Not long ago I posted about how our Communities of Practice (CoP) are hitting a sweetspot…bottom-up and grass roots tools that provide more of a sense of place and better coordination over email, and are more enabling than the Intranet.
Great cross-functional CoPs are emerging like Bulk Materials Handling, Sustainable Development, Software Architecture and Approaches, 3D Visualisation and Animation, Bauxite and Alumina, etc..
But there is something else that’s emerging that we didn’t quite expect.
And we know why?
It’s because our CoPs are just online spaces with a bunch of tools (blogs, forums, wikis, docs, and a homepage).
This package doesn’t make them a CoP, it’s just what we called them, as that’s what the vendor calls them…nothing wrong with this…
Basically, these online tools don’t define the group or how it operates…their just tools. This also hooks into how the Socialtext staff differentiate them from past tools (transactional vs Interactive)
So the unexpected emergence is that CoPs are being used for lots of different things that are cutting into products we already use…why again…because people want to be empowered and engaged which distributed power (less control) enables.
What has emerged?
Let’s start with the answer and it’s effect: blogs, forums, wikis need to be features of existing products, and when they are how’s that gonna effect what has currently happened.
We don’t just have cross-functional CoPs ie. people distributed in the organisation in different teams, projects, business units, and levels of authority who come together in a space to support and learn about a common topic…which makes for a more agile organisation…it’s looking in your own backyard and connecting the talent dots.
Here are the main online groups that have surfaced.
People want to do temporary tasks in an online space rather than hidden in email.
Our CoPs are more portal like with permissions and the rest, they are not one click set-up, they need a bit of upfront design.
- your CoP or mine for this task, but your not a member of my CoP…these task spaces end up buried in a CoP somewhere, they have no homepage of their own, the hosting CoP members may not like that their CoP has a unrelated parasite group
They are not the best spaces or timely and simple enough for an ad-hoc task.
Or perhaps something more on-the-fly like Activities on Lotus Connections, or a future version of Google Wave…see more.
And Traction seems like the most flexible product around, I hear BlueKiwi is in this space as well…see more.
We are finding these a sweetspot, just like cross-functional CoPs.
We are starting a review of our project lifecycle process, which is to be coordinated in the CoP, basically where the organisation comes together in a communal space.
I’ve blogged about this before.
It’s one thing to have a CoP to troubleshoot within a team, but it’s another thing when internal customers start asking questions for support through a CoP.
Personally I think it’s great, as people have an open place to search for past answers or even offer answers, and if you subscribe you can learn along the way.
BUT, this is cutting into the organisations official Support database. We still need this official and sophisticated tool for support management, but CoPs as a support tool are definitely cutting into their lunch.
Teams/Business Units/Office unit
These groups have a section in our corporate Document Management System (DMS)…it’s basically a set of folders.
Why are they using CoPs?
Because in the process of creating documents we have conversations about review.
Because we like to discuss issues.
Because we like to broadcast news.
Because we like to share experiences.
And email just doesn’t cut it.
And the DMS just doesn’t have these conversational tools, or a homepage that represents the group (well, they do, it’s the Intranet, but see the next point)
I’ve blogged about this before.
Someone came up to me the other day and said, they love that CoPs are two-way, and that they can update their homepage (that acts like a portal) whenever they like.
As a result of this empowerment they mentioned that their intention is to no longer have any of their pages hosted on the Intranet, but instead, when people click on their business practice link on the Intranet, it will just take them straight to the CoP.
What’s the next natural step, that the global CoP hompage becomes the Intranet itself.
We have a DMS on another server with a different look and feel and processes that suit the context of projects.
But again, just like Teams/Business Units they lack a homepage and conversation tools.
Project teams want a homepage as a jump off point (a bunch of folders doesn’t cut it).
They also want this homepage to display conversations that are currently happening at the moment in email silos, this way the mechanical guys can eaves drop on piping conversations and vice versa, so we are more aware. A blog for project updates and broadcast news gets people on the same page.
Organisations are not (well maybe) Complex Adaptive Systems, so we need to make them open and transparent as much as we can, so people can be ambiently aware, and therefore better cooperate amongst the parts, and ultimately adapt to changes or even be preventative.
I have not created online CoP spaces for these projects as this is the turf of DMS, and having two spaces for the one thing seems odd, but people will self-organise their way around any design.
Let’s sum this up
CoPs are a sweetspot for great emerging unofficial groups, but they are also cutting into the following existing products:
- Email (this was the intention)
- Offical support database
- Corporate DMS
- Project DMS
And it seems we need a product to handle ad-hoc tasks.
Summary, future ponderings, and a suggestion
The original idea for CoPs was cross-functional practices eg Bulk Materials Handling
But as we can see because email, the DMS, and the Intranet are not as enabling, people are using CoPs as an alternative for everything.
In a way this CoP experiment has surfaced all sorts of needs, which is a good low cost experiment (naturally emerging needs analysis).
Who needs a survey, needs analysis, or just implement and hope it works as it was a good top-down idea…when the emergence that has surfaced from the existence from CoPs has given you the answer to all this pondering for free.
What it has surfaced is a need for our DMS and the Intranet to become socialised…and also a way to do ad-hoc tasks.
I’m seeing all this happening, and perhaps need to suggest a taskforce so us people running all these products can converge.
This convergence will be interesting. If these tools do get socialised, what will then happen?
Will teams decide to export their CoPs to their revamped DMS?
And if the Intranet offers the same tools as our CoPs, but with an Intranet backdrop, will some groups then export their CoPs to the revamped Intranet?
So maybe one day we will come full-circle, and CoPs will be just for cross-functional groups…as wiki, blogs, forums will be features of all products.
What’s the food for thought for people wanting to socialise their organisation online!
Perhaps firstly revamp your existing systems with social tools. ie. Work on your in-the-flow before, or perhaps in parallel with your above-the-flow.
- Intranet and business units/teams (Confluence or Thoughfarmer)
- Client Projects (Basecamp)
- Communities and Social network (Jive SBS)
- Ad-hoc tasks (OpenText Social Media)
- And what about micro-blogging (Socialtext signals)
See what’s happening here, a lot of the tools above do the same things eg. Socialtext has a social network and workspaces, OpenText has a social network, etc…
Also our projects need sophisticated document cycle functionality which Basecamp will not do, so in this case our existing DMS needs to be revamped.
I’m thinking perhaps an Intranet tool like Thoughtfarmer or Confluence could handle them all…except for client projects (requires document lifecycle processes)
Here’s a snapshot of different CoPs that are emerging:
More than CoPs
By examining the CoPs, or better put, “online groups” at my work, they seem to be:
1. Teams/BU (execute work)
- which shouldn’t be called a CoP even though it is…who cares in the end, I’m happy people are using the tools
2. Teams/BU (learning/support spaces)
- this type of CoP is usually combined with the CoP above (point 1)
3. Cross-functional (traditional learning CoPs)
- a classic example is our Software Architecture and Approaches CoP where people from various units/teams come together to share, learn, help…and to bring that intelligence back to their tasks
- when we need help at work we often look to Google, Twitter, etc…why not create an environment where we can look to each other within the organisation
4. Internal user support spaces (customer service CoP)
- I run a Facilitators CoP where I communicate and troubleshoot with people that run their own CoPs
- These types of CoPs can be at the general user level, or for the support people themselves
5. Teams communicating to the business (customer CoP)
- using a CoP, rather/complementary to an email newsletter
- sometimes this type of CoP is combined with the CoP above (point 4)
- people on different projects and teams, but share the same role…eg Project Managers, Project Systems Managers
7. We also have others like: interest groups, crowdsourcing, events, new initiatives, office happenings, specific tasks (although this last one suits a more simple application like ad-hoc groups…ie a bunch of people from different teams/units coming together temporarily to execute a task)
We don’t yet have any Client/Customer-based (support/crowdsource CoP, or a CoP with suppliers)
“…before you leap into reinventing your processes for transformative value, step back. You can’t collaborate with your customers before you learn to collaborate with your employees. In the spectrum of risk taking, its best to deploy from the inside-out.”
Just realised I posted something similar a while back, Internal community types that get you viral exposure.