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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.

wharpua's picture

Basecamp over Blackboard and Angel

I'm currently in an Architectural Grad School program that has abandoned Blackboard in favor of Angel, but also, nobody I know feels that it's an improvement. The problem with those systems is that they seem like they'd be useful if the entire academic logistical experience was funneled through it, but since it only has a partial adoption rate it has been pretty unsuccessful. Most of the time that it gets talked about is when students confess confusion over where articles are stored, in which arbitrary folder online, etc.

The studio that I'm in has actually tried to use some sort of homemade-dotMac-iWeb forum thing that is just as unsuccessful as it sounds. I've been in touch with the faculty member who manages it, trying to urge him to consider Basecamp by 37 Signals as a far better tool for the Studio scale of one teacher to about ten students.

I actually evaluated and implemented Basecamp for my previous job at a Design/Build firm that involved remote collaboration across several different home offices. I haven't checked in with them in about six months, but when I left them they were about six months into successfully using it.

Probably the most helpful thing in implementing that (aside from 37 Signals keeping everything as simple as possible, kudos to them for that) was to first give people access to a prepared example I modeled after one of the ongoing projects, letting everyone play with it remotely and get their feet wet, looking for questions. Next we met together, with everyone on a workstation with mine on a video projector. I toured people through the landscape, trying to answer questions as they occurred, doing some trial and error experiments as we figured out what we could and couldn't do together. Also, we found that Basecamp's notifications work very well to pull people into the suite environment and out of the email one, furthering its adoption rate right from the start.

I'm hoping to get my school's studio program onto Basecamp, as the suite really does keep a narrow focus on the what its capabilities are. Also, a key to fast adoption will be either having some sort of live demo/tour at the start of the semester, or to set up a screencast for new users to watch so that people have a stronger introduction to it prior to use.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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