Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Those Who Collaborate Get Ahead

I sometimes run into colleagues who say that they are too busy to spend time in a collaboration work space or go to an event. They are too busy working to come up with ideas. I think such people will have a hard time coming up with any valuable ideas. They will get things done in the short run. But they will lag behind in the long run.

Richard Hamming puts it this way in his essay You and Your Research:
I notice that if you have the door to your office closed, you get more work done today and tomorrow, and you are more productive than most. But 10 years later somehow you don't quite know what problems are worth working on … He who works with the door open gets all kinds of interruptions, but he also occasionally gets clues as to what the world is and what might be important. … [T]here is a pretty good correlation between those who work with the doors open and those who ultimately do important things, although people who work with doors closed often work harder.
Good ideas heavily reliant on serendipity. Putting your nose to the grindstone will certainly get things done, but when you want to create something that is new and innovative, derive inspiration through chance discoveries. You will have a better career and a better life in the long run.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Unhappy About Unlimited Vacations

As part of my research for next generation people management software, I spoke to many people about vacation policy. Some companies have a policy of unlimited vacation. I thought that it is a cool idea. Everyone can take a vacation anytime they want as long as their manager and colleagues are fine with it.

To my surprise a former Netflix employee, said that she is unhappy with the unlimited vacations policy. She says unlimited vacation is euphemism for very limited vacation. Employees are always under pressure to work even on legitimate holidays. Initially I thought that the Netflix employee one was an isolated case.

But when I spoke to people from other companies with a similar policy, I learnt that they also hated the unlimited vacations policy. Unlimited vacation policy seems to give too much power to managers. Some managers misuse the power and deny vacations to people. Unlimited vacations do not carry over to the next year. So even those who work hard one year without taking a vacation don't get any benefit. When a person leaves a company, the company owes the person nothing even if they had taken no vacation the whole year.

I think I am happy with a finite number of vacation days.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Role Of People Managers In Enterprise Collaboration

As part of my enterprise collaboration research work, I spoke to several people about their participation in enterprise collaboration systems in their companies. I asked them about their managers' role in their participation and collaboration with colleagues. I learned about two types of managers.

The first type of managers participated, acknowledged performance and gave feedback. They participated closely in most of the activities their team members were involved. They kept an eye on what is going on so that they acknowledge and, if necessary, give inputs to improve their team members' work. Manager participation also helped team members course correct early. Transparency of work led to feedback and conversations that may not have taken place otherwise. Such participation and feedback from the manager not only encouraged people to share and contribute more but also helped them to improve their level of performance. They executed better towards the goals of the company and became better professionals as a result of this participation from their manager. Thankfully, I work for such a manager.

The second type of managers were insecure, highhanded and thus ineffective. They did not participate or contribute to the team members' work. Instead they monitored and discouraged their team members from participating and sharing content and views even in private collaboration work spaces. This did not motivate the team members to collaborate and share. Instead their performance suffered. They started looking for other jobs  or other managers. The manager did not benefit in any way either, because the team members started mentioning this unprofessional behavior of the manager privately with others colleagues and even with other senior officials within the company. Naturally, almost everyone I spoke to was eager to leave such managers.

I think the level of openness, participation and contribution of a team can be an indicator of the effectiveness of a manager.I think enterprise collaboration software tools need to help managers understand this and overcome the insecurity that some of them have. This can be done by surfacing certain pieces of information. What if team participation in tracked the same way team contribution is tracked today? What if a team's participation and contribution in enterprise collaboration systems is available for senior executives, succession planners and internal job candidates to see?  What if the managers know that such information is tracked and can compare their performance with the performance of other managers in the company and the industry?

Another interesting thing I observed is that even managers who do not actively participate in enterprise collaboration tools, go there to monitor what is going on, if they know their team members are there.

By the way, managers can even acquire new knowledge and develop themselves by observing and participating in the activities of his or her team members.

Validating Mental Models Is Different From Usability Testing

I had a chance to talk to colleagues from SuccessFactors and the SAP User Research team recently. They asked me to explain the difference between customers conversations for product design and usability testing. This is what I shared with them.

1. Verifying mental models is where we show a prototype to a user or buyer and ask them if what we are showing brings any value for them. In such situations the moderator or presenter tells a story using the prototype as an artifact. The purpose here is to engage in a conversation to validate ideas and even generate ideas.

2. Usability testing with a final product or prototype is to verify if the product is usable. In such sessions the user is given the prototype and a script and asked to use the product. Moderator just observes and guides the user. The purpose here is to get detailed specific feedback on what usability issues need to be addressed.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Oliver Conze Might Throw Some Light On Upcoming Cloud Innovation

I want to thank everyone who reached out to me with kind words about SAP Career OnDemand. I am honored and moved by your gesture. Trust me. Good ideas are not going to go away. As David Ludlow said in his interview we are working closely with product management colleagues from SuccessFactors to take the people centric concepts from Career OnDemand and incorporate them into the SuccessFactors talent management and business execution suite, which is already used by over 3000 customers. The end result, I believe, will be innovative people centric concepts delivered from a system that has been field tested by 15 million users over 10 years.  If anything, innovation is going to reach a larger number of people than we had originally anticipated.

If you are at HR Insider 2012, I recommend you attend my colleague Oliver Conze's session on Wednesday morning. He might throw some light and may be even give you a sneak peek into how a future solution might look like.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Granular Content Collaboration Using SuccessFactors Jam

Successfactors Jam enables collaboration at a very granular level, not just on documents, but also on images and video. I decided to look at some uses for such granular collaboration. Since the concept may not be very clear, I created a video to explain what granular collaboration might mean for different types of users.

I show three examples of granular collaboration in the video.

1. A group of doctors discussing an X-Ray to determine the type of treatment required.

A doctor can discuss multiple areas in an x-ray within a document.

2. A graphic artist sharing an image can discuss various parts of the image with her client and colleagues.
3. A team sharing a group photo can tag people and add details about them.

A video explaining how it works

Successfactors Jam makes SharePoint documents more collaborative

Microsoft SharePoint is a document collaboration tool used by about 100 million users in the world. Microsoft reports that it makes about a $1 billion a year with SharePoint. With that kind of traction in the market and Microsoft's might behind it, SharePoint is going to be around for a while. Many SAP customers use SharePoint or have used SharePoint in the past to store their documents and collaborate around documents.  So I was pleased to explore the SharePoint connector for Jam and share the value it brings to customers. This is how it works. While using SharePoint, a person will be able to publish a link of a document or the document itself to Jam.

If a link is posted, anyone who clicks on the link will be redirected to SharePoint. If the document is posted to Jam, the document is converted into a format that reduces the barrier for collaboration and enables collaboration at a more granular level. For example if a PowerPoint presentation from SharePoint is posted to Jam, users view and comment on the document even if they do not have PowerPoint software installed in their computer. They can view and comment not just at a page level but also at a 20*20 pixel level.

Let's take a example of a graphic artist sharing a series of images with a client, stored in a PowerPoint file. She can comment on the color of a button the size of 20*20 pixels to convey her concepts. The client can also discuss the screens at the same level to respond to her comments or add new comments.

If a doctor is sharing an x-ray with a colleague, she can point our a small area on the x-ray and have a discussion about that image without the need for any additional software.

If the document contains a team photograph of a project team, each member can be tagged in the photograph, like we do on Facebook, so that colleagues who are distributed can put a face to a name.

The document stored in Jam is automatically indexed and made searchable from the SuccessFactors Learning management system, should anyone search for it using a keyword from there. Thus the document is also immediately made available for informal learners and on-the-job learners.

I believe SharePoint as a document management system is not going to go away anytime soon. So I am very pleased to find out that Jam and SharePoint work spaces compliment each other well and bring additional value for customers should they choose to use both together.

I'll write about the more granular collaboration enabled by SuccessFactors Jam in a later post. It has some very compelling uses.

A good conversation about SuccessFactors and SAP by SAP mentors

A very insightful conversation by a knowledgeable team of SAP mentors. They cover many practical problems and share their thoughts.

Monday, March 05, 2012

It only takes the participation of a few people to ensure adoption of collaboration tools.

I have been studying the habits of people using collaboration software for a few years now. The 90-9-1 rule is true even inside the enterprise. In most online communities, including internal collaboration spaces, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action. This does not mean that 90 percent of the people in an organization do not make any contribution. It just means that they contribute and collaborate using other tools. For example they continue to use email to communicate and network drives to share content.

A usage pattern I have seen so far
It starts of as a trickle. One person creates a work space in a collaboration tool to share a thought, notes or a document as part of a particular assignment. She then invites two of her colleagues to view and comment on the document and notes. One of the team members, who is not really interested in collaborating online accepts the invitation and joins the work space just because the first person invited her. She does this because of peer pressure. She does not want to be seen as not participating.

The third person works from a location away from the main office. So this person find the collaboration space useful to keep everyone informed about what she is doing. So she post her work there. She then invites her manager to the space so that her manager can see her work in real time. The manager monitors the space to see what is going on.

Meanwhile a junior member joins the conversation and comments on the content posted by a senior member because the work space flattens hierarchy a bit. Any one can theoretically talk to anyone without others interfering in real time. The senior member responds and the conversation gets interesting. Other senior team members join just to keep tabs on the conversation.

Enabling collaboration in a company
Based on such behavior I believe that in a 10,000 person company all it will take to kick-start usage  is for 100 people to start using a collaboration tool for their day to day work. In a company with 50,000 people if 500 people are identified, selected, trained and motivated via incentives to use the new tools for their day to day work, that should get the company going. This is doable.

How enterprise software can help
Enterprise software can improve the adoption of collaboration tools by surfacing content from business applications that people use everyday in collaboration tools.  For example, performance management tools can surface performance goals; sales automation software can surface sales opportunities; procurement tools can surface procurement projects in collaboration tools and make it easy for employees to consume, discuss, execute and contribute.

Providers who build both business software and collaborations tools have an opportunity to build bridges between collaboration tools and business context. I hope they take advantage of this wonderful opportunity in front of them.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Using SuccessFactors Jam For Rich Content Creation

SuccessFactors Jam is also a cloud based tool for any employee to create small pieces of rich content. Since there were a lot of questions, I decided to post this video here. The tool is free to use. The thing I like about it the most is that I can create a screen based video or a webcam based video, download the file as an MP4 video file and upload it to any video sharing tool I want. Even YouTube. A free tool for anyone on the web to use.

What If The People You Respect Can Influence Your Learning At Work

Yesterday I had a interesting conversation with a colleague who manages the learning management product at SuccessFactors, an SAP Company. We talked in great detail about how formal content and informal content are now connected.  She spoke about her experience connecting the formal learning management system and content from work spaces where people gather and get their work done.

We spoke about another interesting thing. When you search for learning content in the learning management system, not only can you see the list of content created and curated by the crowd, but soon you can also display content created and curated by people in your social graph. People with whom you work and respect can influence your learning. It is a bit like trusting a friend's restaurant recommendation versus trusting an anonymous Yelp review.

The technology for such features is in place. It is a matter of building it.
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