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?