Dear Microsoft: I’m Confused. Can You Help Me Collaborate Well?

Yup, I’ll admit it: I’m confused.

The launch of Microsoft Teams last week is what’s done it. First of all, from everything I’ve seen of the new tool, it’s really cool. I had some trouble getting my head around how to get it up and running in our Sympraxis Office 365 tenant, but now Julie (@jfj1997) and I are taking it for a spin and we like it.

Microsoft Teams

What’s confusing to me is where Microsoft Teams fits into the spectrum of similar offerings, which all look pretty much the same to me on many levels. We have Yammer, Group Conversations, Microsoft Teams, email, Team Site Discussions, and the old SharePoint newsfeed. Now, I’ll allow that the last two are pretty much obsolete, but they are still in the UIs and people see them. This is a lot of choices.

Every time Microsoft comes out with a new “social” tool set, the rhetoric around its positioning tends to be “Hey, we think you like choices, and here’s another choice for you!” It’s absolutely true that everyone works differently, but there are patterns in those different ways of working. While we all may be special flowers (see my comments about millennials below), but we aren’t snowflakes; there is a lot of similarity in the types of things we are trying to solve in our collaborations.

I wish I could find the old slides we used to use when I worked in Renaissance Solutions back in the late 1990s, but I think they have been lost to the electrons of time. When we talked about the different communications mechanisms that we available for people to use for good knowledge management, we listed out 6-8 methods. We talked about them being part of a portfolio of options, each of which had specific set of good use cases. (Some of the terminology has changed, but the ideas haven’t changed all that much.)

For instance, you shouldn’t fire someone over email because it’s an emotional event; that deserves and in-person meeting (generally one-on-one). You also shouldn’t call an all hands company meeting if you’re just reviewing a task checklist if an electronic sharing mechanism works just as well. And so on. These common sense rules are broken all the time, but that doesn’t mean they don’t make simple senss. It’s often simply that no one has provided enough guidance on how to think about things.

One of the big issues I see in our overly connected world these days is misuse of the various options we have at hand. One example is Microsoft support calling me on the phone when I’ve created a support ticket via the Web; generally we should stick to one modality and not shift mid-stream. Like it or not, the initiator gets to choose, and we should only switch by mutual agreement. (“Would you mind if I emailed you some more details?” in a conversation, for instance.) Sometimes my wife and I have this problem, too. We might start a conversation in a text, it jumps over to email, and then becomes a note on the counter. That jumping between methods waters down the interaction and makes it far more confusing. One of the methods was probably the right one, but we’ve subverted that.

What has me confused about Microsoft’s overlapping offerings in the communication spectrum is that they don’t come with guidance about which is good when or for what type of organizations. Instead we see a lot of talk about choice being good. Choice seems good, but when you get right down to it, open choice leads to a certain amount of chaos. Many people I talk to would like some sort of help understanding what Microsoft is thinking, at least, but Microsoft seems unwilling to do this.

When Microsoft is working on the development of a new tool like Microsoft Teams or adding enhancements to an older tool set like Yammer, they must have use cases in mind. (I truly hope this is the case, and I believe it has to be!) But those use cases don’t really make it out to us in the form of helpful portfolio management strategies.

One standard Microsoft answer to things like this is that it’s a “partner opportunity”. That would be an excellent answer if every partner understood how to do this type of positioning, but many don’t. Many partners are technical partners and focus far more on implementing the hardware and software (nay, services). This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just the way it works.

As a consultant who has done a lot of knowledge management work and collaboration and strategy work after that, I suppose I could look at this as an excellent opportunity for me to go out and make a lot of money advising clients about how to manage all of these options. That might be good for me (and hopefully for my clients), but it doesn’t help the ecosystem all that much.

Another chestnut that we hear a lot is “Well, millennial want something different, so…” This is a weird one to me. Sure, younger people may be different, but remember we’re all special flowers, right? People entering the workplace don’t know how to do things in the workplace yet. Simply catering to them – it certainly didn’t happen back when I started working – will just water down effective work styles developed over years. Don’t get me wrong: a lot of work methods are just plain dumb and should be questions, but mindfully and not just because the kids don’t like them.

When I look at the graph below from Avanade, I see some really interesting information. But I also see that many people I know in my generation (I’m a Baby Boomer!)  must be doing things wrong; we don’t act like the stats. I also know millennials who don’t act like millennials. And my son isn’t just like his Gen Z group, either. When I interact with any of these groups, I need to adapt my methods based on what will work at the time, not just what *I* like.

Statistics like this are absolutely useful, but you need to understand your own organization to know what will work. If it’s an organization with lots of closed offices and hierarchy, it’s different from one with an open office plan and a lot of cross-functional work. Age usually has little impact on those constructs. So when you think about what will work for your organization, wouldn’t it be great to have some sort of framework from which to make decisions? A sort of “portfolio management” approach?

I’m reminded of the great work Sadie Van Buren (@sadalit) did a few years ago on her SharePoint Maturity Model. It gave people some very clear ways to think about where they were on the spectrum of success with the platform. The model is a little dusty at this point, but it still makes a lot of sense and can help drive decision-making. (If you check it out and think it’s still useful, please let Sadie or me know. I think it needs a renaissance for Office 365!)

So how can Microsoft un-confuse me, and by extension many of you? Well, I think they need to put their internal politics aside and draw some lines in the sand. For example, regardless how you feel about it, Yammer is good for interactions that require external users because many of the other options don’t provide that capability. A simple statement like that can make some decisions pretty simple: You need external users; you need Yammer. QED. But you rarely see Microsoft making such a clear statement.

Here’s hoping that the smart people in Redmond get on this soon. As the options keep piling up on us, it’s only getting harder to choose. If I were a betting man, I’d pick some winners and loser in this game, too. Knowing what makes sense for specific use cases would reduce risk for organizations who need to make choices and stick with them. Change in most organizations is hard – and expensive. Making good decisions based on good guidance up front makes those changes far more palatable.


nb: I”m publishing this from the plane on the way to Microsoft MVP Summit. It’s best to get this off my chest before I get all jazzed up this week! Maybe I’ll be able to convince some people about this stuff while I’m there.

 

Microsoft Teams: Is the Who-Bot the KM “Expertise Locator” We’ve Needed for Years?

By far the coolest thing I saw in the launch of Microsoft Teams yesterday was the Who-Bot.

It seems to address the age-old knowledge management question “Who knows about…”, which has for years been talked about as either “Find the Expert” or “Expertise Locator”. In some ways, it’s been one of the holy grails of knowledge management.


Every organization has people in with with expertise which is unknown. A classic example was one I ran across at a client back in the mid-1990s. Yes, we’ve been talking about this for over two decades!

In the example (which is real, as best I can remember the details), there was a PhD scientist with extremely specific and strong skills in bovine biology. That was his job, and he was damned good at it. It also so happened that in a previous part of his career, he had been an explosives expert. Also very top notch, and of course for good.

At one point at the company, our PhD friend saw that his company had launched a product which was made of materials he knew extremely well from his explosives work. But the product wasn’t using those materials efficiently, so the margins were pretty bad.

No one knew about his off-kilter expertise, but it would have accelerated the product development and led to a better product.

Had there been a Who-Bot or expertise locator, when they started the project to develop the product, they could have asked “Who knows about explosives?” or “Who knows about using chemical xyz?” Because the PhD fellow was proud of his prior achievements, those facts would have been in his profile, and they would have immediately gotten a hit. Money saved, productivity gained.


We started using Microsoft Teams yesterday like many others. I really wanted to see what the Who-Bot looked like (even at Sympraxis with two people, we can test this stuff), but I couldn’t find it anywhere.

I asked the T-Bot – which is pre-loaded in Teams, “How do I add bots?'”

Talking to the T-Bot

T-Bot suggested I head over to the bot gallery to look at my options, but I couldn’t find Who-Bot over there, either. T-Bot is really cool, though, and a great example of “bot-based help”. That’s a wave of the future, too.

I pinged a few contacts about how to enable Who-Bot, but so far no joy. I’ll update this post when I figure it out.


Now, the flip side of this is that Who-Bot is only going to find what it can find. After all this time, we actually have pretty good ways to figure out what people know.

The most obvious one is what we put into our profiles in SharePoint or elsewhere. In other words, without good metadata about each of us, Who-Bot doesn’t have much to work with.

Luckily, we’re working with a great new company to help solve this problem. As I’m quoted on the Hyperfish Web site:

Bad AD data

Hyperfish’s product and its Hyperbot (yup, there’s a bot chapter in this story, too) can help your organization essentially crowd-source improvements to your Active Directory data. It’s a fantastic product built by some very smart people. If you’re interested in it, let us know and we can give you a demo. At Sympraxis, we’re really excited to be working with Hyperfish: this is a set of problems that must be solved.

Hyperfish helps with what’s known in the KM world as explicit knowledge about your profile and skills. Explicit knowledge is known because we’ve taken the trouble to collect it, standardize it, vet it, etc. But there is another kind of knowledge known as tacit knowledge. We express our knowledge tacitly by what we work on or what we do or who we know. (KM purists may say I’m being liberal with my definitions here, but that’s the way I roll.)

Guess what? The Office Graph gets us access to some of that tacit knowledge. Based on the documents we author or view, the people we work with, etc., we can start to identify people with the knowledge we need as well.

The new People Card capabilities rolling out in Office 365 now help us to identify people with knowledge we’d never find otherwise. By seeing who is connected to or works around content and other people, we can identify the experts we need.

Office 365 People Cards

Since Who-Bot is tied into the Office Graph, I expect that we’ll get very interesting and deep, layered responses to our questions about “Who knows about…” in quite short order.

Now if I could only get the darned the Who-Bot turned on in our Sympraxis tenant!

UPDATE: I heard firm Bill Bliss at Microsoft (who owns the feature) directly and he said the WhoBot (his spelling, so it’s probably right!) is “…not done yet”. As noted by Jasper Siegmund in the. Moments, Bill also stated this on the recent Microsoft Teams AMA.

SharePoint: Enabling Knowledge Management

I had the chance recently to have chat with TechnologyAdvice’s Josh Bland (@JoshBlandTA). This interview was a part of the TechnologyAdvice Expert Interview Series. The series explores a variety of business and technology landscapes through conversations with industry leaders.

There’s plenty of great content there, including interviews with some of the speakers for the SharePoint Technology Conference – SPTechCon Austin – coming up February 21-24. If you register with code ANDERSON, you’ll get an extra $200 off any other discounts you might receive.

In this episode we discussed how I see SharePoint fitting into a successful knowledge management strategy, how modern work happens, big things that happened with SharePoint in 2015, and of course, the upcoming SPTechCon. If you enjoy this interview, you might want to check out the one I did with Josh last summer, just before SPTechCon Boston: Software Adoption: A People Problem, or A Technology Problem?

Below is an excerpt from the conversation:

Josh: What would you say, Marc? How would you sort of summarize the year? What sort of big developments occurred and what would you say were some of the highlights from 2015 in SharePoint?

Marc: One of the biggest things is that the hybrid story that Microsoft is just telling is getting richer and richer. We saw some capabilities that are available on Office 365 starting to filter back on Premises, and that’s via hooking up to a SharePoint online instant. So that you can sort of take advantage of the best of the cloud but still keep your content in-house. And of course, we’re seeing tremendous strides forward in Office 365 as well. It’s hard at this time of the year to look back and try to remember, how many of these things actually got stuffed into this one year? And it’s pretty incredible when you look at how many things have changed over the last year in the SharePoint space. We have things like Delve and groups and the video portal, and all these things that have really come into their own this year and shown that Microsoft is not sitting still, that they’re — I’m very bullish on Microsoft in what they’re doing with Office 365. And I’m not an easy one to convince [chuckles]. But I see them doing some very cool things – Planner – just all kinds of new experiences as they say, with fantastic user interfaces that really are bringing the whole platform ahead in leaps and bounds.

Josh: I want to hear what were some of the sort of difficulties that you have experienced, not only with your customers, but just in general that you think the industry has seen from SharePoint?

Marc: An ongoing challenge for anyone using these platforms is that the development story continues to evolve. And that’s not a bad thing, but for your average developer who’s trying to sort of swim with both hands tied behind their back, sometimes, keeping ahead of what the enterprise wants, it’s difficult because we look at the different– historically we’ve had features and solutions, we’ve had the sandbox model now. We have the apps crossed out, add-in model, and we’ll probably see some evolution from here. People are continually having to keep their skills fresh. Now, that to me is a damn good thing. Anybody who stops learning and thinks that what they know now is going to serve them forever is sort of letting themselves die intellectually. The fact that we have to learn new things all the time is a good thing. We’re seeing an evolution from server site code toward JavaScript and client site code to a degree that is really — it’s been a bumpy ride for some people over the last couple of years to make that mental switch. As we’re seeing better experiences coming out of Microsoft, we’re seeing these challenges for the developers inside enterprises who are trying to build bespoke functionality that is unique to that organization, or something that that organization wants that Microsoft does not provide exactly. It’s that 20% that’s actually the hard part. That’s going to be an ongoing set of challenges – understanding how this hybrid model, as you mentioned fits into the organization’s ethos – is going to be a tough one for a lot of people to get to.

Two years ago we would have been talking about the tremendous fear about security and, “Does the cloud make sense?” And, now we always talk about it as, “Which part of the cloud makes sense to me? Which parts should I take advantage of? Where am I going to get the bang for my buck?” So, we’re on a different part of the learning curve for all of that. But the development story is tough. And that hybrid aspect just adds a little bit of complexity to the whole thing.

Josh: One final question here on SPTechCon 2016. Do you see a lot of differences between Boston and Austin? All that to say, what do you think will be different about this year, Austin 2016 vs. Austin 2015 or Boston 2015?

Marc: The obvious difference is that we’ve got SharePoint 2016 coming up. So — Yeah, new software smell. There are a couple things there. One is obviously there is some new software out there; new bits. So, people will be able to hear some good information about what’s there, why would you be interested in it, how does it work and that sort of thing. One of the best things though about SPTechCon is that they’re very careful to manage the mix between: here’s the shiny new stuff and here’s that stuff that you are actually still stuck working with [chuckles]. There are still a lot of people in the crowd who use SharePoint 2010, there’s still a lot of people who are using 2013 obviously. There’s a great mix of content across that spectrum as opposed to just going for the new stuff. Go to the Microsoft conference for that. They’ll only talk about the new things. But SPTechCon has been traditionally very good about having that balance, so that everybody who comes to the conference gets a lot of depth out of it.

This podcast was created and published by TechnologyAdvice, an Inc. 5000 company looking to help buyers find the best cloud storage, payroll systems, and more. Interview conducted by Josh Bland.

Boston KM Forum Meeting Notes

On Wednesday, July 20th, I attended the latest Boston KM Forum meeting at Bentley University. The theme was Fitting SharePoint to Knowledge Initiatives, which the content loosely followed and every presentation was valuable on some level.

There were probably about 30-40 people in attendance (crowd estimation not being my forte). It seemed that the majority of people in attendance had some exposure to SharePoint or worked with it on a regular basis. Since the KM Forum covers far more topics than just SharePoint, there were also some people who had never touched SharePoint. That made for a refreshing change in the tenor of some of the discussion.

I sat on the “Panel of Experts” by invitation, and it was great to be able to answer questions and espouse on how I feel SharePoint supports good knowledge management, as my background with knowledge management goes way back to the mid-1990s when I focused on KM and performance improvement while working at Renaissance Solutions (sadly defunct).

It’s interesting to step out of my SharePoint cocoon from time to time to see what “real” people think of it. There still seems to be a lingering distrust of SharePoint, probably more due to it being a Microsoft product  than any specific shortcomings as a technology. However, when you view SharePoint from a knowledge management perspective, there are definitely warts.

As I wrote in my last post, we need to constantly be asking ourselves if what we are building for organizations with SharePoint is really good enough. When you hold those implementations up to the core tenets of the knowledge management dream (or the collaboration dream which has followed it), they don’t usually get high marks.

This is mirrored in the results that Sadie Van Buren (@sadalit) has gathered for baseline data in her fantastic work with the SharePoint Maturity Model. While we are doing some good things with SharePoint, there’s just so much more we can do.

The full agenda (with links to presentations, where available) are below. I’ve “borrowed” this from Lynda Moulton’s blog post link above, so if you’re interested there may be more up-to-date follow up there.

What is SharePoint and When do you need a 3rd-party add-in?, Analyst Perspective (9:30 – 10:15) – Leslie Owens, Senior Analyst, Forrester Research

Break: 10:15 – 10:30

The Process for Selecting any Collaboration/Content tool, Recommendations for the Buyer (10:30 – 11:15) – Jarrod Gingras, Analyst, Real Story Group

A Case Study featuring SharePoint, User/Implementer Perspective (11:15 – 12:00) – Glynys Thomas, Senior Knowledge Manager, The Parthenon Group

Lunch: 12: – 12:45

Planning for SharePoint: SharePoint Maturity Model (12:45– 1:45) – Sadie Van Buren, Senior Software Engineer, BlueMetal Architects

Panel of Experts: Marc Anderson, Sympraxis Consulting, Mike Gilronan, KMA LLC, Michele Smith, The MITRE Corporation, Marc Solomon, PRTM

Moderator, Larry Chait, set the stagefor SharePoint preparedness, then introduced the panelists by asking each one a question to set the stage for their perspectives.

Suggested Topical Areas for the Q & A

  • Selection and justification [MS is offering many non-profits “free” SharePoint. Should you take them up on it?]
  • Implementation and integration [What is the best implementation approach after choosing SharePoint as the platform?]
  • Interface design and usability [What features in SharePoint 2010 contribute the most usability benefits in your organization?]
  • What have you learned about SharePoint that makes it valuable in a knowledge sharing environment?
  • Taxonomy and search [How is the taxonomy being developed and implemented to support better search?]
  • Security, scaling and support [Where are the bottlenecks and what are the issues that had to be confronted in your enterprise?

Wrap-up: Larry Chait, Chait & Associates

KM Forum: Fitting SharePoint to Knowledge Initiatives

Bentley Library

Image via Wikipedia

This coming July 20, I’ll be on the “Panel of Experts” at this event at Bentley University. We’ll be discussing Fitting SharePoint to Knowledge Initiatives, a topic near and dear to my own heart. SharePoint is really cool technology, but as I’m frequently saying, it’s just a tool which must be a part of a much wider set of plans and initiatives (dare I say governance?) if it is to provide any real business value.

My co-panelists are Mike Gilronan (@mikegil) from KMA LLC, Michele Smith (@mingshan) from The MITRE Corporation, and Marc Solomon (@attspin) from PRTM.  I’m honored to be included with these bright folks, and I look forward to the discussion.

Also on the roster is Sadie Van Buren (@sadalit), who will be presenting on Planning for SharePoint: The SharePoint Maturity Model. If you follow this blog, you know that I’m a huge fan of Sadie and her SharePoint Maturity Model work.

If you’re in the Boston area and can make it, this promises to be a “meaty” event about KM and SharePoint. I hope to see you there!