The Huddle Muddle

Hard as you try, it is difficult to avoid seeing emerging technology trends from a narrow perspective.  For example, ask someone interested in process-based management what the Next Big Thing in IT is and you will receive a range of answers such as Social BPM, Semantic BPM, Adaptive Case Management, and so on.  By contrast, people with a different bias might choose Augmented Reality on mobile devices or technology that lets your car drive itself.

If there is a common factor to all current innovations, it may be the use of cloud infrastructure.  In the same way that the electricity industry matured via the emergence of National Grids, which brought standard voltages and fittings along with guaranteed service levels to consumers of power, the IT industry is maturing via the emergence of cloud infrastructure, which is bringing similar advantages to consumers of computing.  IT is becoming an engineering discipline, with the general use of standards at multiple levels, 3-tier architectures, scalable network and storage systems – and this is enabling the provision of utility IT via multi-tenant, elastic and scalable environments.  You pay for what you want, and no longer have to manage it – the supplier does that for you.

So what do people want?  Somewhat surprisingly if you believe in the advantages of process-based enterprise management, increasingly it seems to be a type of solution that predates BPM, Adaptive Case Management, Human Interaction Management, or any other means to structure, repeat and improve collaborative work.  This type of solution now goes under the heading of “collaboration tools” but might more properly be termed “shared workspaces” – i.e., Web sites such as Huddle, BaseCamp, and Zoho that let you put a group of documents in the cloud and assign people related tasks.

The pioneer of such tools was Ray Ozzie, who created first Lotus Notes (now marketed by IBM) and then Groove (now marketed by Microsoft).  These days the leading shared workspace tools offer a huge range of accompanying widgets - shared whiteboards, web conferencing, live chat, in-browser office apps, calendaring, and so on – which more and more people are using to organize their projects and teams online.

This works well for SMEs, but has serious drawbacks for larger organizations, which are descending into an inevitable chaos via a proliferation of isolated workspaces.  How can the proliferation of calendars, teams and content stores be managed in an integrated way?  It is simply impossible, since the very tools that appear to facilitate work on the ground prevent managers from taking any kind of overarching view.  Workspaces by definition are firmly separated, and the innate relationships between management levels and partner organizations cannot be surfaced in any useful way by workarounds such as embedding a link to one workspace inside another.

While empowerment is a good thing, this is too much of it.  However much they may wish to deliver results that are directly in their employer’s interests, staff members using a shared workspace to collaborate with colleagues from their own and other organizations are effectively loose cannons – separated firmly from corporate tactics and strategy by the wall around their cloud content store.  Any alignment between the efforts of people in different workspaces is informal and uncontrolled, rather than monitored and supported – in other words, it is not managed.

Line managers have no visibility into the workspaces of their direct reports unless they participate directly in the work itself, thereby accepting a deluge of information rather than what they should have, which is focused interactions based on business intelligence.  Similarly, different departments, agencies and organizations who wish to collaborate must accept in every case that one partner is going to own the workspace entirely, which means replacing natural decentralized relationships with a command-and-control approach that should have been abandoned long ago.

Attracted by all the bells and whistles offered by shared workspace vendors, some organizations either fail to appreciate what lies in store or are prepared to overlook it for the sake of jam today.  However, other organizations have observed the warped management and partner relationships arising from the innate inability of such tools to cross boundaries, and are making the strategic decision to supplement the Web wizardry of shared workspaces with tools that facilitate a more joined up approach.

Once you have given people something, you cannot easily take it away – and people are growing attached to their widgets.  So shared workspaces may be here to stay, at least in the short-term.  However, there is a way to untangle the mess they create, and restore sensible management structures, both within an organization (to align operational work with line management) and across organizational boundaries (to align operational work with partner relationships).

The way forward is to make each workspace a Deliverable in a Human Interaction Management (HIM) Plan.  As discussed in a previous article (see Resources below), HIM Plans offer just the right blend of structure and flexibility to describe work that crosses management and organizational boundaries.

Further, HIM Plans provide the basis for structuring change management – the “new normal” for all organizations.  The Goal-Oriented Organization Design (GOOD) methodology associated with HIM allows organizations to evolve their operating models in a carefully graduated manner, with continual assurance that the domain of the organization is fully covered as it changes, that organizational goals are being met, and that stakeholders both internal and external are fully on board.

GOOD and HIM provide organizations with a quick step up to the best of all worlds – the short-term operational advantages of new Web tools, the medium-term advantages of maintaining alignment within and across boundaries, and the long-term advantages of optimally effective business change management.

Resources

For more information and to get started with HIM and the HIMS, follow the links below:

•             http://www.bpm.com/cross-boundary-processes.html

•             http://bit.ly/hims-technology

Author

Keith Harrison-Broninski has been regarded as an IT and business thought leader since publication of his book “Human Interactions: The Heart And Soul Of Business Process Management” (Meghan-Kiffer Press, 2005 - "a must read for Process Professionals and Systems Analysts alike").  Building on 20 years of research and insights from varied disciplines, his theory of Human Interaction Management (HIM) provides a new way to describe and support collaborative human work.

Conference organizers around the world regularly invite Keith to give keynote lectures to business, IT and academic audiences at national conferences, most recently in Poland, India, the Netherlands, the UK, Finland and Portugal.

Keith is CTO of Role Modellers, whose mission is to develop understanding and support of human-driven processes - the field that Keith has pioneered.  Role Modellers' software product, HumanEdj, leads the industry in computerized support for innovative, collaborative human work.  Visit humanedj.com to download HumanEdj, which is free for individual use.

Keith stays active as a business consultant, via which activity he continues to refine and extend HIM theory and the associated GOOD methodology.

More information about Keith and his work is available online (http://keith.harrison-broninski.info).