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The cloud is changing the way we work…

What we can learn from Grade 8 kids

A few weeks ago I was watching my daughter work on a school project with her friends. The project was to create and deliver a presentation on the Renaissance.

I was impressed. There were four Grade 8 kids working on the presentation, and they were working with some difficult material. They had to make sure that the overall presentation was consistent, that the material was accurate, and that the key messages were all well communicated. This is a difficult task when you are working with three other people.

They worked through their presentation slides in a very collaborative manner. They argued over points. They gave each other ideas to strengthen their slides. They brainstormed and refined. They contributed photos and graphics to enhance the look and feel of the slides. They researched and documented.

With four Grade 8 girls working on the presentation, it quickly became a cacophony of chatter – each kid bombarding the group with facts and ideas and feedback.

Here’s the thing: all four of them were in different locations.

My daughter sat alone with her laptop at our kitchen counter. But using cloud technology, she was editing the slides in real time with the other group members. They could see the edits being made by the other kids. They had a chat window open, allowing them to share ideas and crack jokes. An idea would come across the chat, and boom, it was incorporated into the document immediately.

Why do we work differently?

So I wondered, why do grade 8 kids collaborate in real time, but in the business world we still use the “edit and email” method of collaboration?

I pondered why they have one version of their document, but we in the business world have 27 variations of a document, each with funny titles denoting the date, version, or editor. Marketing Strategy V2.2 March 4 2016 – LD edits is not an unusual document title in our world. Keeping track of the versions is difficult. Integrating changes is a chore. And everyone on the project has copies of everything, including the versions attached to their emails. Just a terrible system.

Cloud technology can change all of that, but it requires a shift in thinking for team members.

The Experiment

So I decided to do an experiment.

Three of us were working on a technology assessment this past week for a new client. Rather than use the edit-and-email method of document management, I decided that we would learn from the grade 8 kids in our lives and collaborate in real time.

Step 1 was to put the client folder into the cloud, in this case a SharePoint site called “Customer Documents” on our Office 365 system. One of our team members created the document called “Client Technology Assessment”. No version numbers. No dates. No editor initials. One document. Forever. In real time. He sent the link to the document to the other team members, and we went to work.

Step 2 was to have the team members fire up the document in their browsers, editing it using the online version of Microsoft Word.

We were on a conference call, so we used voice instead of chat to share ideas and talk through the changes. In real time, we could see the other person editing sections of the document. Someone would share an idea, and boom, the changes would appear in the document on all of our screens.

One team member wanted to do some further research on an issue later that day. By the next morning, the document had further edits and additions that we were able to review. Each of us could rest assured that we were always looking at the same version of the document – the one version of the truth. It was a game changer.

Step 3 was to review the document with our client. During the review, we fired up the original document in our web browsers and were able to make changes on the fly. If something needed changing, those changes were integrated into the document immediately. It was magic.

Our learnings

The cloud is changing the way we do business. It allows real-time collaboration across teams, locations, and time zones. But we have to change the way we do business:

  1. The team needs to leverage the cloud. The tools are available, easy to use, and will create amazing increases in productivity. But everyone has to commit to using them.
  2. The team has to support the idea of a single version of the work. There is no “original”, there are no “individual copies”, there are no “versions”. There is just the one document, one version of the truth.
  3. Sharing is critical. Documents locked away in personal folders do not enhance knowledge and productivity. Shared repositories allow team members to see the full picture, gather full knowledge, and avoid duplicating work and information.

The Payoff

The experiment worked. We were able to replicate the methods used by our grade 8 kids and we received the same benefits that they experienced. The payoff is enormous.

  • The work is done better.
  • Decisions are made faster.
  • The overhead of managing information is reduced.
  • Confusion is eliminated.

But we needed to allow the power of the cloud to change the way we do business. And now we need to expand this methodology into the rest of our business.

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