Monday, November 24, 2014

A Case Study in Environmental Influence



"What I started discovering is that the music from these places, the roots of it goes so deep that it's historic — there's history and there's culture, and all of these different elements influence the musical outcome of that place. Not just the studios, but the cities themselves." - Dave Grohl during an interview at UK's Absolute Radio

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Dave Grohl's current documentary series, Sonic Highways, is one of the best case studies I've seen showing how one's environment can influence what you create.

Watch the Nashville episode (Episode 3).  Beginning to end.
Carefully read the lyrics for the song at the end of the episode.
You can see exactly where the lines came from.

He does this throughout the series, but what made this one particularly powerful was the impression that this was a city he spent very little time in.  He didn't have as rich of a catalog of prior knowledge vs DC (home) or Chicago (a place where he has spent a lot of time). As a result, it struck me that he didn't already come in with ideas in his head or any real idea of what he was going to do once he got there. The influences were "fresher".

He took those impressions and made something with it.



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This has made me wonder....

How is my environment shaping my work?
The history, the culture, the physical place, the interactions between people, the tools at hand, the underlying assumptions?

Each time I step out of my day-to-day environment, how does THAT influence me?
How permanent is that influence?
How does it vary based on length of time spent in a particular place?
The emotional intensity of the experience?

No answers....just a lot of questions.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Unified Communications Pilot Training - Findings

Digging out from this really huge project and a bit of burnout.  I still don't think I have a wide enough perspective on this thing.  Anyway, figured it was time to share what I learned....

Subscription-Based Learning Iteration 2
Guerrilla Change Management in Action
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Tools we used to implement:
- A ListServ
- A Wordpress blog (SharePoint wasn't ready at the time of implementation)
- Articulate Storyline (for movies etc)
- Microsoft Word

Findings:
- The 4 weeks spent introducing the pilot and the interfaces made a huge difference when we got to the training event.  For the trainers, this required a lot of working around non-working equipment, cribbing screenshots from vendor documentation, and a lot of creative writing.

- The pilot users liked that they had a resource and lots of information.  Sometimes too much information.   The sheer amount of information wound up making the solution seem more complicated than it really was.  I would rather err on the side of too much than too little, but the feedback tells me I need to be more mindful about how to deliver this material and how I present the options. Production training and support will require more careful information architecture to make it all less overwhelming.

- 2 hours of classroom training is 1 hour too long.  Production training will be split up into 4 or 5 separate classes + asynchronous materials.  This will allow people to choose what they wish in the time they wish to use it.  Yes - there is pressure to get everyone to switch to a new way of doing things all at once.  I learned (again) that we need to respect the change process.  For some - it's just getting comfortable with a phone. For others - it's solving a problem they have. Mileage will vary.

- The whole project team and the pilot participants ran out of steam after a month from Go Live.  Because certain things still weren't working, I ran out of material.  The pilot participants got tired of hearing from me.  And things kinda settled into a groove.  I was too tired to shake that groove up.

- The Subscription-Based Learning model is still very human-resource intensive.  As in, you need at least one person who can solely concentrate on creating material for that model. This person also winds up serving as the community wrangler - despite attempts to direct people to appropriate resources.  That person becomes the name and the face of the project whether the team wants that or not.  People prefer to talk to individuals, not anonymous "Support Centers."

- The Subscription-Based learning model is really nice for introducing new features as the engineers and architects get stuff working.  Having that in my back pocket reduced pressure for the entire project team to get certain features operational on Day 1.  As long as we had the core working (chat, phone calls, 1-1 video, desktop share and the path between these features), the other stuff could be introduced later.

- We wound up abandoning IdeaScale.  I had a hard enough time with my email and no one else on the team had the bandwidth to step forward and be the community curator. I was still impressed with the level of engagement from the pilot participants - even if most of it seemed like complaints.

- The Business Analyst assigned to our project introduced me to Qualtrics.  We used this for regular surveys instead of Google Forms.  I'll admit - for my purposes, I much preferred Google Forms.  But Qualtrics makes it easier to create pretty pictures. 

Having the 1 month survey and results from the previous surveys let me know that the solution we have is a good one - we just need to get it working better.  Very useful when all it felt like I was hearing was complaints.  Actually - I was very impressed we had a 33% answer rate to the survey (vs. the 10% after chasing people down that I was expecting).
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Things we need to figure out moving forward:

- Our mucky muck's executive assistant commented "I've been using this thing and it's fine.  But I am not sure how to go about using the newer stuff. Maybe I need more hand-holding."

What she really identified is that people figured out a way to get comfortable. There is nothing pushing her to try something else or do something differently because she doesn't have a pressing problem that needs to be solved.  I'm not terribly interested in creating problems that aren't there.  But there are also better ways to do things housed in this solution.  Time for another round of talking to people.

- Information Architecture - how can people find what they need when they need it?  This is a HUGE solution.  How do we make it less overwhelming?

- Accommodating UI changes - What we used in the pilot is going to look very different when we start rolling it out to the University.  So all of the materials I developed are being trashed and I am starting over.  We are in an age where vendors are changing UIs at whim anyway.  Our development processes need to figure out how to accommodate this reality quickly, and not just for this project.

I have a lot more work to do between now and December 1 when our first group goes live with this solution.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Key Questions

We are at the tail end of our Unified Communications pilot.

I'll share the experience a little later, once I finish digging out and getting a little distance from the thing.

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This morning, I was listening to Nick Shackleton-Jones, BP's Director of Online and Informal Learning.

His entire strategy is based on the question "What can we do to help you do your job better?"

In the talk, he breaks this question down a bit further:
- What top 10 things do you worry about?
- What are your top 10 tasks?
- What do you struggle with?
- What do you find useful?
- What is unhelpful?

It really has nothing to do with budget, technology, resources, courses, or how fancy your solution is.

It has everything to do with those answers.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Using ListServs in Subscription-Based Learning

Janet Clary asked me the following question in the comments:
"For your subscription-based learning how are you using your ListServ and what are you using?"

Figured I would answer her in the blog vs. the comments.

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What we are using : CataList powered by LISTSERV.

I don't know the financial or technical details of how our ListServs are set up.  
We've had this in our environment for ages.  

How we are using it: I am embarrassed to say this - but I am essentially using this as a one-way mailing list.  It's the best thing we currently have in our environment for bulk-mailing without the multiple approvals.

On governance: We do have an approvals process in place for these emails and posts. A team review, then the Communications review.  I am sending stuff for team review the morning 2 days in advance. They are expected to turn around comments by COB. The Communications review is the morning of the day before.  

All parties are well aware of my concerns around how easily this process gets bogged down.

We have been told that we don't communicate enough.

This is going to be a test..... 
Especially the first time one or the other group gets upset that I send stuff without their "approval."

The Telecommuting subscription-based learning program did not have these governance layers and was well-received by the audience and by senior management.

Let's see how quickly I get yelled at....


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Do We Sound Like This?



My dad is slowly getting his eyesight back.  Still not where he wants it - but it is good enough that he sent me this gem.

Sometimes, our training sounds like this to our audience.
Does yours?
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Go to the YouTube posting for the full story behind this video.



Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Message from the Universe?

This is where I planted my sunflowers.




This is where the birds decided they should go



I see a lot of parallels between the birds' "help" relocating my plants and my life right now.
Still pretty....still growing...just not where I thought.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Guerrilla Change Management in Action

I figured I would provide a concrete example of what Guerilla Change Management looks like in action.

Basically - giving away all of my state secrets :)
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This project has the following problems / issues that need to be solved.

1) This is a major assumption shift.  We are asking people to think about how they communicate with others at work.  THIS IS NOT A PHONE REPLACEMENT!

2) The entire project team needs to be on-board with that assumption shift. 

3) The solution has a LOT of pieces.  We're not just messing with one workflow (picking up the phone and calling someone), we are messing with a bunch of them (chat, voice, person to person video teleconferencing, one-to-many video teleconferencing, desktop share....)

4) It will be very difficult to cover all of the details of those pieces in one training event.

5) And even if we were able to do that - no one would remember how to do anything.

6) The system will also be "unstable" during this section of the project.  The pilot is to help identify better configurations.  We are asking a lot of the pilot participants - who I am fondly referring to as "the 300."

7) We won't have much documentation until after the pilot.
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Activity 1: Go talk to people.
I went around to my team-mates, the experienced sub-contract trainer that has been assigned to us for the project, the pilot coordinators and members of the 300 and kicked around some possible solutions.

I mentioned the Subscription-based Learning model and my experiments with it for our telecommuters.  The folks I talked to were open to using this for the project.

I also had a number of conversations around materials that were available from the vendor and others "right now" and decided that curated link lists would be useful for this section of the project.  At least until we had enough of a system to start testing and developing more specific content.  The folks I talked to liked that idea.





Activity 2: Scavenge for materials
I talked around the IT department to see what else was available.  We have a SharePoint implementation underway.  I knew that SharePoint  had all of the features that I wanted for this project.  Unfortunately - I also discovered that the team would not be ready for me and for this project. 

I thanked them profusely and looked elsewhere.  No one has a monopoly on tools.

A positive takeaway from this conversation, I am now involved in this project - so I'll be looking at this solution more closely for future efforts.

Sometimes no = not yet. 
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For the curated link lists - I just dumped them into our Google Docs installation. This way, I could give people permission to add and I knew that everyone at the University could access the materials.

Besides - I really didn't want to spend a ton of time and effort over-engineering a web site that was only going to be used for a few months.

And the sites were way too complicated to just point users to.
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For Subscription-based learning - I switched up some of the tools and processes based on what I learned the first time around. 

Activity 3: Figure out how to use the materials you scavenged
I knew how to use most of the materials I scavenged.

IdeaScale is pretty straightforward.  The big trick with that solution is the human process.  How do I get people engaged?  Since this is free and low-profile, I have room and space to experiment with some things.

Activity 4: Take what you have found and go solve the problem
(see above)

Activity 5: Repeat Activity 1 (Go talk to people) with the thing you created to solve the problem.  Get feedback.
The link list has already gotten positive feedback from the project team and pilot coordinators.


I am still in the process of putting together the rest of the solution.

Activity 6: Repeat activities 4 and 5 until either
- the problem is solved (often the jury-rigged solution you just created is good enough)
- you got the information you needed from your proof-of-concept and now have leverage to go ask for money / resources / people
- you realize you have completely mis-identified the problem and need to chuck everything and start over (this is not a bad thing - just a learning thing)

More to be revealed this summer.....