Archive for collaboration

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.

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Shift of viewpoint – Analyst centric to Topic centric

Posted in Web2.0 Productivity with tags , , on July 8, 2010 by Lance Strzok

I have to say that I would like to see a shift in how we approach process improvement. Some views take an analyst centric approach where the analyst comes in to do their work and works on some topics. They have some peers, but they are focused on some subject matter and is assumed to have a relatively fixed network of peers that they are believed to know. Then we figure out how to enable them in their daily activities.

I would rather approach process improvement from a topical approach where so called lanes in the road are not the driving factor in determining participation. Only that you have people with expertise that you can allocate toward a well defined requirement. Then they work individually toward becoming more effective with the tools they have access too, and the process improvement is in how we enable them and what we enable them with.

What say you?

Why a joint publishing environment?

Posted in Web2.0 Productivity with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2010 by Lance Strzok

The urgency on this issue is because everyday that passes, another “collaboration site” gets created within our enterprise (government) which serves to divide collaborators that work specific topics.

This is bad because for fast, accurate, and rich content, we want the greatest number of collaborators to apply their considerable depth of knowledge to fewer products and knowledge bases which enable decision makers (political or tactical) to make the most informed decisions as quickly as possible.

Example situation:

Twenty people across the enterprise (DOD, IC, and other governmental bodies with access to the network) have expertise on a subject, but are not necessarily geographically located near one another.

From blog_pics

Twenty people (collaborators) across five companies or (agencies) that typically write on a given subject or topic. Four people at each of the five companies.

From blog_pics

Each of the five companies creates its own collaborative environment for its local employees with some limited ability to share with external collaborators. This could be a Mediawiki site, Sharepoint site, Lotus Notes, or any similar collaboration environment (Collaorative software list).

Each of the four members at each of the five companies use their companies collaborative environment to collaborate on their individual product on the same topic.

From blog_pics

Five “collaborative products” are created, with four primary contributors to each product.

A decision maker (political or tactical) may receive all five products on which to make a decision, and the burden of analysis is put on the decision maker (with less expertise on a topic) rather than on the community of practice where that expertise exists.

From blog_pics

What we want to do is put one product in front of a decision maker that represents the collaborative efforts of the community of practice on that topic (all twenty people), and allow them to make decisions based on that information. The richness and depth of knowledge applied to one document where the differences and facts are agreed upon (or highlighted when not) and available as a product and a living knowledge resource.

From blog_pics

Although there are several publishing and knowledge management products in use across the services and agencies, many of these systems are not shared, nor do they allow for collaboration outside of their component in an effective way. The data and products as well as those items in production are not discoverable by the other components and the costs to maintain each of these systems is considerable. Even if each component wanted to share their databases and information, it would be technically challenging based on the varied systems in use.

Intellipublia is authoring and knowledge management software that enables joint production of products and knowledge management on topics across the entire enterprise (where the enterprise contains all of the agencies, commands and DOD components). All of which can use Intellipublia to create component specific products, or collaborate on joint products. Additionally, members at any component can discover, and contribute or comment on any product that is in draft, or completed.

Intellipublia takes the worldwide scalability of Wikipedia (Mediawiki software) and has been modified to work as a production system that has many features of modern production expectations“.

Intellipublia is operational, as well as still accepting requirements for improvement.

The most notable features are:
* Web based and accessible from any computer on the network
* Scalable to millions of users
* Changes are tracked and attributable and commented
* Notification mechanisms for various aspects of user activities
* Produce validated XML for registration with the Library of National Intelligence IAW ICD 501
* Static html output for local server usage
* Searchable, linkable, taggable, extensible, and has RSS output

In conclusion, I wish to convey that within an enterprise as large as ours, where knowledge on any topic exists in more then one component, it is imperative that we drive collaborators to fewer collaborative spaces in order to maximize collaborative effects and achieve decision superiority while reducing duplication in both products and knowledge databases. This means making a joint decision on which environments we are going to use, followed with how we will integrate them, regardless of the environment or software tools that we settle on.

As always, thank you for reading, and I would appreciate your candid and constructive feedback.

To Sharepoint or not to Sharepoint.

Posted in Web2.0 Productivity with tags , , , , on April 16, 2010 by Lance Strzok

I have been evaluating Sharepoint 2007 for utility within our organization and although the very word “Sharepoint” seems to bring to mind sharing, I find that when combined with most of the workforce I am in, sharing is far from what happens. I have since started calling it “Stovepoint”. Not that the software is completely to blame, but also what features are turned on or turned off when installed.

One of the biggest problems I have with it is editing documents on the Sharepoint server using any other browser other then Internet Explorer (IE). I prefer Firefox at the moment as my primary browser, but it does not open and allow editing of content on the Sharepoint server, so I have to open the file in IE, and then go on editing. I would prefer that the server be agnostic to the user browser, and just let me edit and save the document. In my case, where I want to collaborate with people around the world, I can not assume that everyone of them has access too IE to use in order to update that file.

The blogging software is lacking when compared to WordPress, and I like all the user support and development for WordPress plugins, addons, and the general extensibility.

As for the Wiki feature, I would prefer the same syntax and capabilities as well as support for Media Wiki software used by Wikipedia.

I found I wanted to do a lot more with Real Simple Syndication (RSS) then what Sharepoint had to offer. Modern workforces are looking to more then just a few tools to handle the mountains of data that are available to them. RSS, and the ability to ingest, sort, search, and display as well as re-feed out that list to other members of a team are important. The closest I have come to that is Using Feedreader.

One of my major concerns is collaborating with the wiki or blog or documents from outside of the organization. At least in our organization, that capability just does not exist. I can collaborate with the people in my organization, but not outside of it, and frankly, I already tend to do that fairly well. I really want to reach collaborators outside of the organization, and get ideas from outside of our spaces.

Now before I get a bunch of responses that say “it can do that”, you have to consider that all I am using is the base tool. No additional widgets, no developers to make it do what I want. Just a bare install. I say this because to add any additional effort has to be approved, budgeted for, and might happen some time in the distant future, which does not solve my problems now.

I have an additional concern about the general dependency on Microsoft Office tools in general. We seem to rely on Word, PowerPoint, and Excel spreadsheets and Outlook more then we should. I don’t believe there is any real competition to MS tools, and that only in recent times are we starting to see MS taking input from users and programming to meet user generated requirements. I think more of their recent tools are getting better for this reason. But I will always look to open source to provide good alternatives to MS tools that will keep costs down, and drive future innovations. A good example would be Firefox capabilities driving changes in IE as a browser. I am sure there are other examples and would love to see them in the comments below.

My overall recommendation has to be to use our instance of Sharepoint for our internal website. Hanging documents there that are read only or archived would be fine. Actively edited docs, well I don’t think I would push using it for that since I tend to seek collaboration on a global scale. I would also ban attachments, and go for sending links to a URL with the file to be edited on the other end using another piece of software.

Before closing, I do want to make sure that I say something important about Microsoft. I like 3 products of theirs very much. Excel, Word, and Powerpoint. I know there are strong less expensive competitors out there for those tools, and I hope it continues to spur innovation and improvement in those tools. Especially in the areas of seamless integration with other successful tools.

Please let me know if you think I forgot some more important things to mention with regard to this decision (like cost, or support). I would love to hear good and bad so that I can help my organization make a good decision on keeping it, or adopting other services to meet our needs.

As always, thanks for reading.

Think Topically – Work Topically

Posted in Web2.0 Productivity with tags , , , , , , , on March 31, 2010 by Lance Strzok

Some very important values and ideas have been simmering for a number of years in the collaborative spaces across the government. The idea of “Thinking Topically – Not Organizationally” is one of the longest standing and has more meaning the longer I work in these collaborative tools. The discussion and approach below is being presented in an effort to avoid the “1000 silos of collaboration” which is slowly beginning to erode the base of a more true and genuine collaborative infrastructure that already exists, and simply needs to be more fully understood and utilized.

This article focuses on implementing a “topic” centric approach that enables better communication and collaboration across the various domains, and between the 16 agencies in our enterprise.

There are three major pieces to understand.

1. People as “Sensors on a network”. On any given topic, there are those that work it directly, and those that work it indirectly. How we find and organize the people that work that issue is described in another article, but as those groups form networks, it helps to think of them as sensors on a network, and links among the networks. All the people involved in these networks are spread across various agencies, academia, and the contracting world.

Three starting ideas

These networks have the technology to organize, and share information on topics that are important to them. By linking and enabling them to work together on issues of common concern up front, we have the potential to provide well rounded thoroughly vetted reports to our customers that highlight differences and agreements on content contained in the reporting. We also could reduce considerable overlap, time and money wasted on individual agency production that creates multiple products on any given topic and leaves it to the customer to find and identify among several reports the information they are looking for and the agreement and disagreement between the various articles. The unfortunate part is that often, the customers don’t have the time or resources to read and interpret the information provided to them. I would also argue that is what we should be doing on the front end. (Taxpayers should read this as “waste and duplication”).

2. A workflow that allows for the reduction in time consumed by each sensor on the network independently discovering, aggregating, sharing, documenting and producing on that information. In this process, each sensor puts their finds on the topic into a bin with all the others, and software within the bin recognizes duplication and removes the additional document, but adds a one up number and username to the suggested file which could be used in helping to determine value to the other team members. Additional software could be run against the data in the storage area looking for relationships, or add some natural language processing (NLP) techniques as well as a way to divide up the articles between members for review, or allow reviewers to rate and comment on the content as well as suggest whether it goes into the trash or needs to be used to update an assessment or start a new one.

3. Work topically by way of Community Of Interest pages. A shining attribute of one of our tools is the concept of a workspace. However, A-space is not available to the entire 16 agency enterprise. But the idea and functionality of a workspace can exist using tools already available at each agency and on all three domains (ICES services). It may not be as elegant, but at this point in our development as fellow collaborating agencies, the concept of a workspace can be achieved using a wiki page, a document management system, social bookmarking, a common publishing environment, a twitter like tool, and other supporting tools already available across the enterprise.

Having now identified the major pieces of the discussion, how is this supposed to work?

Why is this important? (Who has the time and responsibility to do this?) Do the customers have the time or responsibility to discover, read, disambiguate, and deliver best info to their decision makers? Is that their job?

What can we save for us, and our customers?

What can we do right now?

I have discussed this several times in the course I give, but I am looking to improve the model and the approach. All comments or idea would be appreciated. Thanks.

How do we move away from email?

Posted in Web2.0 Productivity with tags , , , , , , , , on March 31, 2010 by Lance Strzok

I started this thread as a response to Andrew McAfee’s blog. http://andrewmcafee.org/2009/10/how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-email/ .

There I shared the following thoughts on moving away from email:

I am living the truce with email, but I do think that email will act like a ball and chain on moving toward what could be, and what I think we agree will eventually be.

I think that the mindset for email should be as one to be used as a private communications path, with suggested replacement when possible with private chat and private messaging within chat for asynchronous discussion.

I think one thing we could do to move willing organizations toward limiting email and moving in the direction of other tools would be to disable attachments within email. Replacing them with links to documents in a document management system that is optimized for the media being linked too, (be it images, documents, video etc…). There are some added side benefits to this decision, reduction of the number of the same documents and the associated confusion over updates versions, and changes. There are other benefits, but I won’t go on about that.

A follow on move may be to declare that email will begin to be indexed and made searchable/discoverable unless it is flagged as personal and private. Encouraging employees to use private chat and chat messages for most of the personal exchanges that take place. This would enable us to start to use the email text strings (now without actual documents embedded). Maybe then email might not be “where knowledge goes to die” as you so appropriately put it. These emails (now text files) can indexed along with chat room logs (non private) and other text based tools as well. One additional thing would be that it may basically force a lot of people to review what they have, and delete those that are no longer worthwhile, thereby reducing total storage allocated to email from 20 years ago. (Can you believe some people are proud of that fact?)

The other uses of email would eventually need to be replaced with arguably better tools as well. Take for example the task list function, or the integrated calendar, meeting makers and the rest of the functionality we have come to love. Until we can point to a better solution in those areas as well, this is going to continue to be an uphill battle.

Then there are the customers and clients, we can change our internal methods and processes, but what about how we interact with our customers?

All good questions, but I just realized I started this long ago, and forgot to publish and finish it (busy).

Lastly, I will say that if you or your customers like Firefox as your browser, then linking your documents to Sharepoint is not the direction to go. They are only open for editing in Internet Explorer.

What am I going to tell my boss (Draft – still want comments)

Posted in Web2.0 Productivity with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 9, 2009 by Lance Strzok

The internet just turned 40 last month, and no one would argue that the result of enabling 1/6th of the people on the planet to communicate and share information using this network has lead to enumerable unforeseen and unplanned benefits.

Web2.0, and its derivatives- Enterprise 2.0, Social media, Government 2.0, are now collectively a combination of ideology, and technologies that together are a disruptive technology with the potential to bring great power to those that leverage it.

We are not fostering the ideology or leveraging the technologies to an appreciable extent, and risk loosing much in the way of power and influence.

The problem is that we have had access to these Web2.0 tools for over 5 years now, with little progress in the way of integrating these tools into our business practices or replacing older tools and technologies. Leadership puts these concepts into vision statements, but does little in the way of delivering actionable plans and integration strategies. Meanwhile the grassroots efforts of many line employees that leverage the technologies have marginalized success, and meet with resistance from supervisors and middle management that have no direction from above on how and what to implement or allow.

This is further muddied with the heavily publicized failings and issues of the use of these technologies on the world wide web (www). You hear about negative issues spanning opsec of personal information and computer cyber security issues and concerns that do in fact exist- on that network. What they don’t talk about, and how the issues you hear about with these tools on TV and in various other media is the difference in attribution. Simply put, on the web, you can be anyone, and say just about anything. Whereas within enterprise
environments, many of these concerns don’t exist because your actions are attributable to you, and your cyber issues are largely behind the firewall. So it is clearly an unfair comparison, and damaging to adoption.

Discussion-
1. Ideology, values, and culture of the “adopters” -It’s about attitude, not Gen-X, Gen-Y etc…
2. Tools and Technologies that facilitate integration of the ideology in business and personal performance
3. Benefits of Integrated Social Media Strategy
4. Not a Utopian solution
5. Current and future tools and technologies
6. What is needed from leadership

The Ideology – (Heavy influence by Gary Hamel)

– Contributing and Sharing – The speed, agility, access to information and communication of the network surpasses individual performance
– Transparency – We each can see what and when others contribute
– Trust – Through transparency we can develop trust and meaningful relationships
– Impact – Desire ability to impact my organization
– Agility – Facilitate a fast pace, minimize bureaucracy
– Easy – Low barriers to contribution
– Egalitarian – Your ideas sink or swim on their own merit and are not based on personal credentials
– Networks are self organized and defined – not prescribed
– Leaders serve rather then preside
– Resources get attracted not allocated
– Power comes from sharing accurate information not hoarding it
– Opinions compound and decisions are peer reviewed

The tools and technology –

There was a time when the tools we had at work were far superior to what we had access to at home, and in some areas, that pendulum has come 180. These tools are readily available at home, and are a large part of many people’s personal productivity. These tools enable and enhance the activities that are valued in Social Media ideology.

Tools and Technology
– Blog (WordPress)
– Wiki (Wikipedia)
– Instant Messaging (Chat)
– Web based file servers for various media (Flickr, Picasa, Google Docs)
– Social Bookmarking
– Keywords and Tags
– RSS
– Social Media platforms (Facebook, MySpace)
– Emergent Social Software Platforms (ESSPs)
– Podcasts
– … Many more

Not really going to talk tools, there are too many, and I am grateful to have access to so many for my work. There are classes you can take to learn about the tools and how to use them to achieve results. What is important to mention is that I have a choice, not one solution that was handed down from corporate IT with a mandate to use it.

These tools have some characteristics in common. I like the mnemonic SLATES coined by Andrew McAfee to discuss those similarities.

– Search – Ability to search within the tool
– Links – Ability to link to other information
– Authoring – Give people the ability to interact with or author
– Tags – Keywords associated with an item
– Extensible – Can be improved and made to work with other tools
– Signals – Can send you an option in notification (email, or RSS)

Benefits of Integrated Social Media Strategy –

Not a Utopian solution –

Current and future tools and technologies –

What is needed from leadership? –

Stated social media goals and guide rails that provide and encourage adoption within the firewall while considering security and expectations when using tools that interact with the world wide web.

Verbalized recognition and encouragement of the use of these tools by managers and employees whenever possible within the firewall for enterprise related work.

Encourage leadership to create a culture in which calculated risks can be taken without fear of loosing job, innovation can take place at the lowest levels of the organization, employees can and do impact how things are done. Understand that flaws will come to the surface, and be ready to engage the workforce on how to fix them in an open and transparent way. I am reminded of forums, and the solution cannot be to simply turn them off. They may have shed light on some of the shortcomings, but ultimately, they represented the silent voice at the table.

Recognize the values of the coming workforce. Understand the tension that may exist with current leadership that came into power under a somewhat different set of values and a different culture to form the existing business model. State a desired direction to evolve from that model toward a new model in which risk, trust, sharing, and collaboration resulting in products with great depth of knowledge and transparency of contributions are to be rewarded.

Empower and encourage network and team building across the entire enterprise utilizing these tools and leveraging those networks and teams against mission areas. Actionable plans put into place and motivated engagement.

Search out and hire people that demonstrate high performance and the skills to integrate their talent with a network of similarly interested and talented people.

Recognize and reward adoption and evolution toward the new model.

Ensure that middle management and immediate supervisors encourage the use of and adoption of these tools by the workforce.

I believe that general
managers are the single most important constituency for tech-
nology success or failure within an organization; yet very few
books or other materials are written especially for them.

[Andrew McAfee]

—-
Thanks to Contributors:
-Dave McDonald
-Joseph Boutte
-Justin Franks
-Andrew McAfee
-Nick Charney
-Brock Webb
-Chris Rasmussen

—-
Resources and links
http://andrewmcafee.org/enterprise-20-book-and-blurbs/
http://oreilly.com/web2/archive/what-is-web-20.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WEB2.0
http://blogs.wsj.com/management/2009/03/24/the-facebook-generation-vs-the-fortune-500/