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 :-)


Clear Light said...

I think part of the problem is that with corporate systems, once you commit to doing something one way it can be quite a struggle to switch. Either you lose data, or it's a major piece of work to take the data from one place to another. - hence the need to know what's best at the outset

Moving from IM to telephone is a quick decision. Moving from one CMS to another is more of a problem.

It might be worth expanding on your blog post with

(1) A list of the tools available and what they all do


(2) some examples of how we might choose one tool over another

For example

(a) We have documentation for systems we maintain. Some of the documentation is useful for users, some is technical. Should these documents be in a wiki or Quickr, or somewhere else?

(b) I've got a heap of stuff in Quickplace, should I migrate it to Quickr? How can this be done.

Once we have some examples I think things will become clearer.

Lotus Evangelist said...

It's not about which tool should one use, as much as what happened to my old tool and why did it disappear and what will the new one do for me and how.

The tools for the proper job are in the mind of the person doing the job. If I need to open a can of paint, some would argue I need x,y or z but really I can use anything to pry open the lid.

So what works for you or others is subjective.

But you have forced people to change which is objective and that means they won't like it until they believe in it or need to use it.

Lunch n learns, open forums/discussions or blogs on these subjects help.

Also asking everyone to log in to application X to accomplish a required or needed task will help get them acclimated to it to at least know it exists and some idea of what to do with it.

In a truly collaborative environment it's not about the right tool to use, but the ability to search and find the item/info you need across the whole network.

aj said...

One thing I've found help is to improve the integration between systems. Think about what it takes to switch between tools when you get it wrong:

IM to phone, just continue talking
Screwdriver to hammer, pick up the other tool and take out your frustrations.

With most IT systems, moving to a new forum often means that the conversation is then recorded in multiple places or people can no longer find it - even losing data and having to start again. You need to identify the ways that these should be integrated (eg: move to wiki button on a blog post which moves the content and sets up an automatic redirect). Another good example is being able to CC a wiki page on an email conversation to move the content over there.

The most important integration point is probably search. Make sure that there's one search box that covers everything, so finding information doesn't leave people guessing about the system to use as well.

None of this is easy to set up, and it's even harder to know exactly what the integration points should be, but it's surprising how much impact even just one or two key integration points can make to get people to worry less about making the right choice.

Andrew Frayling said...

Thank you all for your comments and suggestions - the suggestions I'm getting are turning this into an excellent example of working in new ways ;)

@Clear Light - I agree that switching from a corporate system is not an easy task, but I don't think that's necessarily what we're asking people to do. We're not taking away people's email inboxes or shared drives, we're offering people different ways of doing things. Thanks for the idea of having some examples, will have a think about the best way to show these.

@Lotus Evangelist - totally agree with it being about how to search and find across the network, not about the "right" tool to use. I think the only objective change we've forced on people is switching email systems and what we're trying to do is help people understand that they don't have to use email for everything. Thanks for the user adoption ideas, very useful.

@aj - nice pointers on integration, especially CC'ing a wiki, liking that a lot. Oh the pain we had trying to do unified search :) but something we should pick up again I think.

Appreciating more and more the reasons for the resistance to change, but there are still some things I just don't get. One example is that people are always complaining about how much email they get, but then insisted they had to have email notifications for Quickr and Connections (we tried to convince them to use RSS feeds) and when we enabled email notifications they complained that they were getting too many emails :)