Monday, December 8, 2014

Moving on to a new adventure

Dear friends and colleagues, there are exciting times ahead! I have decided to move on to a new adventure that I’m really excited about. Let me tell you a bit about it! ☺

Envisioning the future of work

First of all, I will continue to think, speak, write and visualize what the future of work might look like in an increasingly digital and connected world. As a part of this I will offer standard and custom-designed seminars and workshops as well as strategic advisory within The Digital Workplace and Enterprise Collaboration on a freelance basis.

Shaping the future of work – humanizing technology

I will also work as Digital Strategist at Tactel, a leading and award-winning Swedish mobile technology company. Together with my talented colleagues at Tactel we will shape the future of work with innovative digital experiences and services, humanizing technology.

Don’t hesitate to contact me if you want to know more.

Yours truly,

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Collaboration Pyramid revisited

There has been a lot of buzz on Twitter recently about The Collaboration Pyramid model that I developed a few years ago. It started when Helen Bevan shared a redrawn version by Jim Farrell.

The model has received a lot of praise, but it has also been met with criticism. An image can be worth a thousand words, but an image such as this allows a lot of interpretation. It is hard to understand exactly what the model is intended for and how to interpret it just by looking at it. For example, model has compared the model to Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs”, likely because Maslow’s model is also illustrated as a pyramid. It lead to the conclusion that the activities in the lower layers are more basic and thus easier/less complex than the activities in the layers further up in the pyramid. But I didn’t use the pyramid shape to indicate a scale of activities from basic to advanced. The model doesn't say that the lower levels are simpler or less complex that the upper ones. Rather, it's the other way around. What the model does is highlighting the very complex social interaction and relationship building activities that are needed for collaboration to happen. Many of these activities are so complex that we have a hard time understanding them and how they connect to simpler activities such as forming a team or coordinating clearly defined activities within a team. Hence organizations don’t do a good job at supporting and encouraging these activities, especially not across teams and locations.

So, to make it easier to interpret the model in the way I intended, I will try to add some flesh to the bones in this post.

The Collaboration Pyramid Explained

The Collaboration Pyramid is intended as a tool that will help organizations to understand what they need to do to make collaboration happen naturally across groups and locations, as well as to increase the effectiveness of collaboration efforts. The model consists of 8 layers, building on each other from the bottom and up. The top 3 layers represent activities that we typically think of as parts of structured team-based collaboration, such as forming the team, coordinating activities, and carrying out the actual activities. These are often formalized, visible, measured and evaluated, just as the result that the team produces. The activities in the 5 lower layers are activities of more social nature, and activities not bound to a particular collaboration effort, such as people introducing themselves to each other, having informal conversations, connecting, creating and sharing information with each other, and so forth. Things that happen on a daily basis, embedded in the daily work.

The activities in these layers happen naturally when people are in close proximity. When people are close, it is easy to be introduced to each other, and to spontaneously meet or go and talk to each other. And what begins an informal and spontaneous conversation might then evolve into a collaboration effort. But as soon as people are located more than 50 feet away from each other, the likelihood that they will meet and have an informal and spontaneous conversation drops dramatically. And so does the likelihood that collaboration will happen naturally.

What is more, these activities, in the lower 5 layers, happen “below the surface”, so to say. Management rarely put any attention to these activities, at least not beyond their own teams, and some even regard them as waste, not work. The activities are usually not visible, recognized, or valued by organizations. Yet, these activities are fundamental both for collaboration to happen, and for a lot of other value-creation to take place. Below the surface you typically find:

  • The activities that allow people to get to know each other, build relationships, and understand what others can contribute.
  • The direct and indirect contributions from people outside the team – by the extended team, stakeholders, and external contributors.
  • The ongoing community building that makes people build trust in each other and commit themselves to a shared purpose.
  • The efforts of gaining the workspace awareness that is necessary for making the right decisions in any collaborative effort

The collaboration pyramid illustrates a problem within large and distributed organizations, namely that the activities in the 5 lower layers are hard to scale beyond organizational groups and geographic locations, something that contributes to the creation of organizational silos and groupthink. It is more likely that you will communicate and collaborate more frequently and spontaneously with other members of your group and people in your close proximity than you will with people in other groups and at other locations. If your network stretches further and you have ties to people in other groups, then some communication and collaboration might happen spontaneously across groups.

The problem is that in a large and dispersed organization, most people don't get the chance to develop relationships to people outside their own groups, and hence their social networks are often limited to people that belong to the same organizational group and to people in their close proximity. Those who perform really well in the lower levels are those who have visibility in the hierarchical organization and who have the resources and mandate to invest in these activities. These people are usually not the ones who have the skills and expertise to solve the wicked, complex problems organizations are facing, or who have the ideas that might result in new innovations that might get or keep the organization ahead of the competition. These people are usually to be found in the lowest levels of the organization, on the grassroots level.

I'll end this post with some of the praise that the model has received :-)

“This image by Oscar Berg…helped me recognize the role of collaboration supported by social media tools as the core message in my 30 second elevator pitch.”

“The pyramid produced by Oscar Berg is an interesting view of the visibility and value of collaboration. It works well in the context of Enterprise Social Networks demonstrating that they can be used to develop great foundations for visible collaboration.”

“Oscar Berg's collaboration pyramid captures very well the distinctions between formal and informal collaboration.  And central to what this model is about is the idea that to be able to collaborate with each other we need to shift our thinking away from a subservience for what the boss wants or thinks towards taking seriously our experience, our ideas and our interests.”  

”Communication culture is all about enabling your teams – including external stakeholders such as partners, vendors, and clients – to engage in an open environment and share their best thinking. Oscar Berg, a consultant working in Sweden, does a good job of explaining his concept of the “Collaboration Pyramid” in this article. Berg’s concept is consistent with our own academic findings around best practices for effective collaboration.” 

“Oscar Berg is writing about the conditions needed in an enterprise for value-creation through collaboration, and suggesting that the traditional model of structured teams is the tip of the iceberg…The layers below the surface involve a wide range of ad hoc connection, development of relationships, and development of trust.”

“I love this image by Oscar Berg as it explores the increasing value and visibility of collaboration.”

“Berg’s Collaboration Pyramid is an astute piece of thinking built on some high level social norms that we might all claim to live up to – being open, truthful and attentive. The sorts of behaviours that when consistently practiced generate trust.”

“The Collaboration Pyramid displays a broader platform to support a different context for collaboration that may eventually lead to more authentic and meaningful personal investment in the team process.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Sharing is our competitive advantage

The key to a successful enterprise is to activate people’s innate drive and ability to share what they know with each other. That drive and ability is also why we are only human species walking the earth today.

Let’s rewind the tape a bit.

In the beginning Homo sapiens coexisted with Neanderthals, the Denisovans, Homo erectus, and the diminutive “hobbit” species Homo floresiensis. It was only quite recently did we become the sole human species to wander the earth. Homo erectus became extinct 143,00 years ago, but the Neanderthals became extinct about 28,000 years ago. Since then we have been alone.

So, for some reason all other human species that we have shared the earth with have become extinct. One can only speculate about how that happened. It is very likely that we, Homo sapiens, made it happen. But how? If we take the Neanderthals as an example, they were superior to us in strength. And we weren’t necessarily smarter than them, at least not on an individual level.

What made Homo sapiens different from the Neanderthals was most likely our social abilities and behaviors, how we behave as a collective. As a human species we have always been very focused on communicating and transferring knowledge. Not only from one person to another, but also parent to child. This way, the next generation can build further on the collective knowledge of the previous generation.

During the 400 000 years that the Neanderthals lived on the earth, they didn’t develop their tools very much. In fact, the tools they used at the end of their time were similar to the ones they used in the early years. If we compare that to Homo sapiens, the tools we used in the early years cannot be compared with the tools and technologies we have developed since. From creating simple stone tools we have created spaceships that can send people into space and digital communication technology that has the potential to connect all human beings on the earth. What made this possible is our innate drive and ability to share what we know with each other.

The Neanderthals and other human species that we co-existed with are most likely more than other primates in this respect, such as chimpanzees. A baby chimpanzee can sit next to his mother trying to crack a nut a 100 times without his mother trying to show him how to do it. He will learn by observing others how to crack the nut, but no one will teach him how to do it taught. Not even his mother or father. One can only speculate, but had the Neanderthals shared our social abilities and behaviors, then perhaps space race would have take place between the Neanderthals and Homo sapiens instead of between the Soviet Union and the US. ☺

This leads me to the rather obvious conclusion that what has made us, the Homo sapiens, competitive and successful as a human species, are exactly the same things that make an enterprise competitive and successful. It is our ability to communicate and share knowledge to other members of the social groups that we belong to.

Image from “Leap Factor Executive Presentation

This ability has also enabled us to developed new and advanced technologies, and most importantly we have developed communication technology that makes it even easier to communicate and share knowledge. Today we can do it on a global scale, sharing anything with anyone and any number of people. And anyone can access the collective knowledge of the human species that we have encoded in books and other forms and now make available in digital format via the Internet. Our ability to share what we know with each other has never been stronger or more powerful. There are practically no limits to what we can achieve in the future, as long as we don’t use the technology against ourselves as a human species and make ourselves extinct.
“...we see more and farther than our predecessors, not because we have keener vision or greater height, but because we are lifted up and borne aloft on their gigantic stature”  
Metalogicon, John of Salisbury, 1159

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Improving problem management processes with social technology

A problem management process aims to diagnose the root cause of an incident or problem that has occurred and then determine how the problem can be resolved. It includes implementing the resolution, as well as maintaining the necessary knowledge about problems and resolutions or workarounds, so that problems can be avoided and fixes can be reused in the future.

For organizations providing IT services, the problem management process is a key process to ensuring that the services are available and that the quality of the services is satisfactory. But problem management can also be seen in a broader sense, any kind of service that is delivered to a customer, which could be an internal customer as well as an external customer. It helps to manage and result incidents and problems that are reported by customers.

When a service is disrupted, it can damage the organization’s reputation. Customers might leave for another service provider. Perhaps the price charged for the service might have to be cut or customers might have to be compensated. All these things will result in lower revenue and profit. In an age where organizations compete not only with price and quality of the products or services they provide, but the entire customer experience, the importance of having a well-functioning problem management process cannot be overstated.

A high level view of a typical problem management process is illustrated above. The process is triggered when an incident or a problem is detected and reported. After being registered in a system, it is prioritized and the investigation and resolution activities are being planned. The problem is then investigated and diagnosed in order to find the root cause. A workaround might be implemented while investigating the problem further. When the root cause has been found, the next step is to find and implement a solution that fixes the root cause. When the problem has been resolved, a follow-up is made to ensure that it and the problem is being closed.

Typical challenges

Problem management is a process that sometimes needs to involve many people from different organizations and locations. Specialists with expertise in different domains might need to get together and collaborate to quickly assess a problem and find a resolution or workaround, often without meeting face-to-face and interacting only with a name and an email address. Thus a problem management process is subject to all the typical challenges of collaborative non-routine work, such as the becoming aware of what other people are working on, communicating, coordinating activities, sharing information, locating expertise, and so forth.

Another challenge is that many users become frustrated since they get little or no feedback about the progress of the problem or incident that they have reported. Their ability to communicate and interact with the problem management team is limited, and vice versa, which causes unnecessary friction. The lack of communication leads to a lack of mutual understanding and an “us vs them” mindset might develop within the problem management team, which creates even more friction and conflict.

As with any process, there are usually a fixed or limited number of resources with a given set of knowledge and expertise that is participating in a problem management process, thereby setting definitive constraints on the teams ability to manage and resolve problems. These constraints affect such things as the response time and the throughput of the process, the ability to scale the process to handle more problems, the ability to solve big, complex, and wicked problems, and the quality of the output and thus the service provided.

Often, the huge workload makes the problem management team reactive. If they would be involved in the earlier phases of the service development lifecycle such as service design and implementation, they could be more proactive and make sure that a lot of problems and incidents are avoided or be better prepared when a problem or incident occurs. But since they are already knee-deep in problems they need to manage, they don’t have any resources to spare, so they continue being reactive even if being more proactive would likely reduce the number of incidents and problems they need to handle as well as speed up the problem management process.

Improvement opportunities

Social technology can be used to improve cross­-functional collaboration by making it easier to communicate and interact across organizations and locations, especially when many people are participating in the process. Here are a few more specific examples on how social technology can be used to improve a problem management process.

1. Enabling two-way communication 
Two-way communication is key if two people are to reach mutual understanding of something. When you need to solve a complex problem quickly, it is essential that people can have rich and highly interactive conversations with each other. They need to arrive at a shared understanding about the problem and root cause, and they need to do the same when it comes to how to resolve the problem. Such conversations have to be possible to have online, since it’s not feasible that everybody who can contribute to solving a problem meet face-to-face. The conversation also needs to be persistent and visible to other people who haven’t been involved but who might be able to contribute with important knowledge, insights or information later on.

2. Increasing openness and transparency
Increasing the openness and transparency of the problem management processes will help the problem management team to communicate and interact with the users more effectively. A more open, personal and constructive dialog where problems are solved in cooperation with the users will also help both parties to develop a better understanding of each other. It will help to create a more friendly and collaborative atmosphere, which will contribute to increase both user satisfaction and make the problem management team members more engaged in their work.

A more open and transparent process also implies that it is possible to access and use information about past problems, incident, solutions, and workarounds. For example, by making solution knowledge accessible and available, users can use it to solve their problems and thereby takes some load of the process and problem management team.

3. Engaging expert networks
A network of experts could be engaged in the process and collaborate directly in real-time with both the problem management team and the user to solve the problem in question, or implement a workaround while working on a resolution. This will most likely also improve the quality of workarounds and solutions, since these experts might possess relevant knowledge and information that the problem management team otherwise wouldn’t have access to.

4. Utilizing external resources
Involving external resources can both speed up the problem management process and free up resources from the problem management team so they can become more proactive. To enable external participation, there is more to it than providing tools that allow them to communicate, interact and collaborate with the problem management team.  There also needs to be full openness and visibility both when it comes to the process as well as the “work contents” in terms of incidents, root causes, ideas for workarounds and solutions, and so forth so that external resources can get an understanding of how they can contribute.

5. Bringing relevant information to the users’ fingertips
Users should be able to follow updates about the services they use and get informed about such things as planned updates, outtakes, or problems. This also means that they don’t need to be informed about services they don’t use, thereby reducing the information noise and increase the likelihood that relevant and important information will get their attention. That way they don't need to contact the problem management team to get the same information or report or escalate incidents or problems that the team is already working on. If people have questions or need more information about, say, a problem, they can communicate and interact with the problem management team, as well as with other users, via the social object that carries the information. The questions and answers, as well as any other information, that are shared in the conversation, will then also be accessible to other users who might have the same information need - who might become aware of it before they even knew they needed it.

6. Enabling self-service
If users are able to join and participate in online communities, they have a platform for helping each other out with anything that relates to a service. The users of a service could also collectively maintain a knowledge base with tips and tricks that enable them to fix or avoid minor issues by themselves, without reporting a problem or incident. By subscribing to different topics, any new updates to the knowledge base that relates to the topic can be brought to their attention via their activity feeds.

7. Recognizing contributions
To keep people engaged and willing to contribute in the future, it is important that everybody who has contributed to solving a problem can be recognized for their contributions, especially if the ones who experienced the problem can do this. If people can get recognized for helping customers and providing them good service, it can make them more motivated to do so and foster outside-in thinking.

Monday, November 3, 2014

5 ways your organization shouldn’t approach social

Many organizations see no big change in the existing ways of working after deploying social tools or social collaboration initiatives. Not only has it proven to be quite difficult to make people adopt these tools. It has also proven to be difficult to achieve any significant improvement of business performance.

Here are five ways (anti-patterns) to approach social that are doomed to fail.

Social epic fail

1. Social as lipstick on a pig

The main reason why the organization wants to “go social” is because some people have heard or seen that other organizations are doing it. They have seen competitors showcase their “social intranets” or “social collaboration platforms” at a conference or elsewhere. “Everybody else is doing it so why shouldn’t we?” There is no awareness that about the problems and challenges social technology can help address. The organization just wants to show others that it has also jumped on the bandwagon.

2. Social as a feature

Social is merely seen as a number of technical features, such as commenting, blogs, wikis, rich profiles and activity feeds. There is some basic understanding why such features are needed, but the organization doesn’t develop that understanding. Nor does it explore how to use the features or how the features need to be designed in order to support work in the best way. Therefore it has no plan on how to make use of these features to improve current ways of working or how people communicate. The “go social” mission is accomplished by adding a number of social features to the list of requirements when buying a new collaboration platform or intranet.

3. Social as a silo

The organization buys a social intranet or social networking platform from a vendor without any real thought about how it should relate to and integrate with other tools and platforms. It’s just installed next to the other tools and platforms. There is probably already an intranet and perhaps a collaboration platform in place. The idea is that users should go to the intranet to find information, to the collaboration platform to collaborate, to the document management system to manage their documents, and to the social platform to be social.

4. Social as a crutch 

The organization has invested a lot in a new intranet, but it is rarely being visited. The key performance indicator for the intranet is number of daily views of the intranet home page, and the corporate communications department has already tried to improve it by making the home page the default page in the browser. To make it more attractive for users, the communication department decides that social features such as commenting and likes should be added in order to make the corporate news more interesting.

5. Social as a silver bullet

The organization sees social tools are seen as magic pills or silver bullets that will, once deployed, be “automagically” be adopted by employees, just as they have adopted social tools such as Facebook. As a result, it expects that new and smarter ways of working will “automagically” emerge. Since people have asked for these tools, there is no need to support them.

Why all these ways are doomed to fail

  1. An organization will never get any value from social technology if it doesn’t make a serious attempt to understand what it is and what kind of problems and challenges it can help to address. 
  2. To get value from social, an organization must first understand the employees’ needs, tasks and situations and then carefully consider, select and design the right social technology that will help them get their work done.
  3. Social cannot be allowed to become yet another system silo. The great promise of social technology is to improve communication and collaboration across a large and dispersed workforce by connecting people and information across organizational, geographical and system silos. If it is allowed to become a system silo, all of that is lost. 
  4. Adding some “social” features will not save a traditional intranet that is not accessible, attractive, easy to use and useful. If social technology seen merely as a tactic to improve adoption of an intranet, it will have no impact on business performance whatsoever.
  5. There are no silver bullets. Adoption and change doesn’t happen by itself. Change is hard. People need a clear vision, incentives and support. They need to see management walking the talk and talking the walk. The change journey doesn’t end when the technology has been deployed – that’s when it starts.

The most important thing to understand is that “social” is about bringing about a new communication culture that will enable new and smarter ways of working to emerge. The norms that dictate how people communicate with each other have to change from being closed, opaque, formal, hierarchic, exclusive and one-way to being more open, transparent, informal, democratic, inviting and two-way. Such a shift can be enabled and accelerated by social technology, but it doesn’t happen automatically. There has to be an intention, a clearly expressed reason why it is needed, and a commitment to make the change happen.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Compelling facts about email (ab)use in organizations

It has almost become a truism that the average corporate employee spends around 25-30 percent of the workday on email related tasks. For example, McKinsey found that workers spend 28% of their workweek on reading e-mails. By comparison we spend 14 percent of our time, or just 6.4 hours per week, on "communicating and collaborating internally."(1).

According to Mimecast, only 25% of emails we receive are considered essential for work purposes and 14% is of critical importance. 40% of the work-related email is either functional or of low importance. On average, 63% of email is internal, employee-to-employee communication. 13% of the emails we receive at work is personal and not related to our work at all. 7 percent of the emails we receive at work is spam or junk mail. (2)

GigaOM found that over 40 employees claim that the workplace suffers from information overload, and over a third state that email is the number one contributor to that. (3)

According to Basex, information overload costs the US economy ca 900 billion per year, a large part of which is cased by unnecessary interruptions and the time it takes to recover and get back to the task the person was working on before the interruption. Recovery time can be up to 20 times the time of the interruption. (4)

On average knowledge workers waste 28% on their work day on unnecessary interruptions and recovery time. (4)

Internal surveys at Intel showed that the typical Intel employee receives 50-100 emails per day and spends as much as 20 hours per week on email administration. 30 percent of the messages received and managed were unnecessary. (4)

When email was first introduced in the late 1970s and early 1980s, work wasn’t at all as collaborative, or geographically distributed, as it is today. The type of communication that took place between managers and employees was mostly one-way, so not that much email transformed into many-to-many conversations. In other words, the amount and complexity of many-to-many conversations was very limited compared to today when there’s so much communication happening between employees across time and space. 

Still, when features such as "Reply all" and email lists were introduced in corporate email systems, the software engineers who designed the first corporate email systems knew what it would eventually lead to. They were well aware that email wasn't at all suitable for many-to-many communication; it would create a tsunami of information, causing information overload among information workers, and create oceans of duplicated information that would need to be managed. That's why they considered leaving features such as email lists out, but at some point came a manager to tell them "I want to inform all these people” and, tada! Email lists were introduced. Reply all as well. Looking back, it was like opening Pandora’s box.


(1) The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies”, by Michael Chui, James Manyika, Jacques Bughin, Richard Dobbs, Charles Roxburgh, Hugo Sarrazin, Geoffrey Sands and Magdalena Westergren, May 2012
(2) The Future of Workplaces”  By Abhijeet Rane & Tavishi Agrawal, Techaisle, GigaOM, 2011
(3) The Shape of Email”, Mimecast, June 2012
(4) Intel’s War on Information Overload: A Case Study” by Jonathan B Spira & Cody Burje, Basex, August 2009

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Social technology isn't just about tools

Social software is a category of communication tools that support and encourage social and collaborative behaviors. The term “social technology” is wrongly often taken as a synonym for social software. A technology is not just about the tools. It is also the body of knowledge that is required to create the tools. Social technology is a new way of designing information technology that draws knowledge from human and social sciences to leverage and extend our communication capabilities. 

Since the dawn of man we have invented many physical tools that extend our physical capabilities. More recently we invented computing to extend our mental capabilities. Now we have also invented tools that extend our capabilities to communicate and socialize with each other. Thus social technology also represents a new approach to designing IT products and services.

Social technology makes it easy to have frequent, spontaneous and informal communication and interaction across time and space. People can socialize with each other, having a chat about what appears to be trivial stuff, even if they are not located near each other. They can get to know and develop relationships with new people without ever meeting them face-to-face. But social technology does much more than that. It also helps us overcome some of the constraints that exist in real life when it comes to communicating, interacting, and building relationships with other people. For example, in real life it is hard to have a face-to-face conversation with more than a handful of people at the same time without risking that the conversation gets out of hand. It is also hard for someone to join a conversation that has already started without interrupting the conversation and requiring a recap. With social technology, a lot more people can take part in a conversation without it becoming messy. Since the whole conversation is captured, people can jump in and out as they wish without missing out on anything. And when it comes to relationships, social technology can help us manage and maintain a much larger number of relationships than we can in real life.

Social media has inspired a new way of thinking. With that thinking we can design organizations and systems in a way that support and leverage collaborative human behaviors and makes better use of our collective intellectual and social capital. When an organization grows, the transaction costs of communication grows even more. Bad or insufficient communication causes lots of problems and makes it hard for a large and dispersed organization to be productive, innovative and responsive to change. If we use social principles and technology to redesign organizations, processes and ways of working from the ground up, we can reduce these transaction costs and thus also avoid a lot of inefficiencies of scale.