Saturday, July 12, 2014

Making the Time to Think Big: Collaboration and Communication Is, and Is Not, About Tools

If innovation and collaboration are about people, then why are we always talking about tools?  Isn't the tools first approach exactly what we're trying to get away from? 

YES. And we don't even realize how the tools we use today are shaping our thoughts, ideas, the way we communicate them, and possibly hindering how quickly they can jump from one head to another. So I'm going to tell a story of when, why, and how I decided to change my toolset, how I did it without spending any money (beyond a corporate laptop refresh), how I did it with the full support of my IT department, where it was most expedient to think outside the box, and why it's important to be mindful about tools without being (only) a toolsmith.

Because tools are part of IT, and the relationship humans have with technology is at the heart of IT. So not talking about tools is as limiting and one-sided as talking only about tools. I'm interested in a very particular tool set: one that allows technology to disappear so that I can be one of the things I love best to be: a storyteller. It's one of the traits of a great leader, and anything that makes leadership-storytelling more effective is a tool I want my toolbox. And when you're being mindful of collaboration and communication on a global scale, it's well to be mindful of the privilege of working in real-time every day with colleagues halfway around the world, and of the tools that make it possible to think that that's normal, so that time and space just disappear. How wonderful. Gratitude for that is simple mindfulness. And so, for a moment, let us be mindful of tools.

I'm narrating this blog on a MacBook Pro in OneNote Online. I tried this first in Chrome, but Apple voice recognition isn't enabled, so I had to switch to Safari. My plan is to find a way to one -click publish this to Blogger when I'm done, is a test of how fast I can get my thoughts out there in public. I wanted to be able to capture my first thoughts as I was setting up a new computer, to think about why it is that I'm setting it up this way, and what I might advise other people to do, even if you don't have a Mac. And what started this all is the realization that even though I work for a Fortune 50 global company that is officially Windows only, and doesn't even support Internet Explorer 11, I intend to go Mac native, as much as I possibly can, and then see how much of that experience I can carry over into Windows to share with the rest of the company. To make it technology-agnostic, by proving that it's not about the platform. Because the definition of innovation is doing something different, and not just doing the same thing better.

And so, with the voice of Steve Jobs echoing "Think Different!" in my head, amplified by my new colleague the Mac-only Mobile Strategist, and supported by my MacBook-toting, Windows running boss who authorized the purchase of an Apple machine as company hardware, I decided to go Mac-native, and see how far I get. Because my goal in the end is to climb up out of the platform and into the performance layer, to show that it's not about the tools, and that you can do this on any platform, because it's about behavior. Specifically, it's about using tools to save time, to keep up with the insane pace of a growing company, to get more done in a day, but not just to keep up with the rat race, but to get out ahead of it, and genuinely do some innovation. To orchestrate collaboration as a jam session of innovation. So, I'm spending my Saturday dog fooding, and blogging, as a mindfulness exercise.

Why am I deciding to go Mac native? Well , it wasn't my original plan, but now that the MacBook is here, it seems the easiest and fastest way to get back to work when my laptop died. I've had a standard office loaner since early May, since it took six weeks to negotiate the purchase of a new machine,  in part because I was so heads down in designing and launching a critical ticketing application that I didn't have time to think about hardware. My job responsibilities as an architect involve a lot of training and communications as well as visual design and heavy data analysis, and the price of a top-end PC was actually $1000 higher than the Mac. Amazingly, the aforementioned MacBook-toting Windows-8-running, Android-waving boss suggested that the top-of-the-line MacBook Pro might be the most cost-effective solution, and got it approved. I was thrilled. However, since I do SharePoint in a Windows-only shop for a user base that is 42% still on IE 8 (and another 13% on IE7), I figured I'd be living in Boot Camp and maybe sneaking into OS X for my own writing and research. Still, Safari usage has more than doubled since last year, up to 12%, so I'm not alone.

When they delivered me the MacBook on Wednesday, my plan was to take it home that night, install Boot Camp and windows, and be back up and running Windows 8.1, business as usual by Thursday. But I didn't have a flash drive larger than one gig for Boot Camp, the two USB cables on my external CD drive don't reach the two USB ports on opposite sides of the MacBook, and I didn't want to transfer any files to the OS X hard drive until I had done the partition. So I went to bed, foiled by hardware.

Since I expected to work on Windows, I hadn't yet set up OS X for wireless, and I needed a thunderbolt to VGA adapter for my monitor and for our projectors anyway. So I went to the Apple Store to get the ethernet adapter, a VGA adapter, a thumb drive and a SuperDrive CD/DVD, worked on the loaner PC for the rest of the day, and tried again Thursday night. Boot Camp happily downloaded the utilities, partitioned the drive, accepted the windows 8.1 CD to begin the install, and I went off to enjoy my evening. At bedtime, I I discovered that the gorgeous Retina display was showing teeny-weeny dialog boxes with error messages in type so small that I still don't know why Windows didn't install. So I went to bed, foiled by network infrastructure and operating systems.

By Friday, I had discovered that being a Mac person in the office was no less than anybody expected of me, and that I had an unexpected ally in our new mobile strategist, who is 100% Apple. He assured me that he's been working Mac-native with the company for several years now, and encouraged me to think about making The Switch. Since I've been a Mac user since the Lisa, this is not a big deal to me, and it got me thinking. By 5 o'clock, I still couldn't get the computers to recognize each other, Windows still refused to install, our end-user computing specialists had gone home, and I had maxed out my Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive, and Windows live accounts and had duplicate copies of files everywhere. I am living out the personal hell of IT departments everywhere, struggling desperately to innovate yet unable to reach escape velocity. So I went to bed, foiled by hardware, infrastructure, storage, and data migration.

Enough is enough. Like front office departments everywhere, I decided that I needed to get back to work, and it was simply not time-efficient to mess about with infrastructure upgrade until I needed to. So I backed up everything I had written in the last two months, noticed that most of it was already published to SharePoint anyway, and settled down, with that deliciously guilty thrill of corporate noncompliance, to setting up OS X as my office workstation from a cloud backup of my recent files.

The laptop that died in May is the third machine that I've run into the ground in the five years I've worked with this company. I push machines pretty hard. I run my laptop for 14 hours a day, with 6 to 10 applications running, all while I am constantly switching back and forth between Outlook, Lync, globalmeet, my cell phone, my landline, and my office phone. Why? Because I'm collaborating. Because I'm communicating in real time, every day, with a dozen teammates in Boston, Medford, Chicago, Hyderabad, Bangalore, and Chennai. Because we're partnering in real time, every day, with internal customers in Halifax, Plano, Philadelphia, Seattle, Toronto, Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Gurgaon. Because we handle a portfolio of 40 active application requests, 65+ self-service training and configuration requests, 90+ IT service and support requests, and a steady stream of "over-the-transom" inquiries from leadership and field consultants in sixteen business units and three countries. Because we design enterprise web portals and self-service solutions from a phone call and a PowerPoint deck, and build and launch them in five working days, while we're juggling all the rest. That's IT Collaboration Services.

My day starts at 7 AM in true GTD style, processing my inbox and setting up the  "first things first" for standing meetings with the India teams at 8 AM and 9 AM M-Th. If I don't have a customer requirements meeting at 10, I have one at 11, and if it's with colleagues in our Charlestown HQ, that means I have 45 minutes in Boston traffic to get to the office. Sometimes, if the 10 AM is a webinar and I'm not presenting, I will start global meet on my iPad, set up my headset on the iPhone, make my breakfast and grab my tea while I'm dialing in into the meeting, and carry the iPad with me to the car. As I close the door and start up the car, my iPhone transfers the audio to the in-car voice system, so I'm hands-free driving to work. I've configured my iPad to continue to play even with the cover closed, so I can listen to the webinar without visual distraction. The car is set up to answer calls hands-free, since a lot of people know that I commute between 9 and 11, and it's a good time to catch me for quick questions, especially managers at client sites, or the India members of my team that are going off shift at 11 or noon. This is also the time slot with leadership gets out of their meetings, and needs live real-time changes made to the portal, sometimes even before I get to the office. You don't keep vice presidents waiting. Especially not if they have your cell phone number.

So I am communicating nonstop from 7 AM to 11 AM, listening, talking, e-mailing, instant messaging, and commuting. I use voice recognition on my iPhone to answer quick e-mails while I'm driving, since of course texting is illegal.My car and iPhone are also set up to send standard text responses if somebody texts me while I'm heading into work. And unless you're one of the five work colleagues in my iPhone with your own ring tone, I won't pick up, because I'm probably eating while I drive.

Full disclosure here. Not everyone is as serious about voice recognition as I am, but I once worked for Dragon Systems, and I'm proud to say that some of the software in my Ford Explorer today is stuff that I helped build 10 years ago. That's not the only reason I bought the car. It is a hybrid after all, and the automated hands free parking is also wicked cool and fun to show off. But hands-free audio with integrated texting is a really useful part of my day, since it allows me to stay connected while I'm making the physical transition from home office to business office.

Once I'm in the office, it's FaceTime. I'm here because I need to meet with people who are physically located with me, so my afternoons are spent whiteboarding and designing with my fellow architects, hacking on R&D and POC pilots for stuff we need to throw out the door ASAP, making judgment calls on governance questions with the other two tech lead/managers, discussing incoming requests and how to respond to them with our director and the other team directors, walking around connecting with colleagues from HR, Finance, and Marketing to pick up the latest on-the-ground intel, and being available for questions from my colleagues who are working on other projects. I admit, sometimes I feel like these are interruptions, especially when they want me to show them something that I know how to do so easily, and where I have already written a QuickStart or a KB article in our portal information center. But it's not entirely a joke that I refer to the Portal Info Center as "my office." People like the interaction of working with a designated expert, going straight to the source, Having full face-to-face communication to answer the simple question, how do I do this? Collaboration, after all is about sharing knowledge, and I'm honestly flattered that so many of my colleagues think I have so much to share. My challenge is to find a way to share it that's efficient enough that I have time in my day left to go gather more new knowledge to share tomorrow.

That's how I spend the latter part of my day, and ideally not too many evenings. I set aside at least two two- hour blocks a week for hands-on, heads-down design and delivery, and I try for one uninterrupted afternoon every two weeks, to do something really important: to write. I draw up the designs we've talked about in meetings, I try to fit them into the standard deliverables templates for architectural design specification, I follow up on action items with meeting minutes and notes, and in my most precious, valuable writing time, I sketch out vision and strategy and try to hook it up with corporate and parent company goals and industry best practices that I've clipped into OneNote from the intranet portal, corporate website, and the stream of vendor emails in my inbox.

But lately, that's not enough. It takes too much time to write stuff down, and then it takes even more time for people to read it. People want tweets, soundbites, learning snacks, single PowerPoint slides, chunkable content, personalized emails with an inline excerpt that replies to their point with personal comments and a link to an example. Sometimes it takes e-mailing the same attachment to people two or three times before everyone has read it, and sometimes the fastest way to get them to read it is to take a screenshot of that same PowerPoint and put it in line with the e-mail message, so that it gets in front of their eyeballs even before they click. Getting everyone on the same page means making sure that that same page arrives in all of their inboxes, since for most of the people in our company, their homepage is Outlook. E-mail and phone are the push/pull of our communications. "Did you get my e-mail?" is the key confirmation that multimodal communication was successful, and we can continue the conversation on all channels.

So I need to change my Information sharing strategy. In short, I need to innovate. As a professional writer, researcher, and communications director, I devoted two entire careers to optimizing my writing, and in the process my typing skills, so that the last time I checked I typed about 120 words a minute, and in the last two months I created and circulated more than 50 documents. It's still not fast enough. What slows me down in particular is the fact that words themselves aren't fast enough, and I need to communicate with pictures, and increasingly with moving pictures. My communication strategy needs to include dictation and video. It also needs a key reuse component: finding answers that other people have provided to these questions, and sending them on in a contextual envelope of my personal response. I get a question, Google it, tweet the answer so it goes on my timeline, clip it with EverNote or OneNote, hit Send to Outlook, flag it with a tag for "Update Training Portal," and make a mental note to add it to the task list for the next morning's knowledge management meeting with the India team. Often, all this happens with one thumb while I'm on the phone. It's seamless, and it's just part of my day.

Because this is social communication, collaboration, and knowledge sharing. My colleagues are drowning in information, and they've come to me not just for an answer, But for THE Answer: the best, fastest and most effective answer for them personally. It took me a long time to figure this out. I mean, come on guys, what do you think I am, the internet? Why not just search the portal, and find the answer that I personally put out there just for you and people like you?  Because it's part of our culture, deep in our DNA as a consulting company. I am on the receiving end of that culture, because I am being consulted. All day. Every day. By everybody that I work with. And I'm consulting other people, and passing it on. I'm a knowledge hub. That's my job. And they're respecting me by consulting me. Until my ears fall off when I unstick my iPhone. (Well, ok, my earrings, but it feels like my ears some days.)

And tools are important because I simply couldn't do this without being a cyborg. The telephone allows me to talk to people when we're not even in the same time zone. E-mail is the ground of being for communication with the rest of the company. PowerPoint and Visio allow me to whiteboard for people that aren't in the conference room. A screen capture with a big red arrow is the fastest way to answer a question about how to do something on the portal. Speech recognition apps turn my iPhone, iPad, and now my MacBook into my flock of notetaking assistants.  Google, Twitter, OneNote, EverNote, and webmail let me moonlight as a research analyst in the evenings, idly browsing on my iPad as I watch the ball game, tweeting @ someone who asked me that question earlier today or squirreling away some research notes for the next time the topic of digital records management and archiving comes up, and someone has already done some vendor selection and wants to know what I think of Vendor So-and-So and whether I've heard of them. I nod sagely, and discreetly check my Twitter feed. Bingo! "Oh yes, I noticed at the last SharePoint Saturday that KnowledgeLake and Iron Mountain have a partnership for scanning and online records management, so we should check them out as a service, and cost that out against ordering our own scanners, since HR says our terminated employee files are already stored on paper at Iron Mountain." 

Oh no, this isn't about tools. This is about instruments, and learning to play your laptop and your cell phone like a gamelan at concert pitch in a global orchestra. This is about seamless communication and collaboration, with a user experience that just simply gets out-of-the-way so that all that my colleagues see, hear, read, and listen to is not my technology, but me.
Just me. Human ideas, human experience, human interactions. My research, my context, my network, all available to them on demand, through a user interface that is, increasingly, my voice if not my face. The familiar  voice and face of someone they know and trust, someone whose job is to make them a subject matter expert too. I need to be able to play those instruments in concert, as high performance, so that all of the technology disappears, and all you feel is the music. So that you feel the connection, the excitement, of one idea jumping from one head to another with that electric spark of comprehension. So that a chain of neurons fires through the social brain of the organism, and we, as a company, have a new idea.
For years, as a tech writer, I used to joke that "the only place I can't upload a document is between your ears." But that's exactly what audio and video does. It uploads information directly into the brain through your eyes and ears, without the overhead of encoding and decoding written language. One of the ideas that I've grown very passionate about lately is the observation that IT as an industry has evolved beyond the code layer, and that it's time to stop building the platform and get up there and dance. Hey kids, let's put on a show! Well, as a writer, I'm just as shy as any developer, and I've never wanted to do video because I wanted my writing to speak for itself. I wanted to be such a good writer that people would choose to read my stuff. But the reality is that in the tech industry, we're not reading for pleasure here. No self-respecting IT service provider today would dare to tell a user to RTFM. The startups have got this right, and they've turned instructional video into a comedy channel and a personal reality show. Even middle-aged librarian-haired tech writers like me have their own websites, branded as

I have more opportunity than ever to produce and publish long-form content. The risk is that no one will read it. They don't have time, because they're drowning in short form content, just like I am. I vividly remember the project manager who stood up in the middle of a meeting, slammed down his notebook, and shouted "will you all just stop collaborating and get back to work!" His signal-to-noise ratio just went negative. He's not the only one.

Interestingly, the higher up the leadership hierarchy you go, the less visible this problem can feel. There are simply fewer people at that level, the relationships are often highly structured, and their roles define that when they speak, others listen. It's in the middle of any org chart that signal-to-noise noise ratios degrade the fastest, because the rolls require both listening "up," speaking (and writing) "down," and most importantly, negotiating across, making sense of a multidimensional world of overlapping broadcasts on all channels. Middle managers are nodes and hubs on the knowledge network, and in organizations that are transitioning from pyramids to networks, it's easy to spend your entire day being a router and packet-switch. And the more automation and efficiency you try to bring to it, the more dehumanizing it can feel. "Hello, operator? Will you help me place this call?" "One ringy dingy, two ringy dingy..." "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."

What I need now is a way to carve out some time in my day job as a knowledge-slinging journalist and email Ideation Operator to write my novel, as it were. To weave all of these threads of information into a compelling story of social and organizational change in a world where global is local, and people rise above the technology platform every day to work together in the face of all odds. I need a collaboration and communications tool set that is going to give me the time I need to do what leadership is asking us all to do: THINK BIG. I need technology that isn't about technology. I need communications enhancers that are free and simple and natural to use, that turn my laptop and my cell phone into a personal assistant, a broadcasting station, a conference room, a rehearsal space, and a private office for trusted consulting advice. Because new ideas are shy, the fear of dumb questions is real, and there needs to be a safe place to admit that you don't know and to practice until you do. I need computers to get out of the way and help me connect with coworkers in Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Halifax, Toronto, Philadelphia, New Jersey, North Carolina, Chicago, Texas, Seattle, and Tokyo. Because that's my real commute. Every day. My hybrid car with the voice recognition-activated satellite navigation and the auto assisted parking is really cool technology, but it can only help me commute to Boston. My laptop and my cell phone handle the real commute.

So I'm going to chronicle the shifts in my tool set as a mindfulness exercise in collaboration, to see if it really is true that I can make my technology platform so transparent that no one in my company knows that I'm working on a Mac. (Unless they read this blog.) I'm going to prefer tools that will work on Windows too, so that I can teach the behavior and not the technology. I'm going to see if I can gather, dogfood, and practice a concise set of recommended freeware, since half the company works on machines where user downloads are not permitted. I am going to have to work with our service desk and end-user support teams, as well as our policy compliance specialists and our roadmap strategists, to recommend them officially as part of our collaboration and communication toolset. I'm going to be mindful of both ends of the communications connection, and pay attention to the tools, formats, and practices that accelerate the consumption of information as much as its distribution. I want to be particularly mindful of communication's role in the Great Speedup, not least because I'm one of those 80% of Americans working on a Saturday right now. I want to communicate effectively, not drown my colleagues with a firehose.

I want to see if it's possible to use and teach collaboration and communication technology that gives me, and those I teach, more time, autonomy, and mastery in our daily work. Because we're in an Industrial Revolution right now, explicitly acknowledged by open source developers who named their automated testing framework Factory_Girl.  Because I believe Marshall MacLuhan's message is more urgent than ever today: "The future masters of technology will have to be light-hearted & intelligent. Machines easily master the grim & the dumb." Because I work for a company who is driving a vision of The Internet of Things, and I don't want to be a factory girl with an Internet Thing for a master. Because my company advertises "Data for the people," and what I like best about my job is is getting the right data to the right people at the right time for them. In a good week, I have enough time left over to play with Big Data and make it visual, so that maybe someday the Big People and the Little People might find themselves on the same page. And since that page might sometimes be a webpage, I like the part of my job that helps them talk to each other on that page.

I choose to be mindful of collaboration technology precisely because of my passionate conviction that collaboration is not a technology. I choose to teach tools because I believe they shape behavior. In particular, the long-familiar toolset of Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint is the equivalent of a generation of piano lessons for beginning communications students. Yes, basic workplace literacy requires  that you be able to write and send coherent emails, and prepare documents from templates. Basic independent and critical thinking requires that you know when to do more than fill out the template by rote, and when to provide  your own professional writing and analysis. Like piano lessons, Microsoft Office will teach you to play your computer keyboard sufficiently to communicate in standard, accepted channels. 

But suddenly, you're in a loud, noisy, jazz club in Paris, or a boombox-backed session of street rap, or a pub sing in an Irish bar, and there's no piano to be found. Did you learn music, or just how to play the piano? If you learned music at those lessons, then you can jam, and you're collaborating. You're part of the In Crowd. If not, you're in the audience, because all you learned was the technology of piano. Yes, you can learn music with piano lessons. But you learn it differently if you learn violin, or drums, or guitar. If you're a singer or a dancer, you are the instrument. And if we're going to get up on our Internet-enabled global communications platform and put on a song-and-dance as high-performance consultants, then our laptops and our cell phones are our instruments, and it would be good if we learned to play them differently. After all, if you use a template, is it really different enough to  count as innovation?

A generation of IT workers have been trained in systems automation, and specifically in the design, implementation, maintenance, and support of request processing systems for IT services and support. But my working days are shaped by an uprising of Luddite leadership who are breaking the frames of these automated "communication" systems, and demanding more flexible, more collaborative, more usable, and more adaptive ways to manage the "funnel to the tunnel" where unstructured requests meet structured processing. Like many of the consultants in our company, my job puts my virtual desk right where the business funnel meets the IT tunnel, and sometimes it's really, really hard to hear, let alone to talk, over the roar of the information waterfall. If you can't hear yourself think, you're less likely to think big.

So, I've set up my new personal communications assistant, my MacBook Pro, with the first essential tools that I need to communicate with, and through, my computer. Here's what I reached for in the first round.
  • Voice recognition. Double tap the function key, start talking, and it types.
  • Google Chrome. My preferred browser, integrates with all of my other machines, and connects to my Google account on all of my devices so that my bookmarks and browsing history stay synced between iPhone, iPad, two laptops, and my home desktop machine.
  • The Google Chrome ActiveX plug-in that makes it easier to work with SharePoint than Safari. Already on my account, so it syncs when I install Chrome.
  • RoboForm. My preferred password manager, stores my passwords for all my cloud service accounts, including Google, Twitter, Microsoft Live, and more.
  • Swiftdrop. Cloud synchronization with iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive, and more. These are illegal, but I need to get some files on here right away.
  • Dropbox client. Ditto. Totally illegal. It's my benchmark for desktop to cloud usability, and I'm constantly looking for a SharePoint toolset that will match it and function behind our firewall. When I'm willing to give up on the Dropbox client, I'll know I've found it.
  • Windows Live, formerly SkyDrive. Probably still illegal, but at least it's Microsoft, so it works with SharePoint. Where my OneNote notebooks live, so I can get them from anywhere.
  • Evernote. My web clipping tool of choice, acts as an upstream funnel for random notes and clippings that may or may not make it into OneNote.
  • OneNote for Mac, the free notetaking app that integrates with Outlook. This is my looseleaf for storing requirements and design discussions that take place over e-mail. As project evolves through the discovery phase, I'll turn them into standalone notebook sections and sync them up to SharePoint in the project site. This turns my OneNote client into a collaborative requirements and design dashboard for one-on-one work with business users, each of whom think I'm working with them independently over e-mail. In my SDLC workflow, one note sits between Outlook and Word, and handles the stack overflow.
  • Colligo Briefcase for Mac, which I'm going to try again even though I've had bad luck with it before. It's the closest thing to SharePoint workspace, formerly known as groove, and I do try to stores many of my files in SharePoint as possible since I'm constantly preaching not to keep your work on your hard drive.
  • Office for Mac. Came installed on the machine, so I need to get some documents to try it with, hence Swiftdrop and Dropbox. Doesn't include Project or Visio, so I'm going to have to deal with those as part of my windows boot camp installation. I'm a heavy Visio user, so that's probably the biggest reason I'm going to boot into Windows. And before my friends suggest an equivalent Mac client, my Visio design work is highly collaborative with several other architects who are PC only, including pilot testing Visio services with SharePoint Enterprise, so this is going to be a key windows touchpoint.
  • Twitter. Deep integration with the Mac, need to sign in to my work twitter feed (not my personal twitter account) so I have access to my research timeline as well as to my SharePoint community and industry network.
  • Tweetdeck. Desktop twitter client. I keep it running in the background all day as my industry newsfeed and research hotline.
  • Jing. World's easiest and classiest screenshot tool. Free, and on the Windows side integrates well with Camtasia. Going to experiment with iPhoto and iMovie, to compare and contrast screencasting/podcasting on Windows and Mac. When I don't have time to write 1000 words, I use Jing.
  • Freemind. Free and simple mind mapping tool, Great introduction to mind mapping and brainstorming. Visual mindmapping is a key think-out-of-the-box contrast to PowerPoint presentations and word meeting minutes, but it isn't collaborative unless everyone has the client. Most folks I work with aren't visual thinkers, But I find a few every now and then, and I am going to try to use it more as a training tool. So far, it's best use case has been as an agile throwaway modeling tool during screen-sharing requirements and design meetings, with the outcome of the session exported to a word outline and e-mailed.
  • The Brain. 3-D mind mapping, hyperbolic tree visualization and modeling, synced to a private cloud. My secret mind palace, as soothing  to play with as knitting needles that untangle skeins of thought and knit them into elegant visual patterns, lace cathedrals of information architecture. My deep dive into the arcana of content types, metadata, search, domain metamodeling, RDF semantic ontologies, and hard-core information architecture geekery. The place I go when I don't understand, and I need to understand. The place where I can make the big picture make sense.  I only show it to people I trust, because it scares even some of them.
So enough about tools. What am I trying to DO that makes me want all these tools?
  • Keep tabs on and contribute to, a daily stream of industry thought leadership and grow my professional network.
  • Grab ideas and get them down in writing as fast as I can, as stream of consciousness ideation around what's happening in the company, the industry, my colleagues, and my customers.
  • Route, track, connect, and direct incoming requests for real-time discovery to delivery projects with timelines of days or weeks, in the context of large road projects with timelines of months to years.
  • Handle the front half of the software development lifecycle in real-time, and act as an ideation facilitator for customers to come to us because they want Business self-service. We are their training wheels and their water wings, because our customers are IT consultants and the shared services support for those consultants, and it is essential to their autonomy, mastery, and professional dignity that they drive requirements and design, even when (especially when) they are not themselves business analysts, architects, or developers.
  • Dig deep with visual analysis, draw what I can't write with visual design, and fly high above the abstraction barrier with visual modeling. Make search "just work like Google" as a solo Search Fairy and Stealth ToGAF Nerd. Push the envelope of information and solution architecture with visual tools beyond the Flat Earth World of Excel and PowerPoint, and then use MS Office as the step-down transformer to communicate the output.
  • Deliver value at speed. More importantly, teach others to deliver value at speed, so that we can truly work together, with enough time left to breathe and to think. Otherwise, we're all just factory girls. And "I cannot be a slave, I will not be a slave. I am so fond of liberty that I cannot be a slave." I will not, while I am able to choose, enslave others to the speed of my communications, when I can find and share ways to free us by making us all masters of, and not slaves to, our tools.
  • Stay connected as a personal colleague, a subject matter expert, and a trusted advisor in a company that's a crucible of transformational change at every level, growing from 10,000 to 20,000 in the context of 80,000 worldwide. That's a lot of people, a lot of relationships, a lot of politics, and a lot of different leadership and communication styles. It's also a lot of e-mail and phone time. But then, one of my roadmap assignments is to develop a workplace social strategy, and not just an infrastructure. I need to know my audience, so that eventually my role is to articulate THEIR strategy.
  • Deliver value and service excellence, and outpace the Great Speedup,  to learn and grow as fast as my role is growing and evolving. Too often, I'll settle for meeting my deadlines before bed.
  • Establish and maintain the autonomy and mastery that are the foundation of my job satisfaction and sense of purpose, and share that by example where I can.
  • Stay human on the knowledge factory floor of the Internet of Things. Practice grace, mindfulness, and compassion so transparently that I fit in as a male-identified, hierarchy-respecting, hardware-loving, Get It Done IT geek in the corporate engine room, especially now that I'm toting a teal-covered Mac with a rainbow keyboard. Find ways to honor those toolsmith qualities in myself and in my colleagues, and to invite the idea that there is more to IT while still respecting the toolsmiths.
  • Practice business enablement as such an art that it becomes completely transparent,  so that "the business" genuinely believes that they have done it themselves. The more this feels like play and not like work, the easier it is to give away all the credit, so any tools that make communication fun are a great idea.
  • Be a great storyteller, and as such a great leader. Use pictures, videos, numbers, maps, words, and anything else I can think of, to see deep into the present and far into the future and to show others what I see. 
Well, I certainly succeeded enough that it was fun to "write" this for a couple of hours. Mindfulness can turn tools into toys, and that sense of play is where innovation begins. Next action will be to find a free speech recognition tool for Windows, that's transparent enough for "mindfulness blogging." But first, I'll go knit for awhile in The Brain.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Teaching Someone to Manage Tasks: A Juggling Act

I've been talking a lot lately about teaching collaboration, and teaching project management, and developing teams. I've come to describe it as juggling, and so for a lark, I decided to see how far the metaphor would stretch. Here is a verbatim transcript of Teaching Someone to Juggle, with ONLY the following global search-and replace:
  • Juggling=project management
  • Juggle=manage
  • Ball(s)=task(s)
  • Cascade pattern=waterfall model
  • Throw=assign
  • Catch=complete
I find the result both amusing and instructive, especially as a program manager with a new hire. "Do not worry about your student completing the task as much as assigning it correctly. Completing will come naturally with practice, good assignments are vital when someone is first beginning to manage tasks."  In juggling, the responsibility for success lies squarely with the teacher. A useful lesson for project managers looking to build high-performance, self-managing teams.
What do you think? How useful is juggling as a metaphor for project management, and what else might we as project and program managers learn from teaching juggling?
Teaching someone to manage tasks is an exercise in patience. Watching someone struggle with something you can perform while you sleep can be frustrating but must be met with a calm and understanding attitude in order to teach them correctly. Try to remember what it was like when you were first trying to learn how to manage tasks. Even if it comes naturally it still takes diligence and practice to get down. To be a good teacher you have to be the embodiment of what project management is all about; relaxation and perseverance.

What To Teach

When teaching someone how to manage tasks you should start them off with the easiest and most basic project management model known as the waterfall model. It is often common for teachers well versed in the waterfall model to have forgotten the steps and not have a clear method of explanation for how to perform the waterfall model. Watch me and do what I do teaching is not going to work well when teaching project management. The following steps and directions will lead you on the fast track to teaching your student how to manage tasks in the waterfall model in no time.

Step One

You want to make sure your student is in a comfortable setting before you begin instruction. Have him or her put two tasks on the ground and hold only one task in their hand. Be sure to stress the importance of assigning and completing tasks properly, which are the only techniques you need in order to master the waterfall model. To begin have your student hold his or her hands out in front of him or her with their palms facing up. Have your student lower their hand with the task in it to their side before he or she assigns the task. Teach your student to assign the task up and just a little bit across to their other hand moving only their elbow. A common beginner’s mistake most students will make is to flick their wrist when assigning; this will throw them off and make it harder for them to assign the task the same way consistently. Teach him or her to assign the task to around the top of their head. Be sure to teach your student not to reach up to complete the task. Do not worry about your student completing the task as much as assigning it correctly. Completing will come naturally with practice, good assignments are vital when someone is first beginning to manage tasks. Continue to have him or her practice assigning the task to the same height while keeping their hands level. Once this motion is easy for your student to accomplish you can begin move on to step two.

Step Two

Now your student is ready to begin assigning two tasks. Have him or her pick up another task and hold one task in each hand. Have him or her assign one task up like he or she originally practiced with one task. Just as the first task begins coming back down have your student assign the other task up into the air. Make sure he or she completes the first task and then completes the second task and stops. Make your student take a pause and a breath after each complete. Keeping him or her relaxed is one of the most important parts of teaching someone to manage tasks. It is easy for students to get carried away which leads to mistakes and more drops. Do not let your student assign one task up into the air and then hand the other task over to their empty hand. This is the most common mistake made by beginners. It is not project management and will not help your student learn how to manage tasks at all. Get your student to alternate starting hands in order to get efficient with both. Once he or she can manage two tasks easily your student is ready to attempt the final step.

The Pay Off

This is what your student has been waiting and practicing for, three tasks. Have him or her hold two tasks in one hand and one task in the other. Make sure your student understand to always start with the hand that has two tasks in it. When the first task your student assigns up starts to fall have him or her assign the second task and then when the second task starts to fall have him or her assign the third. Get him or her to complete all three tasks and stop.

Congratulations! You just taught someone how to manage tasks! Tell them to keep practicing and your student will be ready to move on to harder models in no time. Before long he or she may even start managing other models. Remember, it takes patience and perseverance to teach project management properly.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Grow a Community Knowledge Garden with Wikipatterns

Wikis. Love them or hate them. Most people do both.
Because everyone hates stale information.
What’s the solution? One way is to think of content as alive, an ecosystem of shared ideas that grows and changes as people ask and answer questions. To think of a wiki as a community garden, that needs to be seeded, watered, and weeded (especially weeded!) and harvested before it rots.
Most wikis tend toward the 90-9-1 Theory:
· 90% of users are "lurkers" (i.e. they read or browse but don't contribute)
· 9% of users contribute from time to time, but other priorities dominate their time
· 1% of users participate very often and account for most of the contributions
· 90% of users are the consumers of their CSA share
· 9% of users are the volunteers who work a shift in the garden, but other priorities dominate their time
· 1% of users are the farmers who account for most of the contributions
So, who are the 1% of wikis? A good wiki has a Patron (or Sponsor), a Wiki Charter, some committed WikiGardeners (who are not ContributorsForHire), and a WikiZenMaster to Assess Wiki-Ability and mentor the WikiGnomes. Most of all, a good wiki has Ambassadors who Acknowledge Goodness and create a Welcoming path up the EngagementLadder to reach Critical Mass.
These ideas, and many more, can be found online at
Looking to spur wiki adoption? Want to grow from 10 users to 100, or 1000? Applying patterns that help coordinate people's efforts and guide the growth of content, and recognizing anti-patterns that might hinder growth - can give your wiki the greatest chance of success. is a toolbox of patterns & anti-patterns, and a guide to the stages of wiki adoption. It's also a wiki, which means you can help build the information based on your experiences!”
Getting your own wiki site on the web, or on your intranet, can be the first step toward having a wiki. But having a plot of land doesn’t make a garden. You need good soil, seeds, water, tilling, weeding, and all the work of planting and harvesting. Most of all, you need gardeners of ideas.
Learn to cultivate a community garden of ideas at

Monday, June 18, 2012

SharePoint Portals as Virtual Conference Centers

When planning your intranet site, a good analogy is to think of the people and the tasks involved in planning a conference.
  • As the conference hotel, IT provides your group with a location (the SharePoint platform), venue (your site), breakout rooms (subsites), a projector (a web browser) and white boards (pages).
  • As the facilities team, the site administrator moves and arranges tables, chairs, and filing cabinets (pages, libraries, and lists) within the site.
  • As the conference committee, business users plan the program (site map), invite presenters (contributors) host the attendees (visitors), arrange the session rooms (web part pages), pull together the conference packet (home page), and post last-minute Announcements.
  • As presenters, managers and leaders can prepare their slide decks and handouts (shared documents), deliver their sessions (pages), and take questions from attendees (discussion board).
In print publishing, holding a conference or a trade show involves weeks or months of materials preparation-- copywriting, graphic design and layout, exhibit design, typesetting, printing, circulation--all with many contributors and complex approvals. For contributors, much of this content development belongs in your collaboration site, where your team or project works together on content for publication at the "conference".

For the "conference program" itself, SharePoint provides easy-to-use web publishing pages and approval workflows, so that the conference committee can always present what's new without having to go back to the drawing board or the printer. These pages hold dynamic web parts so that as your speakers contribute their presentations and handouts, they appear automatically on the site home page and in your site's dynamic navigation.

Once visitors arrive at the conference, they receive a packet of core materials--a high-level conference program, a list of exhibitors, a map of the conference, a schedule of events, some last-minute announcements and changes--and are free to explore the conference. All of these materials should be available from the home page.

As they attend sessions, they collect additional materials, participate in discussions, and exchange contact information with other attendees. For a given meeting, your presenters each bring the slide deck and the handouts, while the attendees engage in discussion, draw on the white boards, comment on their handouts, and ask questions of the presenters.

There's a lot that SharePoint teams can learn from the travel and hospitality industry. Not every company can afford a five-star Vegas conference hotel with armies of staff, but that doesn't mean your intranet needs to feel like refugees huddled in a tent city, or lost and lonely vagrants wandering in an empty field. Excellence in the conference industry comes from putting people first, and creating a warm and welcoming space with places to meet and connect. As those spaces and places move online, those needs move with them.