Friday, June 25, 2010

Observable Work: The Taming of the Flow

The last week or so has seen some very insightful comments about the phenomenon of Observable Work. It was touched off by an awesome blog post by Jim McGee on the visibility of knowledge work. Further tweeting and blogging by Traction Software’s Greg Lloyd really got me to thinking. (Greg’s got a great trail going, and the Twitter hashtag #OWork is a great resource as well.)

There are some valid criticisms which focus on the "fire hose" digital_rainfallor "waterfall" metaphors. Another one I like is a comparison to the digital rain in The Matrix. If you have ever used Twitter, you quickly realize that you cannot follow everything.

In my view, what it's really all about is going "downstream" a bit, where you can tame the torrential flow into quiet tributaries and wading pools; to wit, some prerequisites/tools/techniques:

  • hypertext native content
  • aggregation pages
  • topic-specific feeds
  • tagging and tag clouds
  • user profiles
  • advanced search

While you are at it, you will probably need a Chief Information Wrangler, Community Manager, Zen Guru Librarian, and/or other hard to find job titles in most companies.

You will need a good platform as well. Some platforms are better or worse at this, and I don’t really want to make the discussion about technology per se. Whether you are using Jive or SharePoint or something else, you should demand that your vendor give you the ability to tame the flow. And it’s not about stopping the use of email and MS Office. They are just part of the flow! Oppose them to your peril.

I have been using Traction TeamPage for the past 2 years to implement the principles of Observable Work, although I didn’t really have the vocabulary to describe what I was actually doing. Jim’s blog opened my eyes to the theory of what I am trying to do in practice. I have dozens of real world examples regarding meetings, project work logs, strategy formation, internal contracts/agreements, project management, compliance, documentation, etc. It is not all puppies and kittens, but it beats the old way.

I’m going to be thinking hard over the next weeks and months on how I can look at some of the theoretical aspects of our experiment so that I can share it more widely. I don’t pretend to have all of the answers here, but I love to share. I will try to add more as time allows.