Opinions about branding by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Unit of Work Is The Project (Email = Dangerous Crutch)


Even the most creative solo endeavors are really projects. Photo via Wikimedia.

Just wanted to take a minute and share briefly the kinds of conversations I'm having lately, about how the nature of work is changing.
Basically there seems to be a growing recognition that organizing your work around email is not the best way to go.
This is because email, in government, has become a kind of crutch for communication. Think of all the things it does:
  • It documents conversations in case there is an argument later
  • It gives us a kind of dashboard where we can see all the fires we have to put out for that day
  • It enables us to communicate without having to go through the labor of listening (as most people prefer to talk than have to sit there while someone goes on and on)
At this point, in the government, it does not seem that the faster mode of communication (instant chat) or the more efficient one from a knowledge management standpoint (Sharepoint and the like) have caught on. For the following reasons, again this is just my observation:
  • Younger people (e.g. Millennials and Generation Z) have Baby Boomers for bosses, mostly, and Boomers intensely dislike chat. Intensely.
  • Sharepoint seems cumbersome compared with the speed of email - this is true for everyone.
  • Project management software and Gantt charts are intimidating.
  • There is near-universal lack of literacy with the principles of knowledge management. People don't think about tagging their data, for example, archiving and indexing it...the more advanced among us tend to create file folders in the collaboration space, containing documents that we hope others can access later.
There are of course solutions where you can integrate chat, social networking, document management and knowledge management but this is not yet part of the mainstream discourse at government agencies. It's all sort of theoretically interesting, but puzzling both in terms of the thinking (work is fun?) and the policy (how would we write it)?
Complicating everything is the new world of mobile. Many of us already live on our devices, but whereas the Blackberry model was linear and simple (answer your email, it's saved in Outlook) the iPhone/iPad model gets more complicated, simply because you can do a lot more things on the technology and there is more crossover between work and home if you're using your own device for work.
The main thing I'm trying to communicate to people in this transitional time is that you can master your time by changing the way you think about work. Instead of focusing on answering the email as so many of us do - simply because there is an urgency to everything - focus on treating each instance of work as a project. 
Don't think that you can't understand Microsoft Project. Nobody can.
Rather, think about work the way consultants do. As follows - and thanks to KM expert Margaret Harrelson for helping me to figure this out and especially #5, which is the key to the whole thing:
1 - Who are your clients
2 - What are your clients asking you to do
3 - Each time your client asks you to get something done it's a project
4 - Every project gets a dedicated "task" line in a shared environment (like Sharepoint)
5 - The "task" line is associated with a file folder in a shared environment - and contains a hyperlink to it
6 - You work in your own personal environment as usual most of the time
7 - Documents for circulation are posted in the shared environment and the hyperlink to the document shared
8 - Comments and changes go directly into the shared document
9 - Someone is the keeper of the task, and that includes the shared docuent
10 - Once a week or so, at significant milestones or at the end of the project you archive the work - by subject, month, year.
This is of course a very broad sketch that depends on a lot of telephone and in-person communication and collaboration to make it real. But the essence of it starts with a change in thinking.
Hope this is useful and please share any comments or tips.