In this article, I start tackling the idea of replacing status reports with some mutant combination of emerging social software tools. My two requirements for this next version of a Status Report was:
– Makes it easy/attractive for larger organizations to share their information
– Provides a facility to publish scheduled structured reports to executive-types
This requirements are fundamental contradictions and I think trying to construct a tool which mixes the two requirements together will result in failure.
Both requirements are a good thing. Yes, we want organizations to share information more fluidly. Yes, we want to push that information to various influential people in the organization, but when we mix the requirements together, you’re going to hurt the information flow in your group, not encourage it.
Fluid information flow in the organization facilitated by weblogs, wikis, or something else is already happening at progressive companies. Alpha geeks are tweaking their favorite tools for internal usage and people are starting to write stuff down. All we need now is some significant public success story to start pointing our fingers and saying, “Look. We want to be like them!”
As for pushing information around to executive-types via Status Reports, well, I think that practice needs to continue in pretty much the same fashion. Status reports are press releases for a group of people which should be carefully constructed by the group’s managers to push whatever the group agenda is. Status reports are political documents. They’re not the truth.
If your response is, “Rands, man, that’s the point. We want GET RID OF THE POLITICS!” Sure, you do. You probably think that managers don’t really do anything all day, as well. My advice to you is, first, politics is a fact of life in any group of people… just like managers. If you don’t like that, go fire up your own start-up and see how quickly the managers and politics land… it’s happens just after you hire employee #2.
Back to the problem at hand. When I considered mixing the organic ways of weblogs and wikis, I kept running into this problem. How do I automagically extract my group’s agenda from sources of truth? You can’t. The moment the group realizes their web-based-musings are being used for Status Reports, the source will be tainted… people stop recording the truth, start saying “what they think they need to say”… this practice will effectively lobotomize a wiki or weblog.
The good news is that while these two efforts need to be deliberately separated, they’re going to benefit from their mutual existence. As web-based organic information tools (I’m sorry, I just can’t call it social software) become more prevalent, info_savvy managers are going to have more access to the issues their people care about. This will increase their ability craft their weekly Status Reports with more of the truth in mind.
Teams represented by more compelling Status Reports are going to be rewarded by getting their agenda fulfilled. People will talk about these teams and wonder about their success. Soon, we’ll be talking about the products created by these teams and trying to figure out what is the secret of their success… which is simple… they’re just writing down the truth.