Bring Your Own …

More and more people in professional organizations bring their own smartphone, tablet or even laptop to work. And they don’t just bring their own device to work, they also use it to take their work with them to other places (home, traveling…) Policies like BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and CYOD (Choose Your Own Device) try to formalize and regulate this development. Sometimes I wonder how effective this regulation is going to be. Especially because the BYO trend is not just limited to devices. People will also bring their own software tools and even their own platforms to work, even if work is not ready for it yet.

I see a growing number of projects in highly regulated organizations (e.g. the Police or large banks) where people want to share information about what they are working on and work together on different kinds of documents and files. These project groups are often composed of employees of different departments or regional divisions. Sometimes there are others involved from external organizations (government agencies, suppliers, consultants). This creates a need to share information across company platforms. Of course, you have to be careful with the information you share. So it is wise to pay attention to where the information is stored and what can or cannot be shared with a certain team or person. But chances are that if you have a highly motivated and creative team, they will not easily be stopped by company policies if these policies get in the way of realizing their goal.

I know of such a team who tried very hard to work with the internal platform that the company had provided for online collaboration. It was a very secure platform with extensive version control, finely grained access control and a good backup system. There even was a possibility to grant access to external project members. So far, so good. The team applied for a project site on this platform. Of course, there was a procedure they had to go through. After completing the necessary application forms, it took three weeks for the application to be processed. After the decision, it took another two weeks for the system administration to open the site. At that point, only the project support person who filed the application had access to the site. He started to enter the other team members and with the internal colleagues he succeeded, but the external project members had to be approved by a special procedure, requiring more paperwork and involving  a manager two layers up in the organization. Finally, after more than two months, the entire team had access to the site and they could start using it.

The problem was that at that point, there was already two months’ worth of work that had been stored elsewhere. On local hard drives, on network drives, on USB sticks and in email messages. No version control and little security. The team set to work to transfer all these files to the project site. They found the navigation difficult to work with, especially the external team members, who had to log in twice before they could work on the site. Due to security reasons, the external mail functionality was very limited. So the alerts about updated documents never reached the external team members. A forgotten password or a blocked account required manual intervention by a sysadmin and this would typically take two to three days to be resolved. All in all, the team felt that this tool was not a contribution to their success. If anything, it was a pain in the neck.

Even though company policy forbid the storage of company files on an external server, they decided to switch to Basecamp. One of the external team members had used it before and convinced the others that it would be much easier and quicker to use. Compared to the situation where files were stored in email messages and on local drives and USB sticks, Basecamp would be a lot better. Opening and configuring a Basecamp site for their project took less than half an hour. Transferring and organizing the existing files took two hours. Entering the project’s stages and milestones took another half hour. So in less than half a day, the project site was up and running. In a few hours, they had made more progress than they had on the official company platform in a few months.

So far, the team has been working along happily and the company has not interfered. There has been a heated discussion among the management as to what should be done about it. The project manager has had to answer some critical questions, but so far she has gotten away with it because her project is getting excellent results.

Now I am not saying that everyone should use Basecamp or any other specific tool. There are many different tools and there are others who have done tests and made comparisons much better than I can. Neither am I saying that it is OK to ignore company policies. The risks involved can be very serious and should be weighed carefully.

I think the example of this project team illustrates the fact that the best people for a project (the creative, the highly motivated, the result driven ones) will always try to find ways to get their work done in the most effective way. Even if that involves using tools and platforms outside of the company guidelines and policies. My feeling is that the risk of stamping down on a team like this will be that the team loses its motivation. The risk of letting the situation continue is of course that information gets lost or leaks out. If it were up to me, I would let the team continue, but I would talk to them about the security issues and maybe even periodically check on them.

Because there are so many excellent tools out there, a lot of them web based and easy to use and configure, there is no stopping a team like this. Unless you cut them off from the Internet, which is something hardly any organization will do any more. So people will not only bring their own devices to work, they will also bring their own tools and even their own platforms. Trying to prevent that is virtually impossible. And even if it would be feasible, chances are that the costs outweigh the benefits.

So if your organization is not yet ready for Bring Your Own… (Device, Tools, Platform, Whatever), you might as well get ready quickly. Effective security has always been a people’s thing rather than a technical thing. Stashing people away in Fort Knox is not going to help. The Bring Your Own… trend is driving this message home harder than ever. It is the people feeling the responsibility and acting upon it that will make the real difference. How responsible and security minded are the people in your organization? That is the most important question if you want to get ready for BYO.

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Accept the resistance

People often ask me what to do when their colleagues do not want to use social media. Or when they are OK with using social media in their private life, but not for work. How to make them accept a new tool and, with it, a new way of working together? How to make the resistance disappear? I have three answers to that.

My shortest answer is: don’t. Fighting resistance only makes it worse.

A somewhat longer answer is: focus on acceptance. Anything you give attention to, will grow. So if you pay a lot of attention to the resistance, it will become stronger. It is much wiser to feed the acceptance. Find your supporters and work with them. Find the early adopters and facilitate their experiments and their learning. Their fun and their success stories will convert others in due time. Yes, it will take time and hurrying it is not going to help you. I will explain why in the next part of this post.

This is the longest answer. Around 12 years ago, I stumbled upon a theory about the six stages people go through when they accept new technology. I have never found the source, but I find it very useful. I have been using it ever since in situations where people had to deal with a new tool that changed the way they did their work. It helps because it makes you see why people react differently to new technologies and it helps you understand what has to happen before they really dig it and you will start seeing the benefits. I’ll explain the six stages first and then how to deal with them. Remember: it is the people going through these stages, not the technology.

1. Denial. It is nothing, just the next fad, look at those crazy nerds. About Twitter: “I don’t want to know that you have slept well and that you are now having your first cup of coffee. Get to work!” Or about cell phones: “A cell phone is a form of incontinence. If you can hold your pee until the next bathroom, you can also hold your phone call until the next payphone.” People who are in denial can sometimes become very irritated with people in stage 2.

2. Play. It is fun. To stick with the incontinence theme a little longer: young parents know that when it comes to potty training, nothing works as well as making a game out of it. In the 80s and 90s, we had Home PC Projects. The company would get you a PC for use at home on very friendly terms. The idea was that you would play around with it and start to like it, so that you would then be much more positive about doing your work on a computer. Around 1980, one of the reasons the video tape standard VHS won the war against the competing Betamax was the fact that the porn industry had adopted VHS. Talk about play… When there is fun in using something new, you are willing to put up with a little frustration in the learning curve. Volkswagen knows this. The play stage will help you through the first difficulties and get you going.

3. Substitution. The substitution stage has two faces: copying and fear. The first serious use of the new technology involves copying the familiar into the new. When the first online stores opened up, the design was like a familiar brick-and-mortar store, but on the computer screen. Programmers went through great pains to design aisles and shelves. Of course, this was abandoned afterward, because it did not make sense. It hardly used the true possibilities of the computer. In the early days of the television, the news was read in front of the camera. It was not until later that a camera man and a reporter went out to capture the news itself as it happened.

The fear side is that people think that the new technology will replace what’s familiar. The movie would replace the theater, TV would replace books, and internet is going to replace real life contact. To a certain extent, some of that may happen, but not to the extent the substitutionists fear. Email has almost replaced the fax – but at a much slower rate than people thought.

Substitution has to do with letting go of the old – gradually. Taking some of the old world with you as you venture into the new world makes it easier. It is like your child’s favorite teddy bear that has to come to school on the first day.

4. Enrichment. After the substitution stage, users start to explore the real possibilities and advantages of the new tool. And they will get carried away. When people first start using desk top publishing software, they will make the wildest posters, brochures and postcards. Too many different typefaces, the most awful color combinations and a wild collection of graphics make it painful to the eye. Same thing with early webdesign. This is also a necessary stage, as people learn to use all the possibilities of the tool. When you are in a new place, you learn the lay of the land by roaming around. So that’s what people need to do.

5. Transformation. After substitution and enrichment, people are ready to use the tool appropriately. The usage is transforming from something special and unusual into something of normal proportions. But it is not routine yet. It still feels new, but you know what the dos and don’ts are and you know your way around with it.

6. Transparency. The sixth and final stage: the new tool has been integrated into your daily routine. It is nothing special, you don’t think twice about it. Using the tool has become transparent, you don’t even realize any more that you once found it a new and special thing. Until it is time for something new again…

Does everybody go through these six stages? Usually yes, but some may go real quickly. Seeing something new almost always gives a first reaction of strangeness. Even if you immediately see advantages, the first look will be a critical one.  How long these stages last is a very personal thing. Some people stay in denial or in play for much longer than others. Now the interesting question is: how can we make it go faster?

The answer is: by giving it time and by facilitating the stages. Putting on pressure will backfire. One reason is that the people who go through these stages have no idea that it is a stage they’re going through. Their view of reality is the truth. If you have ever tried to say to somebody: “You’re just in denial,” you will know what the answer is: “No I am not.” Each of the stages has a function. It is something people need to do before they can actually use the new technology to its max.

So what to do? The best you can do is facilitate the stages. Let people play around, let them copy their old ways, let them get carried away, and so on. Let them share experiences with each other. They will pull each other through and they will do it much better than you can. Facilitate mutual learning, give information, help where you can. Of course, sharing success stories also helps. But before anything else: accept and respect the six stages. They will happen anyway.

Oh – and if you are familiar with these six stages, I would love to know where they come from.

Posted in Acceptance, Social Media | 2 Comments

Do Social Media Benefit your Projects?

A lot has been said and written about the use of Social Media for networking and marketing purposes. It is a lot harder to find good information about the use of Social Media in a project environment. Last year, Elizabeth Harrin decided to do something about that. She ran a survey and received responses from 250 people in 32 countries. This year, she has repeated the survey, with interesting results.

I will not say too much about it, the results are available for download on Elizabeth’s site. The use of blogs and wikis in projects have increased, but the number of project managers that has seen benefits of improved collaboration has fallen a bit from 55% to 48%. This might have to do with the fact that online collaboration tools like SharePoint have been excluded this year. The survey now focuses exclusively on social media.

This survey is just that, a survey. It is not scientific research and it does not pretend to prove anything. What I like is that it makes me think about how I use social media in my projects and where I see the benefits come in. I hope Elisabeth keeps doing this survey for the years to come, so we can see how it develops.

What do you think? Do you recognize the results of the survey, or is it completely different where you are? I appreciate your feedback!

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Wisdom of the crowd

Social media are a way of using the wisdom of the crowd. This wisdom can be a powerful thing. The famous story of how the operating system Linux became successful is a good example of something that an individual (Linus Thorvalds in this case) could never have pulled off by himself. But of course there are also many examples in history of a crowd being utterly stupid. What is this strange thing called “wisdom of the crowd” and how can we use it in the projects that we undertake?

In March of 2011, he Dutch TV showed a documentary about this. It started with the first time in history that the wisdom of the crowd had been researched and documented in a more or less scientific way. In 1906, Francis Galton was at a cattle market, where a competition was held to guess the weight of an ox. For a small amount of money, the visitors could take part in the competition by submitting their guess on a piece of paper. There were some 800 participants and the winner was the person whose guess was the most accurate. Galton did not expect this crowd to be very wise; it was a cattle market after all. He wanted to prove this hypothesis by making an analysis of the guesses. So he asked if he could borrow the 800 slips of paper.

To his surprise, the analysis Galton made showed that the average of the 800 guesses was a lot better than the best individual guess. The average of all the guesses was 1197 lbs and the actual weight of the ox was 1198 lbs. Of course this crowd knew a bit about cattle – and they could all see the ox from up close. That is probably why the remake of this competition over the internet a little over 100 years later did not work out as well.

The TV documentary showed a cow and asked the audience what they thought its weight was. The average of the answers was 552 kg. The best individual answer was right on the mark: 740 kg. Much better than the average! So the wisdom of the crowd does not always work. What probably made it worse is that people who did not know anything about cows used the internet to find out how much a cow weighs. If one googles the weight of a cow, one finds a few Dutch sites about cows that rank high in Google and that estimate the weight of a full grown cow between 500 and 600 kg.

The wisdom of the crowd works best when the people in the crowd know something about the subject and when they have access to relevant information. In a project, you will hopefully have people who know something about the subject matter your project is dealing with. And if you want to use their wisdom, it helps a lot if you make sure they have access to all relevant information.

Update: recent research shows that two more aspects are important when large crowds perform simple estimation tasks: diversity and independence. Especially this finding about independence makes the research interesting. When the members of the crowd gain information about the estimates of others, their confidence grows, but the accuracy of the crowd as a whole drops dramatically. Social media are an easy way to gather information about the estimates of others, increasing our confidence but at the same time blurring our vision! What to do? Good stuff for another post. Stay tuned…

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Pyramids to pancakes

Josephine Green has an interesting way of making clear how the world we do business in is changing around us. She uses the analogy of a pyramid and a pancake. The pyramid stands for the 20th century with hierarchical structures, a predictable future and a command-and-control style leadership. The pancake stands for the 21st century with a circle full of interconnected people that exchange information, ideas and solutions faster and more effectively than you could possibly “manage” if you tried to organize it.

You can find a video of Josephine Green’s keynote at the Leap 2010 conference here. The entire video is 30 minutes. The Pyramids to Pancakes part is in the first 15 minutes, but be warned: chances are you will want to see the rest as well. If you would rather read about it, here is a page at Philips Design (where she worked for many years) with a PDF at the bottom of the page. Some people got so carried away with the concept of Pyramids to Pancakes they created a movement.

If the world is changing, our organizations need to adapt to survive in this new world. A pyramid organization, running on hierarchy and command-and-control, is not going to make it through the 21st century. Organizations have to become more pancake-like to be successful. More like a network, acknowledging the professionalism of its members and more result-driven than policy-driven. Josephine Green explains it much better than I can. Now wouldn’t it be great if the projects that you run would contribute to your organization being successful? Yeah, duh. Stupid question of course. Then why is it that we run all of our projects like pyramids?

If your project is to help your organization become more like a pancake, your project itself has to be like a pancake. Maybe not completely, but your project has to be at least a little cl0ser to the pancake than the rest of your organization. I will write more about this in the near future.

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Speaking of #projecthacking

Yesterday, I spoke at a national Dutch event for project managers. I used a Prezi that you can view here. The Prezi is in Dutch but it consists largely of pictures – I am of the opinion that when one gives a presentation, the pictures should be on the screen and the words should come out of your mouth.  In the beginning of the Prezi, there is some text for a little quiz (won by Jeroen Muis). After that it is mainly pictures. The things I talked about will all become posts on this blog in the next few weeks. So stay tuned! And let me know what you think.

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Line of sight

Today, a mail from Nancy White put me on an interesting track. Amongst a bunch of other interesting things, she wrote: “The term ‘line of sight’ is something I learned from Lisa Kimball (Metanetwork, GroupJazz, Plexus). In her early work with online groups the thing she noticed that often was missing was the ability to see each other ‘out of the corner of our eyes’ to get a sense of how what we as individuals were doing/experiencing related to what others in the group were experiencing.”

I have been reading some of Lisa Kimball’s work. Good stuff. Back in 1999, she wrote an article about how to manage a virtual team. Of course, social media were not there yet – at least not like now. But the article is still a valuable read for those managing one or more geographically disperse teams. A little later, in 2003, social networks were on the rise and Lisa wrote another article about how organizations could benefit from this new phenomenon. Also recommended.

Posted in Crowd, Distance, Social Media | 3 Comments