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43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

Your Story: Throwing new tools at a communication problem?

I'm working on a (likely non-43 Folders) piece about a topic that seems to keep coming up whenever I talk with people about how their team plans, collaborates, and generally communicates with one another. I'd love to hear from you in comments if you have a contribution to make.

What’s your story?

Do you have a story about a time when your team or company tried to solve a human communication problem by adding a new tool? In your estimation, how did things turn out?


Yours doesn't need to be a horror story to be included here -- there are certainly ample examples in which a thorny problem disappeared by introducing a bit of high (or low) technology to the mix.

But, the anecdotes I hear from worker bees often focus on the frustration they felt when a wiki, a new CMS, a mailing list, or some other tool was introduced into an ecosystem that was suffering from a more fundamental communication problem. A lot of people tell me that this makes matters much worse all around, often amplifying the complexity of the original problem, in addition to piling on burnt cycles that were committed on getting everyone up to speed on the new "silver bullet."

If you have a minute over the next week or so, please share your story here. Redact details that you think need redacting, but please consider telling me how things went for you and your group. And, if you feel like a whole or partial solution to the core problem ever did come along, that would be great to know, as well. Already documented this someplace else? Know of someone else who did? Links to relevant stories are also greatly appreciated.

If things pan out, I may be contacting a few of you offline for more details, and conceivably, an interview or two. Thanks in advance.

primemover's picture

Gotomeeting (double edged sword)

What works great for us is goto meeting. I work in a government organization, and am working on a project that consists of different government portions plus industry. We use gotomeeting for documentation reviews and project status meetings. This is really useful in allowing four to six different locations to interact without the need for travel. In that respect, it saves a lot of time and money. But its ease of use can also be a drawback, which results in more meetings than are really necessary. So, you take the good with the bad. In the end, I would rather sit at my desk through twice as many meetings than traveling each week.

In our organization, we were using a custom project/task tracking tool, which was required for all employees to use. The end product was to generate metrics across the organization for upper management use. This became a big issue, because the product was not very reliable or useable, the data fields required were too cumbersome to make it useful for everyday use. So you ended up updating status twice, once to your own system and once to the organizations system. To compound matters, there was a lot of pressure from management to ensure it was update weekly, and that nothing was overdue. Suffice it to say, the whole goal from the workers perspective was to just meet the requirements and leave the tasks as general as possible, which I imagine didn't generate meaningful metrics either. I think management finally caught on and decided to scrap the system. Good thing for now, except the reason the old system was scrapped was so that the managers and project managers could take extensive MS Project training for the next version of metric generating system. We may be wishing for the old system in the end.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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