It’s not about the tools or technology – It’s about the culture

Posted in Web2.0 Productivity, work with tags , , , , , on May 31, 2011 by Lance Strzok

DRAFT – asking for interaction and comments below – include your name with worthy comments and I’ll include your name in the contributing authors)

In pursuit of sincere and additive collaboration, we must understand what collaboration is, the value of achieving it, what factors effect it,  and how to set up conditions for a successful collaborative environment that are optimized for the product, and sustainable for the future.

Many of the conversations I have on getting people to adopt collaborative technologies are focused on improving the ease of use of a particular tool or service, how to link it to other tools, and improving how they interact with one another to put useful information in front of an end user.  It is believed that we will get more users to use it as a collaborative tool or service if it is more intuitive and fun.  We look at Facebook, and can talk about the numbers of users, ease of use, no users manual, and go on about its growth and the platform that it is for sharing information and maintaining situational awareness.  We labor under a false belief that if we could somehow make our tools and services that easy, than people would share more and collaborate more.  When in truth, we have been putting great collaborative tools and capabilities backed by leadership and guidance in front of our workforce for over a decade now and have only moderate gains in collaborative activity and the network effect to speak to.

Although amazing progress on tools and services have taken place, and are indeed important, I don’t believe that this is where the battle for the hearts and minds of our potential collaborators  is.  Rather, I believe that the value of collaboration, how much effort it takes, and the alignment of tools, services, and processes that optimize collaborative opportunities while simultaneously removing older systems and processes is essential to maximizing the various aspects of knowledge products.

This “build it and they will come” sentiment has taken us pretty far, but there is growing recognition that the tools and services alone are not getting us that much further down the path. Tool fatigue, and password overload as well as watching software come and go over the years has taken its toll on the willingness of the workforce to engage and learn new software tools to the point of people just saying – “No”. In addition to that, we have left the old, comfortable tools in place rather than burning the ship behind us, and forcing the use of new – uncomfortable,  processes and tools. This may well be another factor in why there has been only moderate gains over the last ten years in the methods and the numbers of collaboratively produced products.

Why do tools matter?

E-mail and client side authoring software like MS Word, are largely responsible for shaping our methods of collaborating to date, and they perpetuate an individualistic authoring environment and linear processes that are quite inefficient.  What is needed is to shift from tools that support very private, inefficient content creation that is linearly pushed through an editing model followed by a dissemination process, into tools and software that facilitate situational awareness of changes, and continuous engagement and monitoring options across the continuum of activity that is knowledge production, dissemination, and updating. One that is algorithmically involved with discovering, suggesting and notifying others with similar interests, responsibilities, or expertise, and helping to connect them.  In other words, implement processes and modify the existing suite of tools to enable personalization of an authoring / engagement environment that optimizes the desired collaborative activities that benefit the knowledge worker and the knowledge product.

What needs to change?

A sense of pride in what we can achieve over that of what any one individual can achieve on their own, and a stake in ownership of the knowledge products that bear our organizational name over that of a product that has any one individuals name.  A willingness to view all production from our workforce as something we are each individually accountable for, and that each item reflects our culture of excellence and is of the highest standards and quality.

Barriers to collaborative environment establishment?

Along with the modification of tools, processes and ownership in a brand, there is a longstanding perception of individual worth that is fostered by “putting people in a workplace and establishing incentives for competing, rather than sharing. We set up processes as barriers to creative thinking and learning along with policies that fail to accommodate how people actually work together” – (John B).  We also see individual names on knowledge products along side that of our organization, thereby crediting the product to the person, not the process or collaborative environment that has created a piece of work. This individual achievement is further encouraged by our organizational awards and recognition of individual efforts, many of which carry financial reward. This perpetuates the individual author over that of the community of interest authoring of knowledge products, and sends a clear signal to authors that is in opposition to the desired collaborative environment.

Recognition

It takes work

It takes time

It takes real thought, patience, courage and professionalism

Willingness to educate

Willingness to be honest

A sense of team

A firm understanding of and belief in the benefits of the collaborative process

It takes tools that support each of the above and are embedded in the process

Communications, incentives, training, and recognition need to convey and support the messages that support a collaborative environment

 

So what do we need to get comfortable with in order to optimize collaborative benefits and activities as individuals?

Collaboration, is not particularly easy, even in the best of environments where people are seated at the same table, given even footing to speak from, and with a common goal in mind for which their expertise has been selected. Yet, it bears good fruit, while improving understanding by all group members.  This isn’t what you would normally do, nor how you would normally do it, but you are going to go, and with good intention, represent the information you believe, and the viewpoints you have in the creation of a product that several people will be working on. You must be articulate and professional in arguing your viewpoint, or if during that professional discussion you change your view in light of new information, be willing to express how or why your viewpoint has changed. In the case where your view may not be represented, you should ensure that documentation of the fact of your discussion is incorporated into the record, so that others can see the viewpoints that are opposed were discussed, and remaining arguments are supported individually with sourcing.

In sitting down and chewing on Individual productivity and Team productivity, here is a list of things I am comparing:

Speed

Richness

Quality

Points of View

Agreements and Disagreements

Knowledge transfer

Signal to noise

Author/s

Outlier – repetitiveness

Quality vs experience

Chart of speed vs richness, quality, and number of collaborators

Contributing Authors: John Bordeaux,

Again, please feel free to share thoughts, this is a start, and will be finished in the next couple of days.

Thanks – Lance.

Advertisements

Why Screencasting?

Posted in Web2.0 Productivity with tags , , , , , , , on April 13, 2011 by Lance Strzok

So, why do I spend time one this screencasting process and software?

First a word on what screencasting is – Basically, it is software that takes between 10 and 50 pictures of the screen per second while it records your voice as you demonstrate some activity on your computer. Then it can convert those pictures into something much like a movie with audio and you can share that movie with others. In general, it is a great way to explain and share how you do things with software or computers. Video in the form of a camcorder or phone video recorder generally requires more storage than screencasting software, but is usually better used for showing processes not involving a computer. You see a lot of Youtube videos that use actual video recordings to demonstrate how to do things with physical processes, and screencasts for things on computer screens. But as we do more and more with computers, it makes sense that screencasts will become more useful in this way.

I spend a fair amount of time sharing what I know with people I interact with. I like to help, and I like the look on people’s faces when the light bulb goes off and they see how they might want to use some particular piece of software for something they are working with, or alternatively, when they say that they have been trying to find something to do a certain task or make a process easier for them and I manage to show them something that meets their needs.

But I started to realize that sending me around to train everyone was not the answer, and that creating screencasts that demonstrate doing something and then sharing that screencast was repeatable, on demand, and frees up time for me to work on creating new content instead of spending all my time teaching the same processes and procedures over and over again. This expands to training in general. If it is done on a computer, than screencasting gets you a lot of bang for your buck.

Furthermore, if you have a help desk, or a place where people generally can ask for help or questions, you can post a link to the screencast that addresses that problem or question and you may have just averted a trouble call or spending man hours helping someone else understand a process that has already been documented and explained fairly well. Another really nice thing about screencasting out the functionality or process that some piece of software or several pieces of software can do is that even if I did happen to give the training to someone at some point in time, maybe they forgot, or needed a refresher. Also, it can be delivered on demand, from any time zone, without cutting into my time of creating more content and dicovering what else needs to be explained.

So it appeals to me in several ways, it captures an idea and makes it easy to share with lots of others, and it can be recalled on demand as well as freeing me up to do other meaningful work. It also fits the learning styles of a good number of people that are visual learners. People that like to see it done, and think about how they might use it to do something they need done. So over all, I think of  savings, time, and repeatability as good reasons to use this medium for software or computing activities that you want to share.

Enabling your workforce to create these videos and help each other learn how to do things that they do could prove to be an incredible force multiplier. Think of it as the “self help” desk. If you have one location where the videos are stored, and if you incentivise creating the videos by your employees, the ones that get voted up as most useful could be a real hit, and share best practices across the command. Not to mention you can categorize them and tag them so that when someone needs help with MS Excel, they can find the help they need in video form, or hit one of the chat rooms on the subject.

What do you need to make a sceencast? Well, a microphone and the software I posted about in my previous blog posts. Beyond that, you might want to make a screencast of how you use that software to allow your employees to come to understand it, although if you can create one that helps with the correct settings, beyond that it is fairly intuitive.

Like I mentioned earlier, after you enable them to create content, and a place to put it, then find a way to incentivise it a little so that people create content and share the things that make them so successful. If you hang the videos in an environment where people can vote and comment on videos, you could start to find the folks that really know how to convey knowledge and share. It also captures some of the corporate or tacit knowledge before it leaves the organization.

I have seen screencasting used to help launch software that you are going to start offering at work so that people can see it and comment on it before you actually launch it

Other common uses for screencasts are:

* Screencasts can help demonstrate and teach the use of software features

* Software developers can demonstrate their work

* Screencasts are helpful to submit along with reporting a bug  where the movie takes the place of a written explanation

* Show others how a task is accomplished in a specific software environment

Cost/Savings:

* Presentations can be captured and shared for those that could not attend the original lecture, saving the cost of travel and hotel costs and the time lost in getting too and from the event

*Considering the high cost of instructor, faculty led training, and most computer based training, screencasting is a good candidate for imparting high-quality knowledge at a low cost from a larger distribution of expertise across your organization

* Screencasts usually capture software better than a video being taken of the activity on a computer screen, and take up less storage as well as easier to stream and share later in a downloadable form

* Educators are embracing screencasts as another means of integrating technology into the curriculum as well as sharing what a student may have missed if they could not attend class, and it creates the potential for online courses on that topic or subject

Limitations:

* You can capture a screencast using hardware such as an RGB or DVI frame grabber card. This approach does not have the OpenGL limitations associated with several Microsoft based solutions

All in all, I see it as an effective and fairly inexpensive to provide a mechanism for creating and sharing process, content, and ideas on demand and with little overhead. That is the reason that I encourage any organization to enable their people with this software and hardware.

Cheers!

Major Changes to my Screencasting Process

Posted in Web2.0 Productivity on April 10, 2011 by Lance Strzok

OK, sorry about all the recent work, the old posts are still valid ways of screencasting, and depending on your platform and configuration, they may still be the best option.

But – Here is an alternative that I found to be easier.

Still uses Camstudio and the Lossless codec to make the avi file.

The process diverges there. New piece of software – Freemake Video Converter after downloading and installing the software, you then use this software to open the avi file you created with CamStudio, and then after it is imported, you can use the right hand button to edit the file and save it again as an avi.

After saving as an avi file, it is now the edited avi file.

You can convert it to mp4 to use locally, or upload the avi file to Youtube and then it will be of high quality, which you can turn around and then download the file as an mp4 that they convert it too.

Now your movie can be accessed from anywhere. For an example of this process, see this screencast.

My Screencasting Settings and Software

Posted in Web2.0 Productivity with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 9, 2011 by Lance Strzok

Basic Steps – Download and install the following software.

CamStudio

CamStudio lossless codec

Freemake Video Converter

—-

Alternatively- Freemake Video Converter can be replaced with this older software –

Anyvideoconverter (old but good)

AVIdemux (old but good)

—-

Launch CamStudio and I recommend the settings I use below in this post.  Record a test section with voice and Save as an AVI file.

After capturing the screensession, I now recommend using Freemake Video Converter  which can do the conversion and is a nice editor.

open the file with Freemake Video Converter and save the file as an mp4 file.

Edit the screencast with the button on the right after you import the video.
Save the changes in the mp4 format

—-

In a little more detail, (thanks Karen),

On a computer, open the software tool called CamStudio. This tool allows the user to take a screen capture an estimated thirty frames per second and also captures audio.
Open the software that is going to be demonstrated or open the target software, such as Microsoft Excel 2007 or Microsoft Word 2007
In CamStudio, configure the settings for optimal capture of the software activities, as in this particular case, the steps in how to use Microsoft Excel 2007 or Microsoft Word 2007.
After the optimization, start the recording and begin the software demonstration. (As a side note, if a mistake is made, do not stop recording. Pause yourself and take a deep breath. Gather your thoughts and start again at a point just before you made the mistake.
When the demonstration is complete, press the stop button in CamStudio to stop the recording.
Save the file as it is as an AVI file.

Distribute the learning video to the appropriate site for others to view.

—-

In my initial post (most of it is above) – on the topic of screencasting I describe the software I use and provided links to them. In this post I will describe in greater detail the settings that give me a good compromise in size and quality of voice and quality of screen image.

For the CamStudio Version 2.0 part,

File – none

Region – Fixed Region (fixed region is a good choice, and I use 640×480 and if you keep that fixed region the same and use it for all of your recordings as well as leaving all your settings alone, then you can use AVIdemux to append files to one another. Add and intro, and extro to each recording if you want too. You do this by opening the intro file, then appending the body file and appending the extro file after that. Then you have one file from 3 files. Back to the settings.

Options – Video Options – Compressor – Camstudio Lossless Codec v1.4, Quality 100, Set Key frames every 30 frames, Configure  – LZO level 5, Framerates Capture frames every 50 milliseconds, Playback rate 20 frames / sec, Audio Adjust

Options – Cursor Options – Show Cursor, use actual cursor, Highlight cursor, circle, halfsize, color light blue

Options – Record Audio from Microphone

Options – Audio Options – Default input device, 22.05 kHz, stereo, 16-bit, compressed format MPEG layer 3, interleave every 100 milliseconds

Options – Enable Autopan

Options – Autopan, Autopan Speed 99

Options – Program Options – Save settings on exit, Capture translucent layered windows, Recording thread priority – Highest, Name of AVI – Ask for filename

View – Normal View
——

After creating a recording of the session with those settings, you will be asked to save it with a file name and a .avi extension.  Thenk it will take a moment to save the .avi file after the file is made, it will open in CamStudio software and be ready for you to play. For example, I made a settings screencast for this piece of software, and it was 20.1 MB in size as an avi file.

Now, according to my other post, we will open the file with AnyvideoConverter and save it as an MP4 file.

The latest version of Anyvideoconverter is 3.2.1 but I’ll read the settings off of the current version I have just in cast they do not transfer over with the update.

Customized MP4 Movie

Video Options – Video Codec Mpeg4, Frame Size 640 X 480, Video Bitrate 1024, Video framerate 10, Encode pass 1,

Audio Options – Audio codec AAC, Audio Bitrate 128, Sample rate 44100, Audio channel 1, A/V sync default.

After conversion, the file is now a 8.65 MB mp4 file, instead of a 20.1 MB avi file.

I then verified that it played in a media player like VLC media player (another free bit of software).

Now I open AVIdemux to edit the mp4 file into a smaller mp4 file.

—-

AVIdemux settings are as follows:

The defaults on the left menu are set to Video – Copy, Audio – Copy, and Format AVI which you will change to MP4 using the drop down menu. This will output an mp4 file format.

Editing is a little tricky, and unforgiving in that after you select a section using the brackets A-B, if you delete what is in between them,  then that section is gone. You want this, but you wan to be sure.

I eventually resorted to marking the frames, for each piece (stepping frame to frame) and then manually entering them and then when I am sure that is the selection, delete it.

Save the file with a file name and a .mp4 extension and it should be ready to go. The only other issues is if you edit a piece off the front, you may not start with a frame that has information in it about the rest of the file (keyframe), so you can navigate to a keyframe (I…) and edit off what is before that, or just not touch the front of the file.

As for distributing the file now, you can choose Youtube, or you can choose a similar service.

Also, email a link to the screencast to friends with the topic.

I will occasionally improve this post, or write a new one when the changes are significant.

I may also go back and move some of my suggestions to the how to post, and leave just the settings here.

If you have questions or comments on this process, please leave them in the comments below and I will try to help when I see questions.

Cheers!

The Future of Writing at Work

Posted in Telecommute, Web2.0 Productivity, work with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2011 by Lance Strzok

As more and more people are writing and professing their opinions across more and more platforms of information sharing, one thing remains true across all of them – Content it King. Yep, what you say, its validity, conciseness and tone are all part of good content that will keep people coming back. In a world where people value every second of their time, if you can not provide that content consistently, then you can make it look pretty all you want, and tweak formats all day, but that won’t bring them back to read you again.

I suspect the future of writing in the office place will shift from Word and Open Office to open platforms where the words that you write are what is most important, and computers and editors will apply style, images and links to related content to enrich the content as a workflow process following its initial creation.

This makes the transportation and transformation of the words from one product into another so much easier, and style can be changed quickly and easily for past and future content. It is also easier to use and re-use it again in other products.

Think about it, how many times does the Word file you spend half an hour tweaking just so it looks right end up in several places and different platforms looking completely different? My own experience in this has lead me to writing in blogs, because it is just so easy to do. The files are small, transportable, accessible, open with a simple browser (no special or expensive software) and have some of them have built in spell checking as I write – not as a separate function. I can write from my desktop, laptop, phone, or TV and the content can be styled in any way I or someone else pleases. Not to mention that people can index it and discover it, as well as comment on it and share it with others quickly and easily. It also fits with my hope of where things will go in the future with regard to IT and work. Simple really, all I should need is an internet connection and a browser. Which is also why my recent work has been focused on browser wars and how they are doing against one another.

So to wrap things up, spend that extra half hour working on the content, collaborating with colleagues, checking your sources, and making your inner author voice shine through, and give a blog a chance – you might just come to like it for the same reasons I do.

-Lance.

Why Podcast?

Posted in Web2.0 Productivity with tags , , , , on March 10, 2011 by Lance Strzok

So the question of “why podcast?” has come up, and I thought I would share some of the reasoning behind the decision to give the podcast medium a run.

A little background
I recall hearing that the average commute time in DC was over a half an hour. I commute about an hour and fifteen minutes a day, each way. So I usually check NPR news headlines, and about a half hour of 103.5 to catch the main stories, weather, traffic etc…

So how do I use/engage my brain for the rest of the commute? I turned to podcasts. And in doing so, I found many good sources of relevant information and news I could use to maintain situational awareness with regard to issues I am involved with at work. I am aware of the latest developments in the areas I am most concerned with, and I hear varying viewpoints on those issues from several sources over the course of a few days. I have subscribed to individual podcasts, and I use a podcast streaming service called Stitcher for some of the broader interest areas and what others in my field are sharing and talking about.

Thoughts
As I started to think more about it, I realized that if I were to compare the costs of my minutes – the minutes in the commute were pretty cheap. Cost here being the cost of what do I give up to listen to a podcast on my way to work vs what is the cost of the time I would spend reading all of that information while at work. Or put another way, what can I not do while I am locating and reading these articles or bits of information?

It dawned on me that most people are interested in the information that our communications committees are putting out across several formats and publications that include a newsletter, emails, banners, signs, internal web page, etc… But, when I thought about it, what I wanted was one source, and I wanted to move that source to less expensive minutes, otherwise – I was not likely to digest all of those different resources, and I am missing out on useful information.

Motivation
So there is was. I wanted to know those things, but they were spread out, and using expensive work minutes instead of cheap commuting minutes. (Commuter minutes, gym minutes, elevator minutes, lunch minutes etc…)

That is the motivation for consolidating those bits of information into a podcast and allowing the workforce to access the information from home, download the mp3 files to a smartphone, or mp3 player, and listen to the issues that might otherwise go unknown.

If you are interested in the mechanics of how I am creating the podcast, the previous blog entry to this covers that pretty well, and I may add another when I get to the point where I am interviewing instead of just reading the news.

Question for you – where are your cheapest minutes? I don’t think my list is big enough, and I would like to know when you listen or might listen to a podcast.

If you have any comments, or questions – please leave them below in the comments, I will respond to them and thanks for reading.

My Podcast Process and Thoughts

Posted in Web2.0 Productivity with tags , , , , , , on March 6, 2011 by Lance Strzok

So here are some lessons learned from my recent podcast.

Content gathering
– Gathered from various sources, and be sure to get the source information for each part
* Official Emails
* Company portal highlights
* Interviews with people
* Newsletters (internal and external)
* Questions
* Ask for content from Social Media sources
* Send email request for input with links to pages
* Make some phone calls to personally invite someone to interview with you
* RSS feed for items that matter to everyone
– I put all of the content into a shownotes page on a wiki for the production end of things and invite (encourage) others to begin to edit there, otherwise I just put the content in myself from email, or whatever source they are sending it to me from
– After writing it all down and smoothing it over for speaking it aloud, I am ready to record
– Create a section at the beginning in which you mention the contents of the episode, and the date so that listeners may choose to listen or skip that particular podcast (thank you readers for that feedback)

Recording
– I started to record them as mp3 files with a Zoom H1 hand held recorder, but now under lessons learned, I will save them as wave files since the Levelator tool provided by the Conversations Network takes that as an input later in the process and I want to reduce the number of conversions (which only add noise as evidenced in the first podcast). I use the 48khz sample rate with 16 bit because it is the best that can be converted by the Levelator or converted to mp3. I also use the autolevel setting on the back, as well as the low cut on.

During Recording
– Have a glass of something you like to drink near by
– I don’t mind making a long recording, just make sure that if you make a mistake while recording, to pause, regain composure, pick the spot you wan to redo, and after a noticeably long enough time start the section over. In this way when editing, you will clearly see a long pause that will indicate the location of the edit. (Thanks to that tip from Robert and Tiffany Rapplean from their podcast – Intellectual Icebergs)
– Find a quite place, and give some thought to the room you are in with regard to sound waves and how they will arrive at the microphone as well as materials that will absorb sound

Save Raw Recording
– Save the raw recording before doing anything else and store in a folder

Levelator
– You can use the Levelator tool to even out the different levels in the sound file and bring it to a consistent output sound level so that episodes are generally equal from show to show
Editing
– I use Audacity to Edit the wave files, (again, switching to wave files to reduce the number of conversions that reduce sound quality)
– Edit out the bad sections and shorten up long pauses
– Add intro and extro music or words as desired
– Insert commercials as desired (I don’t do this – yet)
– There are other resources within Audacity to do more editing
– Save this file as an edited wave file so that if you have to add sections (insert additional entries), that will be easy


Convert
– Now using Audacity export the edited file as an mp3 file for upload to the server

Last Listen
– Give the show the last listen while following along with the shownotes
– Make sure all the content that is in the show notes is represented (I forgot a section in my first podcast)
– Make time hacks in the shownotes so that if people want to skip to a section, they can do so

Upload Link and Market
– Upload the file to the host server
– Copy the show notes and time hacks from the wiki page where they were created into a blog post and email for linking and feedback
– Make links wherever possible in the shownotes to sources and important nouns
– Link to the podcast, shownotes, and feedback from various locations
– Include a link to subscribe to the podcast or updates when possible
– Post the blog, and verify that all the links work – if not, fix them
– Let your users know that there is a new podcast available with a link to automatically download the mp3 file

– email the podcast distro list you may have and include in the email the time hacks and topics for the show

Follow up on Feedback
– Make sure you stay engaged and follow up on feedback that comes back to you on the blog

If you have additional thoughts on improving this process, please let me know, I aim to make it better as I go, and thanks for your thoughts in advance.