Wednesday, October 01, 2008

All the World's a Stage

This famous quote from Shakespeare has probably never been more apropos than in this age of emerging social media. I could not resist sharing this fascinating and profound presentation by Michael Wesch, the Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University. Michael was also the author of the famous viral video, Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us.

The video below is compiled around Michael's recent talk at the Library of Congress. It's an entertaining and touching journey through the history of social media and how these changes impact our behaviour and develop new cultural norms. The presentation is a little lengthy, but definitely worth the watch!

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

William Shakespeare - As You Like It Act 2, scene 7, 139–143

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Company with an Agile Core

I keep tripping over a fascinating company with an intriguing set of values, processes and services. They are committed to community, to making the world a better place, to taking innovation to a new level, and at the same time are commercially very successful. And no, I don't work for them... yet. What's the big deal? CRM as a service, so what? Sourceforge has taken the "R" in CRM seriously, and have nurtured a core competence that's sure to keep them in the lead. We're already seeing these dynamics in play in their ongoing dance with Google. It's refreshing when companies actually do what they believe in. It provides a fundamental driving force that accelerates their success... inspiration.

They Care

The Salesforce Foundation was set up within a year of the start of the company. The "Power of Us" philosophy is a core value of the company: giving back to the community. 1% of employee time is allocated towards community projects, 1% of the product is donated to nonprofit organizations, 1% of revenue is used to finance this capability and to reduce their environmental footprint. In their own words:
The launch of the Foundation came less than a year after the launch of the company with the goal of building philanthropic programs at the very beginning of the company's existence rather than waiting until the company had reached a certain level of 'comfortable success'. Our belief is if emphasis is placed on philanthropy from a company's inception, the value of service will be a core cultural value that is built into the fabric of the company.

They're Agile

Salesforce is also doing Agile in a big way. They've swallowed the pill and are demonstrating the results, propelling forward. Using their Adaptive Development Methodology, they're leading the evolution of the Agile corporation by scaling the principles, embedding them into their DNA.

Keep it simple, listen to your customer, iterate, radical transparency, encourage experiments... are all part of the core values that are accelerating this organization. Watch the ADM presentation from the Agile 2007 Conference, you will come away inspired.

They're Innovative is taking a traditional data-driven CRM product and creating an open community-building and innovation management platform. It's still raw and complicated, but already they've implemented huge improvements in this challenging segment. Things like facilitating collaboration innovation, providing flexible connections between relational entities, and creating powerful templates to kickstart major projects (including a very creative implementation for nonprofits).

Going Forward

All this of course is inspiring me to wade in further, past the knee-deep level I'm currently implementing. Perhaps, as I delve further, the limitations and idiosyncrasies may leave me jaded and cynical. Somehow I don't think so. It's time to take innovation to the people, and Sourceforge is on the playing field. A company worth keeping an eye on...

Monday, June 30, 2008

Taking Teamwork beyond the Boundaries

Agile development experience has demonstrated how practical conditions and simple processes foster highly-performant teams that produce sustainable results.

A Small-World View

Here are some of the "rules-of-thumb" that contribute to success:
  • A small number of people, no more than can be fed by two pizzas
  • Everyone in the same room with no walls and barriers
  • Lots of collaborative tools, include shared computers, full wall visuals, and whiteboards
  • Optimal mutual availability and accountability
  • Full awareness of roles and capabilities
  • Easily communicate with all members
  • Maximum opportunity for serendipity and knowledge sharing
  • Everyone focused on a single well understood project
  • No personnel turnover
Beyond the Ideal

Of course, we all would love to have the conditions that accelerate effective teamwork as described above. The reality is that people are constantly moving, often collaborating across corporate and geographic boundaries, and working on a variety of projects in very complex domains.

Often, technology has been used like an anesthetic to mask the pain of this challenge, slowing the corporate blood flow in order to create the illusion of control. As long as the playing field is level, everyone gets to stay in the game. But the dynamics are changing. People are recognizing the need to reclaim technology and leverage it to support effective teamwork, principles well articluated by the Agile Community.

Moving Beyond the Boundaries

I believe it is possible to achieve effective teamwork even when resources are shifting and people are not co-located. The video below has some great examples of how the creative use of technology can move teamwork beyond today's boundaries. Marketing messages aside, it includes principles such as:
  • Real-time presence awareness of other team members
  • Optimized communication channels, available anywhere
  • Virtual face-to-face interaction
  • Natural, collaborative creation environments
  • Expertise awareness both within and outside of the team
  • Just-in-time, in context knowledge artifacts and documentation
I trust it will spark some ideas for your organization.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Politics of Social Networking

This artifact from Xplane is a terrific combination of several areas I have been covering on this blog:

  1. It's another example of how Xplane creatively combines graphics and text into content-rich, single-page visualizations to produce clear and powerful communication vehicles. Over the years this company has been a great source of communication ideas and inspiration.
  2. It highlights the disruptive dynamics and scaling capabilities of social networking.
  3. It demonstrates how social networks are far more than merely relationship building tools and trivia exchange centers. In fact they are extremely efficient engines for raising money and driving revenue.
No Rocket Science

There's nothing terribly new here, social networking and word-of-mouth dynamics have been impacting business and society since the rise of the first human communities. The exciting difference is the emerging visibility of these networks and the ability to observe interaction behaviour, even when we scale it up. The opportunity:
  • Social networks can now be visualized and made explicit.
  • Social interaction can now be measured and correlated to ROI considerations.
  • Influence and knowledge can now be more readily focused and directed.
Copying Google

Why is Google so successful? How can Barack Obama raise so much on so little effort? How can Wikipedia accomplish so much with so few staff?

They understand the recipe and the emerging capabilities. There's still lots of room in the pool. Why not jump in, learn, and benefit from these dynamics in your context?

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The 90-9-1 Rule

What does successful collaboration look like? Understanding how communities and people interact online is essential for setting the right expectations. Often people misinterpret metrics or focus their energy in the wrong direction because they do not have a reasonable benchmark to assess how well their on-line communities are functioning.

All Things Are Not Equal

In any team or community you can expect to find a variety of expertise and strengths. We usually don't expect everyone to do the exact same thing, or to have the same skill sets and strengths. In fact, the complementary nature of individual strengths is essential to creating strong teams and vibrant communities.

Knowing this, it is surprising that the default expectation for online interaction is identical contribution, with performance metrics that reinforce this unhealthy view. Not only is this unrealistic, it's a sure recipe for failure!

Setting Expectations

Most everyone is familiar with the Pareto principle or the 80/20 rule. Although frequently misapplied, the principle generally refers to the inequality or clumping of factors in a particular context. For example, in volunteer organizations, we often use this rule to articulate the perception that 20% of the people do 80% of the work.

Jakob Neilson, in his article, "Participation Inequality, Encouraging More Users to Participate", describes the ratio of on-line participation as a 90-9-1 rule:
  • 90% of users are lurkers (i.e., read or observe, but don't contribute).
  • 9% of users contribute from time to time, but other priorities dominate their time.
  • 1% of users participate a lot and account for most contributions: it can seem as if they don't have lives because they often post just minutes after whatever event they're commenting on occurs.
He then goes on to describe how Wikipedia contribution and general Internet participation complies roughly with this rule. Although not mathematically conclusive, this breakdown does seem to be congruent with our observations regarding on-line communities.

A Positive Reality

Rather than seeing this as a problem, it is far more helpful to view participation behavior as a reflection of the variety of skills and strengths of the participants. Instead of seeing the 90% as "Lurkers", I prefer to view them as a "type" of participant, that is, primarily an audience that uses and applies community content.

The challenge is not to try to make everyone participate equally, but instead to optimize the community by leveraging the 90-9-1 rule. So instead of spending all of our energy trying to make the 90% mimic the 1% behavior, we can stimulate the community much more effectively using the following ideas.

Accelerating Community

First let's re-label the participants. We'll call the 1% "Knowledge Champions", people who excel at sharing knowledge and evangelizing ideas and content. Then we'll call the 9% "Knowledge Agents", people that readily connect people to information and are proactive in responding and interacting to knowledge flow. The rest, the 90% we'll label as "Knowledge Users", valuable community participants that convert explicit information into solutions, products and value.

Now we'll focus our community stimulation efforts:
  • Map the social network to identify the Knowledge Champions and Knowledge Agents.
  • Optimize support and communications structures around the Knowledge Champions, they are the "collaboration core" of the community.
  • Empower the Knowledge Agents by making sure they are solidly connected into the community and have full visibility and convenient contribution mechanisms.
  • Finally, provide the Knowledge Users with very low-barrier interaction mechanisms that align with their working contexts.
Designed for Success

When we leverage principles in our community building and management designs, efforts are quickly transformed into accelerated knowledge flow, collaboration and innovation. Rather than trying to make everyone equal, why not use the power of the 90-9-1 rule towards successful on-line teamwork in your organization?

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Measuring Collaboration

Your company does not need to be very large before it starts grappling with two significant problems that plague the knowledge economy:
  1. How to maintain and improve effective teamwork between people that are often separated by geography or time.
  2. How to share timely and useful information across the organization, reusing existing knowledge and channeling emerging experience.
Photo Credit: PMThink! Blog
Technology Helps

Fortunately, Web 2.0 technologies and emerging communication practices are helping slow the growth of these corporate tumors. However, it takes more than just technology to reverse the trends. Effective design, initial content seeding and proactive facilitation are critical factors for re-firing in the innovation engine.

Is it working? There's only one way to know... metrics.

Measuring for Success

A successful community generally has two hallmarks: a high level of interaction between the participants, and a growing body of valuable content. That's a wonderful end-state, but how do we assess the current state of collaboration? Here are some criteria critical to success:
  • Discovery - How easy is it for others to see what your community is currently doing or intends to do?
  • Participation - How easy is it for others to contribute to the community?
  • Promotion - How do you help others connect with your community and stay informed?
  • Production - How valuable are the contributions of the community?
Of course, you can replace "communities" with "team" if it fits better with your model. Here are some questions you might use to evaluate these aspects further:


  1. Do you have a central community info portal?
  2. Is your portal web accessible?
  3. Can your portal be viewed by anyone?
  4. Is the purpose and identity of the community clearly stated?
  5. Is the current activity of the community visible or obvious?
  6. Is it clear who is facilitating the community?
  7. Is it clear who is involved in the community?
  8. Is it easy to explore the content of the community?
  9. Is significant content emphasized and accessible?
  1. Is it obvious how someone would start a discussion with the community?
  2. Is it obvious how someone would join a discussion in the community?
  3. Is it obvious how someone would stay informed on news and activity?
  4. Is it clear on how to gain the basic knowledge that would help someone engage?
  5. Is the tone and language welcoming to potential participants?
  6. Do you monitor community interaction levels and trends?
  1. Is your community linked to other important areas visited by potential participants?
  2. Do you have a process to identify and follow up with visitors to your community?
  3. Do you have a published communication channel for your community?
  4. Do you monitor and manage subscriptions to your communication channel?
  1. Is it clear how the community provides value in the larger context?
  2. Do you monitor content usage?
  3. Is there an obvious way to submit feedback and suggestions?
  4. Do you have a process for canvassing or interviewing your stakeholders?
  5. Do you have a process for implementing continuous improvement?
Jump the Hurdle

Armed with the right questions, make it a priority to put in place measurements that demonstrate how you can benefit from your efforts to empower collaboration.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Knowledge Factory

SECI Model at Fuji Xerox - from the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology

A Model for Learning

When researching knowledge management and organizational learning you're bound to come across the SECI model and the work of the Nonaka and Takeuchi. Appreciating the value of tacit knowledge (carried in people's minds) and explicit knowledge (codified or articulated) is paramount for the knowledge based industries.

The authors of the SECI model emphasize that as valuable as the knowledge assets may be, the process of creating knowledge and how it is transformed is where the real potential lies. Simply managing existing knowledge is not enough.

The Heart of the Machine

Intuitively we know that human talent is the critical success factor in hi-tech and other knowledge based contexts. Creativity and innovation are primarily human functions and are hard to systematize but are essential for ongoing success.

Additionally, the picture below demonstrates how all significant knowledge transformation, and ultimately it's conversion to business revenue, is primarily a human function. In fact, I would suggest that the individual human mind is the core, the engine of the knowledge to value transformation process. Effective teamwork and collaboration accelerate and amplify this individual capability, but the processing is still ultimately individual.

Empowered for Value

Is your organization designed to optimize the knowledge to value transformation? Or are most of your energies centered around managing your existing knowledge assets? Perhaps it's time to put the fuel back in the real engine.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Why Wiki? Part 4 - Publish As You Write, Together!

What looks like a doc, sounds like a doc, but doesn't behave like a doc? It's a Google Doc! Google Docs, along with similar offerings from other web based vendors, is an innovative collaboration environment that behaves a lot more like a Wiki than a traditional document management system.

Mike Riversdale captures this eloquently in his post, "Google Docs ... so what - the ONE reason why you should care"

Wikis live by understanding the connectivity of their environment and the innate desire of 'words' to love all and be loved by all. In the future there will be no difference between a Google Doc and a wiki page ... in fact, it may be so close already it's just a matter of semantics and opinion.

Collapsing the Publishing Process

One of the dynamics of a Wiki is that whatever you create is immediately, or very quickly, published. This means that knowledge can be communicated as quickly as it is captured, significantly outpacing the change in knowledge demand.

To appreciate how dramatic this effect is, consider this example: I recently collaborated with a partner using a Google Docs Spreadsheet. Not only could we see each other's presence on-line and chat using the collaboration window, I could see exactly what cell his cursor was on as he moved around in the spreadsheet, and we could simultaneously update the sheet, immediately seeing all the changes!

Everyone in the Pool

This effect is amplified, by the openness of the environment. Not only does everyone get to see things right away, they get to play! Depending on permissions, like the example above, they can all contribute and increase the value of the knowledge we are sharing.

Staying Out of the Danger Zone

This capability has a downside as well. Having a managed create, review, edit and publish process has its merits. In situations where communication delivery has high impact, it is imperative to balance the risks of misinformation versus the immediacy of publication. However, even in these situations, valuable knowledge assembled in Wikis can be quickly harvested, accelerating the formal processes for delivering sensitive or critical communication.

Image Credit: Wikinomics Blog - Wiki collaboration leads to happiness

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Why Wiki? Part 3 - Knowledge Incubation

Perhaps because we were raised on encyclopedias and textbooks, we tend to think of knowledge in two primary forms:
  1. Steam - The thoughts, ideas and concepts that rattle around in our heads.
  2. Ice - Books and polished documents that we reference from time to time.
In the context of knowledge work, this oversimplification fosters miscommunication and information management bureaucracy. A far better metaphor is to see knowledge as a dynamic, continuously flowing stream, with resulting artifacts passing through various stages of a knowledge lifecycle.

How Knowledge Grows

You don't require too much imagination to visualize how knowledge transitions from simple ideas through further crystallization, eventually forming reusable artifacts and polished publications. All knowledge workers have participated in this process. Many of the steps occur informally or are managed in isolated environments on personal computers.

Content Management Systems (CMS) or Document Management Systems have helped us organize the mature stages of the knowledge lifecycle. However, much of the critical knowledge growth remains hidden in people's heads, e-mail threads, and in personal files. Lack of access to emerging knowledge critically stunts corporate innovation.

A Powerful Knowledge Incubator

The first step in growing knowledge is to make it explicit. Searchable e-mail and forums are great mechanisms to capture conversation and interaction. Next, Agency is required to move knowledge to the next level of maturity. This is where a Wiki shines, providing an excellent shared incubator for rapidly capturing content and incrementally polishing it.

A Wiki facilitates "any time" knowledge improvement by allowing everyone to quickly find and easily edit information in a highly associative environment. When you effectively deploy a Wiki, it generates a dramatic acceleration of the knowledge lifecycle process. The practical outcome is improved knowledge sharing and increased innovation.

Incubating Together

The additional effect of optimized collaboration should not be underestimated. Making early-stage knowledge visible while allowing everyone to easily improve it creates incredible synergy as the size of the community increases. A Wiki, combined with an emphasis on the people in the community, constitutes a powerful platform for moving knowledge quickly from ideas into highly valued, reusable artifacts.

If you haven't already done so, consider adding a Wiki to your knowledge management environment. By paying attention to effective adoption patterns, you'll be surprised how quickly this investment can produce value and improve teamwork in your organization.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Why Wiki? Part 2 - The Transparency Effect

Photo Credit: Dominion Coal and Wood Silos - from University of Western Ontario Libraries

One of the fastest ways to build trust and foster collaboration is to make everything visible. Complex organizations quickly become specialized and fragmented, creating isolated knowledge silos. Significant human effort and heroics are often required to bridge these gaps and maintain ongoing productivity.

How Dangerous Is Open?

In most organizations the tendency is to emphasize protection instead of knowledge sharing. Many systems start with out-of-the-box permissions that restrict everyone, allowing for manual overrides to allow individuals and groups to share content. Not only is this a sure recipe for clogging the knowledge arteries in an organization, it also tends to generate complex and unmanageable access matrices that introduce new risks and security holes themselves.

The reality for most information is:
  • Most people can't find it anyway, even when they have full access.
  • Generally, the benefits of sharing far outweigh the risk of abuse.
  • Having more eyes on information improves the potential for correction and ongoing value.
  • Overly restrictive environments encourage informal social sharing as people compensate to get the work done.
The Wiki Contribution

Wikis have a number of characteristics that balance these knowledge flow constrictions, creating transparency and visibility by:
  • Making it easy for everyone to publish content, so that there is something to see.
  • Using powerful search algorithms that combine content and behavior to "bubble up" the most relevant content - quickly.
  • Making it easy for everyone to link content, quickly creating associations across the enterprise.
  • Providing dynamic notification mechanisms that help people "stay aware" of what's going on, or discover helpful information automatically.
  • A visible and detailed audit trail helps reinforce peer accountability and productive behaviour.
Beyond the Wiki

Visibility is probably the most powerful accelerator for building trust and potential teamwork that we can directly influence. Having said that, there are scenarios where visibility is counterproductive:
  • Context Confusion. There are scenarios that are extremely sensitive, or strategically incubating where premature or sharing could cause significant confusion, or critical corporate risks. Timing and context are important leadership aspects for effectively communicating these issues.
  • Off the Record. A large amount of useful knowledge transfer happens through "off the record" sharing. This is often seen as a direct conflict to explicit knowledge capture and teamwork. However, this behavior is an essential component of social behavior and an effective knowledge sharing environment. Leaders need to foster a healthy "grapevine" communication channel in the organization to complement the more explicit mechanisms.
Culture Shock

It's time to take a hard look at the practices and culture. What changes can you make to begin to create a more open and visible environment? Don't wait too long, you can be sure your competitors are asking the same questions.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Why Wiki? Part 1 - A Design Definition

Photo Credit: 3D Wiki in Second Life -

Almost five years ago, I introduced one of the first wikis into the corporate environment of a large healthcare company. We needed to solve a very simple, pervasive problem. The common challenge for a global team of analysts was twofold:
  1. I found something interesting, but there is no obvious place to store it in the project infrastructure or corporate taxonomy.
  2. I need to quickly find this stored information when it becomes relevant, even if I forgot about it in the interim.
The best solution at the time: a reused server under my desk loaded with SWIKI, a dead-easy Wiki server, all under the radar of corporate IT. Apart from solving the above-mentioned problems, we quickly experienced some of the exciting knowledge flow and work team dynamics that are inherently encouraged by Wiki technology.

Five years later, Wikis are the talk of the town. This same company has now purchased an enterprise Wiki that is accelerating interaction and knowledge flow between multiple R&D centers across the globe.

Magic by Definition

To really appreciate the potential impact of Wiki technology, it's important to understand what a Wiki really is. Ward Cunningham, the inventor of the Wiki, defines it as, "the simplest possible database". The name "Wiki" is a Hawaiian word meaning "quick".

A longer definition from the WikiWikiWeb is:
The ideas of "Wiki" may seem strange at first, but dive in and explore its links. "Wiki" is a composition system; it's a discussion medium; it's a repository; it's a mail system; it's a tool for collaboration. Really, we don't know quite what it is, but it's a fun way of communicating asynchronously across the network.
Although these descriptions give us clues about the characteristics of a Wiki, here's my definition, that I believe captures the design concepts that make Wikis magic:
A Wiki is a set of searchable web pages that are easy for everyone to create, edit and connect together.
Breaking down the definition:
  • Searchable. Information is only helpful if you can remember it, particularly when you need it. Good Wikis index all content and help you find information quickly by using smart search algorithms that automatically include text relevance, popularity, and date information.
  • Web Pages. Hypertext allows content to be quickly browsed and associated through convenient hyperlinks. Information is immediately accessible and can be explored in a completely flexible manner.
  • Easy. Wikis let people quickly create, edit and link web pages by simply clicking a button. Everyone can use simple text, no coding or HTML required. The Wiki takes care of the rest.
  • Everyone. Wikis are usually open, allowing anyone to create, edit, or connect. This eliminates the need for administrative bottlenecks, completely collapsing the creation/publication process. This creative and editorial freedom is accompanied by a full audit trail of every change.

More Than a Tool

There's a lot more to say about why Wikis change how organizations work together. Some companies have installed Wikis and then expressed disappointment with the lack of demonstrable improvement. As a tool, a Wiki only has the potential to accelerate teamwork and knowledge flow. To realize this potential requires committed leadership, special roles, and initial content seeding.

We'll be unpacking these dynamics together in upcoming articles...

Friday, April 04, 2008

How Training is the Enemy of Learning

Learning Cycle: University of Tasmania
Buried deep in the psyche of quality management systems is the discipline of training. It goes something like this:
  • Define what needs to be done
  • Train people how to do the work
  • Test to ensure compliance
  • Repeat activity in a predictable manner
  • Optimize as needed
The Danger Zone

Much of this emphasis finds its roots in Taylorism. Also known as Scientific Management, this discipline focussed on studying current work processes and optimizing quality and performance in mass production environments. Unfortunately, the context has shifted dramatically to what is needed in today's knowledge-based organizations.
"In political and sociological terms, Taylorism can be seen as the division of labour pushed to its logical extreme, with a consequent de-skilling of the worker and dehumanisation of the workplace."
from Wikipedia: Scientific Management

Learning in the Brave New World

The truth is that in our current information-age work contexts, there are a number of significant dynamics that truly make training the enemy of learning.
  1. Much of what we tackle is emerging, and therefore unknown. Focussing only on what is "known", training tends to emphasize the status quo and stifle innovation.
  2. The work is learning. It's often difficult to get people to create documentation because much of what they are doing is "figuring out" how to creat something or solve a problem.
  3. Sustainable value requires disruptive activity. Linear improvements are no longer adequate to ongoing competitive success. The rate of change and nature of work require discontinuous practices to exploit emerging opportunities.
  4. Patterns are more important than details. Learning design principles and strategies is more relevant to tackling new challenges than methodically following previously defined recipes.
Put Training Back in its Place

Is training still important? Of course, however:
"More is learned through legitimate peripheral participation than overt instructions"
from Catherine Schryer: The Dark Side of Health Informatics
Here are some practical tips to move beyond training into a continuous learning environment:
  1. Focus training on empowering people to collaborate, research and develop learning skills.
  2. Allocate and enforce a segment of exploration time (2-5%) that is dissasociated from the current project and work tasks.
  3. Use social collaboration tools to encourage serendipity and intra-organizational knowledge flow.
  4. Provide a rich environment of tools and support that allow people to create and share learning content, configurations, and practices.
By consciously emphasizing learning as an integrated activity, you will soon augment your training programs with a new level of productivity and innovation.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Community Is the Platform - Part 2

In the last post, I talked about the importance of focusing on communities as the context for collaboration and knowledge sharing. How do you accelerate community building in your organization? Here are some ideas:
  1. Community Portal - Create a convenient, helpful central page of information that helps others discover, explore and engage your community. Include elements like:
    • Identification Info - meaningful description of community context and purpose, links to core community artifacts.
    • Communications - engaging news about community activity and contributions.
    • People - highlight who is involved in your community.
    • Exploration Tools - intuitive links, search and other navigation to help visitors find valuable content.
    • Self Help and Interaction - FAQs, Q&A, and discussion forums to help the community find answers and kickstart collaborative contribution.
    • Orientation - online training and help to remove barriers for new visitors, paving their transition to community contributors.
  2. Knowledge Base - create a highly accessible, interconnected repository of knowledge. It needs to accommodate both formal and emerging information. Leverage collaborative technologies to speed up the collection of emerging content.
  3. Social Info - make human expertise and social relationships highly visible. Emphasize social information on all community artifacts and communications.
  4. Facilitation - ensure success through upfront investment in knowledge professionals to:
    • Creatively help others "bump into" your community through deploying a wide variety of promotional techniques, particularly directed at unfamiliar audiences.
    • Maximize the impact of the community portal.
    • Design and automate metrics to gauge community health.
    • Actively remove barriers to collaboration.
    • Stimulate the knowledge lifecycle by helping others transform implicit knowledge through the steps of communications capture, artifact incubation, and collaborative content improvement, creating a continuous stream of reusable and valuable explicit knowledge.
What Are You Waiting For?

The good news is that many organizations already have tools and infrastructure that support the above suggestions. Where there are gaps, excellent open source and low cost solutions are available. By matching these technical capabilities with effective community development skill sets, a new level of collaboration and knowledge sharing is just around the corner.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Community is the Platform - Part 1

In a previous post, I suggested that the People are the Product, particularly in knowledge-based industries. However, when people in these contexts work and interact in a community, it becomes the platform for realizing continuous improvement and value innovation.

What is a Community?

Some of the definitions for community from the Miriam-Webster dictionary include:
  • a unified body of individuals
  • an interacting population of various kinds of individuals
  • a body of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society
In businesses, you find a variety of structures that help people interact and align to create value:
  • Organizational units and teams
  • Functional teams
  • Cross functional teams
  • Project teams
  • Ad hoc communities of practice
  • Informal associations and social relationships
If we only recognize the traditional or formal "communities" or organizational structures in a business, we can easily end up managing and assessing only a fraction of the "real world" social activity and potential. Taking a view of all "communities" allows a more complete perspective of the known activity while adding a new capability to "sense" and influence emerging activities and events.

One could view these various constructs through the lens of "community" to create a much richer, more comprehensive picture of the organization. Seeing an organization as a set of "communities" creates a powerful source of information about organizational design and behavior that can can be measured and then encouraged for sustainable, competitive value creation.

Accelerating Value Creation

In knowledge-based industries, communities are not simply the facilitators of existing collateral, but also the engines for future content and expertise. In order to optimize the agency of communities, it is important to:
  • Identify and catalog the existing communities
  • Assess the health of specific communities
  • Provide an environment that supports community development and cooperation
Concrete value is produced at the juncture where a community (via its members) uses its expertise to convert implicit knowledge into explicit products and artifacts. The conditions for accelerating this process, or scaling it include:
  • Visibility - how easy is it for others to see what you intend to do or are currently doing?
  • Openness - how easy is it for others to contribute to what you are doing or need to do?
  • Promotion - how ineffective are you at making others aware of your contribution and potential?
These conditions result in an increased level of output quality and volume. We call this output the contribution of the community.

Measuring for Success

The health of the community, or its potential for sustained contribution, can be measured by focusing on the following areas:
  1. Interaction Levels - an assessment of the visibility, openness and promotional aspects of the community. It includes:
    • Measuring new visitors to your community
    • Measuring contribution ratios and activity
    • Measuring dialogue and other forms of interaction
  2. Contribution Value - an assessment of the output of the community. It includes:
    • Measuring contribution levels
    • Measuring usage of content via access, ratings etc.
In my next post, we'll take a look at some practical tools and ideas you can use to create an environment that fosters community building. You'll be surprised at how executing simple principles and tools can generate significant short-term results, while reinforcing long-term productivity and innovation.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Six Sigma Under Tension

A friend of mine passed along an insightful article on the challenges of balancing efficiency and creativity at 3M. It describes how James McNerny, the previous CEO helped "turn-around" the failing stock price through aggressive cost cutting, discipline, and efficiency measures, modeled after successes realized at GE. This included the introduction of an army of Six Sigma "black belts" trained to measure and eek out every opportunity to improve the organization.

The program had its desired result: predictability restored, conformance enforced, and profitability returned to target levels. Despite this success, dangerous side-effects were beginning to emerge. Break-through innovations were no longer the hallmark of 3M, a company that regularly generated a large amount of its revenue from newly introduced products. Patents based on new research also began to dwindle.

When McNerny left for a position in Boeing in 2005, he was replaced with George Buckley. Buckley has used his keen insight into the strengths of 3M to re-introduce policies and practices that encourage innovation. Under his guidance, 3M is returning to it's innovative roots, attempting to maintain a healthy balance between it's recently gained efficiency and former creativity.
"You cannot create in that atmosphere of confinement or sameness," Buckley says. "Perhaps one of the mistakes that we made as a company—it's one of the dangers of Six Sigma—is that when you value sameness more than you value creativity, I think you potentially undermine the heart and soul of a company like 3M."
There's plenty of lessons for innovation-driven companies seeking to balance creativity and efficiency, direct from the experience of 3M. Read the full article on Business Week.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Success in Complexity - Scrum

Most significant software development projects feel more like a ride on a roller-coaster than a managed success. We lay out the track, check that everyone's strapped in, and scream our way through the out-of-control ride. However, unlike the amusement park counterpart, we feel more frustrated than exhilarated when we step back out on the platform.

The Power of SCRUM

Does it have to be this way? Discipline and good engineering are definitely lacking in many contexts, but even where these are rigorously applied, there is ample dissatisfaction from excessive delays, lack of creativity, and the inability to adapt to changing circumstances. Perhaps there is an alternative that gives us the best of both worlds -- discipline for the known challenges and adaptability for the emerging ones?

Enter Scrum, a set of software development practices and roles that use agile principles to empower teams to delivery high value on time. Combining flexible requirements prioritization techniques, intense levels of communication and time-boxed short development iterations (called "sprints"), Scrum has begun to demonstrate significant improvements in software delivery and quality output. It's no wonder more and more organizations are including Scrum practices into their core software development process.

Can Scrum Go Big?

A common critique of Agile methodologies, is that they are optimized for small-scale, often co-located teams. Can the practices be scaled to large, multi-national projects with multiple interdependent teams. thought so. Using Scrum as the basis of their Adaptive Development Methodology, they were able to dramatically improve productivity in just a few months in an environment involving more than 200 R&D staff. The graph below summarizes their current experience.

Others are also documenting their experiences and designs for scaling Scrum. Folks like Colin Bird at Conchango have been thinking hard about these challenges. Read his posts on Scaling Agility to take full advantage of these insights. He has put together a collection of helpful materials in the presentation created for the recent London Scrum Gathering.

Get Moving

If you are not already experimenting with Agile methodologies, it may not yet be too late. However, in the emerging complexity of globalization and disruptive markets, you can't afford not to take full advantage of every opportunity for sustained success and productivity.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Why CRM is the New Project Management

Well, not quite... but definitely getting closer. I've been having the pleasure of playing with Highrise, an innovative CRM (Customer Relationship Management) offering by 37Signals, the makers of Basecamp and sponsors of Ruby on Rails. As my initial experiment with Highrise turned into serious reliance, I realized something magical was at play.

The Project's Not the Real Challenge

Here is the magic, the people are the project! Of course, defining what we know about the project is still critically important. Goals, milestones, and work breakdown structures are still highly useful for the known elements of the project. However, as any experienced Project Manager will tell you, project success is primarily about managing the people and managing the unknown. This is where some of the core elements of CRM are extremely helpful.

The focus of CRM is the people (traditionally in the form of leads and contacts). Highrise lets you quickly organize your tasks and communications around individuals, making the social dynamics of your project highly visible. Project success is really about managing complexity, a combination of discipline and sensing, of tracking the known and dealing with emergence.

We haven't quite arrived

The folks at HumanEdj get this as well. They organize projects around human interaction. The tools are clunky, but it's great to see things moving in the right direction.

So, what does innovative project management look like?
  1. Highly visible social network. Highly visible interaction management, including how people are collaborating both within and on the fringes of the project.
  2. Prioritized participant views. All communications, activity, and knowledge contribution needs to be grouped for each individual, allowing easy views of consolidation.
  3. Activity metrics. Instead of simply measuring progress to defined schedules and dates, add metrics of emerging contribution and interaction activity.
  4. Empowered project managers. Provide decision support data for the real challenges of project management, behavioural analysis and emerging risks or opportunities.
I'm excited about this fusion of socially aware, task driven capabilities. And even though we're still missing the killer app for large scale, leading edge project management, we're close to having all the ingredients necessary for the recipe. Along with my innovating contemporaries, I'll be fully engaged with pushing these tools towards meeting the challenges we face in the real world every day.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Managing the Unknown

We've become experts at managing what we know. To achieve our goals, we break down the work and carefully measure our progress. We squeeze out efficient business practices and powerful system architecture through rigorous planning, testing and execution. But it's not good enough. Are we not often blindsided by the unforeseen? And isn't it true that most of the really valuable discoveries seem to be things we inadvertently trip over, almost by happenstance?

Managing Complexity

Rather than relegating these circumstances to luck or fate, complexity science offers us some insights into how to manage the unknown. This is the premise of the recent HBR article published by Dave Snowden and Mary Boone, entitled "A Leader's Framework for Decision Making". The authors suggest that by identifying the context of a business situation, leaders can consciously choose an appropriate management approach:
  • Simple, in which the relationship between cause and effect is obvious to all, the approach is to Sense - Categorise - Respond and we can apply best practice.
  • Complicated, in which the relationship between cause and effect requires analysis or some other form of investigation and/or the application of expert knowledge, the approach is to Sense - Analyze - Respond and we can apply good practice.
  • Complex, in which the relationship between cause and effect can only be perceived in retrospect, but not in advance, the approach is to Probe - Sense - Respond and we can sense emergent practice.
  • Chaotic, in which there is no relationship between cause and effect at systems level, the approach is to Act - Sense - Respond and we can discover novel practice.
graphic and descriptions from the Cynefin article on Wikipedia
Don't have access the HBR article? Read this review by John Caddell or the original white paper published in the IBM Systems Journal.

Bottom Line

Evaluate your business challenges relevant to its complexity. Are you applying the appropriate management disciplines in each situation? We'll take a further look at some emergent practices for handling complexity in upcoming articles...

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Making a Mesh - Social Computing in Business

After viewing Robin Chase's video on how wireless mesh networks could help reduce global warming, I was struck by how the characteristics of mesh networks are related to human interaction improvements in the business world.

What is a Mesh Network or Meshwork?

Meshworks are highly distributed networks of devices which connect to each other without prior infrastructure. Let's apply some of the characteristics of mesh networks to our innovation design for human networks in the business context.

Characteristics of mesh networks include the following:

Many possible interconnections.
Any node can connect to any other node. Connections are dynamic and temporary.
  • People have many dynamic and temporary interactions with a variety of others, both within and outside of the organization. By increasing presence awareness, through capabilities, such as instant messaging and self-publishing, it is possible to dramatically improve the frequency and range of interactions.

Nodes have purpose and intelligence.
Nodes are able to make decisions in near real time. Nodes handle the routing for each other.
  • Recognizing that people are dynamic knowledge repositories allows us to design collaboration contexts that encourage contribution by everyone in the network. Not only do people regularly route a variety of information, they also have the propensity to add substantial value to the content they transfer.

Self healing.
Nodes are able to self-discover alternate paths for routing information to other nodes. if any node fails, another will take its place.
  • Word of mouth is a powerful, and efficient communication vehicle. By complementing this effect with knowledge "watering holes", promotional information and interest hubs, we create multiple opportunities for discovery and self-organization. In addition, allowing everyone to build expertise awareness on each participant, creates opportunities for access to the right person without predetermining the context. Traditionally, companies have either ignored or suppressed these ad-hoc channels, often seeing them as unreliable, undermining official communications. Instead we need to encourage, promote, and influence these channels to accelerate communication throughout the organization and beyond.

Nodes are free to communicate with any other node at any time, regardless of location, creating robust communication grids.
  • Leveraging open, highly visible collaboration and communication technologies such as Wikis, shared development environments, and visible interaction systems, creates virtual presence and improved access to all participants. Visibility automatically increases peer accountability and overall performance.

Latency and Scaling.
Open protocols and dynamic routing can create interference and delays as the number of nodes increases.
  • Efficiently capturing knowledge flow and interactions is essential for capturing the collective knowledge and experience across the network. State of the art content management systems, and semantic decision support provide the necessary infrastructure to create persistence of content, making large scale interaction viable.

Beyond the Mesh

There is a lot of buzz around the potential of large scale mesh networks, despite the challenges that still have to be solved. Similarly, we are already experiencing the potential of networks where people are the ultimate network nodes. Understanding these dynamics will help unleash new levels of innovation and value for businesses of all sizes.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Looking for Intelligence

I am fascinated by the emerging thinking about how to individually and corporately thrive in complex environments. A common thread in these discussions is the growing dissatisfaction around our experience of optimizing known processes and activities. It seems that the more we use technology to eliminate one type of human effort, the more we need new human capabilities to bridge the glaring gaps. This awareness manifests itself in a variety of contexts:
  • Highly controlled sequential development vs. Agile methodologies
  • Capability maturity vs. Value innovation
  • Rigorously implemented workflow vs. Adaptable decision support
  • Six sigma continuous improvement vs. Creative process innovation
  • Business intelligence data vs. Business process management
  • Enterprise Project management vs. Dynamic social collaboration
  • Directed leadership vs. The wisdom of crowds
  • Tightly integrated implementations vs. Autonomous loosely coupled services
It's Not a War

Although the proponents of any emphasis tend to aggressively critique their novel counterparts, I believe their fear is largely misplaced. We need to keep both the baby and the bathwater. When dealing with complexity, it is imperative to simultaneously:
  1. Maximize the efficiency of what is known, and
  2. Maximize the probability of successfully leveraging the unknown
The Human Body Metaphor

Andy Moore, uses a very helpful metaphor in his January 2008 KM World article on business process management. Here he compares human physiology with these business realities:
[mature data and workflow implementations..] represent only brain-stem functions—the autonomic respiration and blood flow that continue to pound away in the daily existence of the organism... But—excuse me while I completely beat this metaphor to death—what do you do about the immediate, real-time response to environmental stimuli? The observation, reflexes and response to the changing influences that come at you from all directions? For that you need higher brain functions—you need sight, hearing and touch to protect the body corpus from the elements.
Learning from Design

I think we have much to learn from the design of humans and our capabilities (physical and otherwise). To navigate today's complex challenges, businesses need to improve their "senses", tuning their corporate ability to see, hear, smell, taste, and feel, heightening the awareness of what's happening around us. We need to be incredibly introspective to be self-aware and adaptable. And, as an organization, we need enhanced cognitive and intuitive abilities to discover patterns and and identify emerging threads of opportunity that emerge. Thankfully, decision support technologies like Business Process Management and Semantic Web capabilities are accelerating these corporate "higher brain functions".

Perhaps it shouldn't surprise us that the universe itself seems to be a combination of precisely engineered dynamics and seemingly disconnected activities. There is much to observe and much benefit to be derived by applying what we learn.

As the folks at Cognitive Edge remind us:
"Serendipity is a human quality"
And, as we continue this journey of discovery, you might just discover that there is, in fact, Intelligence out there.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Silicon Valley Innovation at Your Company

How do you get companies to start investing in future innovations, when their tendency is to finance past success? I read this article about Gary Hamel's observations on Silicon Valley dynamics and how these principles can foster innovation in a corporate setting:
  1. Requires a diversity of funding options.
  2. Creates an environment of emergent business planning
  3. Naturally aligns with "angel investors" (sponsors with direct interest and coaching capability)
Hamel suggests replicating this effect internally by creating a corporate wide network of "angel investors", allocating a portion of corporate budgets to these individuals, and encouraging innovators to "pitch" their ideas, competing for the attention and funding needed.

Read the full article, or Gary Hamel's book, The Future of Management, for more thought provoking ideas...

Friday, January 11, 2008

Innovative Process Management as Business Design

© BPTrends - - Click Image for Larger View

Although we have been emphasizing the importance of fostering a culture of social innovation, there is no excuse for neglecting the existing value creation capabilities of the organization. The BPTrends Pyramid is a very helpful model for keeping things in perspective, demonstrating the strategic placement of business processes.

Why is attention to business processes key to business success? Basically, they form the "design" layer of an organization. We are all familiar with the power of innovative product design. As I pointed out in a previous post, value-driven design creates a powerful overlap between opportunity and capability, envisioning a creative outcome that can be realized as a new or improved product.

In the same way, processes are the design bridge in an organization. This is where we creatively leverage corporate resources (capability) to achieve business vision and strategies (opportunity). The BPTrends pyramid visually portrays this principle.

Here is a quick table comparing the design realities of business and software production:

ContextSoftware ProductionBusiness Production
Value TargetsProduct UsersMarket/Customers
Value DriverPersona GoalsBusiness Value
OpportunityProblem DomainBusiness/Marketing Strategy
CapabilityTechnology/ExpertiseCorporate Workforce/Infrastructure
Value CreationProduct InnovationBusiness Innovation/Efficiency

Bottom Line: Companies that focus on value-driven process design and process management are poised for ongoing competitive growth and innovation.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Looking Forward - Emerging Social Technology Trends

In the McKinsey Quarterly article, Eight business technology trends to watch, it is interesting to note that 4 of the 8 trends identified are related to social computing. This juncture of technology and relationships is seen as a growing opportunity for business value.

The authors affirm:
Technology alone is rarely the key to unlocking economic value: companies create real wealth when they combine technology with new ways of doing business.

Social Computing Trends

1. Distributing co-creation

There will be an increase in the use of technology to enable the entire value chain in the innovation and product development process. This trend is supported by emerging standards and the open sharing of technologies and integration platforms. Companies are beginning to deliberately shift from protective internal R&D strategies, to the opportunities of open collaboration. They are trading IP (intellectual property) control for increased innovation and competitiveness.

2. Using consumers as innovators

By using technology to engage customers, companies are creating a rich opportunity to involve consumers directly in the design and creation process. Customers are now contributors as well as consumers, injecting a powerful source of relevant input and even content into the value creation process.

3. Tapping into a world of talent

In the growing world of on-line social awareness, it's becoming easier to find the right person for the job. Using these same technologies, it's possible to effectively work with this person, regardless of where in the world they happen to live. This opens up dramatic new workforce opportunities as companies reconfigure to leverage outsourced roles, and recombine new specialty roles increase their competitiveness.

4. Extracting more value from interactions

Productivity is becoming far less about traditional project and task management, and much more about sharing knowledge and managing interactions.

"Technology tools that promote tacit interactions, such as wikis, virtual team environments, and videoconferencing, may become no less ubiquitous than computers are now. As companies learn to use these tools, they will develop managerial innovations--smarter and faster ways for individuals and teams to create value through interactions--that will be difficult for their rivals to replicate."

Read More

For more details on the report, read the full article on CNet News