Category Archives: Resources

The same again, but more so

My last post was unexpectedly timely. I was catching up on recent posts at Flowing Data yesterday and discovered that Google Image Swirl are working on much the same approach to Image Search over in Google Labs.

Being Google, it’s cooler, richer and far, far cleverer.  It also confirms my view that this method is good for situations where you want to hide the irrelevant stuff.

Here – have a go:

Google Image Swirl

Google Image Swirl

Enjoy.

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Selling collaboration services within an organisation

Selling collaboration services and development services within an organization? – Art Gelwicks recently posted this as a question in the SharePoint Users Group on LinkedIn, and I found myself writing more than would fit in a discussion forum. So here it is.

Are you selling ‘bottom up’ by putting SharePoint out there and letting people use it spontaneously, or are you selling ‘top down’ by finding a sponsor with a requirement and using SharePoint to fulfil it?

There are pros and cons to both. The keys to working out these pros and cons for your organisation are

  • culture
  • use cases and
  • champions

Culture

How your organisation takes to SharePoint depends in part on the culture. Some cultures are enthusiastic about collaboration tools like Instant Messaging, Live Meeting and SharePoint, and others see these sorts of tools as time-wasters. Here’s how to work out which one yours is.

Goffee and Jones do a great 2×2 for the culture of an organisation. They say that the glue that enables a team (department, company) to work together is either sociability or solidarity; organisations with high sociability scores are ‘networked’ and organisations with high solidarity scores are ‘mercenary’. There’s more to it than that, their book is very readable and includes diagnostic tools.

I have seen people in departments where the glue has been sociability take well to the collaborative features of SharePoint like discussion forums, alerts, review workflows and MySites. I’ve not tested this, but if your organisation is networked (and read Goffee and Jones to decide if it is) then a bottom up approach would probably work well. Look out to see whether the people are already comfortable with tools like Instant Messaging and LiveMeeting, whether they are active on Twitter, LinkedIn and FaceBook, and whether Monday mornings start with a chat about the weekend. This isn’t about people who are early adopters of technology, it’s about people who like technology because it is a social and work enabler.

By contrast I have seen people in ‘mercenary’ organisations who are so busily focussed on deliver-deliver-deliver that they don’t have time to ‘waste’ learning how to use a new tool like SharePoint. In an organisation that’s mercenary (again read Goffee and Jones – they mean it in a particular way) you need a sponsor and a project. Work out what your sponsor’s driver is and fulfil it. They may want to cut down storage costs, or improve a specific set of working practices, or control the published versions of training material.

Find a sponsor with a specific need and fulfil that need.

Rinse and repeat.

This brings us on to:

Use Cases

One of the problems with SharePoint is that it’s a swiss army knife of a tool – useful for such a large number of things that it’s hard to stay focused on just one or two. In a ‘mercenary’ organisation the problem is handled for you – your sponsor has a specific task and you focus on that. The challenge is in the ‘networked’ organisations where everyone who comes across SharePoint wants to play with it all, now, as soon as possible, shiny, shiny, new, cool.

Rolling out the whole of SharePoint across the whole of the organisation is a distraction for them and a management nightmare for you. You need to identify a single use-case, but it is much harder because there isn’t a single obvious business requirement and there may not be a single sponsor. Worse, you may have a sponsor who has a vague vision like ‘collaboration’ or an unrealistic one like ‘getting everyone to use their My Site like an internal FaceBook profile’.

If you are going bottom-up you need to roll out solutions to one or a maximum of two use-cases at a time. To find out which one, put together a survey and ask what stops people collaborating well right now. Word it terms of how they work, not in terms of the SharePoint features so:

  • full mail-boxes – not – emailing urls
  • ‘shared’ drives you can’t share – not –local control of permissions
  • documents you don’t know are out of date – not – control over the full document life-cycle
  • keeping track of document sign-offs – not – workflows

Pick one of the popular ones, create a simple solution, and run with it.

Let’s read that again.

Pick one. Not a couple because they’re similar. Not three or four because Internal Communications want them (that’s your sponsor-and-project scenario and a very nice place it is to be too). Not two or three variants to cover all the bases. Just one.

Create a simple solution. Yes, there are half a dozen different ways to build and display a discussion forum in SharePoint. If you can’t tell which one works best, then put together one that works well and stick to it.

Then run with it. Get it out there. Get it used. Get comments and feedback. Improve it.

Only then move on to the next one. Bite size chunks. Could be as close to a month apart, but bite size chunks for you and your users.

The subtext here is simplicity. Turn off the ability to make subsites, remove most of the templates, switch off the themes. Lock it down. Shut it down. SharePoint is a casket of magical delights. You can always open a lid you’ve kept shut, but it is much harder to shut down a lid on something you’ve left open. SharePoint baffles new users and new organisations with choice. Lead them step by step through those choices.

And finally:

Champions

People like SharePoint. They really like SharePoint. Not everyone, but enough.

These people who like SharePoint are your friends. They are natural evangelists, experimenters and testers. They’ll pester you for the features that you’ve turned off, and they’ll come up with workarounds that’ll have you blessing and cursing them by turns. But they’ll promote it and provide free consultancy to their co-workers and come up with solutions to problems you didn’t know existed.

Really work your champions. Create a user forum and refuse to answer questions unless they are posted there. You’ll feel very prissy, but your Champions will gravitate there and get to know each other and do half your support work for you. Invite them to do in-house webinars on cool things in SharePoint, (20 minutes demo, 10 minutes Q&A). Create a SharePoint community of pratice with these people at its core. Take their advice on how to move your service forward.

So, how to sell collaboration services?

They key is asking the right question; in this case not ‘how do you roll-out SharePoint’ but ‘what does your organisation want to use SharePoint for?’

Oh, and bite size chunks.

Always bite size chunks.


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Book Review – Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom

Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom

Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom

This very readable book has impeccable academic credentials:  Fraser and Dutta are on the faculty at INSEAD but they wear their scholarship lightly. They consider the effects of Web 2.0 on business and society, and their case studies include FaceBook’s patchy relationship with its users and their employers, the destruction of the music business by the internet, and the 2008 US presidential election. It’s comprehensive and accessible and has a superb bibliography, what more can you want?

Occasionally I disagreed with Fraser and Dutta’s arguments.  They use examples from medieval France and the Knights Templar to illustrate the fracturing of hierarchical power structures.  Now colour me cynical, but would they have done that if it weren’t for Dan Brown?

More seriously, they are naive about the height of the barriers of entry to online fame and pin a lot of the first section of the book on the unsupportable assumption that online fame is open to all. They talk breathlessly (well, breathlessly for academics) about Joe Nobody from Nowhere obtaining online fame. But that doesn’t mean it’s replicable: the fact that they cannot see how it happened doesn’t mean that there weren’t reasons for it happening.  I mean, haven’t they read Outliers?  Online fame doesn’t come for wishing as Sandi Thom’s publicists discovered.  Exactly the same astonishment was expressed about the working class rock heros of the 60s, but for every Lennon and McCartney there were …. well there weren’t any other Lennons and McCartneys.  Which is my point.

They are balanced in their reporting of Web 2.0 evangelists and Web 2.0 apostates. This makes a refreshing change.  In fact, they aren’t just balanced on the subject, they delve deeply into why and how corporate and governmental organisations resist Web 2.0.  This is the nub of the book, and no-one else is saying just these things in quite this way.  But even so, they are reluctant to admit that there are some serious Orwellian implications for all our futures.

So I am not sure why I’m not raving about it.  Perhaps because I like books that give me epiphanies.  This one was rich and informative but didn’t shift any of my paradigms. They close their arguments down in a rather authoritarian way, which doesn’t set the brain fizzing with ideas. It may just be that their usual ‘voice’ is  the de-personalised style of academia.  Don’t be dis-heartened by my faint praise: it is much better than I make it sound.

Definitely a must-read, though possibly in paperback, for anyone considering the role of Web 2.0 in any kind of organisation, or who has an interest in the recent history of the internet or in how technology affects individuals and society.   Worth it for the case studies and the bibliography alone – everything else is a bonus.

PS – I thought I’d reviewed Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell – turns out I hadn’t. That’s easily remedied.


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Organising Knowledge – Book Review

Organising KnowledgeI thought I had put more book reviews up here than I have.  Here’s one of the ones I thought I’d posted.  At the moment I’m doing a lot on Knowledge Management  so here is high praise for Organizing Knowledge: Taxonomies, Knowledge and Organization Effectiveness by Patrick Lambe.  

Lambe is that rare mix, both a theoretician and a practitioner.  The book is solidly based in theory and well-proven by practice.  In the first half, Lambe takes you on a readable tour of how people have organised knowledge in the past and compare different approaches (hierarchies vs facets, for examples) and some of the implementations (the Dewey decimal system, and so on). While the second half gives you tools and strategies for defining and introducing taxonomies to an organisation. He doesn’t pretend it is easy, but the tactical tools and the methodological framework are workable. He’s clearly refined them by using them and some of the pain he has felt on the way comes through between the lines.  I sympathise with him almost as much as I admire him.

The book has the benefit of being fairly short.   I’ve noticed this with other books on the subject – perhaps books about online technologies need to get out so fast there’s no time to add padding, or else people dealing with knowledge management think too clearly to waffle.  Either way, it’s pricey per page but benefits from its brevity.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough if you are working in this area or are responsible for information architecture, knowledge management, or pulling sense out of corporate folksonomies.

If you want more from Lambe, he blogs at Green Chameleon.

A psychologist, a geneticist and a neurologist walk into a bookshop

Irrationality - Stuart Sutherland

I am currently reading “Irrationality” – an excellent book in which Stuart Sutherland describes the mechanisms by which we leap to conclusions, confuse and deceive ourselves.

I am deeply amused by the publisher’s cynical use of the techniques that Sutherland describes to promote the book.  Sutherland discusses the halo effect (when we assume a person’s good or bad characteristics apply more widely than they do), and they way we give more credence to authority figures than perhaps we should.  It’s a book about cognitivie processes, right?  So you’d have to be a psychologist to give authorative recommendations, right?  Now, Richard Dawkins is a hero in his own field and Oliver Sacks is another, but how come a geneticist and a neurologist suddenly have expertise in psychology?  It can only be the halo effect and that pesky deference to authority.

These ironies aside, it’s an excellent book and if you think, evaluate evidence or make recommendations for a living then it will keep you awake at night.

In a good way.

Podcast Reviews – Business Podcasts

There are any number of business related podcasts out there and more every week.  Many are too pompous to listen to: universities use them to advertise expensive masters degrees and consultancies use them as infomercials.  Me, I like more grounded company on my drive to work.  

Here are are some of the regulars I spend a couple of hours with each week.  

Lucy Kellaway

5 minutes of infuriatingly intelligent common sense.  Lucy Kellaway writes for the FT and is a bright cookie with a degree in Philosopy, Politics and Economics from Oxford.  She’s ruthlessly sarcastic whenever business or business people get above themseves, and is particularly hot on language, bulls***, and self-regarding egotism.  I frequently disagree with her but she’s always thought it through.  She can sound like the celebrity old-girl speaking at a school prize-day day, but get past that and listen to what she says.  She’s funny too.

Peter Day’s World of Business

Superb 30 minute programmes from the BBC.  Peter Day tackles a specific topic each week, looking at it from several perspectives within different organisations.  Day gets insightful and illuminating answers out of the people he interviews, which says a lot about the questions he asks.  Topics in autumn 2008 are: branding, risk management in casinos and banking, agriculture, the future of the internet, and biotech and medicines. Wide-ranging, meticulous, insightful and fascinating.

The Bottom Line

Another 30 minutes from the BBC.  Ewan Davies invites some of the UK’s most senior executives to kick-off their shoes and compare notes.  It feels like listening to experienced friends at a Sunday afternoon barbecue talking relaxed and slightly theoretical shop. Davies directs things with a light hand on the conversational tiller.   Superb.

The Businessweek Cover Story

Another conversational programme: John Byrne, the executive editor of Business week, spends 15 or 20 minutes chatting through the week’s cover story with whoever wrote it.  It’s a painless way to keep informed about the forces in American Business as well as the occasional headline news item.  These podcasts were my first introduction to terms like “sub-prime”, “credit crunch” and “toxic title”.  These are often recorded late at night as sub-editors add the graphics and finish the layout.  On a couple of occasions Byrne and the magazine’s chief economist Mike Mandel were clearly a couple of drinks over a headline, but most of the time everyone concerned is on the tips of their well-researched and analytical toes.  An additional treat is Byrne’s baby-boomer taste in intro tracks.  

The Cranky Middle Manager

A show by and for pragmatists with nothing to sell, its for those of us trying to keep our heads above water and below the parapet.  It’s engaging, conversational, informative and oddly comforting.  Oh, and funny.  I like Wayne Turmel’s energy and enthusiasm too.  The podcast is long on experience which makes it a good counterpoint to the journalists’ analysis and the academics’ theorising.  And it’s got one of my favourite words in its title.

Towards a corporate hierarchy of needs

Most of us are familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which suggests that we prioritise bodily needs over security, our sence of belonging over our own self esteem (which is how peer pressure works) and that we won’t tackle the things that fulfil us until the rest of our needs are met.  

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

What is discussed less frequently is that organisations have a similar hierarchy of needs, and that organisational focus shifts in turbulent times.  

As I understand it, Donald Marchand suggests that organisations focus their attention on information like this:

  1. Minimise risks
  2. Reduce costs
  3. Add value
  4. Create new reality

This is a sequence I recognise, in large organisations at least.  Mind you, it seems to me that small organisations and entrepreneurs run the sequence in the opposite direction.   Maybe that is what makes them entrepreneurs.

Marchand presents it diagramatically thus:

Marchand's strategic information framework

I’ve not yet read Marchand on the subject (I came across the idea in an excellent book on Taxonomies by Richard Lambe).  I need to go to the source to understand the details of he is saying, why he has drawn it like that, and whether or not I agree with him, but this a useful thought-provoker, and may also be helpful tool for working out where strategic attention is or should be focused.  I’m tempted by the tabloid thinking which suggests the banks’ sudden attention to risk is because they spent too much time in the previous years creating a new reality in terms of mortgages-repackaged-as-“securities”.   It’s tempting, but I think there’s more to it than that.

Marchand’s framework is about knowledge.  Lambe, who references it, thinks it misses out two important areas of corporate knowledge, specificially: strategic planning and talent management.    As I said, I’ve not yet played with the framework, so I’m reserving my final judgement.  

However, translating the hierarchy of needs from people to organisations is something well worth doing in these interesting times.



Sources
:  

Lambe, Patrick Organising Knowledge: Taxonomies, Knowledge and Organisational Effectiveness. Oxford: Chandos Publishing. 2007.  

Marchand, Donald, (ed) Competing with Information: A Manager’s Guide to Creating Business Value with Information Content. Chichester: John Wiley. 2000.

Wikipedia: Abraham Maslow.