Conference Notes

Notes from "90% People, 10% Technology"

Left to right: Jessica Lipnack, Bill Ives, Jeffrey Stamps, Tom Witkin, Dan Somers, and Milton Chen (on video screen from San Diego)

The second session of my day is the 90% People, 10% Technology moderated panel with Jessica Lipnack from NetAge, Inc.. In 1995, Jessica and Jeff started a book on Virtual Teams, with interviews with 75 executives around the world … when asked how to get virtual teams work, almost to a person they said “90% people, 10% technology”. (Aside: I wonder whether it has anything to do with this book coming out the year before, which includes the phrase “95% people, 5% technology”)

As with all of Jessica’s session, everyone in the room has to introduce themselves before the session starts.

Milton Chen, VSee
Why John Chambers May Be Wrong About TelePresence

Is unable to attend because he has another meeting in San Diego today.

VSee is a free audio / web conferencing system; it uses 10-40% of the bandwidth that other things require, with strong encryption, and works peer-to-peer. Have been working with some large customers … Intel, Yahoo, Orbitz, Raytheon, NASA, Shell, Steelcase, United Nations, and more.

The starting question is … what video quality is necessary? In his 2003 PhD dissertation at Stanford, he looked at the time taken to recognize a smile at various video quality levels. Even with a web cam, you can recognize facial expressions most of the time.

Another question is … “what makes me smart?” We work in our own offices, with lots of artifacts that make Milton smarter. The problem with TelePresence is that you can’t carry all of that with you when you go to the TelePresence suite.

A typical day for Milton involves lots of one-to-one video conferencing from his office with people all over the world. If you use TelePresence, you miss most of them because they don’t have the equipment at their end.

In 1927, the failed Bell Labs video conferencing system … has the same characteristics as the TelePresence systems of today … eg, no context (office), not ad hoc, does not respect how we work.

Question 1. (Jeff) I’ve been using this video conferencing on a daily basis for 2 years, and one of the things that made a difference in going to a TelePresence environment is a really big screen and the size of the image.

Milton … great observation. The size of the image has a great impact on how we perceive people. Obviously TelePresence has value in some situations, but not in all situations.

Tom Witken, SiteScape
Out of the Cool? Discover Cool Collaboration

SiteScape does Web applications for collaboration. Three years ago, when Tom arrives, there wasn’t a big focus on the culture of collaboration. In 2004 … came up with the idea of six essentials for collaboration:
– effective access technology
– explicit and supported enabling processes
– defined roles and responsibilities
– specific goals and professional network
– reinforced organizational acceptance
– transparent knowledge bases

Have started to drive the cultural change, but it doesn’t go far enough. It wasn’t cool in the user experience.

So … in their upcoming product, ICEcore, collaboration is much, much better. In previous collaboration systems, people spend a lot of time structuring the technology and the artifacts. They define this with great precision, but with this precision, it is most likely going to be wrong. People spend far too much time trying to figure out where to put an artifact of knowledge in a specific part of the taxonomy. And then you have to find it … and with the search products of today, it isn’t necessary ease.

Thus … we want to provide people with the ability to create their own blogs and wikis, and then give ways to share these things more broadly. It’s not a rigid hierarchy, but more messy. Can add more people to the team, can migrate to large teams, can expose it to the larger organization. Have a “MySpace” style interface for within the enterprise. Hence … the personal workspace is your “on-ramp” to team collaboration.

Working with various smart people on social networking analysis, cognitive analysis and more … to help team leaders identity experts within the organization, also what’s the team dynamic … who should work together based on similar history? What’s been the experience of this leader working with other people on the team? Eg, two type A personalities … is this good?

Conclusion … “human communications is chaotic … not organized or methodological”. Eg, look at the transcript of a legal deposition.

Question 1. The issues aren’t the same for all teams. How do you deal with they way you approach one team vs. another? Some will react differently to the technology vs. others.

Part of the answer is that you have to know what the mission of the team is?

Question 2. Aren’t you advocated 90% technology?

Yes, you have to follow the people principles, but we’re trying to use technology to help that. Need to be suggestions on who should be on the team vs. not. It goes beyond the “who” and says the reason why they should be in the team.

Dan Somers, VC-Net
Where is your CCO — Chief Collaboration Officer

Is going to take us through a nirvana to the “Chief Collaboration Officer”.

Step 1. Get a CCO
In most organizations where collaboration has been successful, someone in the senior executive team has stepped outside of their remit and encouraged collaborative behavior.

1. Recognize there is a problem … in not having a senior executive to drive collaboration.
2. Empower from an IT manager to become the CCO, or to appoint it from the top. Could the person come from HR? Perhaps.
3. Quantify the collaborativeness of the people within the organization.

Step 2. Get a Technology Foundation
What is the technology that we’re talking here?
– There are many collaboration tools … a sound collaboration strategy incorporates all.
– The underlying and fundamental piece is the asynchronous collaboration technologies … the foundation
– and then more going up to the top of a triangle … IM, email, audio conferencing, web conferencing, desktop conferencing, video conferencing, and up to face-to-face.

Step 3. Encourage Appropriate Usage
You can’t just roll out the technology … it won’t work
You need to give training on the technology, and training on how to execute as a team. And empowerment.

There are real risks of poor collaboration … poor team performance, and thus poor organizational performance. Need to cultivate high performance virtual teaming.

Risks … fragile plans, poor coordination, poor tool training, poor remote management, unagreed resourcing, unagreed assumptions, leadership failures, lack of cultural awareness, team-building failure, lack of trust, antagonistic organizational culture, etc.

In face-to-face meetings, there is a gravity that pulls people together. When they are virtual, the natural tendency is to pull people apart.

Key things:
– Communication … toolset, protocols, skills
– Work … work planning, task management, shared understanding
– People … leadership, trust, team-building
– Time … resourcing, time management, rewards (getting paid on helping other people)
– Organization … culture and more

Step 4. Quantity
Do a collaboration audit …
– strategic side … who are the people? Who talks to whom?
– operational side … what tools do we have and what improvements do we need to maximize productivity?
– technical side … can my infrastructure cope and what improvements are needed?

Measure the results … tell stories about what has worked. Quantify improved process time, financial savings, etc.

Bill Ives
There was a study a few years ago that asked, “where do you get the information you need to succeed in your job?” The people said they got 90% of it from people, and 10% from the technology. There is hope for the technology … however … because Web 2.0 brings “user-generated” content and transparency. In the early days of the web, most of the content was created by organizations that was read by people. Now a bigger portion of it is authored by people, eg, blogs and wikis.

Within the enterprise, there is more of a people problem. Time for a story. In the early 1990s, there was an insurance company in deep trouble … they didn’t know how to underwrite, so they got all of the bad risks and missed out on the good risks. They lost money. They decided to change the culture and the systems … the homegrown IT system was viewed with no value. The people in the field avoided it, and entered sloppy data. So they decided to create an underwriting process, and got a lot of input from the field, and decided to twist the IT system on its head so that it served the people.

There was one technology the people were using, the “rumor mill”, aka email. People felt like they were in control of this. When a rumor went out, it was spread widely quickly. When people in the field heard about the new system, it was talked about widely via email, and got good press. As a result … people used the new system, the organization improved its productivity, they had a way of sharing learnings with others facing similar issues and problems.

Fast forward to 2007. MIT Sloan School uses blogs for project management … and everyone can see what is going on. But there’s a new people issue now … transparency. Not everyone wants everyone else to know everything they are doing. Greater transparency in general is a good issue, but there are local problems. You can’t solve the problem by having consultants tell the organization what transparency is required.

The answer … from Bill … engage the people and ask them what level of transparency is helpful to the wider organization and their work.

Bill blogs at

Jeffrey Stamps, NetAge
Assuming that there are many introverts in the room. Very hard of hearing … 60% hearing deficit in both ears. Clearly there is a difference between those who find it very easy to be highly communicative, and others who find it very hard. This is a plea … to say that people are really different. Over the years, there has been an increasing improvement in technology that helps Jeff to communicate better … particularly the asynchronous technologies (and remember from yesterday that Jeff writes wonderfully well). Async allows Jeff to take his time to communicate carefully and better. Has spent the last 18 months building a product with someone in India, entirely through asynchronous communication tools … have had one phone call (last month).

A recent study showed that people can interact effectively through asynchronous technology … it reduces the natural biases and preferences, eg, age distinctions, gender, generational gap.

Key note … for those that are feeling left behind, the tools are there to help you overcome the lack of social adeptness in one medium of communication … such as highly interactive face-to-face meetings.

1. Is it helpful to track collaboration savings on a per person basis?
Dan … yes, one study showed about $1000 per person.

2. Agree that collaboration is about people. Says that we should tie collaboration to HR … for retention, for turnover rates, etc.
All agreed.

3. For the whole panel … if you look at these social tools on the consumer side, you say that people are engaged because of passion (and you can be anonymous). When used within the enterprise, do you see these social tools becoming as popular within the organization because of the different dynamics, eg, no anonymous?
Bill … it’s actually hard to be anonymous on the Web as well. Thinks it can be … align with business processes and make it useful for people. Ensure the measurements are aligned with the business processes.

Tom … (1) trying to make the products more like the consumers products in use-and-feel. (2) tried to be very careful to allow people to reveal what they want to about their own work.

4. (Dave) Have you seen organizations start to show employees how to tell their stories within the context of getting things done?
Tom … have almost defined what a blog is. That’s for telling stories. For telling their personal perspective.

Bill … the story-telling story is wonderful and has been around for a long time, and I hear for lots of evidence about it taking off.

5. Now that the work force is more mobile, and people change jobs more frequently, how do you address the question of social networking where you can take assets with you? Eg, social bookmarks … people want to do it on because you can take it with you.
Dan … Have to have a cultural thing where you are a good family, and that they are contributing to a wider good. Little you can do about bad apples.

Bill … with greater transparency, it makes bad behavior more difficult. It’s all open.

6. It’s back to culture … and how an organization does collaboration. It doesn’t matter what tool you use if the culture is bad.
An observation … valid.

Jeff … today every company is recognizing that collaboration is essential. “Hold tight to your stuff” cultures have to be redone.

7. For natural gravitational pull apart of virtual teams, does that apply to the new generation of workers?
Dan … Yes, but there is a downside. There are some things from previous generations that will have to be re-built.

8. What about the use of virtual reality, mixed-reality, avatars? Any point of view?
Jeff … Have tried second life … some companies are experimenting with islands and collaboration systems in Second Life. The technology isn’t ready yet, but in the future, it will be great.

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