Friday, 14 August 2009

What Am I Not Getting?

First blog post in a very long time as I'm normally more of a blog reader than a blog writer, but something has been bugging me lately that I just don't get - and when I get bugged I normally turn to Twitter, but this needs more than 140 chars :-)

We're currently in the middle of a programme of work called the Modern Working Environment (MWE) at Cardiff University which is introducing a suite of social networking, collaboration, messaging, business process and integration tools to try and improve the way we work, make people more productive and improve communication and collaboration.

One of the problems we're facing is that we've been getting a lot of feedback recently that people are confused by the number of tools that we've released to date as part of MWE and people don't understand what tool to use for what task. The feedback has even gone as far as suggesting that we should be providing a prescribed matrix of tools versus tasks and that you should always use "tool X" for "task Y" - and this is the bit that's bugging me as the prescribed approach doesn't map to any other work or non-work task.

In my mind the chosen tool for any task is based (mainly) on:

* Appropriateness
* Context
* Availability
* Personal Preference
* Group Preference


Task - "I need to ask a colleague a question"
Now for this you could visit them at their desk, phone them, email them, send them an instant message or even schedule a meeting, but people instinctively know which is the right tool to use and are easily able to realise when they need to switch tools if they made the wrong choice. E.g. starting what you thought would be a quick instant message exchange that results in one party sending "i'll phone you".

Task - "I need to travel somewhere"
Where are you traveling? You could walk, take the bus, take the train, drive, liftshare, cycle, run (if you're late for a meeting), fly, take a boat, or any combination of these to get to where you need to. Again people know which tool they want to use and will easily switch tools if appropriate, e.g I liftshare or drive to work in the main, but will switch to buses or trains depending on appropriateness and availability of these tools.

Task - "I need to track/report project progress"
What are you reporting? Who are you reporting to? Within INSRV we're currently tracking and reporting project progress using MS Project, MS Word, MS Powerpoint, MS Excel, Jira, Infra, Confluence and even JPG images. The point is that people know what they want to use, how they want to use it and, again, will switch tools when necessary, e.g. switching from an MS Excel tracked burndown chart to an MS Powerpoint when the information needs to be reported.

Task - "I need to do some DIY"
What are you doing? Knocking down a wall? Building a bookcase? Opening a tin of paint? If you're opening a tin of paint how many people would use a screwdriver? Is that the designed and advertised use of a screwdriver, no? But is it the most appropriate tool for the job, probably?

Task - "I need to make a reminder note"
What do you use here? Post-it note? Scribble in a notebook? Write on the back of your hand? Add to Notes To Do list? Create a Connections Activity? Record an audio note on your mobile? Add to your Remember The Milk account? People know when and what to use and don't use the same one tool everytime they carry out this task.

Actually I lied earlier and the real thing that is bugging me are why the above examples are so easy, but people are finding the suite of tools that we've released so hard in terms of what to use when?

What makes the above so easy? What makes these MWE tools so hard to understand? What are we doing wrong in not making things easy? What could we do better?

Is it knowledge of how to use the tools? Is it experience of using the tools? Is it that technology will always be horrible and scary to a lot of people?

If you've embarked on similar projects have you faced the same challenges? How did you overcome them? Did you overcome them or did your social networking projects die on the vine?

Thanks for reading - my blog posts may get more coherent with a bit more practice at writing :-)