Working out loud

For years, I’ve been active on social media. I’ve been blogging here even longer. Both of these are examples of working out loud, but they have their limits. I can’t talk specifics about clients – and it just wouldn’t be professional to say to my colleagues “read my blog” when they ask a question – but there really is a place for working out loud in business.

Collaboration in the enterprise

A decade ago, I would have been having conversations about enterprise social networks. The CIO would have been worried about people using Yammer (not owned by Microsoft at the time) in the way that we worry today about governance with groups using WhatsApp or Facebook. Meanwhile, those looking to drive innovation would be saying “hey, have you seen x – it looks like a great way to collaborate” (much like the conversations I’ve had recently around Altspace VR and Gather).

Back in the more mundane reality of the tools we have available to us, there are some pretty common factors:

  • Most organisations use email.
  • Quite a lot have some form of instant messaging.
  • Many have deployed chat-based collaboration tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams. (Many more have accelerated their deployments of these tools over the last 12 months.)

As for enterprise social networks. Well, Yammer is still there, in the melee with SharePoint and Teams and other Microsoft 365 tools… maybe I’ll write about that one day too…

Wearing many hats

For the last couple of months, I’ve been juggling my normal role as Principal Architect with some Project Management. It’s tempting to say it’s only highlight reporting and resource booking (that’s how it was positioned to me) but there’s far more too it than that. I’m now handing over to a real Project Manager, because the project really deserves more than I can give to it.

I also have a team to manage. It’s not a big team. I like to think it’s small but perfectly formed. Most of the time, my direct reports (who are all experienced) don’t need a lot of input but, when they do, they can (and should) expect my full attention. Added to which, I am actively working to grow the team (from both the perspective of impact and headcount), so there’s a lot of planning going on. Planning that needs space to think.

And I deliver some consulting engagements myself. Typically that’s working with clients on strategies or forward plans but sometimes getting involved in the delivery.

I also work part-time. So all of the above has to fit into 4 days a week.

This is where working out loud helps.

You see, there is no way I can keep everything in my head. Tools like Microsoft To Do might help me with the daily/weekly/monthly task lists but there’s lots of surrounding minutiae too. Open loops need to be closed… I need a trusted filing system (see Getting Things Done).

When I’m not at work, or not available because I’m consulting, or because I’m working to support one of my team, things need to carry on happening. I don’t want things to stop because I haven’t responded. For those who have read The Phoenix Project, I don’t want to become Brent.

Working out loud is the answer.

Working out loud

At risual, when we start working with a client, we create a Microsoft Teams team. Inside that team, I create a channel for each project. Each channel will have a wiki (or similar) that describes what we’re doing for that client, what the expected outcomes are, and any key milestones. I also include standard text to use to describe the client or their project. And I include details of nearby hotels, car parks, public transport and anything else that might be helpful for our Consultants (or at least I did in The Before Times – when we used to travel).

When I manage a project, I post in the channel each week who’s working on what. I didn’t think it made much difference until, one week when I forgot, I was asked for the missing post!

I also encourage project team members to communicate with me in the open, on Teams. Sure, there are some conversations that happen on email because they involve the client but, in general, a message on Teams is better than one stuck in my Inbox. If I’m not available, someone else can help.

I do the same for my organisational team. Of course there will be some confidential messages that may happen over email (and I prefer to speak if there’s anything sensitive). But, in general, I don’t want things getting lost in my Inbox. Got an announcement? Teams. Need to bounce some ideas around? Teams. Let’s collaborate in the open. There’s no need to hide things.

Is that all?

This might not sound like much, but it’s a real mind shift for some people, who work in isolation and who rely on email for communication.

But I am not done. There’s always more to do. New tools come and go. My life doesn’t get any less busy. I am as stressed and anxious as always. And one of my sons told me that he doesn’t want to do my job because “it just involves getting annoyed with people”. Hmm… it seems I have more work to do…

“Perfection is the enemy of good” is a phrase often attributed to Voltaire, and my next step is to get more comfortable with sharing early drafts. I will generally share a document or a presentation for feedback when it’s nearly done, but I really must start sharing them when they’re barely started.

Do you have some ideas for working out loud? I’d love to hear more examples of how I can make this way of working more common. What do you see as the advantages? Or are there any disadvantages? Comments are open below.

Featured image by Harsh Vardhan Art from Pixabay.

The conference call productivity drain…

The following script is based on a real conference call. The names and times have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent but, other than that, it’s pretty accurate:

9:45 (15 minutes before the meeting): Reminder pops up, “snooze” it until 5 minutes before.

9:55: I’ll just finish writing this email… I wonder, was there any preparation required for this meeting? I haven’t done any but no-one else will have either…

9:59: Ah yes, that meeting – how long?! An  hour and a half! Dial the conference service. What was the meeting passcode again? Got it, I’m in. Ah, hold music.

10:00 (advertised meeting start time): “The chairperson has not arrived. Please wait…” more hold music.

Just after 10:00: Call is opened, just two people so far. Social chat about what’s going on.

10:01: Someone else joins the call. Say hello, bring them into the chat. More banter.

10:02: Two more attendees join. Roll call. Explain that we’re waiting for a few more.

10:03: More attendees. Almost quorate now. Roll call, just waiting for Michael and Stuart. Michael did say he would join but, in the interests of time, start the meeting.

10:05: Michael joins the call. Apologies for lateness. Quick roll call and bring up to speed on introduction. Start meeting properly.

10:07: Stuart joins the call. He’s in the same building as the meeting organiser and wants to join in person. He’s told the room number and drops off the call.

(call continues for another hour or so…)

This is “normal”?! Several middle-managers, not exactly inexpensive resources, waste time waiting for others to get themselves organised. A few minutes, multiplied by several attendees soon becomes an hour of lost productivity for the company.  I’ve even seen this on calls with hundreds of people (literally) waiting.

I admit, sometimes meetings over-run for good reasons. Only last week I had to delay a meeting and missed another two calls completely because an important issue arose which needed immediate resolution (a personnel issue – and people trump process in my mental rule-book) so I allowed a meeting to over-run. I tried to keep others informed though, rather than leaving them hanging on a conference call waiting for me to arrive.

But, in our organisation, people accept the sort of practice I’ve laid out above as normal (or at least, they tolerate it) and I’ve coined a term to describe the company timezone (which is 3 minutes after the real time).

The thing is, we’re not alone. That’s why I feel comfortable talking about this issue on a public forum – it happens in organisations all over the country – indeed, all over the world, all of the time.

Yesterday, Matt Ballantine published a blog post entitled “clock watching”, in which he suggests it’s not collaboration tools we need, it’s somebody asking “why are we meeting?”. Quoting from Matt’s post:

“Imagine if the workflow for setting up a meeting, rather than being ‘find a slot available for the attendees, book the meeting’, was more like:

– state the objectives and outcomes required for the meeting
– understand who might be active participants
– describe who should be informed, yet not necessarily attend
– validate that this will require a meeting to achieve the necessary outcomes
– plan out the activities for the session
– validate again that a meeting is the best route for the outcomes to be achieved
– work out the correct time for the meeting
– find an appropriate time slot for the meeting
– send out participant briefing notes to everyone concerned”

For a while now, I’ve been asking “Do you need me on this call? I’m not sure what value I’ll be adding”. In future I’ll be more strict. And I’ll be starting the meetings that I control right on time, rather than when we have most people on the call. If people realise that they miss things by turning up late, maybe they will be more punctual? Or maybe I just need to chill out?