Mike MacDonagh's Blog

Somewhere in the overlap between software development, process improvement and psychology

Tag Archives: blogging

Social Business: Because people do the work

People, working together achieve business goals. Processes, plans and organisation charts don’t.

A group of people forming human relationships and interacting is often called a “team” but another equally applicable term is a “social network”. Add a common goal to do some work as opposed to sharing pictures of their latest cooking/pet/kid and you’ve got a bit of social business going on whether it’s recognised or not.

To get work done effectively you need teams to work together effectively and that means enabling the team to form relationships and collaborate together as a social network.  So how do you create an environment that fosters social networks focussed on achieving their goals and interacting with the wider organisation?

The answer to that question is variously termed “Enterprise 2.0” (which I hate), “Social Enterprise” and “Social Business” which is a little ambiguous as it could relate to a business incorporating internal social awareness into it’s ways of working but it also refers to businesses who are aware of their interaction with their external community. Both of these meanings are based on the same awareness, only the direction of attention is different.

Any business can be enhanced by enabling people to work well together through cultural changes, process (ways of working) changes and supporting tooling. Image a world where:

  • You have an idea to improve your business capability, talk to your work mates who are sitting near you about it who help you refine the idea a little
  • You post the idea on a general ideas list within your organisation adding some tags to relate it to general topics
  • Other people in the organisation react to your idea based on finding from a tag feed, an activity stream, their relationship (work or social) with you etc.
  • They comment on your idea adding relevant experience and knowledge
  • Someone else IMs (Instant Messages) you about the idea and adds some useful thoughts
  • The idea has formed into something that sounds like it might be worth the company investing some time in, you promote the idea to a company backlog.

So far none of this feels like “work” and yet a network of people are forming around an idea that improves the business adding their expertise and opinions, collaborating on and for the business.

  • The idea gets given some time to investigate so you create an online project area, inviting the previous contacts to have a look and interact
  • You decide to have a meeting to look at the various ways forward for the idea, two team members are remote so they video conference in
  • You blog the meeting minutes to the project area so other interested people can add useful insights
  • During the lifetime of the project various team members post status updates and blogs about the progress, customers and users interact directly through face to face discussion, virtual discussion threads, vote on requirements etc. while the team continuously radiates progress and quality information in an open transparent fashion.

This part was definitely work but socially aware collaboratively work making use of a range of technologies to enhance the team’s way of working.

This is an example of social business, and one which I’ve had for real with one of my clients. You might already have things like wikis, a blogging platform, micro-blogging, social group areas, project areas etc. in which case integrating them and driving cultural change through soft practices to “allow” individuals to interact in a trusted collaborative environment might be necessary.

Alternatively you might have none of these things, but don’t worry you can get them for close to nothing as there are several excellent open source solutions for each of the technology features mentioned, in fact some open source packages (Social Business Software or SBS) can do most if not all of the above!

Wrote some REST code to access a site’s API and saw a job offer in the response

What an excellent way to advertise directly to your target audience 🙂

I was writing some code to get some info from a site from their REST api and saw an unusual header in the response from the API which said something along the lines of “if you’re reading this come and get a job” with a link. The clever thing about this is that it’s already only filtered in people who already have the right skills that the company is looking for and it was unusual enough for me to immediately follow the link. Excellent innovative recruitment!

And the site? wordpress.com although it’s changed now to “Oh, Awesome: Opossum”

I’m a big fan of wordpress.com for a number of reas0ns. First they host my blog, for free. Second the authoring experience is always awesome opossum.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

I’ve decided to rename my blog from “The MacDaddy” to the imaginatively titled “Mike MacDonagh’s Blog”.

When I first setup this blog I had no idea what direction it would go in and I’ve always been terrible at naming things. I decided on the MacDaddy as an ironic nod to Kriss Kross and because there’s a “Mac” in my name and I’m a Daddy. I don’t think anyone ever got the joke. Jump jump…

Anyway, I’ve known for a long time it was silly so I’ve finally  renamed it. I toyed with ideas such as “The Software Ninja” and “Software Kung Fu” in blatant references to mastery and the Kung Fu of Software Engineering but that’s a bit too software-y when many of my posts aren’t really about software. Putting “Business” in the title would make me want to give myself a good slap so I’ve ended up with an almost no-name name. Hopefully now I’ll get less confused visitors looking for a blog about Apple Macs.

If you’ve got a better idea for the name of this blog I’d love to hear it 🙂

Holistic Communication: The rights and wrongs of communication channels

This blog is part of a series on Holistic Communication: The linguistics of business change. Introduction, ethics and table of contents is all in the first post.


Defining Communication Channels

Communication is transferring a message via a medium or channel from a sender to a receiver. There may be many receivers or no knowledge of who/how many there are. This post discusses the channels of communication. Stop for a moment and write a list (at least mentally) of the number of communication channels you have in your professional life and who they are communicating with.

I’ll rattle off a few for me:

  1. Direct verbal+physical communication to the people physically co-located with me
  2. Direct verbal only via phone
  3. Direct text only via instant messaging
  4. Direct rich text only via email
  5. Broadcast test via twitter/yammer/micro-blogging platform of choice
  6. Broadcast rich text/media via blog

I could probably go on all day.

Each of these channels has different strengths and weaknesses and so should be used for different purposes and to engage with different groups. There’s an implied purpose in most channels based on their technology, history and technical restrictions which should also be respected as otherwise the receivers can be made to feel quite uncomfortable.

For example, this kind of content which is relatively long, structured, inter-related and not aimed at an individual but broadcast to whoever is interested and chooses to search for it is broadcast on my blog. Links are automatically added to twitter and linkedin for the title but the content isn’t. Imagine instead of using my blog I’d used twitter to tweet this stuff in little 140 char snippets. I think after the first flood of1 5 posts all ending in “…” I’d have about 5 followers left. It’s considered rude and inappropriate. Imagine I’d direct emailed it to you!

Choosing Channels

Now all of this might be a bit obvious when I mention it but how often do you consider what the right channel is for a message you’re trying to deliver? Some of the differences in channels can be a lot more subtle than the example above and can therefore have unintended implications on the result of your message which is the true meaning of your communication.

Choice of channel isn’t just important when initiating communication it’s even more important when responding to communication. It’s just rude to respond to someone in a different channel than they contact you in unless explicitly stated. For example, if someone emails you they’ve chosen a non-immediate text based medium for whatever reason, if you phone them back you’re changing the gear of the interaction, taking away their opportunity to carefully consider their words by applying a time pressure and interrupting them from whatever they were doing.

All Many people have insecurities about communication and can even be neurotic about some channels, especially in highly technical organisations. Sometimes people feel vulnerable on the phone and would rather interact via text/im/email even when relatively close physically. Others find they’re uncomfortable with text based channels and would rather “speak to a real” person. Do you want to make someone uncomfortable when you’re communicating with them? Before the first action or word?

I operate a couple of golden rules:

  • Respond to people on the channel they use to contact you
  • Choose the channel that’ll get the best results by making the receiver comfortable

Obviously switching channel can be a powerful gear change if used correctly, as a pattern interrupt even.  I consider deliberately doing that unethical, so don’t accidentally do it as the effects can be far worse than you’d think.

My opinions on these channels

Here’s my take on some of these from a purely personal perspective. You may well find you have a different interpretation of some of these channels, which is kind of the point of the previous bit.

 

1. Direct verbal+physical communication to the people physically co-located with me

Good for: Almost all, there’s instant feedback and the ability to use and read non-verbal communication. The best channel to build relationships and rapport as well as dealing with an emotional response from someone else

Bad for: Unplanned emotional confrontation. If you’re angry about something stopping to write it down can help you to make sense of your feelings rather than the immediate lashing out that can happen in verbal channels.The worst channel to deal with negative emotion from yourself.

Notes: You just can’t beat physically talking to someone

 

2. Direct verbal only via phone

Good for: Remote quick messages that don’t need a recorded history, reinforcing personal relationships, asking quick questions. Important time-sensitive information. Freeform discussion between 2 people.

Bad for: Anything that needs a long term response, action, complex work or analysis. Structured conversation amongst a group. Conference calls are hell people! Anything emotional as you’ve cutting out non-verbal communication, the majority of human interaction.

Notes: Remember a phone call interrupts people, most of the time they’re not waiting for it so you’re imposing your conversation on them and interfering with whatever they were doing.

 

3. Direct text only via instant messaging

Good for: Remote quick questions, q&a chat rooms

Bad for: Same as the Direct verbal phone one above except that you’re cutting out even more information from the communication by removing tone, speed, phrasing etc. of voice communication.

Notes: Tends to imply a certain informality despite the fact that most corporate IM solutions are recorded. Some IM solutions indicate when someone wants to talk, or is typing. Ones that don’t are just terrible.

 

4. Direct rich text only via email

Good for: Structured, recorded information. Group think.

Bad for: Anything that requires action, anything emotional.

Notes: The younger people are the less relevant email is, some consider it should be banned. Like all tools it depends on how it’s used. Unfortunately most people use it badly and have an inbox like a blackhole – massive amounts of stuff goes into it but there’s no observable result. Mass emial has a much lower impact than direct email.

 

5. Broadcast test via twitter/yammer/micro-blogging platform of choice

Good for: Short updates, social connection, short q&a, promotion of other content

Bad for: Long, structured or complex information.

Notes: Frequency of posts needs to match the local cultural norms to avoid flooding. Similarly excessive content promotion is considered spamming.

 

6. Broadcast rich text/media via blog

Good for: Structured complex information broadcast to a wide audience

Bad for: Information aimed at an individual or small group

Notes: Blogs can have a range of interpretations depending on their history within an organisation. One organisation I worked with considered blogs to “just be opinions and nothing important was communicated on them”. Another published everything from individual opinions to HR policy and corporate communications on their internal blog system.

 

Feedback

As always I’m interested in your opinions. Do you have anything to addon the good and bad points of various channels. Any pet hates?


This blog is part of a series on Holistic Communication: The linguistics of business change. Introduction, ethics and table of contents is all in the first post.

An agile approach to innovation in a small company

I recently spent a little while thinking about an open, transparent and honest way to deal with innovation/staff objectives/supporting work in a small company. Note that this isn’t what my current employer does, just an idea for how these things can be done.

Firstly people need time to do this stuff, if it’s valuable for your organisation to spend time doing supporting work, intellectual property development or general innovation then they need the time to do it. People need the Google 20%. I’m very fortunate that in my job I get that time, or close to it normally.

New Ideas:

Create a wiki page or similar somewhere (that everyone can see and everyone can edit) – a bit like the Google ideas wall. Start it with a freeform/categorised ideas list in the form, this is a bit like a backlog, once an ideas done/delivered/published it drops off this list

Ideas – Owner – State:

Idea for doing something – Mike – Identified

Idea for taking over the world – Unassigned – Identified

If someone like one of these ideas they can run with it, recruit a team of colleagues if necessary and get on with it. Once I’ve asked someone to help with my idea I can be fairly sure they’ll ask for reciprocal help on something. This improves teaming in distributed companies and provides a channel for autonomous action, critical for motivation.

In Progress Ideas:

When ideas are in progress they’ll have their own tracking and information in the appropriate technology. For example a blog idea probably goes from being picked up to being published without any tracking. Maybe there’s a review process if it’s a big position piece so it might go through Identified to In Review on the list above but that’s it. Another idea might be for the development of some software, in which case it’ll take some time and probably have a project web and bunch of tools and info to communicate.

Complete bits of work:

Once something has been done the owner can add it to the achievements table, a column for each person where they can list what they’ve done with links to the various bits of output.

Person A Person B Person C
Blah Practice published Blog series on X
Paper published on Y

All bits of achievement aren’t the same size, but this allows people to see the creativity and production of their colleagues and find all of the useful things people have been doing. It also applies some peer pressure to Person C who on the face of it doesn’t appear to be adding much, although there could be a good reason for that.

Why did I say all this was agile?

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Individuals ideas are valued and encouraged, as are their achievements. People are encouraged to help each other and work together on ideas. There’s very little process and tooling involved, just a list on a wiki. If I had a co-located team I’d just use some whiteboard paint on a wall or some post-its.

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Well we’re not talking about software here, but achieving ideas. The emphasis is on the achievements table, not the detail of how people go there. In progress ideas can be tracked and reported using whatever info is relevant for the type of thing being done, which can be determined by the people doing it.

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

This is an open and transparent process. Anyone can comment on the ideas on the list have a look at in progress ideas or question published/achieved goals.

Responding to change over following a plan

All this stuff is just written down, it would be easy to rewrite it if things changed. People, ideas, the environment etc. will all change so we need to be responsive to too and not plan the next 50 ideas to the hour.

Other thoughts

Since the list at the top is a bit like a backlog, it could be managed with input from management to direct the backlog, prioritise and agree. But I’d be wary of applying that kind of governance to creative/innovative ideas. I’m not proposing this as a general work management process, just an ideas/ancillary objectives process. Remember, bad management kills great ideas and worse this kind of management intervention stifles bad ideas, which are necessary and valuable.

Also, there are few things worse in life than an “Ideas Process”

FireFox extension to view your WordPress.com blog stats

The MMD WordPress FireFox extension is finally publicly listed on the mozilla site. After battling problems with xul layouts on Mac’s (which was tricky because I don’t have a Mac) I’ve finally resolved the issues that were preventing my firefox stats toolbar from being fully reviewed on the main FireFox site.

If you’ve not seen it before, the MMD WordPress FireFox extension adds a tiny toolbar that shows you your current blog hits on your wordpress.com blog(s). You can then right click to get quick access to the full stats page, new post page and view your blob. Simple but quite useful. Download and install from mozilla

MMD WordPress Extension

 

MMD WordPress.com FireFox extension v2.0

Simple Rules for web site design

  • Frequency of web content change is inversely proportional to publishing control
  • Frequency of web content change is proportional to number of people able to publish
  • Content quality is inversely proportional to frequency of change
  • Engagement is proportional to ability to comment and track replies

Thoughts?

Open Letter regarding PDC

It’s almost Microsoft PDC (Professional Developer’s Conference) time. The organisers of this excellent event have published the following open letter 😀 I went to the last PDC and I strongly recommend this event to anyone who wants to know what Microsoft will be doing over the next few years.


Dear {Enter Your Manager’s Name Here},

I enjoy my job and have always appreciated how well you manage me. As you know, I don’t ask for much. I am a humble employee with simple needs, and I would like to attend Microsoft’s Professional Developer’s Conference in Los Angeles, October 27th-30th.

Wait! Before you respond, let me explain. This is not the typical conference that is more boondoggle than substance. The PDC (which is what the kids on Facebook call it) is where the best and brightest come together with the technical geniuses of Microsoft.

The PDC is where the speakers are not marketing folks, but actual developers and technologists who build the products. Remember those tough questions about Microsoft tools we had last week that we could not find an answer to? Well, I will have an opportunity to talk directly to the product team from Microsoft. In fact, one night they all gather in one place where I can ask all the questions we ever had and get real answers! And business cards!

But it isn’t just the speakers; it’s the other attendees. These are some of the smartest folks using the same tools and technologies we are. I can learn a lot from them and see how they have overcome issues we have run into. I keep reading the blogs (on my own time, of course) and everyone says that networking is one of the top reasons to attend.

I promise I won’t come home empty handed. I just read that they are making Windows 7 available to attendees! We will be able to get a first look at the operating system before everyone else. They are also are giving out a hard drive, called The Goods with all kinds of bits and bytes on it that we can use. Plus, I will come back with a ton of business cards.

Finally, I will come back inspired. The PDC is where Microsoft lays out its future strategy. You had the most spectacular idea yesterday about how we need to be a little more cutting-edge. By going to the PDC, I will see the technology roadmap for Microsoft and come back with ideas how we can make your genius idea a reality.

Thanks in advance for your approval on my humble request and I promise to bring you back a t-shirt, trip report, Windows 7, The Goods and a very inspired and much smarter employee.

Your favorite employee,

Mike MacDonagh


Source

My Blog Stats

MMD WordPress Extension screenshot

I a blog stat fanatic. I’m obsessed. It’s so bad I wrote a FireFox extension to show me the current daily hit count of my blog. I started this blog in April 2008 and since then the readership has gone up month by month:

If you look at this on a weekly basis rather then on a monthly basis some more info is apparent. This graph below shows a slow start then some action starting when I started writing about IBM Jazz. Then the next peak was some RSDC blogging in June. All was then returning to the baseline readership level of about a 1000 hits/week until I posted some Google Chrome screenshots on the morning before Chrome was released. This led to over 3,000 people turning up in one day!

Finally the daily chart. Normally this goes up and down a bit (slow weekends, mid-week peaks etc.) Unfortunately the 3k Googlers completely flattened my graph 😦 At least that peak is about to drop off the side and the normal scale will resume 🙂

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