Who has time for Enterprise Social?

People say to me: How do you find time for yet another source of information? Keeping up with the enterprise social stream (in my case, Yammer) on top of email and Lync messages, not to mention personal social media just seems like too much. It’s like drinking from the fire-hose non-stop.

Whenever I hear this, I give out the following bit of advice. When I first joined twitter five or six years ago I had this incredible compulsion to ‘keep-up’ with the stream. At first, that wasn’t too hard. I was only following a few dozen people and, if I was away from my computer for a couple of hours, I could easily scroll back up and catch up with what I’d missed.

As I started to follow more and more people I found I couldn’t keep up anymore. So, I made a list called ‘hotlist’ that had all the people who I really cared to follow on it. I now was back to a manageable stream of information. Well, not exactly manageable. I was still obsessing about scrolling back all the time to make sure that I hadn’t missed anything. At one point, it was affecting my work, with me prioritizing catching up over everything else.

I then had an epiphany. The stream is exactly that, a stream of information. You don’t drink all the water from the stream, you dip into it from time to time when you have a moment or need some water.

Once I made that realization my life got a lot better. I pictured the twitter stream flowing past whether I was looking at it or not. When I was ready, I would dip into the stream, get as much as I needed and then move on. I was still getting great content, and I made ever smarter use of lists that would let me get the type of information I felt I needed at that point in time.

I have applied that same approach to my enterprise social stream. My email is still a fire hose where I have to look at everything – however briefly – that comes my way. But my Yammer stream is one that I dip into when I can, knowing that if there is something truly urgent, someone will tag me (generating an email) or inform me through another path. You may ask: Aren’t you afraid of missing something important? Yes, maybe a little bit. But I have a limited capacity as a human being and time does not expand. I have to come to terms with the fact that I can’t keep on top of EVERYthing.

If you are feeling the pressure of information overload, start thinking of your social media streams as if they were streams of water. Dip in when you can and don’t worry about the rest which flows past when you’re not there.

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Understanding Enterprise Social Networking: Tapping into Collaboration and Knowledge Management

Enterprise social networking is not about “Facebook for the enterprise” and it’s not about using Twitter and Facebook for communicating with your customers. What it is about is enhancing your knowledge management and collaboration solutions by giving everyone access to the information inside people’s heads, no matter where in the world they sit or which department they belong to.

Social networking in the enterprise has great potential to enhance knowledge management and collaboration systems. But to understand what the true potential is, we need to clarify what we mean when we say “Enterprise Social Networking.” In my experience, there is a lot of confusion out there, with some IT executives feeling pressured to implement social tools when they don’t see the value.

What enterprise social is not

It’s not about having a corporate Twitter or Facebook account even though these accounts are great for marketing and for supporting and engaging with customers. Your organization should be invested here, gauging customer sentiment and delivering your messages to the world. Typically, it’s your marketing or communications groups that manage these accounts.

It’s also not about letting your staff tweet or post to Facebook while at work. This is a governance issue that organizations need to address with corporate policies. Many companies actively block access to social media sites to limit on-the-job distractions and potential security issues. However, don’t forget that an increasing percentage of your staff has access to these sites via their smartphones, so blocking social networks may not be the solution to the problem.

The true meaning of enterprise social networking

At its core, enterprise social is about implementing a platform for microblogging that is exclusively available to people within the organization. Microblogging means creating short posts (typically a short paragraph or two, occasionally longer) that can be read by anyone in the company, but which are targeted by keyword or communities of interest. Some executives worry about the idea of running an all-day water-cooler where people waste their time posting inappropriate content. However, in practice this is rarely what happens and it is relatively straightforward to control. If we compare microblogging to email and the telephone, we can see that these are all tools that could easily be abused for time-wasting activities, yet (almost) no-one advocates for their removal at work.

The value of enterprise social networking

Many companies invest heavily in their Knowledge Management solutions, designing elaborate tagging mechanisms and encouraging the uploading of valuable documents. However, as good as these systems are, the fact is that people are just not that good at searching and it can still be difficult to access just the right piece of information, assuming that procedures have been followed and the documents even make it into the repository.


This is where enterprise social can truly shine. A person looking for knowledge on a topic – not just a document, but a specific query about a complex scenario – can ask the question in a space where anyone in the organization can see it and respond. In order to prevent a flood of communication to everyone, there are specific keywords and topic areas that people can subscribe to, and there are whole communities of interest that experts (or non-experts with an interest in that topic) can join. The result is that questions are spread widely through the network.

Now, it’s very often the case that the exact right person to answer that question doesn’t see it or is not fully engaged in a particular area. However, someone who knows a bit about that topic can spread it more widely, or target a particular person or group to answer the question or to suggest others who may know more.


An added bonus of these tools is that the questions and answers aren’t stuck (or lost) forever in people’s individual email boxes. The conversation threads and links remain visible and can be searched by others who come along later with the same questions.

My argument for the benefits of enterprise social networking comes from my direct experience at Avanade. When I joined a year ago, I wasn’t that enthusiastic about enterprise social – I just didn’t really see the value. Within two weeks, I was hooked: I saw how it broke down geographical barriers and departmental silos when I started answering questions from people in Australia and getting help from people in Germany. Our social network is now an essential part of my approach to work and problem solving.


I hope I have been able to make clear why enterprise social networking should not be confused with more personal social networking in general; it is in fact a powerful way to extend collaboration and tap into the knowledge and experience of your entire organization.

A director of HP Labs famously once said, “If only HP knew what HP knows.” He was referring to the fact that individuals within HP had knowledge that could provide so much value if only HP as a company could tap into it. Enterprise social networking gives us the opportunity to “know what we know” and leverage that knowledge for the benefit of our employees, our customers and our partners: with careful planning and implementation, it can do the same for you.

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Give and Take: Who loses, who gains?

Girl Blowing on a Dandelion --- Image by © Royalty-Free/CorbisI met a friend for a drink the other day, and we were discussing how we share our presentation materials. I said “I just send people my whole presentation – or make it available on Slideshare.org.” I do this because they can see the animations and read the speakers notes (of which I have many, because my slides are text-light, and more conceptual in nature).

My friend was concerned that the work that she had done – extensive work – could just be taken and used by others as if it was their original material. My friend had built up her knowledge through years of experience, and created IP that was unique and valuable. She wanted to make sure she got some return out of all that effort by presenting it, writing about it and getting recognized for its value.

My friend also has had the uncomfortable feeling in the past of watching others present material – without attribution – that had been derived from her work. This left her feeling a bit used.

As we were sitting at a bar, with drinks in-front of us, I told her: If I take this drink from you, I can enjoy it, and I’ve deprived you of its enjoyment. But if I take your work and present it to others (even as my own), you still have your work, and others have been educated with your concepts. The result is a net increase of knowledge in the world.

My friend looked up and said: Increasing knowledge in the world is my ultimate goal, so maybe I need to think more about my feelings on this.

This is obviously not a black and white topic. I remember being unpleasantly surprised when I was attending a sales call and I saw an image that I had created for one of my decks come up in someone else’s sales presentation. In these types of scenarios, context does matter. For example, if you are making your living by selling your IP (say as books, or videos), there are different issues at stake because when others use the material, they are potentially depriving someone (the author/owner) of a sale. But, if you give presentations as a service to your fellow humans, do you lose anything when others learn from your content and reuse it?

What do you think?

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Intrigued about Dialogue Mapping? Check these videos

People who have seen me speak, or read my blog before know how much emphasis I place on visual tools for reaching shared understanding. The evolution of my practice with visual tools, from mind mapping to Dialogue Mapping was prompted by Paul Culmsee.

Paul is a great writer and a brilliant thinker who has forever changed the way that I see the world of exploring difficult (wicked!) problems in environments that have a lot social complexity (i.e. almost all of them!).

If you want to get a feel for the type of thinking and work that Paul does, you’ll really want to watch these two videos.

In the first one, you will hear Paul talk about his thinking and approach, and in the second one, you will see a live demonstration of Dialogue Mapping by one of the world leaders in this technique.

Let me know what you think. Is this something that could change the way you work, like it has for me?


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Using MindManager for IBIS Dialogue Mapping

If you don’t know what Dialogue Mapping is, you have a bit of reading to do. I’d recommend Paul Culmsee’s excellent series of blog posts on the topic. Or, go back to the originator, Jeff Conklin and his Cognexus Institute. But, if you have been using or learning about Dialogue Mapping, you’ll know that the standard tool out there for doing it is Compendium, available for free from the Compendium Institute. Compendium is the tool that everyone uses when they learn to do DM, as did I. However, when I was learning DM, I was already an accomplished user of MindManager, and there are a number of things that I like about it that are different from Compendium. One of the most important is being able to quickly and efficiently expand and collapse entire subsections of the tree without using transclusion (a DM term).

I have been asked if I would share my templates for doing DM with MindManager, so I’ve decided to put together this post, linking to my template and instructing you how to get MindManager set up to do Dialogue Mapping.

Here is an example of a very simple Dialogue Map, created in MindManager.


The way to configure the icons is to open the icon library, and select the appropriate icon, click the drop-down and select “Shortcut Key”. Then select the shortcut to use. It’s true that it is a bit awkward to use the Ctrl-1, Ctrl-2, etc. keys to insert the icons, but with a bit of practice, you can get very quick at it.

Fortunately, MindManager comes with pretty good icons for the IBIS grammar.

In case you don’t recognize the fifth item, it’s a judge’s gavel, to indicate a decision.







You can download the template here: http://bit.ly/IBIS-Template

Upload the IBIS template to the path shown below, and give it a try. I’d be interested to hear how you like it.



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In the trenches with Windows Phone 8

I’m writing this post on the plane, flying home from the SPC12 conference in Las Vegas. When I used “in the trenches” in the title, I mean that particular bit of hell we’ve all been in: Crammed between the window and a person whom I’ve never met who likes to order the smelliest sandwich on the cart. In this less than perfect state, I’ve just spent the past hour cleaning my email inbox using my phone because I just couldn’t use my laptop properly with the seat in front of me leaning back.  So I thought I’d let you know how it went.

Note: When I said that I was writing this on the plane, I mean that I composed this post on the phone as well (with the final couple of edits done at home just before posting).

I found the interface to be smooth and really slick for managing and responding to email. I can select and file individual messages with easy-to-access check boxes. The only thing missing is the ability to add new folders on the fly.

If your folder list is like mine, its fairly long with one layer of nesting. When you select a message and touch the folder icon, the list appears fully expanded, but it scrolls very quickly and easily and, when you go to move another message, the list stays where you left it, which is a very nice UI touch.

The other really smart and useful capability is the predictive text suggestion bar that watches what you type and suggests the next logical words. In the screen shot you can see a message that I am composing. I created this sentence with only 11 keystrokes, while  there are 35 characters on the screen (including “week”, which I am just about to click).  I typed the first letter of the first word and the rest of the sentence was built just by clicking the next word offered up, often the first one.  I had to give it the first 3 letters of the word “flying”, and two for “Toronto” but all the rest were just there on the bar above the keyboard.

It also learns from what you type. In the first couple of emails, I had to spell out the word “Toronto” almost to the end. But after I did that a couple of times, it moved “Toronto” up in the list, so that I just need to type “To” and it appears.


Take a look at a short video of me using the predictive text feature

I am increasingly pleased with my decision to go with Windows Phone 8 over iPhone. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

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Access-Ability? Waiting for insight at SPC12

My history with building business solutions goes way back to MS-Access 1.0 (“Cirrus”). Although it was meant to be a PowerUser tool, I found that I could employ it to build powerful (but not large-scale) business solutions relatively inexpensively. I made my living by teaching Access Developer courses, and using that exposure to get contracts delivering solutions. I loved Access, especially as it progressed through ever more powerful versions.

In the past 10 years, I have lost track of Access – I had a brief spike of interest when SharePoint 2010 came out, but those hopes were quickly dashed due to inadequate tools for SharePoint. However, my interest is piqued again, with even more vigor this time. One reason for my interest is that design view has been removed from SharePoint Designer – a move that seems to make sense to almost no-one: I mean, if your product is called ‘designer’ why take out ‘design view’. It’s like having a carton that says ‘milk’, where the fine-print says “contains no actual milk”.

The reason that the removal of Design View looks like a disaster is that this is one of the most important ways that SharePoint is used in the enterprise. SharePoint Designer allows actual people (not us strange ‘computer people’) to quickly build solutions that solve real business problems.

Access used to be that tool, but IT hated it: People were building business critical solutions that ran on a PC at someone’s desk. The first IT would hear about it was when there was a security breach, a desperate request for recovery (after corruption or accidental deletion), or when the key person left, leaving the database locked and no record of the password. But the new Access stores its data in SQL Server. The good news is that IT is in control of this resource, and it’s backed up and managed. The bad news is you’ll (hopefully!) need to follow some type of process to be able to create a new database on the SQLServer. Smart IT departments will make it fast and easy for you to spin up small databases, so that you can quickly test out ideas. If the idea turns into a really useful application that needs to grow, you’ll be able to justify access to more resources.

On November 12, I’ll be in Las Vegas along with 10,000 other SharePoint groupies for Microsoft’s SharePoint Conference. One of the things I’m really looking forward to digging into is whether Access is going to deliver on its promise: A great PowerUser tool that lets you create great apps quickly and expose them to colleagues via SharePoint, all while using an industrial strength database that is run by IT with all the benefits of recoverability and reliability that that implies.

I hope I’ll see you there!

I’m also really excited to say that I’ll be giving away 20 copies of my book at the Avanade Booth (#805). Please come by and say ‘hi’, and enter to win. You can read more details and see the draw times at the bottom of this blog post.

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A New Chapter Begins…

Hi friends and followers, today I want to tell you about a new chapter in my life:

I am changing jobs once again.

I never expected to be writing this only a year and a half after joining Navantis and his was one of the toughest choices I’ve made in my professional career: I have really loved working at Navantis. The team and leadership are people whom I hope will remain friends long after this change. The company is doing really well (Microsoft’s Canadian Partner of the Year) and growing rapidly.

When I was contacted about a potential new position, I responded the same way that I have done a hundred times over the past year: “No thanks, happy where I am” (or, if they are just spamming me without even checking what I do, I’d just delete them).

But this time it was different, and I listned to this call: I had always wondered about working for one of the ‘big guys’ (like Deloitte, or Accenture) and this was a chance for a piece of that.

So, in August, I’ll be joining Avanade. Avanade is the worlds largest global Microsoft Partner, 20% owned by Microsoft and 80% owned by Accenture. They have 15,000 employees world-wide and I’ll be joining as “Director, Collaboration Solutions” in the Toronto office.

My new position allows me to continue my SharePoint Community involvement, so you’ll still see me at TSPUG, TSPBUG, as well as speaking at conferences and SharePoint Saturdays (currently on the schedule for 2012: SharePoint Saturday Ozarks and SHARE2012 in Melbourne Australia).

I’m very much looking forward to my new challenges at Avanade, and to continuing to learn about the incredibly deep product that is SharePoint, and then applying my knowledge to building great solutions for my clients.


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Greenlight! My book is out.

Update 2: People looking to download the files mentioned in the book can find them here: http://bit.ly/sps-sample-files

Update: To buy this book (Book/Kindle/Other),
please see the links in the side bar over there 


If you are responsible for any of the business side of implementing SharePoint, then I think you will find material in this book that will be of value to you. This book captures both tools and approaches that I have found to be successful.

The first chapter talks about some of the soft-skills that you need to cultivate to be a successful business analyst (BA) or information architect (IA).  I then dive into the key tools that really help with engaging the client, getting to shared understanding and shared commitment. These tools include: Mind Manager, Balsamiq, BizAgi, Visio and Compendium.

Topics include: taxonomy, navigation, search, business process, governance, adoption and training.

When I planned this book, I did not want to write a giant reference book that a reader would dip into when researching a particular topic. At only about 250 pages, I hope that people will try to read it all the way through in a just a few days, getting a holistic idea of an approach that can help them to become better practitioners. Most of the tools can be learned very quickly, and they start to provide value right away. I look forward to hearing how people use the book and where it provides value to them.

The History of this Book

Those of you who have known me for a while have heard me talking about working on a book for over two years, but I wasn’t sure that I could really do it, so I delayed, and wasted time, until finally I decided to do an outline and start a first chapter to see if I could actually string a bunch of words together. It turned out to be good timing, because a few months after that Apress called. They had seen the agenda of a presentation that I was doing and asked if I could do a book about SharePoint, based on my talk. I crossed my fingers and said ‘yes’, and sent them my outline and chapter. That sealed the deal and the process began.

I thought it would be really hard. It was harder than that. Sitting down in the evening after work to try to write 15-20 pages that would make sense and hang together with the rest of the book was really tough. At one point I thought that I would not be able to actually get it done. That’s when I realized that I would need help. So I called in two people who I greatly respect, and whom I am lucky enough to call friends. Sarah Haase has such great experience with building SharePoint solutions that measurably solve business process issues, and she articulates it so well, that I was sure she could help with the chapter on process. Michal Pisarek is one of those rare people who is really strong technically, yet ‘gets’ the business side of SharePoint and understands how to focus on the problem that needs to be solved BEFORE looking at the technology that will solve it. I had been really impressed with some of his writing on search, and so I asked him to contribute the search chapter. With those two chapters off-loaded, I felt like I could possibly see the light at the end of the tunnel.

One of the best parts of being a conference speaker is that I get to learn so much from my colleagues. There is so much in my book that I owe to people that I have learned from along the way. Some of them, like Marcy Kellar, Paul Culmsee, Sadalit van Buren and Erik Swenson have kindly allowed me to use some of their content in the book. Others like Sue Hanley, Virgil Carroll, Richard Harbridge, Christian Buckley, Dux Sy, Michael Sampson, Erica Toelle, Marc Anderson, Eric Riz, and many, many more will probably hear their words echoed in its pages. It’s even possible (though unlikely) that Geoff Varosky and Mark Rackley have had some influence on me.

I am glad to be finally done – and now the next phase of this adventure begins.

To buy this book (Book/Kindle/Other),
please see the links at the top of the side bar over there 

PS. I have a facebook page for the book: https://www.facebook.com/PracticalSPIA

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The Happiest Place on Earth

(Thanks to Marcy Keller for the JumpShot at Disney)

I’ve just returned from the SharePoint Conference in Anaheim. This conference was a great experience, even though there is no way it could live up to the previous conference when SharePoint 2010 was revealed along with all the crazy new metadata capabilities and (one that blew me away), PowerPivot.

Even so, SPC11 was a great “mid-term” networking event, and there was a lot of material from great speakers. Every attendee seems to have had variable experiences. I saw many tweets from highly technical sessions saying things like “finally, THIS is what I came here for”. Business focused attendees had some superstar sessions to attend from people like Sue Hanley, Dan Holme, and Scott Jamison, and there were some excellent case studies. But not everyone felt that the conference hit the expected high-notes: Veronique Palmer was quite disappointed with many sessions and others that I spoke to had various issues.

Here’s my take on many of the sessions: I too was disappointed, not with the content, and not with the presenters, but with the abstracts. The session abstract did not give people enough information to make a rational choice. Microsoft is used to labeling sessions as level 100/200/300/400. And these numbers may work well for purely technical topics. However, SharePoint is a business platform and a large number of attendees were there to learn how to make SharePoint better in a business context. If you look at the session browser, there are many more sessions on topics that are not purely ITPro or Dev, and these needed more fine-grained session information tools to help us choose the sessions that were most applicable to us. (When there are over 240 sessions, and – at the most – you can only attend 16 (assuming you went to no labs or other special functions), hitting the right sessions can make or break your conference experience.

Here’s my proposal to Microsoft (obviously, tweaking will be required, but it’s a start).

Include a session taxonomy with each abstract:

  • Code: None/100/200/300/400
  • ITPro: None/100/200/300/400
  • Capabilities: Overview/Detailed Out-of-the-box/Drill Down/Deep Dive
  • Branding: None/Overview/Some/Heavy
  • Tools Used
    (select multiple): Web Interface/SPDesigner/Visual Studio/Office/Other

So, an example abstract for an Introduction to the Data View Web Part could potentially look like this:

  • Code: 100
  • ITPro: None
  • Capabilities: Detailed Out-of-the-box
  • Branding: None
  • Tools Used: Web Interface + SPDesigner

If I had this information when I was choosing sessions, I would have had a much clearer set of criteria on which to make my choices and I would have been happier with what I saw.

Now, there’s one caveat to all this complaining: All the sessions are available to attendees for download including sound and screen capture. If you found out that you missed that “can’t miss” session, you can download it and watch it at your leisure. (Remember, these will go away after two or three months, so get the ones that you want soon!)

There was so much going on at the conference over and above the scheduled activities. One of my favourites was the SharePoint Salon. (No, not THAT type of Salon; THIS type of Salon). We didn’t just chat, but rather had a lively discussion on deep topics. It was a worthwhile event and it was great to see some of my best SharePoint friends again and make some new ones.

Rather than recapping the event, I’ll point you to an excellent write-up by Michelle Strah.

In this picture are: (L-to-R) Michal Pisarek, Richard Harbridge, Silvana Nani, Brian Seitz, Me, Michelle Strah, Owen Allen, Jill Kunkel, and Susan Hanley (Airline/scheduling issues prevented Sarah Hasse and Erica Toelle from being there and they were sadly missed.)

Another fun event that we pre-planned was ShareSushi. We had a good meal, a great time and avoided the food lineups at Disney. It was great to hang with my long-time/long-distance buddy, Jay O’Hara and to finally meet Patrick Sledz in person. Thanks to Anders Rask and Janis Hall for suggesting and helping to instigate this fun time.


I wish I could have stopped time so that I could meet up with everyone I missed and spent more time in the exhibit hall. I can’t wait for next year in Las Vegas, when we’ll likely get the first look at v.Next.


I want to wrap up by thanking Microsoft for putting on an incredible event. Despite some occasional hiccups, given the size and scope of such an undertaking, they did an incredible job of making it all run smoothly



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