Saturday, March 21, 2009

Twitter is just paranoid info overload

Perish the thought that Twitter ever make it past the corporate firewall. Bringing this 'tool' into the workplace is an absolute recipe for disaster. Imagine the interruptive capacity of email married to chat, sister of SMS. Admittedly I have signed up and experimented with it myself and see it as a useful tool to keep appraised of the movements and meanderings of a half a dozen people, but any more than that, for me at least, it's just overload. I have to laugh when I check out who is following who and see that some people are following TENS OF THOUSANDS of people. I mean, come on! If you have not cottoned on to Twitter yet take this 4 minute animation in. Right on the money!

Measuring Effectiveness & Efficiency Within Email

In developing the Orla service model we understood the imperative of actually demonstrating that a change to the Orla would deliver value to both the people who adopt it and the organizations they work for. We therefore commissioned Phil Graves of to develop a stand-up survey methodology which is used during the Phase 1 Pilot part of our service delivery model.

The Orla survey methodology involves questionnaires that cover workers' own definitions of effectiveness. The aim is to understand some of the more subjective measures that people use to gauge their own performance in the key areas of efficiency and effectiveness.

To ensure the statistical integrity of this measurement exercise, qualitative research was undertaken, with two intentionally broad objectives:

  • What do office workers think about their efficiency and effectiveness? What constitutes being efficient / effective, and what tells workers that they have been efficient / effective?

  • How do Outlook and email impact on workers' efficiency and effectiveness, and the demand for their time? Put another way: If a product were to make their email life easier, how would they know it had worked?

Whilst the aim of the research was to develop questions that would help us to measure the impact of Orla, our approach was to analyse people's behaviour, thoughts and feelings rather than to question respondents more directly (since their post-rationalised answers are rarely accurate).

'Efficiency' and 'effectiveness' are defined as follows:

  • Efficiency = the way of working.

  • Effectiveness = the results of working.

Face-to-face in-depth interviews were conducted with people who worked in the offices of large or medium-sized organisations. All were users of email and worked in environments where email communication was frequent. The sample included a cross-section of ages (from 23 to 50), and both sexes were represented. By necessity, all interviewees were based in the South-east of England.

In addition, the behaviour and thoughts of people were solicited by email (again using very open questions) to explore the extent to which the attitudes identified in the in-depth interviews were prevalent more widely. These surveys included respondents in the UK, the US and Canada.

Not surprisingly, since the computer, the Internet, Outlook and even many corporations are global entities, no significant differences across regions were found. Consequently, whilst cultural differences in communication undoubtedly exist between countries (as they do between organisations), the results are believed to be applicable in all English-speaking countries.

A number of themes emerged consistently in the research:

  • Perceptions of efficiency fell into three categories:

  • Time-related: working quickly; being able to prioritise work.

  • Emotional: feeling good about work; feeling motivated and appreciated; feeling energised; feeling in control; feeling a sense of accomplishment; sleeping better.

  • Extrinsic: keeping others happy; meeting deadlines; achieving objectives.

An 'efficient day' almost always involves a visual indicator of work that has been completed: either an empty inbox or a completed task list (the latter being considered more satisfying, since the inbox will refill outside of their control).

  • Perceptions of effectiveness also fell into three categories:

  • Time-related: spending longer at work; working through lunch.

  • Mindset: being proactive rather than purely reactive; making decisions more quickly; staying focused on a single task without being distracted; anticipating and avoiding problems.

  • Focus: considering broader corporate issues, not just managing the task.

Most people felt that email controls their working day (with work and social emails having a similar impact) – it is distracting and demanding.

For most people, being in control of emails was synonymous with good time-management generally. When offered a 'magic wish' for email, a frequent request was that emails would organise themselves.

People also frequently retained emails for the purpose of covering their own back.

Some respondents reported that there was an expectation within their organisations that emails would be met with an almost instant response, and that it was annoying when this did not occur. Typically, these people made no use of priority flags on the emails they sent.

Based on the lessons we learned from this research, we devised the Orla Survey System, as follows:

  • Day 1 Survey Before Orla Essentials Learning, taking in:

  • Efficiency
  • Email Volume
  • Frequency
  • Learning Development
  • Day 1 Survey Immediately After Orla Essentials Learning, taking in:

  • Feedback on Learning
  • Feedback on Orla
  • Learning More
  • Worker Comments

  • Learning Folio, taking in the 14-day Orla Essentials Learning Experience:

  • The extent to which the three key organised workload characteristics were covered
  • The extent to which the 4D decision-making methodology has been mastered
  • Learning time engaged
  • Change considerations generally
  • Orla change considerations specifically
  • Worker Comments
  • Orla Advanced programmes favoured

  • Day 15 Survey After Orla Essential Learning, taking in:

  • Efficiency
  • Email Volume
  • Frequency
  • Using Orla
  • Value

In a future post (soon) I shall share with you some of the outcomes of Orla using these metrics. Very provocative stuff!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Recent talk gets me thinking “what’s wrong with people!…”

I gave a presentation yesterday here in Perth to a gathering of about 30 SME business owners who were looking at ways to get more with less during these testing economic times. As I was coming to the end of my one hour talk it occurred to me that the Send-Receive-File email management paradigm has a great deal to answer for. The arguments for sorting out the email issue are so compelling (and at Orla we all eat our own dog food and are INCREDIBLY productive when it comes to organizing and prioritizing our daily work) that I imagined website activity from Western Australia would have a bit of a upward blip during the 24 hours which followed. Barely in fact. That said, I did meet a very charming lady from a WA company who is all over the email as problem with her team at work. Got a lovely follow up mail this morning saying they learned a lot from the talk and were implementing the ideas I presented to them. Nice!

The talk can be downloaded here

Sunday, March 8, 2009

SIMONE research confirms the bleedin’ obvious

Er… these very smart chappies have modeled corporate email patterns and concluded what we already know. Corporate managers can improve e-mail efficiency simply by scheduling e-mail processing times across an organisation. This approach avoids the inherent distraction of continual e-mail interruptions throughout the working day, allowing employees to focus their efforts on primary tasks at other times – according to their Press Release blurb.The solution also places emphasis on allowing time for necessary e-mail and so removes pressure from employees who feel constantly obliged to check and respond to e-mails. Take it away Captain Obvious!