Picking Up the Gauntlet
If you’re following the soap opera that is Successful Blog, I’m halfway through writing Critical Skill 5 on Originality, as you might know, but along the way I was interrupted with a challenge. Ariane Benefit from NeatLiving.Net wrote an in-depth comment about process and how it works for her, which ended with these statements.
So basically I see the rules you presented that work so well in a corporate setting actually have their counterpart in the virtual, ultimately highly democratic world of blogging.
. . . if my post inspires you to write the virtual version . . . it was worth it. — from a comment exchange on Critical Skill 4: Part2-Designing a Complex Process
I really wanted to leave them on the page and continue on with the piece on originality. It was hard enough writing about process in the brick and mortar world. Still the comment stayed with me. It followed me around the house . . . and popped into my mind every time I went to write about anything else. After all, it had two things going for it. Ariane Benefit is a reader and I have a really hard time walking away from a delicious challenge like that — even when I know it will involve close contact between my head and a few brick walls I don’t need.
Design a Complex Process in the Virtual World
Process in the virtual world, like it’s concrete world counterpart, never works the same way twice in a row. Still it makes sense to have one. Whether you work alone or with a team online, deciding how you’re going to get from the beginning to the end of a complicated interwoven process of multiple tasks takes planning — strategy and tactics.
I described process models in Part 1-Process Models. You probably have a few for your work day — a way you attack writing a blog post might be one. That’s fairly simple, it involves you and your writing tools.
Here we’re talking about a complex process. By a complex process, I mean one that involves more than one person and more than one line of action. Several people and several things are going on at the same time. Different things happening in different time frames, each action with its own sub-goal, beyond that of the main goal of the project.
Know this and know it well. The second a bit of a process moves out of the same actual space as you, any process becomes virtual and exponentially more complicated. As in the corporate version I’m still waiting on your outputs because they are my inputs, which you might then be waiting on because you need them back again. Each of those circumstances still makes the process more complex and more stressful.
But NOW you’re not in my field of vision. Whether you’re down the street or around the world, whether we talk via telephone, Skype, email, wiki, or smoke signal, it’s no longer natural for us to communicate. We have to actually make time for it; plan on it; go out of our way to do it because we won’t pass each other in the hallway.
Which is good cause for wanting to design a process that is even stronger.
A Few Easy Rules
When designing a virtual complex process, you might want to follow these basic rules.
- There still needs to be a leader who has done this before. The leader needs to be hypersensitive to communication needs and should err the side of over-communicating.
- The big picture, global thinkers still should decide on the flow of the work. This can be done by having one person, possibly the leader, draw up an initial vision of the process for discussion or by a conference call/chat room type meeting.
- They do that by talking through the way the work will go. It’s important that the conversation include the methods of delivery of information and timelines, particularly if folks are working across grossly different time zones.
The next steps don’t really change.
- That discussion is best done with as few people as possible, but with all phases of the process represented — one person can speak for more than one part. The detail people should not be present at this discussion.
- When the process is defined, the big picture people present it to the detail folks who will participate in the process.
- The detail folks ask questions to challenge the process, to find every chink in the process they possibly can. In essence, they are there to test the thinking.
- When that discussion is complete, the process will stand as a working plan.
- The entire group should agree that this is the process, until it isn’t working, at which time, the group will meet again to adjust the plan.
- Everyone has stake in being 100% responsible for communication both ways. Actually, that’s just good business at any time.
All processes — in-house or virtual — need the flexibility to allow for the introduction of new information. Remember, if the number of people in the process changes by 10% more or less, process models fall apart. The same holds true if the timeline changes significantly. Everyone in a virtual process has a stake in watching out for where the process might jam or breakdown completely.
NEW NEW NEW
How to Use This if You Fly Solo
Even if you work solo all of the time, it’s good to take from this virtual process design what you can. Use it to gather a group to test plans you might have for a new product or service you are thinking of offering. Gather the proverbial friend, enemy, and someone who hardly knows you. Present your plan to them in the way the big picture folks might do for the detail people. We all need a virtual “board of directors” to test our ideas.
This can’t be the only virtual process. I’m too one person. There are too many ideas in the world for it to be. How do you organize complex things you need to do?
–ME “Liz” Strauss
Critical Skill 4: Part 1-Process Models
Critical Skill 3: Fluency: with Ideas
Critical Skill 2: Mental Flexibility Test
10 Skills Most Critical Skills Series on the SUCCESSFUL SERIES Page