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Technology, culture and collaboration

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Technology, culture and collaboration

Many organisations put controls in place that inhibit the ability of their employees to make the most of the tools available to them. ThoughtWorks is different - we aim to encourage and support "Shadow IT". But when it comes to tools that support collaboration, there is a tricky balance to achieve - and we don't always get it right. In this presentation - first given at the "Death to the Workplace Superman" event held in conjunction with Morgan Lovell - I share a couple of stories that exemplify our approach to getting this balance right, and some of the mistakes made along the way. This version includes the speaker notes in the slides.

http://www.morganlovell.co.uk/knowledge/events/death-to-the-workplace-superman/

http://www.morganlovell.co.uk/knowledge/blogs/death-to-the-workplace-superman/

http://www.thoughtworks.com/

Many organisations put controls in place that inhibit the ability of their employees to make the most of the tools available to them. ThoughtWorks is different - we aim to encourage and support "Shadow IT". But when it comes to tools that support collaboration, there is a tricky balance to achieve - and we don't always get it right. In this presentation - first given at the "Death to the Workplace Superman" event held in conjunction with Morgan Lovell - I share a couple of stories that exemplify our approach to getting this balance right, and some of the mistakes made along the way. This version includes the speaker notes in the slides.

http://www.morganlovell.co.uk/knowledge/events/death-to-the-workplace-superman/

http://www.morganlovell.co.uk/knowledge/blogs/death-to-the-workplace-superman/

http://www.thoughtworks.com/

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Technology, culture and collaboration

  1. 1. THE EVOLUTION OF A DIGITAL WORKSPACE Technology, Culture and Collaboration Andy Yates
  2. 2. COMMUNITY over COMPANY
  3. 3. CONTEXT ONE - ThoughtWorks ● WHO: Community of passionate individuals whose purpose is to revolutionise software design, creation and delivery, while advocating for positive social change. ● WHAT: IT Consultancy: Disruptive thinking and empowering technology for people with ambitious missions ● WHY: Roy Singham - both a technologist and political activist - founded the company in 1993 as an organisation that assumes the best of its people - attitude / aptitude / integrity - give people autonomy, and the tools to do their job, and they will excel ● HOW: Social focus - A company that turns ‘traditional thinking’ on its head: Right thing for society > right thing for client > right thing for TW > right thing for individual ● Nearly 3500 people, 32 offices, 12 countries - have (and have maintained) a flat structure - little / no hierarchy - decentralised decision making - ‘4 CEO’ model
  4. 4. AGILE DELIVERY AGILE WORKSPACE
  5. 5. CONTEXT TWO - Software development Perhaps contrary to the stereotype, we believe that building software is a process that is inherently a collaborative process The approach that we take has been labeled ‘agile’ - light on formalised process, instead focused on high touch communication, with feedback loops at every level: We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value: Individuals and interactions over processes and tools Working software over comprehensive documentation Customer collaboration over contract negotiation Responding to change over following a plan That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more. http://www.agilemanifesto.org/
  6. 6. A COMPANY OF SUPERHEROES
  7. 7. CONTEXT THREE - Our people A company that assumes the best of its (super) people - hires for attitude / aptitude / integrity - and gives them the autonomy, and the tools to do their job - and they excel Nearly 3500 people, 32 offices, 12 countries - have (and have maintained) a flat structure ● decentralised decision making - little / no hierarchy - 4 ‘CEO’s ● operations teams are distributed across regions ● large number of multi-site projects, with many people working outside of our offices ● Technically savvy and very demanding (OUR PEOPLE really are super-heroes :) )
  8. 8. ANDY YATES IT Business Partner @yrnclndymn ayates@thoughtworks.com
  9. 9. I’m part of our IT organisation - TechOps. We provide our superheroes with the tools, gadgets, gizmos they need to get the job done. We are organised along business lines - there are teams for each of the functions (sales, marketing, finance) embedded within those functions. One function, mine, that is perhaps a bit different from those in similar companies, explicitly are set up to serve the needs of ‘all our people’ - and we settled on the idea that this was a ‘communications and collaboration’ function. As well as teams of people with special powers, one of the values that consultancies can bring is the ability to tap into ‘organizational knowledge’ - bringing together teams of people, working across a number of clients - it’s key to be able to share 'lessons learned’, etc. We focus our efforts on improving the following tasks: - Finding someone to ask a question - Finding out what’s going on in the organisation - Setting up, hosting or attending distributed meetings This means I look after: email, document sharing, intranet, video conferencing (currently Google Apps, Box, myTW, Fuze)
  10. 10. “This is a crazy company, and we live and breathe the same craziness. In the face of this - in the rapidly changing organisation that results - our mission is to evolve core technical services and empower our colleagues and the company to achieve their ambitious objectives”
  11. 11. LIKE ANY GOOD GROUP OF HEROES WE (IN TECHOPS) CAME UP WITH A MISSION STATEMENT Our internal IT function - ‘TechOps’ - is both (a service) for the company, and of the company - we need to respect and reflect that same flat decentralised ‘crazy’ structure. “This is a crazy company, and we live and breathe the same craziness. In the face of this - in the rapidly changing organisation that results - our mission is to evolve core technical services and empower our colleagues and the company to achieve their ambitious objectives”
  12. 12. Solve business problems, not technology ones Connect with our colleagues Service design RECOGNISING THOUGHTWORKS ‘CRAZINESS’ INFORMATION THOUGHTFULNESS Self-service Enable “shadow IT’ Regional variations are important Transparency in communication Open by default Individual privacy is a consideration of everything we do WORKING IN A THOUGHTWORKS WAY
  13. 13. RECOGNISING THOUGHTWORKS ‘CRAZINESS’ INFORMATION THOUGHTFULNESS WORKING IN A THOUGHTWORKS WAY TECHOPS THEMES **Provide an environment for successful “shadow IT”** Everyone thinks their company is special - perhaps we are not unique in this regard? But there are elements of our organisational make-up - flat structure - empowered individuals and teams - open by default that mean we’ve been fighting this reverse-superman syndrome for some time now I want to share what happens when folks start wearing a cape to work Some of the new problems arise, as they start to form their own “Justice Leagues” And whilst we are switching old problems for new ones, the hope is that this is a positive step. That it makes the problems more tractable. And some of the ways in which we can work with this new normal
  14. 14. TOOLS, GADGETS, GIZMOS
  15. 15. So, we’ve long been encouraging super powers at work: our people, projects, teams have a great deal of autonomy in their choice of tools. This works well where those choices only affect the team that chooses them. But people on project teams sometimes need to work with other project teams To ask for help, to share experiences, or simply to meet and talk. And project teams are only one kind of group that needs to work together - in general, we see 4 distinct kinds of groups in our organisation: ● as well as Accounts / Clients / Projects ● Functions (marketing, sales, finance, legal, immigration, etc) ● Regions (offices, countries, regions) ● 'Practices' / special interest groups / communities of interest (testing, experience design, LGBT, etc) And typically, when supporting cross-team collaboration and sharing of knowledge at this scale, you need tools to help you.
  16. 16. ENTER SUPERMAN
  17. 17. A “dirty little secret” :) <500 people, early 2000s One application. Lotus Notes. (sometimes this is talked of in hushed tones - but it was the right thing at that time - and it served us well) everything was in this system As we grew, we were on more client sites, checking email at home, on a browser, soon on a mobile becomes the norm Notes was a bit of a dinosaur Notes - never the most delightful UI - didn’t support this new way of working - we moved to a tool that many had already adopted for personal use: Google Apps Superman stepped into the office.
  18. 18. SUPERMAN UNLEASHED
  19. 19. We’re pretty technical We’ve been using wiki’s on our projects since there was ‘the wiki’ - and there have always been a variety of collaboration tools of various forms in our environment (and on our projects) Extremely open / permissive culture (our people all have admin rights on their laptops) You can choose the bus that’s right for you This sounds great, right? but it turns out that it creates a new set of problems With Notes gone, it left a bit of a vacuum. Superman got to work - our people set up wikis, shares, as they needed - and we encouraged and supported this.
  20. 20. THE SPRAWL
  21. 21. Fast forward a couple of years. At around the 2000 people mark - we now have a huge amount of information we are creating - but it exists in silos A sprawling market of ideas But without curation, there were many dead ends, areas filled with TO-DOs and tumbleweed. Each silo in turn was branded “where information goes to die”... There was much debate about why - which tool was at fault - or whether it was indeed a tooling issue. We decided it wasn’t about the tools. It was more about information management - and after debating whose job it was to sort things out - things culminated in the decision to hire a ‘librarian' ...
  22. 22. THE LIBRARIAN
  23. 23. Interestingly, we hired that person, and they came and then made the case that we didn’t need a librarian, but rather we needed tools that made the collection (and curation) of knowledge a side effect of using it - he introduced Jive By this point, everyone was complaining of email overload - distribution lists were viewed as the only way to capture attention - and everyone sent everything everywhere. Jive has variously positioned themselves over the years - now they seem to describe themselves as the social hub or social layer - connecting the LOB apps with the ‘out of band’ conversations where exceptions are managed - and in a business like ours, these exceptions are where much of the work gets done Previously, they called themselves ‘FB for the enterprise’, but they distanced themselves from that as people equate FB with ‘not doing real work’. Initially, however, they were the email killer, and our Librarian was on a mission to kill email.
  24. 24. REBELLION
  25. 25. This began by shutting down the various wikis, intranets, sites, pages and groups, and replacing them with new shiny Jive equivalents People were up in arms! ● This was a set of folks used to mailing lists and groups, they have been doing this for years. with very advanced mechanisms for managing their emails (particularly given GMail’s toolset for this) ● Email works anywhere and everywhere. Every device has support, and there are many apps / clients to choose from. For a company that has many folks ‘on the road’ - at client site or travelling around - this is critical. and Jive’s email notification mechanism was (and is) primitive at best. And of course, I’ve set him up as a bit of a villain - it’s in keeping with the theme - but (important) truth be told, it was entirely reasonable to assume that this was the right thing to do: ● our people are at the cutting edge of collaboration ● email overload was a big problem ● the new tool was best-of-breed, ‘consumer grade’, new and shiny But by forcing all of our superheroes to use the same tool, the same gadget, the same power Unwittingly, we had taken a Clark Kent approach. AND IN DOING SO, WE HAD FAILED TO TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE ORGANISATIONAL CONTEXT AND CULTURE
  26. 26. RUN AN EXPERIMENT
  27. 27. SO NOW WHAT? Change is hard - Changing culture is really hard (and not really desirable in this case) So looking at our other levers. We can’t really move people around. Is there a technological solution? ● We experimented with ‘improving’ the Jive software, so it worked more like email ● We experimented with running Google Groups and Jive simultaneously and giving people the choice between the two (will come back to this point) ● We experimented with tools to synchronise information between Jive and Google Rather than improving the one tool, we invested our efforts in making a choice of tools work better together. Jive provides the means to capture information as work happens, and we can rely on Google’s excellent email handling capability - folks can work anywhere This has been extremely successful - those who want to live in email can do so; those who want the richer social interactions can have them PROVIDING CHOICE / FLEXIBILITY ALLOWED PEOPLE TO CONTINUE FLEXING THEIR SUPERPOWERS
  28. 28. A THRIVING METROPOLIS
  29. 29. Think of this as focusing on the core infrastructure compatibility - similar to how a city has standards for electricity, or plumbing, or which side of the road to drive on ● don’t plan every detail ● focus on the infrastructure ● know the cultural contours ● Watch where the cows go, then “pave the cowpaths” Spend your efforts on ensuring that choices are compatible But perhaps we have been too successful - the social interactions rely on that data getting into Jive - and if everyone lives happily in email, then perhaps we’re back to square one? email overload. Much like the city planners that built more roads and more lanes, we’ve not seen any improvements in ‘traffic’ - perhaps we’re simply enabling more ‘bad’ behaviour? There’s good and bad planning too - c.f. Jane Jacobs etc Is email what is really desired? Or is it ease of access? Newer tools, with zero email integration (but really nice mobile clients) are receiving a lot of interest from our folks … did we not truly understand the landscape, or is it that the landscape has changed again?
  30. 30. CHOICES
  31. 31. Our superheroes like to keep in close contact - when not using telepathy - they tend to use some other form of real-time chat. Historically, everyone used Yahoo messenger (we never did set up SameTime) there was a *natural* tendency towards a single tool - and this did a lot to set expectations going forwards (BYOD, shadow IT) The move to Google apps meant some folks switched to Google Talk Other personal tools, such as Skype started showing up for 1x1 video calls We installed Vidyo in conference rooms - costly, complicated, confusing Experimented with a number of services - Skype over livestream for all-hands, webex for webinars, people were expensing Skype for group calls (probably a bunch of others too) Once again, we find the completely ‘laissez faire’ approach results in disconnect. This time, we think - aha - what we need here is a light guideline, but choice dependent on need and context. Evaluated a number of services, and narrowed down to two - Citrix GTM / Fuze - GTM seemed more stable, but also more stable - Fuze was on a better trajectory, but less tested and less reliable So we selected both. The thinking was that our people like choice, that they each had their strengths and weaknesses, and that we could let a natural winner emerge AND AS WE DISCOVERED, CHOICE - YAY, CHOICE! - IS A GOOD THING, RIGHT?
  32. 32. BAD CHOICES
  33. 33. NOT ALWAYS, NO! That wasn’t quite what happened. ● Silos, negotiation, politicking continued regardless ● One tool had lower usage, but broader coverage of the various scenarios they were both used in ● Subtle pressures in how accounts were being issued skewed the numbers (and subsequent network effect further drove that difference) ● We surveyed our people - and consistently got the feedback that the *choice* was damaging to the user experience. The cost of frequent negotiation over which tool to use was high. It wasn’t clear to users which tool should be used when. (refer back to Google / Jive) ● Performance issues came in different times and different places So we decided to choose one tool. We’re going to go the Clark Kent route. (sometimes you have to own the decision)
  34. 34. OWN THE DECISION
  35. 35. So sometimes you need the Clark Kent one-size-fits-all any-colour-as-long-as-its-black approach People who have chosen something are invested in making it work. People who have things chosen for them are happy to ‘throw it over the wall’ - you chose it, you fix it! So we had to communicate that decision, and roll it out ● loss of user ‘agency’ meant we’ve seen a little bit of pushback ● whilst we think the tool is better for all of us / the organisation, there are those who now have a worse experience - a particularly hard message for those, esp. in a company where our business is about custom solutions that fit *everyone*. Superman sees value in being Clark Kent at times too. ● very open communication about the thinking, what got us here ○ not a final decision - but a re-balance - reduce one tool, increase another - but never get to zero - and be prepared to switch again (but avoid people waiting for the next switch) ○ starting really early - with volunteers - and being clear that people have this time to try and find issues ○ not necessarily the best tool *right now* but the one that is most responsive - as there is more life in this choice ○ Sharing the success stories ● Looking at where the tools address an additional common pain point - use this to tempt potential adopters - eg. Fuze Rooms - (where software change leads to physical change leads to cultural change?)
  36. 36. “Our true culture is made primarily of the things no-one will say ... Culture is about power dynamics, unspoken priorities and beliefs, mythologies, conflicts, enforcement of social norms, creation of in/out groups and distribution of wealth and control inside companies.” -- Shanley Kane | @shanley | Your Startup is Broken: Inside the Toxic Heart of Tech Culture
  37. 37. “Our true culture is made primarily of the things no-one will say ... Culture is about power dynamics, unspoken priorities and beliefs, mythologies, conflicts, enforcement of social norms, creation of in/out groups and distribution of wealth and control inside companies.” -- Shanley Kane | @shanley | Your Startup is Broken: Inside the Toxic Heart of Tech Culture ON ORGANISATIONAL CULTURE (BEING CLARK KENT?) Friend and former colleague - Jez Humble recently keynoted at Chef Conf He shared this quote - from Shanley Kane - https://modelviewculture.com/ I think perhaps it comes across a little sharply I think the message is an important one. It’s worth reflecting on what it is we are referring to when we put things down to ‘culture’
  38. 38. EVOLVING CLARK KENT
  39. 39. So what are the things we see when looking at both of these stories? ● We didn't get it right 1st time ● We didn't get it right the 2nd time either. Likely we won't have gotten it right now. ● But perhaps it is right for now? ● You need to keep trying things out ● Understand what works for you, and what doesn’t work for you - in your context, with your culture (it doesn’t make sense to simply buy a tool, a solution; no silver bullets) Recognise that we are (to some extent) different - but so is everyone else - and as long as you work within your set of ‘differences’, the thinking still applies - decisions need to reflect the company values, ethos and processes (for us, we can’t unilaterally roll anything out - we have our own constraints) it’s not a destination, but an ongoing process ● marketplace is rapidly shifting ● get out there, and see things from the users perspective - you need to uncover the true culture, that no-one will talk about it’s about putting structures in place so that it’s easier to adapt preparing everyone for perpetual change ● Gather feedback (measure, if possible, although we are bad at this) ● Keep an eye on the changing market - and changing expectations ● Design for that change make change normal (not exceptional) ● Recognise that choice is complex ○ User experience, Agency, some vs. many Tools must fit the culture (as well as the problem) - this is where we have spent our efforts Culture continuously changes - so must the tools Tools change the shape of the problem (ideally making it more tractable)
  40. 40. “There are changes happening in our world, in the world of work Out of the fortress of solitude, hand in hand with the Justice League and as we look around the office, we are seeing those S’s shining through” This doesn’t mean our work is done - it’s just the beginning We all work together in teams, in groups, form organisations because there is a benefit to doing so there are also trade-offs to be made (I hear an echo of another superhero tradeoff - “with great power … comes great responsibility”) We need to put structures in place that help us find a way to balance the needs of the individual (superman), with those of the organisation (clark kent) and here there are no easy answers, even for superman we just need to keep on experimenting, and learning, and evolving our approach
  41. 41. THANK YOU For questions or suggestions: Andy Yates @yrnclndymn ayates@thoughtworks.com

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