“Have you designed your swim lanes yet?’ isn’t a good question to ask someone whose only form of exercise is swimming. My immediate thought was of a pool, with the rows of floating lane markers.
It turns out, as those of you who have trained or worked in business process design will know, that a “swim lane” in business terms refers to groups of activities in an process that belong together or are completed by the same department. It can help clarify the responsibilities within a process by presenting them visually. When you’re trying to set up multiple and complex processes that involve a number of participants it makes sense.
It’s a helpful metaphor since swim lanes keep swimmers apart and moving in the same direction, but don’t extend the metaphor too far – swimmers in swim lanes are generally trying to beat the other swimmers to the end of the pool. In a business process there isn’t much to “win” by being the first to finish your steps in the process.
So if you’re working business process diagrams use the term, it has a technical meaning that makes sense. Avoid using it as a synonym for a department, role, or stakeholder group.
If you’ve ever seen a book on Amazon with a lot of vaguely positive reviews, or a hotel review on trip advisor with glowing reviews that don’t really match the photos, or a new restaurant with a suspiciously high number of reviews in its first week after opening, you may have stumbled across a case of astroturfing.
Astroturf is that fake grass seen in public sports parks, and astroturfing is, according to the Guardian;
the attempt to create an impression of widespread grassroots support for a policy, individual, or product, where little such support exists. Multiple online identities and fake pressure groups are used to mislead the public into believing that the position of the astroturfer is the commonly held view.
We know that people trust reviews and recommendations from family and friends, but we’ll also trust consumer reviews – even when we don’t know the reviewer – ahead of any form of company communication or advertising. So it’s not surprising that some companies and organisations try to co-opt the review process for their own purposes.
It might not seem to matter much, but reviews, recommendations and star rankings affect sales, Astroturfing puts that at risk. This has become such an issue for the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon, that they’re now building a technical solution to stop fake reviews.
There’s a more important potential issue at stake when this scales up, when Astroturfing is used by special interest groups it starts to influence public opinion, discredit dissenting voices, and influence public policy as Sharyl Attkisson explains in this TEDx talk.
The signs she suggests to watch out for;
use of inflammatory language, for example; crank quack nutty pseudo conspiracy
claiming to debug myths that aren’t myths
attacking the people and organisations surrounding an issue rather than addressing the facts
I’d add blocking or deleting comments from dissenters in online discussions.
As the video makes clear this is a tactic used by marketers and lobbyists, and it’s one we, as consumers need to be aware of as we read reviews and follow online discussions. And online retailers need to follow Amazon’s example and build engines to reduce the impact of astroturfers.
“We just need to get this done; let’s not boil the ocean”.
The mental image this phrase generates makes its meaning pretty clear. Forbes defines it “This means to waste time”. That’s not quite the sense I’ve heard it used as in the past.
Investopedia‘s definition comes closer “To undertake an impossible task or project or to make a task or project unnecessarily difficult”, but goes on to give an example I found unhelpful.
The definition that best matches the sense in which I hear “boil the ocean” comes from the Urban Dictionary;
To waste one’s time attempting to do the impossible.
Scope is too big to do in one project. Break it up into more than one. Don’t try to solve every problem at once. Identify a couple, address them, and move on.
I hear the “boil an ocean” statement most often when a project hasn’t had the scope of the project defined well or has suffered from “scope creep“, where more and more has been thrown into the project bucket.
I’ve run a number of global roll-outs of tools/platforms/branding. Every time there were a raft of decisions and objections to get through. You can’t be daunted by that. You must manage stakeholders (often changing) expectations and still deliver.
Have the big vision, but define the project scope at a deliverable scale – and stick to it.
This came up on a powerpoint slide of the day’s agenda “4 – 5 pm Hotwash”.
Evidently it means immediate review, according to Word Detective it comes from the US Army where it describes the debrief that occurs immediately after a mission or patrol, possibly from the literal talking while showering, more likely from the practice soldiers have of dousing their weapons in hot water after an exercise.
I’d never seen it before, and nor had any other colleagues in the room. So I’ve asked people what it makes them think of, most people said either laundry or hot tubs (which might say more about them than the subject). But the most descriptive was “hotwash sounds like a painful spa treatment involving large muscular women twisting your body in weird ways”.
In this case it was referring to the last hour of an assessment day, when all teams will discuss their assessments and we’ll check any major inconsistencies.
If I’d been writing the agenda I would have put “4 – 5 pm Review Assessments”, but then, I’m not a management consultant.
We’ve probably all heard this term, and the mental image conveys a sense of crisis and urgency. The origin is even more explicit, it comes from a (possibly apocryphal) story of a man faced with an urgent choice of certain death on an oil rig that was burning or potential death from hypothermia (or sharks) by jumping into the water below. According to the story he jumped and survived.
However the decision facing us in the meeting when I heard the term used was not a crisis, nor was there any urgency (except that imposed by our own project), nor was their a fire, and whatever the decision no lives would be lost.
So what does the term mean now?
In this case, judging by the context, the sentence meant “we need to define the business reason for this change”. But that’s far less exciting than leaping flames and swirling smoke.
Cyberslacking refers to the use of a company’s computer and internet connection for personal activities when one should be doing work.
It’s not the occasional email, or lunchtime facebook status check that’s deserves the name, it’s the excessive use of work time to play on the internet. Those times when you look up one little thing and 30 minutes later you’re in an internet black hole arguing, or buying another light sabre or watching cat videos.
It’s not a new thing, as early as 2000 reports flagged the cost of lost productivity as more than 50 billion USD in the US. The same report notes that companies were already taking action, putting in place specific internet use policies and firing the greatest violators – such as employees spending as much as 8 hours a day on gambling sites. More recent estimates put the costs to a business at 35 million per year for a company of just 1000 people, if each employee cyberslacked for an hour a day.
Some companies see this as a loss of productivity, effectively money down the drain and seek to monitor or to limit access to all non-work internet sites for all employees.
Employees find their own strategies; blocking access on work machines means they’ll use their own devices, trying to watch over their shoulder leads to cheeky solutions like the “look busy” button on Last Minute’s Australian site (it used to be on more of their sites, but apparently only the Australians kept their sense of humour).
There is some research showing that people who take internet breaks at work are more productive. I’m inclined to agree, if people are busy with meaningful work and producing great results, brief internet breaks are not going to cause a dramatic drop in productivity. In fact if managers focus on results the fear of productivity loss goes away.
This holds true even in extreme cases; the guy playing on online gambling sites all day is unlikely to produce the expected quality of work – addressing that issue early could have a better outcome for both the company and the employee.
This focus on results is one of the key principles of the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE), in fact in a ROWE the time spent on the job becomes irrelevant, employees are trusted to use their judgement to plan their workdays. In my view it’s a much healthier than putting increasing layers of monitoring on employee’s use of internet.
We often place a negative association on displays of egos, and references to ego surfing on the internet are generally negative or sarcastic.
But ego surfing can be a smart thing to do.
Just as companies manage their online presence and their online reputation so should you, I think this should be an ongoing action, but I’m sure people think of it more when they’re job seeking.
If you’re a random, unfamous person like me, the occasional search on major search engines will be enough. Here’s how I do it;
Use a browser I don’t use very often
Log out of any accounts, particularly Google
Clear browsing history and cookies
Search for my name, and the name of the blogs I write
Search for the key topics I write about in the hope that my name/blog appears connected to those topics.
It’s important to use a “clean” browser to do this as Google will give you adjusted results based on your location, browsing history and login.
If you find content that shouldn’t be publicly available you have a few options to remove it; WikiHow provides a list of actions you can take. In some cases Google will remove content that they index if it could lead to identity theft (although they won’t remove your date of birth). In some situations EU residents can ask to be “forgotten” by Google when information is dated and has a negative reputational impact.
There are therefore two very good reasons for searching your own name; to check that your name isn’t associated with negative information and to make sure that the content you are publishing is building your reputation in your field of expertise.
So, be honest, when was the last time you went ego surfing?
Although this sounds vaguely poetic, it has a specific meaning in the world of information systems. It has particular relevance for large systems.
Done well, it makes content management a whole lot easier.
I’ve heard this used most often in relation to company intranets – large companies where the intranet must serve a mass of information to thousands or hundreds of thousands of employees.
In many large companies intranets grew rather randomly, each business line created their own intranet site, as connectivity improved these were joined together allowing employees to browse from one site to another. But the business retained control of all the information that was available on their site, and employees tended to enter the maze of the the company intranet via their business line home page. Very often this works out well.
In companies of this size there are a policies and defined processes on a wide variety of subjects. Many relate to the employee’s own situation; holiday/vacation entitlement, performance review processes or claiming expenses. Others relate to the company’s operations; finance, brand guidelines, recruitment. Often there is a potential legal penalty if the employee does not follow the policy.
In an intranet that is a collection of connected sites the policies tend to be copied and republished multiple times. Which means keeping those versions up-to-date and consistent becomes difficult and introduces operational risk. Imagine an employee in a far-flung office following the finance policy she has downloaded from her local intranet, relying on it to conduct business, and finding out later that it’s months out of date.
The idea behind the single source of truth relies on improved connectivity between local intranets, and a strong information architecture so that a piece of content – in this case a policy – is published in just one place. It may appear in more than one place across the intranet, but in fact each appearance of it is drawing from the same place; that single source of truth.
To deliver this companies must have a connected intranet, a fully thought-out information architecture, a good content managements systems, technical know-how, and governance on the publication and storage of documents. It’s not easy to put this in place in large companies, particularly as intranets are often the “poor cousin” in terms of digital spend.
Obviously the content management should become easier and cheaper, but the really big benefit comes from a risk and compliance stand-point. Having a single source of truth means that you know people are using the same policy across the company, this lowers the risk of errors being made, errors that might leave the company financially liable or create a reputation error. It’s a cost avoidance benefit that can be hard to quantify – until such an event occurs in your company.
I was reading an article on Wal-Mart’s e-commerce business recently and I came across the term “to move the needle”. Since I spend more time sewing on buttons than I do driving cars at the moment the first mental picture I had was troubling. Turns out not that needle.
The expression refers to moving the needle on some instrument of measurement such as a car speedometer, possibly more specifically the analogue Vu meter used in audio recording. In a more abstract form asking whether something “moved the needle” is just asking whether there was a noticeable improvement in the results.
In the Wal-Mart article they were referring to the e-commerce side of sales, which at 0.3% of US sales (by value) is barely impacting the billions in total sales. So although sales are at over $200 million it’s not yet moving the needle. I may not be the only one unfamiliar with the term, the headline reads “Wal-Mart’s e-commerce business: Can it move the needle, be material?” I’m pretty sure those last two words have been added since I first saw the article.
In another take on moving the needle, Lisa Earle McLeod applies the term to personal changes, and shows how making small, consistent changes is significant. She says “You don’t accomplish big things overnight; you move the needle every day.” Exactly.
I got a grumpy tweet last week, during the Thursday #ESNChat session, for using the term “breaking down the silos”. I felt bad, until then I’d been agreeing with much of what Greg had been saying.
The tweeter suggested I read his blog post which explains why he hates the term so much.
So I did.
I agree with the first part of definition of a silo he gives;
According to dictionary.com, a silo is “a structure, typically cylindrical, in which fodder or forage is kept”.
But I’m not convinced by the second part
In the business context, a silo generally represents a wall or boundary put up by an organization to keep them focused on accomplishing their goals and keeping outsiders from interfering with progress.
In my experience silos form in large companies to support the hierarchical structure of the company. It rests on an old model of thinking about work; that managers know what needs to be done and are responsible for directing all those under their responsibility to complete that work.
For me silos are are an outcome of an overly hierarchical company culture, one where people are unwilling to share knowledge, solve problems together or co-operate in any way. The business directory defines silo mentality as;
a mindset present when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same company. This type of mentality will reduce efficiency in the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture.
Visible signs that your organisation is in silos;
people talk about “us” and “them” meaning different departments within your company
you need agreement from management of two departments to get co-operation from another department
you need permission from a manager to approach someone in another department
departments in your company store their information online in team sites or shared drives that are only accessible for department members
you do have lunch with colleagues, but only ever from your own department
your personnel directory is searchable by name, or department, but not by expertise
when you look for specialist expertise, for example a Spanish-speaking tax expert with experience in Latin America, you start by emailing someone who speaks Spanish
Greg, in his blog post, pointed to some good reasons for building silos within a company; allowing people to focus on the work at hand, and legal or regulatory reasons.
Yes there is a need to focus on the work, and that may mean that a project team shuts itself off from the organisation in some way. Yes in regulated industries there may be a need to put boundaries between certain parts of the organisation; the term used for this in banking in Chinese walls. In agencies temporary boundaries are often put in place around a project to prevent sharing of client information.
In general I wouldn’t consider anything temporary as a silo; just as you don’t move a grain silo easily, silos within companies take time to be established. I agree that there are regulatory boundaries to be considered, and while I’m probably guilty of understating those in my enthusiasm for improving knowledge sharing across a company, I’m certainly not thinking of them when I call for us to “break down the silos”.
I watched a TED video that talked about what might be one of the greatest silo breakdowns ever, and it comes from the US military. General Stanley McChrystal states;
The fact that I know something has zero valueif I’m not the person who can actuallymake something better because of it.
He explains that it’s almost impossible to know who is the best person to use each piece of information, and that the army therefore moved from a “tell only who needs to know” to “we need to tell, and tell them as quickly as we can“.
It’s this philosophical shift I am referring to when I talk about breaking down the silos. In some companies the need is urgent, but I’m going to stop using the term, not in deference to Greg, but because it’s too urgent; from now on the term is “tearing down the silos”.