Information overload and collaboration!

JournalI am being overloaded by information on “information overload”, just today one of my friends posted on the topic – always an event.  Then I came across a few posts in my regular feeds.  So I started following the trail.  Why – because I am easily interested mainly – but also because I am interested in the effect of information overload on collaboration (which I am currently researching)  My logic goes something like this:

  • When people are co-located, the barrier to collaborate is very low
  • For co-located people the range of sensory input is very high, for example overheard conversations, raised voices, moaning in the corridors, teams not talking to each other, people with smiles on their faces, people working late, looking worried etc
  • So as people move out of line of sight the barrier to collaborate increases rapidly with distance and the subconscious inputs decrease rapidly.
  • To compensate we now need to seek out information from people, this means generally that we need to:
    • pro-actively go looking for information
    • try and figure out from emails what people actually mean
    • try and determine if – when we cold call people and ask them what’s going on whether – they are tired, busy, worried or actively hiding something
  • Life gets so much more difficult.

What can we do to mitigate the effects of distance, and more specifically lack of co-location

  • Make sure information flows to people, so that less time is spent trying to hunt for it
  • Encourage journal keeping as a way for people to communicate what’s important about their activities, the state of health of these activities, their decision logic and sources of input and their observations of the activities of others
  • Discuss and comment on peoples journals, using synchronous technologies when your concern or interest level is raised,  make sure you feedback the value of the journal
  • When issues arise that have not been journaled, make sure you feed that back as well
  • Gradual encourage a free flow of high quality information and refine the usefulness of it through this iterative positive and negative feedback mechanism (both forms encourage better journalling)
  • Make sure we set a good example and keep our own journal
  • When people send emails or ring up asking for information that’s in your journal gently point them in that direction.  get into the habit of answering questions in your journal either as well as or instead of via email

What’s so magic about a journal?  (first it’s worth mentioning that Journals are well supported by blogging software so there is no need to invent some new technology)

  • It allows a person to take control of their message
  • A person can take pride in their journal
  • A person can easily navigate their own journal and therefore use it effectively as a personal knowledge repository, this makes it much more likely to be used
  • A person can easily send others to information in their journal
  • Others can subscribe to the journal and be drip fed with a direct connection into that persons work life (and sometimes home life)

Of course journals need not be strictly individual, for example a project manager could keep journals about the projects they are managing, but they should remember it is the project as seen from their perspective, the lead tester and lead architect might also keep journals about the project from different perspectives. The programme manager will get a much better insight into the project when he looks at all three journals, and a far better one than he would get from reading the monthly status report!

Is there anything else to be said about information overload, oh yes, books and books full!  But I only want to say one thing.  Information overload can be a great place to hide away from what really needs to be done, see next post.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

2 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    Nice to see you are feeling better Steve.

    It’s also interesting to consider IT returning to things that we have known for a long time.

    Journals (and commentaries) have been standard method of communicating for a long time and in all sorts of places.

  2. Anonymous says:

    True, my interest in Journals pre-dates blogs, (remember all those failed attempts at highlight reports!) Anyway it started with reading the Mythical Man Month, which asserts the importance of Journals and documentation design in general. This book describes the processes IBM employed in the 1960’s and I think is still an incredibly useful insight into how to do systems architecture and design right!

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