more so when different cultures are involved. There will always be the bold few who will comment on anything, but you want to engage with those farther away from your strong ties. You want to establish a culture that is inviting to contributions and dialog. This takes a bit of time.
- I’ve found myself doing more content creation in these tools (wiki) than in presentation tools. I used to consider myself (still do) a Zen Master at a certain presentation tool set. I’ve always been proud of the quality and content of the key presentations I made to various groups. Sometime this year, my thinking shifted away from creating pretty slides and shifted more into the ideas and content. I’m now focusing more on the content than the presentation which is probably a great change.
- One thing about doing content creation on a collaborative tool is that you can share the link to the content and let people check in at different times to see the latest version. I don’t have the problem of mailing a deck of slides that are out of date two days later when I need to send a new deck.
- Related to (3) I’ve also greatly reduced the demands I make on others for presentations. I want my own people to spend less time doing presentations and spend more time on content. I need to reduce whatever overhead I’m placing on my own team to make presentations for me. I’ve had many presentations this year that were just out of wiki pages or on-line analytics where teams and individuals were using the tools of every day to communicate with me. Less overhead. I just don’t need that beautiful deck of slides like I used to demand.
- It is really possible to get input from a much wider group of people on your ideas if your content is available to a larger group. In the past, one would typically share with one’s staff or some relatively small group of close in people (strong ties). This past year, I’ve put drafts of my top level goals out for any employee to read and comment on and I’ve received input about those goals from more sources than otherwise possible. Contributions from people who might not have otherwise had a chance were able to help me make my goals better than before. There are multiple cases where this has happened for me using these tools and ideas.
- I’ve come to believe that transparency is more and more important inside an Enterprise. We need more people engaged and helping to solve the problem of the day and I believe that employees want to know what the leadership is thinking about and seeing. In the case of IT I’ve come to believe that with a few exceptions, it is better to make most of our learnings, FAQs, documentation, plans, etc. visible to all inside the company. The side benefit of being transparent is that nobody can complain that they don’t know what IT is doing!
- After a visit with Cisco and hearing of their enthusiasm with video, I decided to do a few video posts to the blog. I was shocked by the strong and positive response these posts received. From around the world, inside and outside my own organization, I received positive comments. People were very pleased to get a 3-5 minute video from me. I have more to explore on this front.
- I’ve come to realize how important search is to find content. I was late on understanding this one. More on this another time.
- Finally, I realized that it is hard for people who aren’t in the middle of this to understand that some of these things really are game changers for an organization. It doesn’t really look different from a distance. There is more to say about this which I might put in another post. I think the Enterprise 2.0 book is helpful in this regard. I’m going to write about ROI on this later too.
I’m certainly interested in others learnings and ideas. I need all the good ideas I can find. Comments are welcome.
Seth Godin’s post on being Thirsty is a good post to think about and consider for yourself. I don’t know which comes first, the curiosity or the success. However, I think that to sustain success, you better be curious and ask lots of questions and think about things in new ways. You need to challenge yourself by reading things from different view points and you need to surround yourself with interesting people who will challenge your thinking. You need to be constantly learning.
I used to live in Singapore and I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to travel in Asia and Europe numerous times. I believe I have very good friends in Singapore and Thailand and other countries around the world. Each time I travel and during my time living overseas, I feel like I’m learning new things and being stretched in new directions.
I once had a person from a charity come to visit me in my office and after they arrived and were talking to me, they said they didn’t know my background or anything about my company. Do you think it might have been smarter to be curious about me and the company I work for and do a little research in advance? Another person recently show up who had read a post on this blog that had been posted in the prior 24 hours. That person had done some research.
However you do it, I think that we each need to keep learning, being curious and engaging with the world around us.
Enterprise 2.0 by Andrew McAfee
I mentioned in a prior post that you need to read Andrew McAfee’s upcoming book called Enterprise 2.0. I hadn’t read it yet, but was looking forward to reading it based on his blog and other references to the ideas and work. Well, I bought a copy and finished it this past week. I enjoyed it and I’ve already recommended it to quite a few people. Here are some thoughts about it.
- The case studies in chapter 2 have elements of haunting familiarity that likely have parts that apply to many different companies. While I can’t extrapolate to every Enterprise, I certainly believe that everyone is trying to do more with less and trying to leverage their physical and people assets more and more every day.
- Chapter 4 is outstanding as it drives to the key reasons why the tools in the web 2.0 might just make a difference. To get better leverage, to move faster, to solve problems quicker, to get more minds working on the ‘opportunity of the day’ we need to connect with more problem solvers. We need more minds working on the ‘opportunity.’ We need to convert people who are farther away from us into people who are helping us solve problems. There is some good research that helps underpin why these tools make a difference.
- Chapter 5 talks about why these tools are different. I liked the headings in the chapter so much that I used them to make a point in a meeting where I was involved. These tools are ‘uniquely valuable’ which is the title of the chapter. I won’t repeat the points here but this is the best chapter in the book.
- There is plenty of good material throughout the book and I wrote all through my copy (usually I read on Kindle but I anticipated that I’d write a lot on this so I went for the real book this time). The final thoughts of the book are around new ways of thinking and IT investments and goals. Good material to share with your leadership team and your CFO.
I really recommend this book and these ideas. It should be emphasized that these tools alone don’t make the difference. It takes new ways of thinking about working together and while this book and others can speed you along that path, I’m convinced that you’ve got to walk the journey yourself together with your colleagues. We are using wikis and I’ve been blogging inside the company for over 1.5 years and I can look back and see how my thinking has evolved over that time and how I’ve seen problems differently the further down the path I’ve gone. Perhaps I’ll write about that another time.
Get the book.
Mark McDonald wrote an excellent article on the Rules for IT Are Changing and I wanted to highlight it here. I read this weeks ago and keep thinking about it.
I really agree that the landscape of IT leadership is changing. The big infrastructure investments that IT has made are just necessary to be in the game. ERP is needed to be in the game, but it does not differentiate anything anymore. We have to keep the networks up, telephones working, mail being delivered, etc.
Seems to me that once all the things above are well done and in control, the next difference maker or value creator is around collaboration and how well IT helps the company collaborate internally and with others.
BTW, Mark’s blog is excellent and recommended.
Being part of a global organization, I have IT staff located around the world. I’ve always struggled to connect with this globally scattered organization as it is just too hard to get everywhere and still have a life. A year and half ago, I started a blog inside the company on our wiki platform. This communication channel has transformed how I communicate with my organization and others around the world. Let me give you some examples:
- I’ve announced the start of our IT Strategic Planning process and we’ve post drafts for anyone to see and comment on. All were invited to give us input.
- I’ve talked about critical issues like business continuity planning, Green IT coordination, electronic security and many other topics. I’ve used the channel to share what and why.
- Values have been discussed numerous times. Trust is a big one.
- Lots of talk about collaboration and highlighting what that means and where we are getting traction with better collaboration.
- Recognize people who have accomplished something important. Perhaps a new certification, or a patent or a great new result on some project. It is great to recognize people who’ve done great things!
- One of the teams in a partner organization made some great use of tools we provided. I got to highlight that team and their work. I’ve been able to connect with lots of folks outside of IT.
To do a blog, you’ve got to 1) have things to write about and 2) find a voice to talk about these topics. If you are in IT where you might be involved in a security discussion, followed by some network management discussion, followed by mobile computing, followed by a dialog with a vendor, etc. etc. in just a single day, then you have many things you can write about. Then all you have to do is find a voice. You find a voice by just starting and finding it.
I think that CIOs need to communicate a lot.
I’ve got a question about how others do estimating and then use those estimates in their portfolio planning process. If you estimate the cost and a finish date on an IT project (or really any project for that matter) and over the course of working the project, conditions change where the estimates are no longer valid, how do you handle the change? Do you revise estimates along the way and then have the resulting situation where the final product ‘meets’ your new revised estimates? Or do you hold yourself accountable to your original estimates from the very beginning?
If a group is serious about trying to get the estimates right in the first place and then measuring accuracy over the course of months, quarters and years, how you answer this question is very important. It seems that you must hold yourself accountable to your first estimates because they are the ones that were used to make a go/nogo decision in the first place. Furthermore, you want to setup a closed loop process where you try to shrink the gaps over time and minimize errors as you get better at estimating.
This breaks down when events beyond the control of the team affect the project. Perhaps an unexpected M&A effort effects everything or changes in leadership dramatically change priorities on the portfolio. In situations like these, the original estimates can be meaningless.
Also, you are learning things as you go along. Conditions change, priorities change, people leave, etc. Somehow you need to account for these learnings along the way so you can always provide the best estimate possible as your progress through the project.
I saw a recent report that talked about the need for IT shops to get better at estimating. Seems like I need to get a good answer on this question first.
I’d be curious how other address this?
OK, I’m going to shamelessly link to one of my own companies blogs because the post and embedded YouTube video about a data center disaster needs to be further spread. I don’t know if this is an old or new incident (didn’t look up dates) but it is quite telling and certainly not funny from a CIO perspective. However, the video might be of use to someone trying to make a point about the need for real disaster recovery planning and business continuity planning.
A year ago, I wrote on my internal company blog about why we do disaster recovery planning and why we make investments to protect our assets in our data centers. As can be easily expected, that night we had a major power outage and one of our data centers was off-line for several hours. Great timing. I wrote post about it the next day and fell on my sword.
We’ve experienced a situation where the line power from the local utility becomes unstable and goes off and on in a random, rapid fashion and the resulting up and down power fluctuation damages one of our backup power systems which then brings down the whole grid in the site. The backup system fails. Thank you.
We’ve also planned around the SARs outbreak and we had to split some of our teams into two groups that did not cross paths in order to keep each team separate and hopefully healthy. In the case of SARs, we even saw were some local governments were considering closing facilities where outbreaks were happening in order to contain the spread. How would your data center work if it was closed and local staff could not get in for a period of time? Have you planned for that one?
My favorite is when an contract electrician doing work in the site elects to shutdown power to the whole data center without talking to anyone in advance.
In short, as I posted earlier, you can’t really predict all the things that might go wrong.