Scrappy Project Management: Brace for huge adoption hurdle for new tools and behaviours

Scrappy Project Management: Brace for huge adoption hurdle for new tools and behaviours


Each New Year’s Day, I choose a theme to guide and inspire me throughout the year, or at least distract me from whatever ills are plaguing the planet – most recently the “doom and gloom” economy.

When January 1 rolled around last time, I was still swooning from the aftereffects of reading Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, Don Tapscott’s spellbinding book. As a result, I chose “Wacky for Wikis and Crazy for Collaboration” as my theme for 2009. (If you’ve read my previous article on this topic, you’ll notice that my views in this article have become slightly more tarnished than last time, based on the past years’ experience.)

My 2009 collaboration began with a vengeance! First, I spent over a hundred hours expanding an extensive wiki I’d created for the 25 or so geographically dispersed people who work together on the projects I do with Japanese companies. We’re a loose collection of people and scattered between Tokyo and San Francisco, working across organisational boundaries and cultural barriers.

Having a place where we could stash info that everyone could easily access seemed like just the thing we needed to take our venture to the next level. Visions of vastly reduced email flow, and the increased ease with which we’d all be able to leverage information from past projects for future similar projects, danced through my head.

Next, I contributed heavily to the wiki for a professional association I co-chair, the Silicon Valley Engineering Leadership Community. We have a very successful operating model for this all-volunteer organisation. Other groups were keen to copy some of our best practices, so I loaded up organisational charts, diagrams, processes, schedules, potential speaker lists, and meeting minutes to the previously lightly used wiki, so anyone who wanted to could have a look.

And, finally, I continued to contribute enthusiastically to a home wiki I’d started for sharing the status of various home repairs, shopping wish lists and party planning, and urged my housemates to do the same. I was most certainly wacky for wikis and crazy for collaboration!

Alas, after a year of what I’m now calling “the collective consciousness conspiracy experiment,” I can honestly say, “Kollaboration is killing me!” If you are struggling to harness the hydra of the group genius in your project team, I’m sure you’ll be able to relate to some of what I’ve experienced with these three wiki experiments. It’s just a tad painful, but press on if you’re curious.

The Japanese Connection

After sinking hundreds of hours and six months into the Japanese collaboration wiki, I was still having to beg people to make use of it. Here I’d built a treasure chest of information about our business processes, team members and projects something a new competitor in the market would dearly love to get their hands on, but pretty much the only person reading it was me. The features of this wiki make most corporate intranet sites look shabby by comparison.

During meetings, I’d double-dog-dare people to ask me a question, and then see if it could be answered by searching the wiki. Yes! Score! Time and again, I could answer any question by navigating to a wiki page. Among the many treasures, there’s a list of all of our projects, detailed information on each, schedules on what’s happening, logistics support, relevant industry reference material, and handy tips on travel to client locations and navigating the H1N1 pandemic.

Nevertheless, a good nine months after launching it, I continued to receive queries for information that could easily be found on the wiki. The phrase I most frequently found myself including on my replies to emails regarding the half dozen or so projects we’re working on at any given time was:

“Thanks for your message and the valuable information. I’ve added this to our team wiki, where it will be easy to find and access when anyone on our team needs it in the future. Here’s the url for the location for your future reference.”

Over the months I continued to send such messages, while simultaneously any illusions I might have had that other people valued my time vanished. I’d become little more than a secretary, a title even administrative assistants with a shred of self-respect would scorn.

With my patience worn paper thin, around April 1, I sent a light-hearted threat out to the entire community of wiki users (and avoiders) saying that if, in the judgment of the team, the wiki wasn’t useful, I’d be irreversibly deleting it at the end of the month. Then a miracle occurred. Of course, I wasn’t really going to delete the wiki, but . . . this email brought my thinly veiled frustration to the attention of the senior executive sponsoring this little experiment, and she wisely stepped in to make the wiki our official collaboration site. She even assigned a highly competent and enthusiastic person to be the Wiki Lead more than I could have hoped for! Although not an immediate solution, hope bloomed once again.

The volunteer dilemma

Leading a team of volunteers is even trickier than leading paid employees. Their continued commitment and contributions depend on their continued enjoyment of, or at least satisfaction with, the volunteer experience.

Although you can suggest, cajole, entice and beg people to use a volunteer wiki to capture and exchange valuable information that would otherwise be rattling around in a dozen people’s email systems, no executive can step in and effectively mandate it. It’s true that some people have finally started to use the wiki to stash and share info, but I’m still sending those emails saying:

“Thanks, and I put your stuff on the wiki.” (With the implied ‘like you should have in the first place!’) On bad days my finger hovers over the “Delete This Damn Wiki” button, but so far I’ve resisted the urge. Just when I’m about to give up hope, someone will update one of the pages and give me a reason to believe that we might yet get the whole team using this tool as “Communication Central.”

There’s no place like home on the wiki

After some early successes in raising the visibility of some long-needed home repairs, it turns out that people living in the same house would rather just talk to one another than communicate using a wiki. Go figure. I keep saying, “The faintest font is mightier than the strongest memory,” but the home wiki’s been dormant for a couple of months now, and no one’s elbowing me out of the way to get to the kitchen computer to update the shopping list these days. Maybe they’re closet technophobes, but I tend to believe that they honestly do think it’s more efficient just to yell to whoever’s heading to the store, “Oh, can you pick up some mouse traps while you’re out?”

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