Avoiding the siren of too smart, too small for your team

Image by Henry McIntosh via Unsplash.com

One of the challenges of growing an organization in today’s technology industry is avoiding what I call being too smart, too small. It’s when a small company has a few alpha programmers and perhaps a dynamic manager who create such a tight-knit world for themselves that they lock out the rest of the company even the sales and marketing teams.

Here are five ways for avoiding the siren of too smart, too small:

1. Build a culture of openness

When you are too smart, too small, teams look inward as a matter of necessity and time. As a small team, it’s easy to Ironman through things. We all want smart people on our team but when you lose openness is when the trouble begins. Almost always, small teams don’t lose openness intentionally. Often it happens when the team is tired and understaffed. There’s never time to cross train, do proper retrospectives, and risk mitigation gets pushed off until after the next product release, and then the next release…

Build in openness from the beginning by at least trying to follow a proper Agile development process.

2. Use collaboration tools for question deflection

It’s not about choosing the right collaboration platform when you want to avoid being too smart, too small. Rather, it’s instituting a strategy to centralize product and project information, so it’s all searchable by anyone with the appropriate access privileges.

Modern SaaS collaboration platforms can serve as a repository for all the bits and bytes that project teams collect, but you need a simple question deflection strategy like this one:

  1. Use team scrums and retrospectives as an opportunity to encourage team members to file documents and other project artifacts into an agreed upon cloud repository
  2. Encourage team members to search first, question second when it comes to project questions
  3. Rinse, repeat

Moving to question deflection requires a cultural shift but also the commitment from the project manager, team members, and other departments in the organization to keep filing documents and project artifacts in an agreed upon location. Workers outside the project team also need to be reminded to go online for before they bother a team member with questions that have already been answered online.

3. Document systems

Major technology systems shouldn’t be a matter of oral history, you need documentation or important details that operations, sales, and marketing need to do their job remain locked away in the minds of the development team.

With small development teams, it’s nearly impossible to have programmers document their work in detail. There’s probably not even time for a technical writer to conduct substantive interviews with programmers and other subject matter experts.

Bake documentation into your processes and set expectations that documentation much like your product features will grow and evolve iteratively.

4. Record web conferences and use chat logs

Taking notes in a meeting is often a waste in the age of web conferencing. So turn on the recording features of your conferencing systems and use chat logs to ensure that any meetings and chats are archived for later reference just as a matter of record.5. Hire a technical product manager

Working with development teams in all sorts of organizations across business and government; I’m forever convinced about the value of a technical product manager and their role in product development. Without a technical product manager, you run the risk of developers, engineers, contractors, and the sales team diluting product features, roadmap, and other important product vision details.

How does your team avoid being too smart, too small?


Will Kelly is a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. He has worked with commercial, federal, higher education, and publishing clients to develop technical and thought leadership content. His technology articles have been published by CNET TechRepublic, Government Computer News, Federal Computer Week, Toolbox.com, ZDNet.com and others. Follow Will on Twitter:@willkelly.

Are we at peak SharePoint mobility, yet?

Image by Wynand van Poortvliet via Unsplash.com

I’ve been following the news leading up to the recent release of SharePoint 2016 with keen interest. As a technical writer working with corporate and government client, I follow SharePoint and other collaboration developments religiously. Furthermore, I’ve long been a proponent of SharePoint and in turn Office 365 for the mobile workforce. With SharePoint 2016, Microsoft finally delivers on their SharePoint mobile app.

Haley Frank writes in Sharepoint’s going mobile with a new app on PCWorld.com:

The SharePoint Mobile app is aimed at helping people get quick access to four types of information from SharePoint: news from across the company, the sites that people use the most, quick links to important pages and a list of their coworkers. It will work both with SharePoint Online and some on-premises versions of SharePoint Server.

Being a veteran of a few SharePoint deployments, turnarounds, documentation, and training engagements in business and government myself, I latched onto the potential of enterprise mobility and SharePoint early on. When I was freelancing for CNET TechRepublic, I covered early innovators in the mobility and SharePoint space in particular harmon.ie and Colligo. The iPhone and iPad user experience (UX) just plain trump what I was seeing done with SharePoint UX out in the real world so I saw the potential of these apps to open up SharePoint sites and the documents they hold to a class of less technical knowledge workers and business users.

Then came the rise of Office 365, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and mobile-first strategies. Harmon.ie and Colligo were right there with their mobile apps. Yaacov Cohen, CEO of harmon.ie and Barry Jinks, president of Colligo are also true thought leaders in the areas of SharePoint/Office 365, enterprise mobility, and mobile collaboration.

Microsoft has had an opportunity to study and learn from harmon.ie and Colligo when it comes to SharePoint and mobile apps. I always questioned Microsoft’s hands off approach to mobilizing SharePoint and leaving it in the hands of partners. Although after Satya Nadella had become CEO, and early rumors about SharePoint 2016 began to trickle out, I thought that either company might become an acquisition target for technology and talent.

Huddle is another collaboration platform I’ve written about in the past. One of their strongest selling points until this news was that they own their cloud platform and impressive mobile client app. Alastair Mitchell, their co-founder is another one of the great thought leaders around mobility and cloud collaboration.

I hope with the launch of SharePoint 2016 and the SharePoint mobile app mark a new chapter in mobile collaboration where enterprises gain another tool to help them crack the mobile collaboration code. There could be a unique technology push and pull being set up between the Microsoft SharePoint 2016 team and early innovators like harmon.ie, Colligo, and competitor Huddle. These companies have an early edge in terms of innovation but for how long? As Microsoft’s entry into enterprise mobility management (EMM) with Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS) shows, they are very adept at studying new markets, and none of us should dismiss their enterprise mobility expertise too quickly even with their previous mobile product launch issues.

Will we finally see the peak level of SharePoint mobility once Microsoft’s SharePoint Mobile app launches?


Will Kelly is a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. He has worked with commercial, federal, higher education, and publishing clients to develop technical and thought leadership content. His technology articles have been published by CNET TechRepublic, Government Computer News, Federal Computer Week, Toolbox.com, ZDNet.com and others. Follow Will on Twitter:@willkelly.

Originally published at www.linkedin.com.

7 ways to wreck virtual team collaboration without really trying

by Mike Wilson via Unsplash.com

When I got my start as a technical writer, everybody worked in the same office, in the same building. Collaboration in those days was via shared network drives and eventually corporate email. I’ve been working remotely pretty much since 2012 with the exception of some on-site meetings and business trips. On a recent trip, I had a chance to speak with some other remote workers and the topic of collaboration came up. The consensus of the discussion that many organizations are still getting collaboration wrong with their virtual teams.

Here are seven ways that you are getting collaboration wrong with your project team:

1. Using email first communication

Email is the original collaboration tool making it a natural solution for virtual teams. Going email first for communication will catch up to virtual project teams eventually. Long email threads grow unwieldy. Likewise, forget document version control.

Email first communications also puts you at the mercy of the most disorganized person on the team. He or she is the person who always misses an email or asks other team members to resend their emails.

Email first communications invariably leads to follow up (even multiple follow ups) slowing down communications and collaboration.

2. Drowning out team member voices

Whether it’s differing personality types, micromanagement, or miscommunications there’s the potential to drown out team member voices. Virtual teams make it even easier by not centralizing communication, avoiding group level communications. Other ways you can drown out team member voices includes:

  • Delayed response to one-to-one online chats
  • Ignore one or more team members in chat rooms
  • Ignore real-time communications like video conferencing or the old fashioned phone call
  • No engagement with review comments in documents or presentations
  • No appreciation of team member’s preferred communication channels

Virtual teams also drown out team member voices when they don’t adjust after miscommunications.

3. Forgetting the art of the pitching new ideas to your team

New ideas for solutions, processes, and communications should be welcome on virtualteams. Team collaboration can break down when one or more members go around the team to sneak in a process or system change that may not fit the needs of every team member, or even cause more work unnecessarily.

4. Inflicting management by spreadsheet

Management by spreadsheet has been parodied by Dilbert and even has its own Urban Dictionary definition. Project tracking and reporting needs to be as effortless as possible for team members.

Even without agile development and DevOps, project reporting takes on a new importance with virtual project teams.

5. Using duplicate systems and tools

The mass proliferation of freemium cloud-based messaging and collaboration tools makes it easy for duplicate systems to crop up on a virtual team. Doubly so if the IT department back at the corporate mothership may not be attentive to the out of sight, out of mind employees and contractors.

6. Dodging questions and answers

Perhaps it’s because I’m a technical writer but I’ve become a student of how people answer questions. There’s what I call the dodge and denial method that can wreak havoc with virtual team collaboration. A team member dodges answering a question. The average corporate culture will excuse it as the person being too busy. Scratch beneath the surface, the person is often just disorganized or even dodging the question because they don’t know the answer and fear losing face to their fellow team members.

7. Distributing project documentation & @artifacts in the widest dispersal possible

If you or somebody on the team need to ask “where’s such and such document?” then you are doing something wrong. With the popularity of Google Apps for Work and Office 365, it’s possible for a team to have a wide dispersal of personal accounts and cloud space.

When a team doesn’t centralize project documentation and artifacts then virtual project teams may have members not using the more correct and up to date information.

Virtual team collaboration for the win

Industry trade publications are filled with stories about winning virtual project teams. Working on virtual teams on commercial and federal government projects, I’ve come to see that communications and collaboration can make or break such teams.


Will Kelly is a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. He has worked with commercial, federal, higher education, and publishing clients to develop technical and thought leadership content. His technology articles have been published by CNET TechRepublic, Government Computer News, Federal Computer Week, Toolbox.com, ZDNet.com and others. Follow Will on Twitter:@willkelly.

3 things nobody tells you about remote writing projects

Image by freeimages user: vclare

I’ve become sort of a student of remote working because for years now. A special area of interest is the changes (both good and bad) in dynamics and project management that sometimes occur when a remote technical writer joins the team.
 
 While this post speaks more about remote technical writing, you may find that you’ve bumped up against one or more of these things while working as a remote writer:

1. Microsoft Office is your frenemy

While some accuse me of being a Microsoft Office fanboy, Microsoft Office is all over in my local marketplace, so I’ve had to make it work to get my job done.

As a remote writer, you may have to contend with file corruptions, template issues and various document format and versioning issues all on your own.

A couple of document versions put together with bad habits may mean your remote writing project becomes more of a font fondling exercise in (re)formatting the document.

My advice is to do your best to own all facets of the document you are writing including the template and document management.

2. Offsite shouldn’t be out of mind

Technical writing projects usually lowest on the project manager’s list of priorities but still rank as a line item on a project schedule. It’s important to keep your writing project from falling off the project manager’s radar.
You can do this by actively participating in team status calls; making your presence known through IM sessions, and doing what you can so you and your writing project(s) achieve project milestones and get the attention and resources they need to complete successfully.

3. Remote writer equals project manager

Whether you are an employee, contractor or freelancer working remotely, project management is part of your responsibilities whether explicitly or not. Too often, writing projects can be ignored, and you have to implement your project management and communications strategy. Then again, if your experience has been anything like mine, you’ve found that there are a lot of managers who don’t understand what it takes to deliver a writing project. If you find yourself strapped with a manager like this, expect an education exercise at best and at worst keep a paper trail of your communications with management.
 
What lessons have you learned from remote writing projects? Share your tips and advice below.


Will Kelly is a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. He has worked with commercial, federal, higher education, and publishing clients to develop technical and thought leadership content. His technology articles have been published by CNET TechRepublic, Government Computer News, Federal Computer Week, Toolbox.com, ZDNet.com and others. Follow Will on Twitter:@willkelly.