by Craig Roth | November 22, 2013 | 1 Comment
Over the years of covering portals and collaboration technology, I’ve often been involved in discussions over proving the value of these initiatives. I work with the client asking the question to determine the type of arguments they want or are allowed to make, their specific situation, and help as best I can.
But underneath it all, there’s a meta-argument: how do you prove – I mean really, scientifically prove – the value of anything to the business? Yes, I know ROI, NPV, IRR, and all the other acronyms. And I’ve seen them all fudged and led astray too. To cut to the chase, I think the answer is that you can’t really, scientifically prove the value of an initiative to someone whose gut tells them its not a good idea. Even if you make a rational case, they’ll just keep digging deeper into the numbers since they’re sure that somewhere the argument doesn’t hold. Initiatives that got approved just made more intuitive sense – they wouldn’t have passed the deepest scrutiny either.
One way to prove this point is to think about what the deepest scrutiny would be. What would a rock-solid numerical business case look like?
Think of the “hardness” of a business case being like a 1-10 scale, like mineral hardness where 1 is talc and 10 is a diamond. Then rate the hardness as follows:
Add 1 point if the improvement is 100% attributable to the process: Great, so sales went up 20% the quarter after you rolled out the new CRM system and you have anecdotes about how the improved data quality and access actually helped close deals. But can you really pin all or any portion of the improvement directly on the new system?
Add 1 point if causation directly links the process to the improvement: Gallup research shows highly engaged workforces have 21% higher productivity, and 22% higher profitability. That doesn’t prove causation though – engaged workers or the types of companies and industries that have more engaged workforces may attract workers that are more productive and tend to be more profitable (hence better bonuses and chances for advancement). Another way to look at this: would making the changes to have Gallup rate you a “highly engaged” workforce result in 22% higher profitability?
Add 1 point if other factors could not have caused the result. When you rolled out a wiki for sales reps, sales went up 20%. Great, but did you isolate for cyclical factors, or general uptick in the market, or a competitor pulling out of the market? Economists isolate variables they aren’t testing for such as income and educational level, but I’ve never seen that done for more than one variable in a business case.
Add 1 point if a substitute process could not have provided higher improvement: A help desk used to carve trouble tickets on stone tablets and get them to level 2 support in a wheelbarrow. A fancy, custom, $500,000 system now allows them to track and forward them online and has proven $1.5mm in time and materials savings. Great, but maybe you could have saved $1.49mm by just creating a simple online form in Word.
Add 1 point if the measurement direly impacts the bottom line (in for profit companies, increases income or decreases expenses): Improving employee happiness, Twitter followers, defect-free production, even net promoter score are great, but they don’t pass this test unless they, in turn, can be shown to improve the bottom line in a way that passes the rest of these tests.
Add 1 point if benefits can be shown using accepted accounting principles: standard payback period for your business, discounted to standard internal rate of return, use of common infrastructure accounted for. The upfront expense of your system easily pays for itself over 10 years? Big deal if the standard payback period is 5 years and future benefits are devalued due to inflation.
Add 2 points for time and place consistency: the benefits are shown over a sufficient period of time to be unlikely to be a random blip, and over numerous locations (if applicable). This is related to the “other factors” test above. Repeatability is even better: if an improvement made in one division saves 15% in a certain expense category, does it do the same when tried in two more divisions?
Finally, add 2 points if the person requesting the rock-solid financial proof of value can prove that their own benefits to the company as an employee exceed their salary by more than any other person in their job with the same salary would. I’m kinda kidding on this one, but it makes the extreme point that not everything valuable can have indisputable proof.
I’m sure you can think of more ways to poke holes in financial arguments. Again, my point isn’t that all improvements are phooey. It’s that no company could run only on technology and processes with proven value. Unprovability isn’t an excuse to approve all propjets, but rather an understanding that the bar necessarily needs to be set at a reasonable – not perfect – level. Good leaders need to have a gut feel for risks and make decisions under uncertainty. Otherwise, scientists (or computers) would be running corporations.
It’s ironic that as availability of sensors, big data, process modeling, and lightning fast number crunching increase, good instincts and common sense have never been in higher demand.
Category: Business cases Collaboration Tags:
by Craig Roth | November 1, 2013 | 2 Comments
As both an analyst that covers “productivity” software (the name given to the stuff in Microsoft Office) and as an information worker, I’ve observed a need for “cat herding systems”.
Cat herding systems is a tongue-in-cheek term I’ve just made up to describe a common need: trying to get several information workers to devote a slice of their time toward creating a shared deliverable by a certain date. This is a level below the formality of co-authoring, which usually involves only 2-3 authors, simultaneous editing helps, and is more of a real project.
Usually these come about by executive fiat, like where an executive has a conflict resolution meeting and wants to be armed with a cross-functional view of the problem. For example: “Next Friday I’m meeting with the VP of customer service and want a list of incidents where customer service reps didn’t give you the information you needed to troubleshoot a problem”.
Or it could be a manager fishing for a potential problem or trying to get a snapshot of what’s going on. “I need everyone to give me a list of all the travel or time off you have coming up around the holidays to make sure we’re not left without coverage like last year.”
The default way of handling this – via email – is a pain in the butt technically and interpersonally. Technically, you get multiple threads of people responding to the last response or to your original and sometimes cc’ing everyone (clogging their inboxes in the process). If you’re trying to get them to edit an attachment rather than just a textual response, then you have to sync up a dozen spreadsheets or documents and aggregate them.
The interpersonal pain is that you have to track who you haven’t gotten responses from and chase them down. Many people figure it’s not that important if they’re not personally emailed a few times about it. Out of a list of several people, a few will be travelling or out of the office when your request arrives. And the requestor has to expend interpersonal capital every time they amp up the nagging – the requestor has to balance achieving the immediate goal with the ability to complete future goals due to cooperation, morale, and trust of the team.
Since these requests are often ad hoc, they often have to be modified in process. Then a modified request has to go out and the interim requests have to be redone or validated. For example “When you give me that holiday time off list, make sure you also tell me who is your backup while you’re gone. If you don’t know yet, just put TBD”.
So how does one handle cat herding requests? Usually email. And, while annoying, it usually works. But blogs are a valid place to lay bare the annoyances of life, so is there a better way?
The best option would be a customized cat herding app, probably built in a shared, collaborative space like Connections, SharePoint, Jive, etc. Maybe a template for this already exists, but if so I haven’t seen it.
Other options are:
Wiki: Great at creating the shared deliverable, but doesn’t handle tracking of who has/hasn’t responded or auto-nagging by due date.
Online office suites: Sure, you can use Google Apps, Smartsheet, O365, or Zoho as the list, but the auto-nagging part is absent.
Tasks: Assigning tasks in an email system handles the deadline urgency and one “reminder” nag. It may handle the aggregate view of completion. But it doesn’t help prepare the deliverable.
Discussion groups: Not much help. You get a shared view of contributions, but it doesn’t handle any of the desired automation.
Any other options you can think of?
Category: Collaboration Communication Information work Tags:
by Craig Roth | September 11, 2013 | Comments Off
In the September 10th, 2013 WSJ article “The Biggest Office Interruptions Are..not what most people think.”, Sue Shellenbarger makes two points: offices have lots of interruptions, and these interruptions result in a surprising amount of lost productivity.
First I’ll tackle the point about offices having lots of interruptions. Sure, I spent a decade in a corporate office and the distractions and interruptions were everywhere.
But it’s not like the other options are a garden of tranquility. I work at home and yesterday my toddler discovered a pair of hard-soled flats that she slipped on and clomped back and forth on the wood floor in the kitchen above my office. I’ll take a pair of twentysomethings chatting about their weekend plans over that any day. And at least they won’t break into tears when I tell them to be quiet like my daughter did.
And don’t even get me started on working out of a coffee shop. Trying to concentrate among yells of ““GrandeMochaNonfatCarmelMochiatoHaveaGREATday!” is quite annoying as I found during my 3rd place experiment posted here.
Now, to the point that interruptions result in a surprising amount of lost productivity.
They do. But what’s discussed less often is that work is changing. Repetitive, single-focus tasks are getting outsourced or automated. What remains involves complex coordination of a non-routine nature. This work requires more time slicing and undefined (tacit) process, and more collaboration with others. This means workers have to interrupt others and be interrupted more, while juggling more, shorter sub-tasks. Accordingly, adaptation becomes as important as efforts to eliminate the interruptions.
The trick is identifying which types of tasks and roles are more interruptable than others. The article provides a good example: “Nurses at 24 Kaiser Permanente hospitals wear bright-colored sashes or vests to prevent interruptions while they are preparing medications for patients.”
On the other extreme, it is maddening to encounter a customer service or salesperson that is not currently engaged with another person, but still refuses to be interrupted with a question while they go about organizing a shelf or typing away at a point of sale device right in front of me. This happens to me at hotel reception desks more often than I’d like.
The article mentions a concept I’ve written about as “placeholding“: “One way people can dive back into a task more quickly and reduce errors, research shows, is by bookmarking their place, marking the next step with a large, bright symbol such as a red arrow.”
The article also delves into some commonly used stats about how long people work before being interrupted, how long it takes them to get back to the task, etc. I don’t deny there is a major drag on productivity caused by interruptions, but these stats are often abused. For example, the 25.5 minutes it takes to return to a task doesn’t mean nothing gets done for that long (or, worse yet, 25.5+the 15 minutes it says you need to get back up to speed). It means other tasks may be getting done during that time. Again, you have to know what type of work someone is doing to know whether these figures are very bad or just could be optimized a bit.
Anyways, writing this blog post distracted me from the document review I’m doing (probably for about the 25.5 minutes the studies say!). I think it was a productive distraction (if you like this post!) and hopefully it won’t take me 15 minutes to get back into the document since I stopped at a good point and used placeholding to mark my spot. On the other hand, a frappacino sounds good right about now …
Category: Attention Management Fun Information work Tags:
by Craig Roth | August 21, 2013 | Comments Off
In all this talk about aiding social interactions through instant messaging, community posting boards, blogs, and social networking there is one technology that I see missing from the list: a use of technology I’ll call (with tongue firmly planted in cheek) “Notification through Automated Governance” or NAG systems. These are the automated reminders that are sent out when a system has detected you haven’t done something you’re supposed to, usually via e-mail although IM, SMS, RSS, and voice are options. NAGging is actually a good example of the use of communication technology to improve social interactions.
Let me explain where I’m coming from. When I was a project manager, my most dreaded task was going around weekly to programmers and business clients to get their updates on percentage completion and dates. They were supposed to e-mail this to me each week, but of course they often didn’t. So I became a nag, which soured my relations with people and turned me into a human focus point for their frustrations with the project. If I had the ability to automate the tracking of the weekly entry of this information and have notifications come from a system rather than me, a nasty part of my interaction would be eliminated and I could focus on qualitative discussions about the project. This is now easily possible with many different products or a little scripting.
Nowadays there are systems I work with that send out automated nags about not getting information entered and I appreciate them. They are fair and sent to everyone that forgot without singling me out. I can’t take them personally, since they are not sent by a person. Accordingly, they don’t impact my opinion of anyone (“geez, I’m only one day late and you’re bugging me? How about when you were late with xxx …”), and they act as a handy reminder of something I may have forgotten.
NAGging has to be done with caution. Sometimes the interaction that occurs when it’s done personally is valuable and forces a discussion that should take place – one that may be improperly avoided if left to a computer. Also, we’ve all had the experience of being NAGged by systems that think we didn’t do something that we did.
But done properly, I think they are well worthwhile and easy to implement. And in these times when it’s difficult to get funding for new software, it acts as a good example of using technology you already own to improve productivity by greasing the gears of communication between enterprise information workers.
Note: This is a repost of an entry written many moons ago and 2 blogs ago. The subject came up again recently and I’m sure most readers of this blog didn’t see this the first time around.
Category: governance Tags:
by Craig Roth | August 7, 2013 | Comments Off
At our Catalyst conference I had the pleasure of meeting with many of the attendees. Lucikly I had buried “information overload” at the bottom of my bio, so a few perceptive attendees noticed and set up a meeting with me, mostly out of curiosity about what I’d have to say.
The conversations started with simple chit chat about feeling overloaded and how everyone abuses email, but after a little commiseration I turned the discussion to enterprise attention management. I described the attention continuum, pull forward / push back metaphor, and then the EAM conceptual architecture that shows where channel switching can be used. In each case it was as if a light went on that this can be an actionable, practical productivity improvement and not just a feel-good rant about our go-go world, time management, or communication etiquette.
In one conversation, we talked about “toasts” (those popups in the corner of your screen when a new email arrives) and how distracting they are. After describing how to turn them off (see here) I used this as an opportunity to demonstrate the difference between personal attention management (the way most people think) and enterprise attention management (where I try to get people to take action). Personal attention management is if he now turns off toasts and finds himself more productive, or maybe tells his co-workers to do the same. Enterprirse attention management would be changing the desktop image so that toasts are off by default so that all new machines or upgrades do this, enhancing everyone’s productivity (if you believe that, on the whole, it helps). That light bulb went on and he said “I own the desktop image” and he realized he could try to make an enterprise-wide change rather than the drop in the bucket that his personal efforts would have. That’s the “E” in EAM.
Category: Attention Management Catalyst-NA Tags:
by Craig Roth | July 31, 2013 | 1 Comment
The user experience for accessing enterprise content on tablets has a lot to be desired. I had an interesting discussion in a 1:1 meeting here at Catalyst with a company that just wanted a better user experience for their SharePoint-based intranet. With my iPad ready on the table, I opened it to the New York Times app, which is my favorite newspaper UI.
But then I realized that a more appropriate consumer-in analogy is Flipboard. Flipboard has a beautiful interface for accessing the content and uses a page-flipping metaphor for reading it. Consider how the following attributes would work for tablet-based access to the static content on your intranet page or a subpage:
The ability to subscribe/unsubscribe to a variety of content sources
All the content sources are accessed through tiles on your homepage as well as aggregated into a unified “Cover Stories” page that creates a digest of new content
A “discover more” option helps the user find content sources they may not be aware of by browsing by categories
A search box lets you search from within your content subscriptions and has a separeate listing of sources outside your subscriptions that may contain content of interest
Article summaries can be downloaded for offline use. Here I’d like to imagine a more complete offline experience than Flipboard offers, wich is just a “fetch for offline” section in the settings which will fetches summaries, but not entire articles
Beautiful reformatting of content to pull out the title and author (a special formatted RSS feed is required) and an image to provide a summary of the article and then a nice experience when reading it
It connects to your social feeds, such as Facebook, to pull in postings as if they are newspaper articles, blending in any attached images
It gathers login information to social sites to allow for single signon
There are three collection mechanisms: liking an item (clicking a heart to link on Flipboard), tagging to read later,and adding to a collection (a personal magazine on certain topics)
Articles can be acted upon, by sending to email, facebook, etc.
Filpboard doesn’t seem to work for internal enterprise content and doesn’t seem to be interested. Flipboard’s official position is that “Flipboard currently does not have plans to license or otherwise offer a white-label version of its product for publishers or enterprise customers.” Too bad, because I know that a large number of enterprise users would be interested in this functionality.
Here’s how I see it working if someone did create a tablet-based app for enterprise content access:
- It would have to gather content from existing enterprise repositories. SharePoint would be an obvious one, with other content management and portal systems as well.
- It would also connect to communication and social content sources, such as activity feeds posted by users of an enteprrise social network or applications automatically publishing updates such as a CRM system posting that “Customer XYZ has just cancelled 2 of their 4 services”
- There is way too much information to present it all, so it would have to pick a narrow subset of information. It would incorporate Enteprise Attention Management (EAM) principles to bring attention to content and postings of likely interest to the reader and ignore (not feel the need to include in the feed) items that are not likely to be of interest
- It would integrate with enterprise single siginon mechanisms and, accordingly, require a login on each launch
- It would use metadata from documents and that provided with repositories to pull out author and date information as well as provide categories for searching and categorization in tiles
- It would work on a personal+group publish/subscribe model, so users can subscribe or unsubscribe to data sources and content, as well as have administrative uesrs that can subscribe to content on behalf of an entire group or role
- Readers could collect articles as on Flipboard, by bookmarking them or adding them to a collection on a topic
- Readers could act on articles as on Flipboard by emailing, etc.
- Readers could comment on articles as on Flipboard, although these comments would be unified with an existing enterprise microblogging system such as Yammer
Any other ideas for what you’d like to see in this type of reader? Any pointers to products that you think already do this? I think there’s a great deal of pent up demand for a highly usable, enterprise, tablet-based, attentive (knows how to filter the information)
Category: Attention Management Catalyst-NA Information work Microsoft SharePoint Mobile Portals Tags:
by Craig Roth | July 24, 2013 | Comments Off
The title of this blog post comes from my 5th grade teacher. At the time, White Out was in common use. It’s like white paint that dries quickly so you can kind of erase errors in pen. I was doing an in-class writing excercise and had reconsidered a sentence halfway through and was blowing on a layer of White Out when the teacher told me to just cross it out and keep going.
Essentially this was
an exhortation thata statement that the content is what matters.
That advice is turning out to be useful in my worklife today even though backspacing is quite a bit better than White Out. Like many workers I work on documents and presentations on a “composite device”, a conceptual set of computing capabilities embodied in many devices from my work laptop to a home PC and various smartphones and tablets.
Alas, in the real world this composite device really does consist of different devices with different capabilities and software. It’s a pain to position shapes in slides on my tablet, comments on Word documents on my tablet wind up screwing up formatting when I pull the result back to my laptop, and my home PC has a more advanced version of Office that does fancy transitions that are lost on my laptop.
One solution is to isolate writing and “painting” such as assembly and formatting. Use the plain text editor or notepad on whatever device you have. Emails to yourself will also work.
I’ve gotten so used to formatting as I go that I didn’t realize how much it distracts me until I tried writing out text in a plain text editor or describing slide bullets or diagrams without worrying about the font size and alignment. Write key paragraphs or slides separately and combine them into a single document and apply formatting when you get back to the office. My 5th grade teacher would be proud.
Category: Content creation Information work Mobile Tags:
by Craig Roth | July 18, 2013 | Comments Off
Here is my yearly list of Catalyst must-see sessions for SharePoint afficinados. I think this year’s Catalyst has a lot to offer for SharePoint teams, including those concerned with mobile productivity, social adoption, and O365. And there’s a new version of my SharePoint governance workshop. Of course, SharePoint is a catch-all for many productivity capabilities, so sessions that will be very helpful for SharePoint owners are not all labelled as “SharePoint’.
So here is my guide to sessions that anyone interested in SharePoint should add to their Catalyst agenda:
- SharePoint 2013 for Content Management: Should you Move to It?
- SharePoint 2013 and Yammer; A Glimpse of the Future of Office?
- Create or Refresh you SharePoint Statement of Governance (workshop)
- Architecting a Microsoft Mobile Strategy for Non-Microsoft Devices
- Improving Organizational Effectiveness with Social Software
- Socializing Business Aplications (if you plan to integrate the Yammer newsfeed with your enterprise applications)
- How to Increase Employee Productivity in a Mobile World (the productivity matrix will be useful in gathering requirements for SharePoint even if you’re not worrying about mobile)
- Hybrid Cloud: Making it Work for SaaS Communication and Collaboration (if you’re thinking of O365, hosted SharePoint, Yammer, or SkyDrive Pro)
Category: Catalyst-NA governance Microsoft SharePoint Mobile Tags:
by Craig Roth | July 15, 2013 | Comments Off
About half my SharePoint governance discussions involve a document review of an existing or draft statement of governance. If you’re working on creating or refreshing a statement of governance, you might want to make your way to sunny San Diego in a few weeks for my workshop “Create or Refresh Your SharePoint Statement of Governance”. It’s at our Catalyst conference and will be on Tuesday, July 30 from 1-2:30 pm.
After a bit of level setting we roll up our sleeves and get to work. I am providing a 15 page template as a Word document. It includes all the structure for what goes in each section of a SharePoint statement of governance (or one for portals or intranets). It doesn’t have sample text since every statement of governance should be different and doing “search and replace” shortcuts the valuable process of communicating, building relationships, and customizing for current needs. So, instead, I provide the interview questions to use to find out what the answers are in each section, such as which policies should be listed, whether design reviews should be done, and how compliance will be tracked.
I hope to see you there!
Create or Refresh Your SharePoint Statement of Governance
Governance has proven to be the main cause of SharePoint failure. No need to worry or use free governance templates that read like a maintenance manual. This workshop will step you through the issues addressed by proper portal governance.
This workshop will also be useful for non-SharePoint implementations of portals and intranets.
- What is SharePoint governance (and what’s not part of it)?
- Why do so many governance efforts fail? What would success look like?
- What needs to be addressed in a SharePoint Statement of Governance?
Category: Catalyst-NA governance Microsoft SharePoint Portals Tags:
by Craig Roth | July 10, 2013 | Comments Off
I just read two articles about meetings that seem to offer contractory opinions on how to run a good meeting. First, I read Sue Shellenbarger’s column in today’s Wall St. Journal which offers standard advice about running a good meeting:
The leader should set a clear purpose and prepare a concise agenda aimed at a specific outcome, Ms. Johnson says. If the agenda sparks a lot of discussion, set a time for closing off debate, and alert the group a few minutes in advance.
OK, but just yesterday I read the Economist article about the summit between Barack Obama and Xi Jinping, where it praised the meetings for not being formal:
Although many formal meetings have happened since, leaders of the two countries have rarely set aside such time as this week’s summit provides to hold similarly informal discussions.
And in a companion article:
Never before has such a prolonged informal encounter between the two countries’ leaders been scheduled (dress code: “no neckties”). Its rarity and its timing so early in Mr Xi’s presidency suggest a recognition by both countries that their relationship badly needs new zest. … American officials are encouraged, however, by Mr Xi’s willingness to engage in such freewheeling diplomacy. His predecessor, Hu Jintao, shunned it, preferring to stick to formal agendas.
So which is it? The best approach is a leader who publishes a tight agenda and cuts off the meeting on the hour, or a free and open discussion that can go into the night if needed? Of course, there are many differences between the leaders of two superpowers meeting and your project status meeting that takes place every Monday at 10am. But unpacking these differences might yield clues about which approach is most likely to yield a successful meeting given the circumstances.
Decisions vs. Relationships: Building trust relationships is best done informally, while making a slew of low risk decisions is best done with a time clock ticking. To the degree that regular, structured meetings build relationships it is probably during informal time, such as before the meeting starts or while waiting for someone to hook up the projector, that people get to know each other.
Ownership: If there’s a single owner of the topic at hand they can write an agenda. If people are meeting as equals, an agenda written by one party would insult the other party.
Candor: If an agenda is rock solid, detailed, and published well in advance, everyone will show up prepared with their hardened positions and supporting evidence. It negates the point of having the meeting. The China-U.S. summit is an extreme example of where an agenda would have led to a simple exchange of prepared talking points. The more candor is needed, the less detailed you’ll want the agenda to be.
Relative importance: If this meeting is no more important than a dozen other things the leader has to do, she’ll want to have a hard stop at the end of it to get on to the next equally important meeting. If a message is to be sent that this meeting is much more important than anything else the leader and attendees have to do, an open end time is better. Many political meetings that resulted in breakthroughs went late into the night and may have involved participants cancelling future trips to stay longer and hash out the plan.
A corralary to these lessons is that a meeting that is heavily scripted, yet less important than the meetings before and after it, may not need to take place. And that structured meetings are for getting things done, not building or maintaining relationships. Picking the right type of meeting and adjusting the degree of structure to fit can yield better results.
Category: Information work Tags: