The One Year Club: A seven year review

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , ,

In 2008, or so, I would have semi-regular calls with a friend who was also doing social and collaboration consulting and advising. Stuart Mader and I would set aside 30 minutes or so to compare notes about our client work (these often lasted 2 to 3 hours). The common trait with our clients was most had purchased tools and services to roll out internal social platforms for their employees. Nearly all of those who came to us had their services and platforms up and running for a while, but at the 6 month to 18 month mark they started to realize all of this work was more than complicated, it was seriously complex. The customers and potential customers weren’t certain they had the right tool or platform for their environment and they needed help to better understand their actual needs, problems, and gaps.

This transition from the “social is simple” perception to “this is incredibly complex” Stuart called the “One Year Club”.

It was roughly in that one year window that the reality of what they were trying to do sunk in. When we would work with the clients and walk them through foundational questions and framings for the variety of models of social interactions (collective, team / group / community / network, and real collaboration) as well as other essential models (these foundations became my Social Lenses in late 2008, which are now up to 60+ lenses) the understanding and clarity of the state of things for them would become far more clear.

(Of the 60+ Lenses, there are 10 to 15 initial lenses for social I use in workshops and kick-off meetings that are part of 25 that are common lenses for social and general complexity filters that many engagements use or get considered. The remainder are used for situations as needed so to see through the fog of complexity. An updated view of the Lenses is likely to be posted here next.)

Is the One Year Club still relevant?

In recent client, potential client, and workshop attendee discussions over this past year the issues that were relevant in 2005 to 2010 that caused the One Year Club moniker to come to life and live on still exist. Nearly every engagement I have where I do either a high-level Lenses framing or a deeper workshop session all get the “we really needed this badly early on when we were trying to understand our problems and set requirements” response. All find something deeply valuable, that is becomes clear in the sessions, they need to focus on. At the same time most realize they may not have the right system for their needs. All find deep value in the sessions because they quickly identify improvements and efficiency gains, from the insights they see through the clarity of the Lenses that help them see through the fog of complexity. Many of these gains are helpful in the short term, but other find quick solutions to keep things going as they work through how to resolve their larger platform change needs.

Looking at things in the past year through all the discussions and reviewing the state of many of the platforms (particularly those that are relatively inexpensive, free, or included as a throw-in from vendors selling other products), not only is the One Year Club still valid, but may be broader reaching and in a worse state than the 2005 to 2010 stretch.

Why is the State of Things Worse?

First off, not everything is the same or worse. Some platforms continue to grow and evolve through maturing in ways that embrace the diversity of how humans are social and diversity patterns of how people work, Jive is one of those. There are also new entrants that have taken things like chat, (in most large organizations with Microsoft foundations Lync (now rebranding as Skype for Business) chat was claimed by many corporate IT departments as the second most used piece of software / service after email in the organization) and added solid functionality (ability to archive by default, including documents and linked objects, and use really good search across it all) and solid ease of integration that in a sense has been making “Slack is the Operating System” a truism for many. Another great asset that is available today is the Community Managers Roundtable that provides insights for managing a community and the skills for running, measuring, and keeping a community vibrant.

The trouble that lead to the One Year Club years ago was largely people under-estimating or not doing the needed due diligence. They was also a lack the understanding the regular and continual assessment need for the right fit of their offerings to the problems, needs, and gaps they were hoping to solve. This is often exacerbated by the lack of broadly and deeply framing the problems and potential outcomes up front. I covered some of this in my CMSWire piece “Finding Your Right Collaboration Fit” and a recent talk at 18F titled “Internal Social / Collaboration (Slideshare link)” (an 18F write-up of the talk "Imagining a water cooler for the digital age is also available, with links to a less than optimal quality video of the talk).

The basic understanding that tools matter is not only lost, but is often considered not relevant, until an organization gets to the point of needing core features and functionality that come with a maturing community (or other scaled classes - teams / groups / networks). They also find the platform they are on not only doesn’t provide those, but can’t be adapted as the foundation for the platform isn’t structured to handle mature needs. This all can be headed off up front though the use of Lenses to not only see the current state of things, but use of quick scenarios for what things will look like in one to three years as things scale and other potential realities come into relevance.

Another thing that makes today’s state of things more troublesome is the common existence of more than one platform being successfully used in organizations. With the onset of new services there is much more to think through, to potentially work into the fold. The new services can be targeted at niche areas that fit various workflows and mental models really well at a good price, or offer a drastically improved set of functionality or class of service (like chat), where it is bordering on a new class type. The One Year Club often considers shifting all of their team and group services from a platform that functions okay, to a chat service, rather than thinking about integrating and how that would work in their distinct environment. The One Year Club continually is considering jumping from one platform to another, which is not only not fungible, but of a completely different category / class of service. Often their core platform may not serve their needs, but is of a class or category where they have a need, but they also have other needs to be addressed as well.

This Does Get Better?

It not only can get better, it must get better.

The path to getting better is to understand and embrace complexity as a reality, as well as embrace adaption. One must also learn to see through the fog of complexity to more clearly see the problems, needs, and gaps as well as see the small pieces clearly with lenses so to overlay lenses to see the intersecting influences at work. This not only helps understand today’s needs and the short term, but helps with working through near future scenarios (one to three years, occasionally five year views) so to understand the shifts that may happen so we can make considered choices today, while also having adaptive solutions ready for the impending changes and shifts. This changes the state of things being seen from disruption (otherwise known as having little clue what is happening and not being prepared) to relatively easy adaption through understanding and being comfortable with change.