Enterprise 2.0 and Observable Work

June 23, 2010 · · Posted by Greg Lloyd

I really like Jim McGee's Jun 23, 2010 blog post Managing the visibility of knowledge work. Jim makes the excellent point that "Invisibility is an accidental and little-recognized characteristic of digital knowledge work." and points back to his 2002 post Knowledge Work as Craft Work to reflect on what Jim calls a "dangerous tension between industrial frameworks and knowledge work as craft work". Early in his 2002 post McGee says:

"The Importance of visibility in craft work Almost by definition, the final product, process, and intermediate stages of craft work are visible. Consider your experiences at a glass blowing workshop or touring a silversmith's workshop. The journey from apprentice to master craftsman depends on the visibility of all aspects of craft work."

Jim continues with an exceptional analysis of what he calls "Knowledge work today as invisible craft":

"One unintended consequence of today's technology environment is to make the process of knowledge work less visible just when we need it to be more so. The end products of knowledge work are already highly refined abstractions; a financial analysis, project plan, consulting report, or article. Today, the evolution from germ of an idea through intermediate representations and false starts to finished product exists, if at all, as a series of morphing digital representations and ephemeral feedback interactions."

Please read the full post!

Two connections sprang to mind (and I didn't need a hyperlink to divert my attention - mea culpa):

1) Jon Udell's April 2009 talk at the April 2009 Open Education Conference. Udell says:

"In the pre-industrial era, education and work were: Observable, connected
In the post-industrial era, they are: Non-observable, disconnected"

Jon notes that only recently have work processes become network observable, and that this was rare in practice for all but software people. Jon speculates that software folk's norms of feedback, iterative refinement and testable outcomes seem aligned with principles of observable work - and they've become comfortable with networked technology after using the Internet for collaborative development of software and standards over many years.

2) Thomas Stewart in his book The Wealth of Knowledge (and my personal experience working on projects at the Naval Research Laboratory many years ago). Stewart says:

"A whale ship was my Yale College and my Harvard," said Herman Melville's Ishmael; when it came to learning my job, circulating correspondence was mine. Reading my superiors' letters opened a window into how they conducted business with the world outside; I aped things more experienced colleagues did, and saw how they handled tricky situations; I copied useful addresses into my Rolodex (another antique). I learned who knew what, and that made me better at asking for advice."

I don’t think the notion of visible work or observable work is new: mentoring, apprenticeship, and letting trusted folk watch, learn and use what they see on their own is how law, medicine and other professions were originally taught and refined as collaborative practices - and it's still so today. But as Jim McGee points out, we've lost some of the habits of observable work - to some degree intentionally, to some degree due to blinders added by the tools we've grown comfortable using:

"With e-mail, word processors, spreadsheets, and presentation tools, maintaining visibility of your knowledge work (at both the individual and workgroup level) requires mindful effort. An office full of papers and books provided clues about the knowledge work process; a laptop offers few such clues. A file directory listing is pretty thin in terms of useful knowledge sharing content. In an analog process, it’s easy to discern the history and flow of work. When an executive takes a set of paper slides and rearranges them on a conference room floor, a hidden and compelling story line may be revealed. You can see, and learn from, this fresh point of experience. That’s lost when the same process occurs at a laptop keyboard at 35,000 feet. The gain in personal productivity occurs at the expense of organizational learning."

I believe that Enterprise 2.0 principles open the door to making most work observable throughout an enterprise. There are important exceptions to protect the privacy of employee medical, financial and personnel records as well as Board and other discussions which require an exceptional degree of privacy until approved for release or for a longer term. I believe that Enterprise 2.0 collaboration principles apply equally to these more private domains within the enterprise as well as domains open to most employees. With appropriate attention to security and privacy in context, most collaborative work with external stakeholders including clients, customers, suppliers can also be made observable throughout the enterprise while simultaneously respecting privacy among clients, customers, suppliers, and all internal stakeholders.

Jim suggests that principles of observable work apply to the flow of work as well as the work product:

"The right starting point is to simply make the flow of work more visible. I suspect that this is one of the underlying attractions of social networking and micro-blogging. They promise to restore some visibility to digital team work that we lost in the first generation of tools."

I agree with Jim's suggestion. I also suggest that both the flow of work and the collaborative work product recognize privacy in context for authoring, linking, tagging, discussion, content navigation and search that seamlessly connects the worlds of flow and content. This makes it possible for almost everyone in an enterprise to be potentially aware of almost everything their organization is doing - and who knows what - to the benefit of each individual and to the enterprise as a whole.

I believe Traction TeamPage 5.0 is exceptionally well equipped to enable that vision - that's our explicit goal - but please see for yourself.

I believe that principles of open, observable work – like open book financial reporting to employees - is a simple and powerful principle that people at every level of an organization can become comfortable using. In my opinion, wider adoption of observable work principles can succeed with support and encouragement from true leaders at every level of an organization - as Peter Drucker defines that role: "A manager's task is to make the strengths of people effective and their weakness irrelevant--and that applies fully as much to the manager's boss as it applies to the manager's subordinates."

Friday June 25, 2010: Observable Work discussion centered on Jim McGee's original blog post Managing the visibility of knowledge work, including a comment and blog post: Observable Work: The Taming of the Flow by @briantullis and a comment and analysis with several well sourced examples by @johnt, including this:

"Yes, the real learning is in all the nuances of how we work, not reading a manual, it’s a skill, a capacity to act….it’s experience. I agree that the digital era has allowed for invisible work to happen, but at the same time there is great opportunity for your work to be even more visible than it was in the pre-digital era. Now anyone (not just people involved on the task) can come across your work if you use social tools rather than email and attachments…indeed raw interactions are recorded (searchable).

I also think that the constraints of geography and time in virtual teams, kind of means that you have to pay more importance to working more visibly, but not just in a synchronous way like tele-cons…we can use other social tools for when we aren’t all in the same room…and I’m not talking email." - John Tropea

Here's a summary of Twitter chat using tag #OWork, including tweets that weren't shown using Twitter's built-in search - arghh!

@roundtrip is me.

? @VMaryAbraham: Open/Visible work? I need to be persuaded. See this morning's post. bit.ly/9VVSVE

@roundtrip: Several differences with Observable Work (#OWork) model:

1) It's discretionary. You don't *have* to watch or follow, you can look or search

? @VMaryAbraham: So it's an optional, discretionary source of additional info?

@roundtrip: More a discretionary way of working "with your door always open, and most of your desk browsable by (trusted) folk"

[That is] an way of working "with your door always open" without disturbing others. They can follow, search or see a link

Observable Work can be an individual or a group norm. At NRL it was the way our branch worked for years bit.ly/qXVyM pre-Web

2) You're opening up your working in progress and analysis process to people you know and trust for a valid business purpose

3) Observable Work - learn by observing - is aligned with traditions of legal, medical and other teaching and learning

4) People who become excellent models based on OWork gain reputation and recognition in a virtuous sense IMO

? @lehawes How does relate to Social Business? (Asking w/o reading/thinking; sorry!)

@roundtrip: We're using as a norm that may be a specific example (perhaps a best practice) for Social Business as a topic

--- More

@TractionTeam: "People learn best by watching what you do." ~ @jobsworth bit.ly/qXVyM nice 2007 refed in trail on Observable Work

@roundtrip: Tom explains why who sits next to whom in your office can make a huge difference in this new video: is.gd/d3BlY @tom_peters !

@roundtrip: Strategy: Space Matters @TomPeters bit.ly/cSu63Q Who you sit next to @ work +++ With and , distance is not a barrier

Next Things Next: Observable Work: The Taming of the Flow @briantullis +++
June 25, 2010 | # | Greg Lloyd


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