Thursday, May 19, 2016

Attempting to Virtualize a Meeting

Showing my work.  As of this writing, I am not entirely certain how this is going to go....

My Director challenged me to come up with a way to allow for virtual participation in our Resource Lab.

The Resource Lab was designed to get the managers from the different groups actually talking to each other and sharing projects that are coming down the pike (vs the traditional practice of  "Oh crap - I need someone from X team NOW!" )

Because our university is on 2 campuses about 30 miles apart and requiring navigation through the DC area's notorious traffic - there was a lot of requests to make it so that the mangers didn't have to spend 1-2 hours each way going between campuses.
My initial thought:
  • Leverage breakout room functionality in WebEx Training Center
  • Have the project managers for each in the room - with their project  loaded in the whiteboard
  • Have the resource managers go into each room
Since all parties involved are not familiar with the WebEx Training Center interface, breakout room setup could get really complicated and there was no good way to show everything at once - I set this aside.

Current thinking
  • Continue to encourage people to show up in person
  • Those who can't make it - use WebEx Meeting Center and our Voice over IP phone and chat client (Cisco Jabber). Everyone is comfortable with both tools
    • WebEx Meeting Center - for the introduction
    • Jabber - For communicating between the project managers and resource managers, chat first. Everyone is expected to be available on this during the session.
  • Leverage a "card" tool to quickly show the pertinent information for each project
    • Project Name
    • Project time frame
    • Contact / person requesting the resources
    • Link to details in our project management tool
    • Resource needed (preferably by role) and approximate time frame needed
For the card tool, I decided to use Dotstorming.
(Full disclosure - I am working on a side project with Dotstorming.)

You can use other card tools as well (Trello comes to mind).

I just wanted to make everything visible up front and allow comments on each card.
I figured that the comments could be used to track who got assigned to the role.
Or - edits directly on the card to show the assignment.

There is a chat feature in Dotstorming if you want to have a more widespread chat on the overall resource lab.

The video below shows a brief navigation tutorial for this board. Enjoy.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Phase H - Useful Evaluation Triggers

I had talked a while back about a common Evaluation trigger - the end of the LMS contract.

There are other triggers I've noticed:
  • New technology in the environment (internal and external to your organization) - xAPI is one of those technologies. I'd also consider things like the growth of Human Capital Management solutions, major shifts in enterprise application strategy within your org, the emergence of big data (measure ALL THE THINGS!)  to be pretty good triggers.
  • Major changes to your leadership - New CIO? New CEO? New boss?  Be prepared to re-evaluate your architecture.
  • Major changes to your organization's strategy - Are they looking to retain and re-skill their current employees? Hire "new" skills from outside? Downsize?  The answer to that question will inform how important they see training and the learning architecture.
  • Major shifts in your organization's financial picture - Negative changes to the financial picture are a lot more likely to force re-evaluation of your architecture than positive shifts.  I'm seeing this manifest in a couple of ways:
    • Every single unimplemented item in the architecture will be questioned. Especially if that item is going to cost money.  You may be forced to improvise with what you have. Or at least, spend LOTS of time demonstrating how the status quo will cost more money or be unsustainable in a fairly short time frame.  Good luck.
    • If your current state has a lot of overlapping pieces, there is more pressure on people to cooperate with each other to reduce costs.  I personally see this as a good thing.
Even without those triggers, it is good to regularly ask "How is it going?"
Are you moving closer to the objectives you set in the design of the architecture?
Is what you have implemented to date moving you closer to your definition of success?
Is it working?
What are you hearing?

I tend to do this every semester. (about 3 times per year)  Mostly because I hate surprises.
I do a quick analysis even if nothing is happening or no changes have been made - because that provides information as well.
  • Why have certain efforts not been prioritized? What is the explanation?
  • What is the political environment like? Has it changed?
  • What are the relationships like between teams? 
  • How stable is everyone feeling?
  • Is training more or less important to the upper management?  By words AND by actions?
  • Are the success criteria we defined still valid? Or even important to anyone?
  • Has the system (as a whole) become easier or harder for people to use?
  • How are your utilization numbers?
  • What does the ROI look like on the changes you have made so far?
  • Are the assumptions we made during the Vision step accurate? 
Depending on the answers, you may be triggering re-architecting efforts a LOT sooner than planned.
And that's OK.
Ecosystems are living / breathing / morphing things.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Phase H - Why Evaluation is So Hard

Phase H is the scary part.

So how did it go?

Did you accomplish what you set out to do in the architecture?

Seeing whether your idea really worked is a scary thing.
It forces you to look at yourself and your ideas.
It often forces you to admit you were wrong.

I think that's why the E part in ADDIE is often neglected.
We got the thing rolled out.
It's operational.
We've moved on to other stuff

Evaluation forces you to ask hard questions. Of your program. Of yourself (if you put a lot of yourself in your program).

It can be really really really uncomfortable.

However, it is also one of the most important steps of almost any activity.
Evaluation allows you to fine tune what you are doing.
Learn things.
Get closer to a workable solution.
Or...better...get closer to the actual problem.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Keeping Track - the Board of Doom

Throughout our effort, we have been using Trello to keep track of ideas and the status of our effort.

We've been at this since October and we've been pretty proud of what our little subcommittee has accomplished to date.

The video below is a quick walkthrough of our Trello board.


This format has been working for us.

I think if I were to re-organize, I would create a separate board for each segment. 
So - the Communications work would get one board....
Our current activities on Collaboration would get another....

Still thinking on that.
It works for us right now.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

The Importance of Psychological Safety

Picture from

I am coming to believe that a strong indicator of success in any cultural change initiative is psychological safety.

Psychological safety exists when individuals in groups feel completely comfortable being themselves. Psychologically-safe groups are characterized by deep trust and mutual respect. Risk-taking is encouraged and fear of failure, judgment, and alienation is minimal or absent altogether.
- Outside, High Performance Cultures, Bradley Stulberg, April 1, 2016

Though the above article was written in the context of triathlon training - it applies to any organization.

Without psychological safety - any attempt to create a high-performing culture may be moot.

Furthermore, that safety has to be felt top-down.

Otherwise, any change initiative where you are trying to get people to communicate with each other, collaborate more effectively, share creative ideas, and innovate as individuals and as teams will be moot. 

Because the people who have the power of reward / punishment will be unable to support the changes.

Because they are human and need to get their survival needs met first.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Deciding What to Do - Business Writing

Once we settled on "Business Writing" as the theme for this cycle, we narrowed down our list of activities from the stuff we brainstormed.

A few activities came to the surface.

Activity 1: Business Writing Mentoring

At first, we considered creating a formal mentoring program made up of "the best writers in the Division".  Then we thought - "Wait a second...we work for a University!  There is an English department!   And, likely, a Writing Center!"

Sure enough, we DO have a writing center. 
And they were absolutely thrilled that we wanted to use them.

I went for an exploratory visit to see how they operated and the experience.
Professional, positive, and incredibly helpful.

Plus, having people outside the department + writing being what they DO is a huge plus in the credibility department.

Activity 2: A Business Writing Workshop - customized for us

At first, we investigated having the Writing Center create a workshop for us.
They wanted a nominal fee. ($20 per person - REALLY reasonable for a custom workshop)
We gave it to our executives.
They went bananas over us asking for money.

So much for that.
Lesson learned.  Everything we do must be "free"

Activity 3: Create our OWN Business Writing Workshop

Our Communications Specialist decided to put together her own Business writing workshop.
And did a bang-up job.

She focused on "our" voice and why we phrase things a certain way.
Provided concrete examples from our own writing.
Asked them what made an effective communication (vs an ineffective communication)
Provided guardrails and guidelines that were easy to remember.
Had a really interesting exercise where they had to compose a tweet for an application outage.
And did all of that in the time allotted without overwhelming them with information.

The audience enjoyed the class. (We actually had 9 people!!!! Voluntarily!!!!!! During LUNCH!!!!)
And I got some super-positive feedback later from the folks that attended.

As I write this, I'm reminded that I need to circle around to the Communications Specialist and the attendees to see whether what they learned is in use. 

Activity 4: Curated Business Writing Resources

We have 3 training content libraries. So the team picked through the libraries + other free resources we have available and put together a curated list of resources.  Stuck that list on the training portal and announced it in the Division newsletter.

At some point, I need to run the reports to see whether traffic increased to those materials.

Activity 5: Templates

This one was hotly debated and I am not sure anything really came of it. 

The main stalling point was that some groups already use templates (mostly for planned outage announcements and project communications) and didn't want to go through the effort of creating a common template library. Nor did they want to share their template.

I get it.

The potential impact is not worth the cat-herding effort.

Activity 6: Surveys

We put a survey at the bottom of our Infomail template.

We hoped to measure whether anyone found these communications understandable and useful.

We did it for 3 months.

We had no takers and canned it.

It has been a month or so since we closed out this phase of our efforts.

On our to-do list is the measurement of whether any of this had an impact.

- On our Communications Specialist - Is she not having to work so hard to rewrite our stuff for human consumption and to provide that "common" voice.

- On the awareness of our services.  We need to discuss how we want to do this.  Another committee spun up specifically to talk about Communication and Collaboration, so we might just leave it to them. They have another survey out now to measure how the Division communicates and collaborates.   Since I'm on that committee too, I might talk about that later. Or not.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Breaking Down Themes - Mapping to Business Benefits

To help us decide what to tackle first, we took a look at the potential business benefits of improved communications.

  • Reduced "Time to Market"
  • Reduced response time to clients and each other
  • Consistent messaging across the division
  • Increased awareness of our services

The next question we asked - what activities would help us achieve these benefits?

Our brainstorms went all over the place.
Everything was written down.
We then measured those ideas against whether that idea would get us closer to those business benefits.

Ultimately, we wound up focusing on Business Writing for our first cycle.

1) Business writing feels more "tangible".  Since our audience is mostly made up of engineers and technical folks - we felt that it would be easier for them to see progress.

2) We felt (right or wrong) that business writing allowed for a level of "detachment" in this early going that "verbal" and "non-verbal" communication wouldn't.  Changing "behavior" can be a charged subject - especially when the person isn't necessarily doing anything "wrong".  Writing, at least, has a visible product.  Our engineers like having something to show for their efforts.

3) We also felt that a focus on business writing would move us more quickly towards the benefits of consistent messaging and increased awareness.

4) Finally, the hope was to take some of the pressure off of our communications specialist - who has been doing the job of 2 people for too long.

In the next post - I'll talk about what we actually did....