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Hooray Internet collaboration!

I hadn’t heard anything from my KMD2004 groupmates all weekend, so I
was rather worried about the integrative summary that we were supposed
to pass on Monday. I couldn’t find any drafts on the wiki or the
shared workspace. If I had to write everything from scratch by myself
just to make sure that we’d get it in before the deadline, I was going
to do so. They could always make it up to me for the next assignment.
;)

I wasn’t looking forward to working on a Sunday night, but I hadn’t
had the time to work on it during the previous week. Besides, I could
consider Saturday as my downtime day for the week.

I sent my groupmates e-mail telling them I was going to write the
summary, and I gave them my MSN and Yahoo! instant messaging details
just in case they were online on a Sunday night. I started a document
on Google Docs (formerly known as Writely)
and sketched the outline just like I’d blogged my way past a writer’s
block for my background article.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quick response of my groupmates. MJ
sent me an instant message on MSN. I asked him to reformat the
appendices to have consistent citation styles while I worked on the
summary. Dave came online after a short while. After some trouble with
the invitations, we managed to get everyone on the same page.

I set up a group chat using Bitlbee, the IM to IRC gateway that I use
to chat within Emacs. We coordinated our actions using instant
messaging while I fleshed out the summary. Dave couldn’t work on the
document right then, but he could look over my work to see where the
article was going. I added some notes about the structure of the
document so that we had a coherent, logical flow.

My computer crashed twice because I ran out of memory. (OpenOffice +
Firefox + Emacs = not good!) Good thing I was drafting the document in
Google Docs, which auto-saved the document every few seconds and
allowed people to keep reading it while I rebooted.

I sketched the document and condensed my paper before fatigue set in.
I left the paper in their capable hands, and I’m sure it will get done
by tomorrow.

I couldn’t imagine doing this without real-time collaboration tools
like instant messaging and Google Docs. Imagine what it would have
been like, having to e-mail documents around? It would have been such
a hassle for me to keep people up to date.

Hooray for Net collaboration and awesome groupmates!

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Random Emacs symbol: menu-bar-mode – Command: Toggle display of a menu bar on each frame. – Variable: Non-nil if Menu-Bar mode is enabled.

Sowing seeds: What is technology evangelism, anyway?

Today, I want to talk about grassroots adoption, when you’re trying to influence people around you to try out something new–a new tool, a new idea, a new way of working–without dictating to people. I hope that I can help you get a better sense of where other people are, what might be stopping them from moving forward, where you are, and how you can get better at helping other people learn.

I’m interested in this because as a technology evangelist, I’ve talked to a lot of people about social tools like blogging and wikis. Over the next few blog entries, I want to share some of the objections that I’ve come across. I also want to share some of the methods I’ve tried and observed.

But first, let’s talk about what technology evangelism is. You might be wondering why I use the term “evangelism”, considering its religious roots and sometimes negative connotations.

For me, evangelism has that hint of being more than just a dry list of facts. You want to inspire people to action, and you want to do this in a way that sticks even when you’re not around.

The technology you want to promote is not going to be a perfect fit for everyone or every time. Technology evangelism is not about convincing people that your way is the right way. It’s about showing people what their options are, helping them find something that fits them, and helping them learn how to make it part of their work or their lives. (I forget this sometimes, too.)

So if a technology isn’t going to be a perfect fit for everyone immediately, how can you encourage grassroots adoption?

One way is to scatter the seeds as widely as possible. If you reach out, you might find a lot of people who can benefit from the technology you want to promote. Help them, and their success stories and influence will help you reach out to even more people.

You might not have that option. You might have been asked to help a team get up to speed on a tool. You might want to explore a collaborative tool, but before you can take advantage of that tool, you’ll need to get other people on board too. (After all, you can’t collaborate on your own.)

This is where it can get frustrating.

Next post on Monday (or earlier =) ): Sowing seeds: Five common objections

Writing presentation abstracts together

When Jennifer Okimoto pinged me about possibly putting together a presentation for Web 2.0 Expo 2009 in San Francisco, I perked up at the possibilities. I had been intimidated by the list of previous sessions (who am I to tell all these experienced techies and businesspeople about Web 2.0), but Jen and I could definitely share lots of lessons learned about Web 2.0 in a large enterprise, bridging generations and geographies.

So I started a Google Doc for the abstract. After several invitations, she finally got access to it, and we brainstormed and refined our abstract through the shared document. It was a lot of fun, particularly coming up with a good title. I think my fondness for alliterative, catchy titles showed: “Linking the Leviathan?” “Moving the Mountain?”

This should be easier, though. I should be able to right-click on a person in our instant messaging client and say “Collaborate”, pick a document, work on it in realtime, be able to invite other people in, and have that persist.

Someday…

Around the watercooler

I attended a virtual watercooler session for the IBM CommunityBuilders community yesterday afternoon. It was great hearing from other people who are also figuring out how to help others use social networking tools to build community. We’re dealing with many of the same issues: encouraging adoption, facilitating participation, keeping up to date. One of the incredible things about working in a huge company like IBM is being able to tap a breadth of perspectives and learn from so many people around the world.

There’s been such a big shift over the past few years. The questions we get from clients and coworkers alike used to focus on what and why and how, like “What’s Twitter? Why would anyone use it? How do I get started?” We still get questions like that, but more interesting questions have emerged. Now that enough of the tools and enough of the culture has taken root, we can start looking for interaction patterns. We can look at how communities and teams use combinations of tools, how that influences their processes and results, and how the discussions flow.

There’s so much that still needs to be explored. I want to help figure out how we can more effectively connect and collaborate, and that work is just beginning.

Steeped in collaboration

Real World Strategy wrote of me:

Here is somebody in their mid twenties who has already spent a decade immersed in a world of collaboration and web based networking. As William Gibson said, “The future is already here – it is just unevenly distributed”.

This is interesting, because I’m both leading and following, learning from what’s new and what’s old.

The new: I represent a whole bunch of new ideas we’re still trying to figure out. Many of the things I do helps people imagine the future. Researchers who explore how power users work using our new collaborative tools often interview me (which is great, because I get to find out what they’re working on!). People figuring out virtual leadership look at how I and other people can influence without authority.  My value is not only in the ideas and effort I contribute, but in the questions I ask and the assumptions I help explore.

The old: All that is so small, though, compared to the awesomeness of being in a company where people have been thinking about and working on collaboration for decades. The infrastructure we can build on, the critical mass of talent we have, the way we challenge ourselves to figure out how we can work better and the world can work better—I love that. 

What I identify with the most is this ad:

… except I smile more. ;)

People are teaching me so much. I work on sharing as much of it as possible, and on figuring out how IBM and the world can make the most of the person they are helping me become. I don’t know enough of the organization to make that overall choice yet, but there must be something amazing we can do with the gifts people have given me.

It’ll be a great adventure!

Large team challenges

What collaboration challenges do large teams face? Here are the key problems I often hear from people, organized in a rough flow of how teams encounter them within each category. Can you help me improve this list?

image

Assets and knowledge

  • Large attachments: People feel this particularly strongly in IBM because the system imposes “mail jail” if your mail database goes over a certain size, and it can take hours for people to archive and reorganize their mail in order to accept the attachment. The problem is exacerbated by large distribution lists that include people for whom the attachment is not relevant. Costs: Wasted time, increased server storage costs, increased bandwidth costs
  • Knowledge maps: Assets are scattered in different repositories and websites. People don’t have an overview of the different information sources the team uses, what to find where, and what to look at first.  Costs: Wasted time figuring things out again or answering FAQs, duplicate work, duplicate storage, time spent answering FAQs
  • Getting knowledge out of people’s heads: When teams start building their knowledge maps, they often realize that much of the knowledge their team relies on has not been written down. Costs: Wasted time figuring things out again or answering FAQs, duplicate work, increased risk of project delay or failure if a team member becomes unavailable. This challenge is usually broken down into:
    • Expertise mapping: Without a shared understanding of team roles, the team can suffer lack of coordination and duplicate work. Even with a rudimentary expertise mapping system such as a list of people and their roles, new team members can begin to find people who may have the assets they need. Without an expertise map, team members must rely on a few well-connected managers or team members to find people, and the process of personal referral can take time.
    • Products and assets: The next step after expertise location is asset-sharing. Without an asset repository of deliverables and working documents that people can reuse, team members may need to keep reinventing the wheel.
    • Experiences, ideas, tips, and best practices: If people can invest in examining and improving their processes and tools, they can share these tips with other team members and contribute towards emerging best practices. Without this kind of reflective practice, however, team members may waste time and miss opportunities due to ineffective or obsolete processes.
  • Managing turnover and risk: As new team members come on board and other team members leave or become unavailable (vacation, retirement, sickness, etc.), the team needs to adapt. Without documented processes and easy-to-find assets, new team members can’t work as effectively. Onboarding effectiveness also affects  morale for both new members and existing team members. If team members become unexpectedly unavailable, the project could fail or be significantly delayed. Costs: wasted time, missed opportunities, less flexibility

Interaction

  • Meetings: With an increasingly globally-distributed workforce, teams need to learn how to use virtual collaboration tools more effectively. Telephone-only meetings can lead to limited interaction or disengagement. Face-to-face working sessions can incur significant time and financial investments. Costs: Wasted time, travel costs
  • Teambuilding: Without traditional team-building events, team members may not feel as vested in their team’s success, or as comfortable collaborating with people they rarely or have never met. Costs: More friction in communication and teamwork, less effective work, less trust, limited growth opportunities
  • Communication: Multiple one-way broadcasts can be overwhelming for team members, who may end up ignoring newsletters and other e-mail. Without broad feedback channels, team leaders risk having limited insights and lack of buy-in. Costs: Lack of communication and shared vision, duplicate work
  • Peer-to-peer communication: Without a way to communicate with the larger team without being overwhelmed, members may end up collaborating with only a handful of people. They don’t benefit from other people’s experiences or shared resources, and other people can’t build on their work. Costs: Wasted time, duplicate work, more limited growth opportunities

External

  • Working with people outside the team: Team members often need to work with people who may not have access to the team’s resources. This collaboration typically involves lots of e-mail. New collaborators may not be aware of the project history or assets. Distribution lists go out of date or are not consistently used. No one has the complete picture of the project. Costs: Wasted time, frequent miscommunications
  • Working with people on multiple projects: The problem of coordination is exacerbated when team members juggle multiple projects. Making sure that new collaborators receive all relevant, up-to-date information can take a lot of time if the assets and project decisions are scattered among lots of messages in people’s inboxes. Costs: Wasted time, frequent miscommunication
  • Publishing externally-facing information: A team often needs to provide overviews and other information for other groups. Without a single up-to-date collection of information, team members need to find and send the most relevant information each time it’s requested. Costs: Wasted time, inaccurate information
  • Regularly coordinating with other teams: A team may need to regularly keep up to date with the work of relevant teams, without being overloaded by updates. Cadence meetings take time and can be difficult to schedule. Without a record of the discussions and other ways to share updates, team members may struggle to identify relevant news in a time-effective manner. Costs: Duplicate or incompatible work, leading to wasted time

Does that resemble what you see? How can we make this list better?

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Goal: Map the challenges, look for teams that address these challenges well, make preliminary recommendations based on their practices, and  then help teams identify their priorities and next steps