E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

From the blog

Building a Solid Library of Use Cases

Gran Canaria - Ayacata in the winter

You may still remember how a while ago I put together over here a couple of blog posts, where I was talking extensively about the Social Business Adaptation Framework I’m currently using when working with clients in their various different change initiatives as part of their own Social Business journey. That framework is based on 5 different pillars that I consider essential for every Digital Transformation programme to be successful over the course of time and since I have already written about the first two (What’s your purpose? and Social Computing Guidelines and why you would still need them) I guess it’s now a good time to talk further along about the next pillar in the framework: Building a Solid Library of Use Cases. 

I have been advocating for social software tools (as an opportunity to explore their huge potential in terms of how they help us become more effective at what we do by becoming more open, collaborative and innovative) from as early as 2000, when I was first exposed to different instances of blogs and wikis, whether inside or outside of the firewall, along with what today would be known as social profiles. And over the course of the last 16 years, and still going strong, one of the many things I have learned, as both a passionate advocate and evangelist, about all of these (still) emergent social technologies is that in other for knowledge (Web) workers to adapt to social software, which, by the way, is not the same thing as adopt, and discover new ways of working smarter, not necessarily harder, the focus should never be put together under these social tools themselves, but more on the different behaviours and mindset of those same knowledge workers. Essentially, it’s about figuring out what kinds of new behaviours you would want to inspire across the workforce, but also what kind of mindset should be going along with those behaviours. If you have got a chance to influence both behaviours and mindset you will have a great opportunity to witness your own change initiatives succeed n the long term.

You see? Technology, all along, has always been an enabler, and just that, an enabler, nothing else, no matter what other people would tell you. It’s the one that helps us shift gears and change the way we work and live our lives, but at the end of the day tools are just tools, enablers that allow us to achieve a specific goal whether on a individual level or within a collective. What matters most at the end of the day is what kinds of behaviours do we want to inspire with these change initiatives to eventually provoke a shift of mindsets that will help stick around those relatively new efforts of becoming a successful Socially Integrated Enterprise.

In order to influence such shift of both behaviours and mindset, social tools per se are not going to help much, so if your enablement efforts have been about educating people on how to make good extensive use of Enterprise Social Networking tools focusing on just features and capabilities there is a great chance that, if you ask knowledge workers about how things are moving along, the number #1 answer you may receive can probably be summarised with a single keyword: overwhelming. To no end, too, for that matter! And they would be right, because, more than anything else, if there is anything that all of these ESNs have got in common is that they are quite substantially different from what so far has been the king of both communications and collaboration in the enterprise. Of course, I am talking about email. It’s just too easy to fire up an email and share it across with your colleagues, but when you need to figure out how you are going to use a specific capability within your ESN things might get a bit more complicated. On purpose. Why? Well, because of fragmentation, which is a really good thing on its own, but I will talk about that and what I meant with it at a later time.

That’s why, when thinking about developing your enablement strategy within your Social Business journey, you should focus not necessarily on the smart use of your recently deployed ESNs, but focus on something much more sustainable instead and with a higher chance of creating the right impact from the start: people’s business practices. Put your emphasis on helping improve how people work, remove the potential friction(s) that may be out there, and provide an opportunity for people to own their own discovery of those new ways of working. Remember, it’s not about empowering your employees and fellow colleagues, but about enabling them effectively to think AND do different. That’s why the third pillar of the Social Business Adaptation Framework I keep using all the time has always been about building a solid library of use cases.

Now, there are multiple ways of how you could get started building such library, and I will be sharing a few of them with you today in this blog entry as well, but perhaps the most effective one that has always worked for me and in multiple ways has been something so relatively simple, yet so effective, it’s just mind-blowing: ask the people themselves! Exactly, talk to your employees and fellow knowledge workers and ask them ‘how do you get your work done?’, ‘what are some of your favourite business practices you used today?’, ‘what use cases do you think could do with a bit of an improvement?’, and perhaps one of my favourite questions of them all: ‘what are some of your main key business pain points?’ Or, finally, the killer one: ‘how can I help you become more effective at what you do?’

And listen … And listen again … And listen to all of the responses they may give you, because over the course of time you will be getting started with that solid library of use cases, or business practices, based on what they tell you. And this is something that will be rather critical, because doing that, establishing a very powerful two-way conversation right from the start, will send out a very clear message to everyone that you are there to help them out, but they still own it, they are an integral part of the change and transformation process and this will become key to your change initiatives’ success, because if you get them on board early in the game, and you help them answer the most poignant question of them all around social business (What’s in it for me?) there is a great chance that your work will fly on from there onwards! But again, focus on this rather important task, far too often both ignored and neglected: listen to your fellow knowledge workers. They know way better than you do about how they work. 

Over the course of the last few years, while exercising that art of listening with customers, I have been able to collect and curate a list of 70 different use cases and business practices, and it’s been, all along, quite a fascinating journey on its own, because it has enabled me to learn, through first-hand experience, about how people actually work and, more importantly, how I could help them become more effective in getting their work done, specially, by eliminating or, at least, mitigating, the various different business pain points they have may have been experiencing over the years.

However, when working with a client I never start with the full blown 70 use cases themselves. In fact, my advice, depending on how much time, how many resources, how many people in your team or how much funding you may well have, has always been about start small and build from there. So I, typically, start with a list of the top 15 most impactful business practices and use cases I have been working on with clients over time, but sometimes even those are just too many! Thus we go smaller and in this case I usually make use of this wonderful whitepaper put together by IBM under the heading ‘Patterns for the Social and Digital Enterprise’, which can also be found at this other link, in case the .PDF may not work. The whitepaper itself helps set the stage on what those six patterns included in it could translate into business practices and use cases with the one around Expertise and Knowledge as being one of my favourite ones, of course.

But sometimes even executing on those 6 different patterns can be too much to get things started. So we go smaller again and at this stage I usually focus around the Top 3 most relevant and applicable business practices and use cases to most organisations I have worked with from over the years. They are perhaps the top 3 most impactful use cases I can think of, that, when executing them, knowledge workers would be off to a rather interesting and enticing journey of discovery of new ways of getting work done, but also of connecting and collaborating with their fellow colleagues, out there in the open and accessible to everyone else to benefit from. Now, I know that, over time, I will be able to talk more extensively about each of them and what they would imply for both knowledge workers and the organisation, but, for now, I thought I would perhaps list the three of them and share across a short paragraph as to why they are worth while exploring further along. So let’s go and see each of them briefly:

  • Working Out Loud: Originally coined by Bryce Williams in 2010 and with roots pretty close to Wave Winer’s Narrate Your Work along with Observable Work (#owork), working out loud has become incredibly popular nowadays thanks much to the superb piece of work done by John Stepper and a few other folks who keep advocating about perhaps one of the most profound shifts in how we behave at the workplace embracing the open source principle of default to open versus whatever else was there in the past by making extensive use of open collaborative principles and social software tools. If you are interested in the whole topic, I can strongly recommend you take a look and read through the wonderful book John himself has put together with tons of practical hints and tips, guidance and know-how that will keep you busy for a good while.Like I said, I will be talking plenty more over the course of the next few weeks about working out loud principles, techniques, practices, lessons learned and what not, but in you are willing to learn plenty more take a look into this blog post about the celebration of the upcoming Working Out Loud Week taking place this November. It’s lots of great fun and tons to learn more about this particular business practice and use case. I can assure you that.
  • (Social) File Sharing: Without a single doubt, I keep advocating and advising clients I work with that if they would want to see a significant impact of their ESN adaptation and change initiatives with a single use case where they can already measure the impact from day one, specially, in terms of both individual and team productivity, the use case of (social) file sharing is as good as it gets.Imagine this scenario for a minute, take your own organisation, once your ESN is fully deployed, up and running and everything, you entice and encourage knowledge workers to move all of the attachments they keep sharing via email into the (social) file sharing space you may be using, whether as part of an ESN or whether you are using Google Drive, Box, Dropbox, One Drive, etc. etc. And see what happens over the course of the first few days, weeks and months. No more struggles with mail quotas (the well known mail-jail annoyance), no more duplicates, no more power struggles of who owns what document and for what purpose, no more who has got confidential access here and there to which documents, no more who was supposed to do what update to what file and for what reason, and, eventually, no more precious, critical knowledge getting lost into thin air once mail boxes get deleted. And so on and so forth… I could keep talking about this topic for years. Actually, I have.
  • Asking Questions Openly:  And, finally, one of my favourite business practices and use cases that I keep advocating for in terms of helping knowledge workers transition from the good old mantra of ‘knowledge is power’ to ‘knowledge shared is power’. There are folks out there, in which I’d include myself as well, who keep advocating that one of the first, most primal methods of instigating a Knowledge Management System within an organisation is through implementing a system that would facilitate Questions and Answers out there in the open. Yes, I know, this is not new! We have been having newsgroups and forums for well over 50 years when they were operating via mainframes, yet, if you ask around the number one option people resort to when asking a question is, of course, still email.Ouch!, I know! The thing is that the main reason why that happens is not necessarily just because it’s easier to fire up that email to your colleagues to ask the question away, but it’s a much more fundamental one. It’s a cultural one. It’s an opportunity to protect your own turf, to hide the fact you don’t know it all and can continue to be the expert everyone thinks you are, so when you may be asking a relatively simple, or silly question, it’s hidden from everyone and only one or two parties will find out through that private exchange. So you are safe. For now. The rest of the organisation is doomed though, because, right there, that exchange is dead to everyone else. Like it never existed, nor took place.

    Bill French once quoted ‘email is where knowledge goes to die’ back in 1999 (Yes, you are reading it right! That’s 1999, way before social software tools came into play at the workplace), so you can imagine the kind of impact you would opening up yourself into when you inspire and entice your colleagues to work out loud and start asking questions in the open, vs. via email. A whole new world of re-discovering talent, skills, and expertise will open up and that, on its own, would confirm you’d be on the right track towards becoming that successful Socially Integrated Enterprise when the knowledge of employees is not their own anymore, but with the entire organisation. But we will talk plenty more about this one over the course of time, specially, the political implications in the corporate culture, in general. Yes, I know, it’s a biggie.

Now, I realise there may well be a good chance that despite all of what I have mentioned above you’d say that, for whatever the reasons, you may just have the time, resources, funding and team to start the adaptation work of your Social Business journey within your organisation using just one business practice or use case.  Which one would it be, you may be wondering, right? Which one would I pick myself from the 70 of them I’m currently using with customers? Well, that’s pretty easy. If I just had the resources to execute on a single use case it would be the one about working out loud. Why? Well, pretty easy as well, if you ask me.

Imagine this scenario, for instance. Imagine if all organisations would come one day to work and proclaim to the world that from that day onwards their modus operandi would be based on the following motto: default to open. Connect, share, collaborate, innovate AND learn out in the open, transparent and public to everyone. What do you think would happen?

No, don’t worry, before you start screaming at me out loud, I’m not advocating that all of a sudden we should all become 100% open and transparent on everything that we do at work. It’s not about that. It’s how low the % of openness and transparency is at this very moment, so from that very small % to a 100% there is a whole new scale of opportunity to be explored out there and that’s what I am advocating for. Finding that comfortable level of how transparent you would want to become not just to your employees and customers, but also to your business partners, and, why not?, to your competitors, as well. After all, it’s organisations that need to be transparent, not the workforce per se.

Oh, and you know what? There is also one other favourite business practie I’d put up there, in a close second place, if I were to execute on two use cases with customers versus just one. It’s the one that, to me, defines how successful over the course of time the Social Business Adaptation and Change initiatives will become once it’s in place. Which one is that? Well, finding an expert, across your organisation, who may help you solve a problem without you not knowing either the expert or who can help you track him / her down for that matter. And all of that with the lovely constraint of doing it within 5 minutes. Yes, in iust 5 minutes. Do you think it’s possible?

Of course, it is possible. It’s only a matter of how you decide, for you and your organisation, to, finally, get to operate as networks and communities.

Welcome to the Connected Enterprise!

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