Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Freerange Tools: Workstreaming

Every time you interact with an information system you leave footprints. In traditional organizations these little nuggets of data are captured in log files, and are buried deep in the bowels of your information systems. The data goes mostly unused and unnoticed. This metadata is extremely significant, however, and in freerange enterprises it is exposed in ways heretofore unimagined.

When you aggregate this metadata with other sources of information (like lifestreams), apply intelligent filtering, and expose it through syndication feeds to anyone with an interest, it tells a powerful story. It becomes a window into the very ethos of an organization. Workstreaming is at the very heart of the freerange workplace; it's that important. Yet it is most often the missing ingredient for enterprises trying to make the freerange transition.

Workstreaming is one of those things that causes me a great deal of angst. It worries me so much that I have been reluctant to write this post. Its potential to be misused by micro-managers and control-freaks is huge. The logs track a worker's every action, through syndication feeds that data is exposed, through aggregation it is combined, and through filtering it is synthesized. Used improperly, it has the potential to lead to work-group hell. You could very easily create a workplace that no one would want to work. Think time-cards, dot-boards, seat-time, and otherwise irrelevant metrics on steroids. Giving these tools to old-school managers would be something akin to Sheriff Taylor letting Deputy Fife put real bullets in his service revolver.

Given the right organizational culture workstreaming becomes the single most important enabling technology of the freerange enterprise. You just think you're transparent until you expose your logs to the world. Workstreaming puts the radical in radical transparency. It disintermediates your information choke-points enabling flatness and the removal of hierarchy (and layers of management). It stamps out surprises. It places accountability where it belongs-- within the work team. It builds cohesiveness. You wouldn't think it would work this way, but it really is pure magic.

I hope I've convinced you of the importance of workstreaming. I'm sure you're thinking-- How do you even begin to stay on top of this glut of data? I'll cover the tools used for syndication, aggregation, and filtering in a subsequent post. Rest assured-- you can't begin to get your arms around this much information without the judicious use of a whole host of social media applications.


Peg said...

Good stuff, Kevin!

Last week I posted this question at Twitter: Can an established organization create distributed knowledge networks that don't implicitly privilege power hierarchies?

For me, that's the central question to ask when contemplating a "transition" from conventional (rigidly hierarchical, credentialed-expert driven)to freerange enterprise.

@dcushman responded:no. But it can't stop them forming, either.

Simple,cogent answer. But what does it imply?

That the freeranging work/lifestreamers will work subversively within (above and below)the established organization? That they will spin off new enterprises that allow them to fully deploy the new tools?

Can a longtime, trusted, ritually hierarchical enterprise actually make the freerange transition?

The body of Clayton Cristensen's research/discourse on disruptive innovations suggests not, though I'd hate to make it an absolute no.

My own sense: That we've already begun the transformation to the new economic/social/political order that freeranging both enables and requires.

Will it come as violent cataclysm that ushers in a new Dark Age, or assert itself quickly as humans arrive at new understandings of mutual self-interest?

I don't think anyone knows. But for sure the old power relationships have shifted.

Nick Seeber said...


great post, lots of interesting ideas. Radical transparency is something which I've been interested in for a while, though work streaming isn't a term I've come across before.

I'd love to lobby to get something like this implemented where I work -- we really struggle with visibility of call centre advisors' actions carried out a customer's account, and working out what's been going on... however I appreciate your point about information overload potentially being misused to create a micromanaged organisation.

Can't wait to hear more about the tools and technologies you're going to blog about soon!