For years, I’ve been active on social media. I’ve been blogging even longer. Both of these are examples of working out loud, but they have their limits. I can’t talk specifics about clients – and it just wouldn’t be professional to say to my colleagues “read my blog” when they ask a question – but there really is a place for working out loud in business.
Collaboration in the enterprise
A decade ago, I would have been having conversations about enterprise social networks. The CIO would have been worried about people using Yammer (not owned by Microsoft at the time) in the way that we worry today about governance with groups using WhatsApp or Facebook. Meanwhile, those looking to drive innovation would be saying “hey, have you seen x – it looks like a great way to collaborate” (much like the conversations I’ve had recently around Altspace VR and Gather).
Back in the more mundane reality of the tools we have available to us, there are some pretty common factors:
- Most organisations use email.
- Quite a lot have some form of instant messaging.
- Many have deployed chat-based collaboration tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams. (Many more have accelerated their deployments of these tools over the last 12 months.)
As for enterprise social networks. Well, Yammer is still there, in the melee with SharePoint and Teams and other Microsoft 365 tools… maybe I’ll write about that one day too…
Wearing many hats
Earlier this year, I was juggling my normal role as Principal Architect with some Project Management. It’s tempting to say it was only highlight reporting and resource booking (that’s how it was positioned to me) but there was far more too it than that. As soon as I was able to, I handed over to a real Project Manager, because the project really deserved more than I could give to it.
I also have a team to manage. It’s not a big team. I like to think it’s small but perfectly formed. Most of the time, my direct reports (who are all experienced) don’t need a lot of input but, when they do, they can (and should) expect my full attention. Added to which, I am actively working to grow the team (from both the perspective of impact and headcount), so there’s a lot of planning going on. Planning that needs space to think.
And I deliver some consulting engagements myself. Typically that’s working with clients on strategies or forward plans but sometimes getting involved in the delivery.
I also work part-time. So all of the above has to fit into 4 days a week.
This is where working out loud helps.
You see, there is no way I can keep everything in my head. Tools like Microsoft To Do might help me with the daily/weekly/monthly task lists but there’s lots of surrounding minutiae too. Open loops need to be closed… I need a trusted filing system (see Getting Things Done).
When I’m not at work, or not available because I’m consulting, or because I’m working to support one of my team, things need to carry on happening. I don’t want things to stop because I haven’t responded. For those who have read The Phoenix Project, I don’t want to become Brent.
Working out loud is the answer.
Working out loud
At risual, when we start working with a client, we create a Microsoft Teams team. Inside that team, I create a channel for each project. Each channel will have a wiki (or similar) that describes what we’re doing for that client, what the expected outcomes are, and any key milestones. I also include standard text to use to describe the client or their project. And I include details of nearby hotels, car parks, public transport and anything else that might be helpful for our Consultants (or at least I did in The Before Times – when we used to travel).
When I manage a project, I post in the channel each week who’s working on what. I didn’t think it made much difference until, one week when I forgot, I was asked for the missing post!
I also encourage project team members to communicate with me in the open, on Teams. Sure, there are some conversations that happen on email because they involve the client but, in general, a message on Teams is better than one stuck in my Inbox. If I’m not available, someone else can help.
I do the same for my organisational team. Of course there will be some confidential messages that may happen over email (and I prefer to speak if there’s anything sensitive). But, in general, I don’t want things getting lost in my Inbox. Got an announcement? Teams. Need to bounce some ideas around? Teams. Let’s collaborate in the open. There’s no need to hide things.
Is that all?
This might not sound like much, but it’s a real mind shift for some people, who work in isolation and who rely on email for communication.
But I am not done. There’s always more to do. New tools come and go. My life doesn’t get any less busy. I am as stressed and anxious as always. And one of my sons told me that he doesn’t want to do my job because “it just involves getting annoyed with people”. Hmm… it seems I have more work to do…
“Perfection is the enemy of good” is a phrase often attributed to Voltaire, and my next step is to get more comfortable with sharing early drafts. I will generally share a document or a presentation for feedback when it’s nearly done, but I really must start sharing them when they’re barely started.
Do you have some ideas for working out loud? I’d love to hear more examples of how I can make this way of working more common. What do you see as the advantages? Or are there any disadvantages? Comments are open below.
[This is an edited version of a post that was originally published at markwilson.it]