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:
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."