• How internal blogs create more transparency

    As soon as you start working with other people, you have to communicate. Especially if you have to manage a team or department or if you take part in a project, you depend on continuous information about the work of others because it affects your own work. But even between people in a department that have different areas of work, a continuous flow of information about their current work fosters transparency and the exchange of ideas and helpful hints.

    For that purpose, the IT department I work in has been practising a kind of reporting named "daily" for years now where employees write a short summary of their finished work day. Recipients of this daily report usually are direct coworkers, members of a common project and other interested people throughout the company. To make sure these reports contribute to transparency instead of clutter, I ask my employees to focus on three key aspects. They're easy to remember because in german, they all start with an "e":

    • Results ("Ergebnisse"): What were your achievements today, what tasks did you finish? Those are important because there almost certainly are people waiting for those results.
    • Decisions ("Entscheidungen"): What did you decide to do or not to do? Since every non-trivial decision affects other people, it's good to inform them about it.
    • Findings ("Erkenntnisse"): What became clear to you today, what did you learn? If you discovered interesting things, tell others about them -- they may find them profitable, too.

    Recently, I added a fourth aspect:

    • Good news ("Erfreuliches"): I just can't get enough of those.

    As you can see, I don't see a point in reporting unfinished tasks because that would be the kind of micromanagement that makes people feel rushed and forced to waste time writing about a task instead of doing it. What use does a line like "still working on Project X" have? If Project X isn't finished yet, it's completely reasonable to suppose there's still work being done on it, isn't it? But if "a network outage prevented me from working on Project X", it's worth mentioning because that fact surely is interesting to the manager of Project X.

    Until I installed a weblog software on one of our intranet servers, the dailies were sent by email. My team was the first to start blogging their dailies, and over the following weeks the other IT teams fell into line, blogging their daily results, decisions and findings. Coworkers can subscribe to each RSS feed separately, and I additionally installed a feed aggregator that delivers the collected blog entries of the whole department.

    Our "Daily Blog" has become an important communication tool. Managers and coworkers get up-to-date information about what a team is working on, what's going well and what problems arose lately -- without having time-consuming meetings. And via the comment section, people can respond with questions or additions, therefore starting dialogues.

    And there's another, hidden advantage: by writing about it, people deliberate about their work. So, there's not only a communication aspect, but also a reflection aspect in our blogging. Both effects combined really make the time spent writing daily blog entries worthwhile.

  • Watch the world tweeting

    David Troy is a one-man Twitter mashup factory.

    First, he built TwitterMap, a mashup with Google Maps. People that answer Twitter's question What are you doing?" can now also answer the question "Where are you doing it?". You just have to insert a "L:" followed by a place description that Google Maps understands into your tweet. With TwitterMap, you can now easily find twitterati in your neighborhood. For me, that makes "Plazes obsolete, because with Twitter, I'm able to not only see who's near me but also to get in contact with them immediately.

    A few minutes ago now, Dave published his newest work: TwitterVision It's a mashup with Google Maps, too. But its purpose is to visualize in real-time what's tweeting. On TwitterVision, every time someone uses Twitter, a bubble pops up at his location displaying his message, together with his icon and Twitter name. And it's simply amazing to watch Twitter in realtime.

    Now all I need is a 60" screen to build my own Twitter command center!

    TwitterVision: Watch the world communicate. Watch your productivity go down the drain. ;-)

  • Groovy, baby!

    I have to make a confession: I like to watch and listen when guys play with their really big organs.


    Now that you know my obsession: is there an organ jazz band you would recommend? What CD should I buy next?

  • Why I use Vitalist to keep track of my tasks

    Andy asked about an update#c2060 with a comparison of Nozbe and Vitalist, and here it is.

    I discovered Nozbe first, and I realized again what I was missing using Backpack for Getting Things Done Backpack just isn't made for building a task database that connects actions with contexts and projects. An application built for that special purpose is naturally more comfortable and easy to use. And Nozbe is such an application.

    But Nozbe also has its shortcomings. The Quick review on the GTD blog lists them, and for Julie Sohn's criticism, see my initial article I especially hate that every action has to be connected to a project. I'm just not that project-driven. While in the meantime, Nozbe got a new feature for adding custom contexts, it's still second place when I compare it with Vitalist.

    Vitalist is a Web 2.0 application for the Getting Things Done concept, too. I like the interface because it's mostly text and uses pastel colours. Take a look at this screenshot of the input form for an action, and you will see that there is everything you need to get things done the Allen way.

    The whole interface feels much more straightforward than Nozbe's. If I realize that I haven't yet created the corresponding project while entering a new action, I can just switch the project choice list to a project input field and add the new project name right with the action. But I'm not forced to choose a project if the action is a single one.

    Vitalist covers all aspects of the GTD concept. There are not only next actions, contexts and projects, but also a sometimes/maybe list, a reference section and a searchable archive. Another important feature is that actions can have a due date and Vitalist reminds me in advance by email.

    What impresses me further is the quick development of Vitalist. Since I started using it, three cool new features were added: you can now view contexts as tags, projects can have sub projects and a new add/edit form makes entering actions even easier now.

    Vitalist is feature-rich without bloat, it's fast and easy, it's flexible and matures quickly. That's why I'll manage my tasks from now on with Vitalist.

  • How not to make a presentation that doesn't suck

    Before planning your next presentation, take some time to make sure you consider the following practices of top managers:

    Don't think too much about your target audience. What's the difference if you're pitching your plans to the board of directors or if you're briefing your project group or if you want to inform your staff about the new company strategy -- they're all human beings, aren't they? So why waste time with adapting your presentation to the kind of people you're talking to?

    Talking of "talking": Presentation slides aren't for supporting your statements and evoking emotions, they should only help people with hearing disabilities with following your talk. So write your statements down in complete sentences. Each and every one.

    But then don't make the rookie mistake of using a single slide for each statement. Put all important things on one slide. Yes, you may need to decrease the font size to about 8 or 10pt to make all statements fit the screen. But science has proven that most people with hearing disabilities develop their other senses, their vision for example, much above average. So they will have no problem reading your single slide. This will avoid another problem: if you switch slides more often than every 5 minutes, people with attention deficit disorder won't be able to reread your statements once they've regained focus. You may even put healthy people under the strain of having to read your elaborate prose in a rush before you switch pages. Don't stress out your audience.

    A good speaker is a role model. Especially when you're a manager speaking to subordinates, you certainly want them to emulate your behaviour. So if you want them to look at the projection wall, do so yourself. That way, you can also spare the effort of having to speak freely: Just read out loud what's written on the slide. (Another advantage of pre-formulated sentences.)

    Let's be clear about one thing: proof reading is for losers. It's the inherent message that counts, so don't bother with correct grammar and spelling. Most people can't spot a missing comma or a few wrong letters at 8pt font size from a distance of more than 6 meters anyway.

    Repeat after me: It's the message that counts. And a message is best expressed in buzzwords. They're the gummy bears on the chocolate cake that is your presentation, so sprinkle them generously all over your slides. For example, use the word "challenges". Even if your presentation isn't in English at all. That way, you make clear that you really, really don't mean "problems". Really. That way, you ensure your listeners that you won't expect too much from them: a problem would need a solution, challenges only need action.

    If your audience wasn't interested in your talk, the whole thing would be a waste of time, right? Therefore, you can take for granted that people want to know every single detail you took the time of working out. And if your bar diagrams and Gannt charts with all those carefully calculated numbers even brought you buy-in from the highly critical board of directors, how much more will they excite all those people in front of you that didn't hear of your project until right now!

    Things and people have their names for a purpose. That's how you identify them. Especially in our age of commonplace cosmetic surgery, a face just doesn't work any more as a means of recognizing someone. So, if you're presenting your new organizational structure, don't distract your audience with graphical nonsense like photos, simply focus on spelling the names as correct as you can so people can look them up in the company directory.

    If you want to make people excited about your new product, don't show them a real version of it, or worse, a gimpy prototype. The risk of it breaking or doing something equally embarrassing is just too high. Make a few slides with photos or screenshots of the product and add some explaining text. That way, the audience sees how great everything will be. When it's ready and fully working.

    On the other hand, don't go overboard with pushing the mood of your listeners. There could very well be someone among them with a weak heart and we don't want to be responsible for them getting a heart attack. Therefore, talk with a calm, quiet voice that reassures people that there is nothing to be worried or scared about.

    It's important that you appreciate the hard work of your employees. Even if they've already left the company months ago. So, if you copy someone's slides for your presentation, leave his or her name in and your audience will keep this person in fond memories.

    A presentation that lasts over 2 hours is somewhat problematic when you want to do it without a time-consuming break. The trick is to distribute different parts of the talk on to several speakers that seamlessly pass the baton on. That way, each one only has to talk for about 20 minutes, which won't fatigue them too much.

    If you take all these practices into account when you prepare your next presentation, you will certainly be surprised of the outcome.