Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Need For A New Work Web

It is time we came up with a new set of web and mobile tools that transform the way we work. User-generated content and Web 2.0 technology has completely changed the way we relate to each other, but it’s done nothing for work. A recent Harris Poll confirms the workplace is still mired in Web 1.0 tools. And, while social networking technology is entering the workplace it hasn’t transformed anything.

We know how completely social networking has transformed the way we interact outside of work – Michael Andrew at Media Metrics Insider points out:

“…there are now over a trillion known Web pages, more than 500,000 Facebook apps, 140,000 iPhone apps, billions of videos on Youtube -- and more have been created since you started to read this sentence. “

Everyday we post pictures, videos and updates on Facebook, tweet on twitter and check-in on foursquare as our primary way to communicate and share with family and friends.

But at work we still use technology developed two decades ago.
Harris’ findings on frequency of use:

91% email
66% shared spaces
66% voice calls
66% teleconferencing
55% web-conferencing

Social tools have entered work (with 17% of workers using them) but they’re not transformative. These tools merely allow us to find coworkers and more easily identify individuals with related interests and projects. At best this facilitates additional collaboration and potentially innovation. But as Forrester finds our day-to-day interactions are still mired in slow replies, redundant meetings, and irrelevant conference calls that take too long to arrange in the first place.

What we need are tools that support the real work we do – the dynamic interactions between us and our co-workers. Providing management of deliverables - the output - like that of SharePoint, Notes/Domino and OpenText, is important and necessary. But we need to accompany these platforms with something to support the actual work as it unfolds.

I’m not talking about shared white boards or avatars hopping around some virtual world. This new tool will be organized around the shared objective and tasks of a group of participants.

To be productive I need to know:
  • what am I working on?
  • who am I working with?
  • what is my role and responsibility?
  • what are everyone else’s roles and responsibilities?
This provides the context for all the tasks we are working on:
  • what am I doing and who is dependent on it?
  • which of my coworkers tasks am I dependent on?
It needs to support the dynamic nature of the work we are doing:
  • It must support organic spawning of new tasks by each member of the team and dynamically identify new dependencies
  • It must let me prompt my coworkers for things I need from them as they prompt me for things they need from me.
  • I want to know in real time about the activity on which I depend
  • I want to provide continual updates on my activity to those that depend on me
The big misconception - this is project management. Many think it’s just a matter of getting PM capability in the right form online. There are now scores of online project managers from AgileTrack to XPlanner. But these tools fundamentally miss the mark. They manage resources when what is needed is something that lets groups track and manage their interactions. What I’m looking for is more akin to World of Warcraft's support of a guild on an epic raid, than a PM tool’s reports and dashboards on action items.

In future blog posts, I will explore these concepts further. For now I just throw out the challenge: how do we use web/mobile technology to radically transform work? Orders of magnitude productivity increases and a profound increase in job satisfaction await.

What amazes me is how little development is going on in this regard. Cisco talks the best game, but they still are just selling repackaged versions of stuff we saw from Lotus and Microsoft in 1995. No one should waste money on something labeled “unified messaging” or “collaboration.”

The only company I have seen that even seems to be building is something interesting is Asana. We will see if they can actually move the needle when they release something later this year.

Someone with a far better marketing mind than mine will come up with the new terminology – “interaction tools” clearly doesn’t cut it. But, I will know it when I see it. And the companies that adopt it will gain an advantage over all others.

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