Sunday, 23 August 2015

Collaboration? Sure! Yes, but what’s in it for me?

[This is an updated version of an article first published in Project Manager Today written before Pentacle launched QUBE.]


On-line collaboration!  Hah!  All it has meant for me so far is that I’ve had to waste an hour re-typing perfectly legible handwritten notes and emailing them to our scrum master/moderator.  It takes a week to get posted - and half the team aren’t given access to it any way so they’ll just text me to ask about it.   It’s OK for our project leader, he doesn’t mind wasting his time to look cool and trendy and anyway she gets her offshore writing to text provider to do it for her.  But for me it’s just more work.  What a waste of time.  I just want to get on with the work - why does anyone need to know what I’m doing?  It’s just to check up on me that’s all.  What a waste of time - I haven’t got the time to spend like some others on staring at  a screen all day - I’ve got to make things happen.  I curse silently as the traffic which had started to move grinds again to a halt.  Anyway, I get enough emails, lync messages, skypechats, yammer pings as it is.  Why do I need more?  Five more metres and then the traffic stops again.  I’m going to miss my train at this rate. And I’m going to bate for the sprint update adobe connect session.

Now I’m sitting on a damp platform waiting for the next train due in twenty minutes.  I’m trying not to waste my time but so far my attempts to reach half a dozen people by phone have drawn a blank.  Phone tag.  I’ve left messages about their messages.  All I need are a few estimates on cost and an update on how the last phase of the implementation has gone - and I’m trying to update my sponsor. 

The train arrives and I’m off for a full on face-to-face meeting with the key client - I like to see their reaction as I talk - Now I’m late I’ll only have forty minutes with them - I hope I can get it all in and it won’t be too rushed. The spreadsheet is huge and my tablet is small It’s hard to check and make all the corrections I need to.  I wish had a bigger screen so I could go fast and modify my presentation to fit 40 minutes.  No matter I’ll just leave out some of the pages and use a flipchart.  I can always bring the chart sheets back with me.  It’s really annoying.  I’ve been up since six a.m. and will end up spending all morning to get a 40 minute slot.  There must be a better way.  But I can’t seem to get my message across at the weekly conference call.

On-line collaboration (OLC) is a better way - and I can vouch for it.  After about two decades of working in a Virtual Business School I can vouch that if you do it right it’s a world beater, but if you do it wrong....

OLC is about using technology to reduce the challenge of space and time, bringing the team and stakeholders closer together emotionally and in terms of goals and activities. 

The idea is simple enough:  Collaboration conjures up ideas of conspirators - all in it for a common deeply held belief in a goal - so ideas become ‘free’ and there is a genuine willingness to contribute, challenge share, and learning.

All we need to do is to use digital devices and the ease of data sharing via the internet to capture, organise, share, broadcast and update information and knowledge for all the people involved in the project. 

So why doesn’t it just happen?  What goes wrong?  I often hear three issues either people find it difficult to be effective on line, or it starts with a flourish and then slowly drops away or they complain that it is simply duplication of information and conversations which are held elsewhere!   If you’re interested the bubble diagram below shows the most typical reasons why OLC is ineffective or just dies a death.  Are any of these things happening in your project organisation?  Click on the thumbnail below for the detailed BubbleDiagram or cut to the chase, skip the diagram and find the five root causes below.

 There are five root causes for the failure of OLC

1.     Individual readiness -  Your potential collaborators individually don’t ‘get it’ and genuinely believe  that not collaborating is more effective than collaborating (plus it gives better promotion prospects!)
2.    Team readiness - People refuse to collaborate because it requires a level of trust in others they don’t have - the team isn’t mature enough.
3.     Lack of effective ground rules - No one is really sure how it’s supposed to work what accountabilities other have and what demands they can make of them.
4.     Lack of appropriate kit/ infrastructure - The kit, software and infrastructure available is not set up to make it easy.
5.     Lack of Proactive digital Leadership - There is no one role-modelling and actively shaping the collaborative activities

Individual readiness -

Principle: Collaboration like a chain is as strong as it’s weakest link.  Take time to strengthen the individual links.

...had to waste an hour re-typing perfectly legible handwritten notes and emailing them to our scrum master/moderator.
·        Help people to see the benefits to them - ask them about times when they’ve needed input from others and it’s been hard to get hold of them.  Ask them about the impact on the quality of their work of non-single source data inputs. Ask them about the last minute rushes they have faced because they were unaware of something which had been decided with a long lead time.

...why does any one need to know what I’m doing?

For exactly the same reasons you need to know what they’re doing
·        Make sure that people can easily delete their own contributions (or else they won’t post any contributions)
·        Spend time coaching people on the new tools
·        Be patient with the ‘F2F for everything’ brigade - start them off gently, before they know it they’ll be comfortable with the new way of working.  You may need to teach them how to ‘ping’ people for a response in order to work out the true emotional response
·        Show them real examples of collaborative working

Team readiness -

Principle: Everyone must feel confident in their ability to add to and learn from the contributions of others

...It’s just to check up on me that’s all...

·        OLC will not work without a level of trust and interdependence in the team - If use/ teach participants BlyndTrussed and have them apply it from the start.

...Phone tag.  I’ve left messages about their messages.

·        The team and stakeholders should make sure that they are available on-line easily and information others might want is also available.

Lack of effective ground rules -
...and half the team aren’t given access to it any way so they’ll just phone me and ask about it

Principle: Everything should be as transparent to everyone as is possible -

·        Be sure to have ground rules which are obvious, clear and enforced.
·        If there is the need for confidentiality this should be set up as a limited access area within the collaborative space (not a smoke-filled room outside it!)
·        Your ground rules should include:
Synchronous working (all collaborators on-line at the same time)
·        A moderator
·        SpinCasting to ensure everyone contributes to the conversation
·        Time drumbeats for summary and review (I suggest every 15 mins.)
·        Notes taking /Decision /Action list/Accountability list Using RAPID to make sure nothing is missed

Asynchronous (not everyone on-line at the same time)
·        Ownership of topic - is it with the initiator/ moderator/ concluder
·        Record messages/Summaries for mission people or use KatchUp and set a time to close the loop (I suggest 24hours)
·        Who/how the notes/action list/accountability is to be updated
·        Add in humour and a human element :
...full on face-to-face meeting with the key client , I like to see their reaction as I talk!

Lack of appropriate kit/infrastructure -

Principle: Everyone must be able to enter any information they wish directly themselves without intermediaries and without delay


...Anyway, I get enough emails as it is.  Why do I need more?

For this [Advert Alert!]  I recommend you use QUBE.  QUBE is a unique, universally accessible learning, collaboration and execution enterprise/social medium

[Another advert alert!]  QUBE has all the functionality of Skype, lync , hangouts, adobe connect, gotomeeting, yammer, conference call bridges etc., etc. but is surprisingly easy and intuitive to use – It means you have a single place to collaborate and learn.  

[Advertising gone mad!  Video on ‘Why use QUBE?’

...I wish I had a laptop then I could modify my presentation to fit 40 minutes.  No matter I’ll just leave out some of the pages and use a flipchart.  I can always bring the chart sheets back with me.

OLC warriors minimum kit

  • A large screened device - This is your primary tool if you wish to stay sane you will ignore all that "The future is mobile" sloganeering (If the future is mobile where are they all going?  Why move atoms (people) in a digital world where the electrons (data) moves easier?)  Use this device in comfort for most of your work and only go mobile to collaborate if you have no other options!
  • A light digital device – if it has a lid it must fold flat so you can see your colleagues over the top - preferably with wireless/3or 4G connection which allows you to take it into meetings and capture notes etc. ONCE directly ono QUBE DURING the discussion

re-typing perfectly legible handwritten notes and emailing it to our scrum master/moderator
Smart phone to insist on taking snapshots of all the notes i.e. yours and everyone else’s at the end of the session and posting to QUBE

[Advert Alert] Using QUBE as your collaborative space means you will avoid the trap of different softward versions so all your information will be available to everyone within the team/ stakeholder group

Select the best collaboration software for your team

Lack of Proactive digital Leadership -

Principle: You have to lead, You must change your behaviour. You must share and create psotive emotions for your followers. You must Derive the actions to be taken. You must encourage adn enable collaborative thought and learning.

...anyway she gets her offshore writing to text outsourcer to do it for her...

·        You have to lead yourself - so get comfortable with OLC  [Advert Alert!! Pentacle offers a QUBE eFacilitation course for this]
·        You must be rigorous - capture all knowledge electronically - no old world dead tree back up systems
·        Be clear on the behaviours you expect - pro-actively poke people in the ribs to alert them to new contributions and demand contributions from them
·        Work with your internal IT department to help them understand what you are trying to achieve
·        Create a cyberPersonality which you use consistently - a signature, a type of humour, a style of writing, etc.

 There must be a better way!

There is!  Find out more at

@eddieObeng is Learning Director at Pentacle The Virtual Business School @PentacleTheVBS  20 London End Beaconsfield Bucks HP9 2JH  +44 (0) 1494 678 555

@QUBEcc is Pentacle’s answer to the challenge of collaboration in a world which changes faster than we can learn

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Another way of thinking about moving from an Old World to New World mindset

I've spent over half my life educating, exploring, provoking and challenging people to realise that the business environment  which existed for most of the previous couple of hundred years has ceased to exist.  If you know me well you'd have watched my TED Global talk about 'turbulent environments 'and green ink'  (No? Enjoy a stimulating 12 minutes now.)  Today my friend Peter Tandlich sent me through a video which in 8 minutes illustrates the challenge I have faced in my quest to get people to respond rationally to the real environment around them instead of in a knee-jerk to one which no longer exists but which they recognise, know the rules of and have the skills for.

The part in the video where the brain reverts back to the old world, just snapping back is something I once watched one of my cutting edge clients, back pedal about a decade after a merger with an Old World organisation, in less than a year they completely lost and forgot all the amazing successes and progress they had made.  And the merger partner was unable to take any advantage of the reason's they had taken them over which was their World After Midnight outlook strategy and culture.

I guess for us, the challenge from the video is compelling, if you're an 'oldie' (my nickname for anyone older than Google or who has been in business longer than facebook) prepare yourself for a tough long re-learning curve with lots and lots of falling off!  But remember it's all Smart Failure!

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Commuting Heaven?...or Hell!

This was originally published on the Pentacle blog New World Times.

Commuting heaven?  What tomorrow's urban transport systems might look like.  That was the header on the BBC News page yesterday.
The illustrations were stunning... but..

21st-century future - trains?




Yesterday during an NHS NSS review 'qall' on QUBE ( Kerry Russell said, "Isn't it about time we began to think of a world post meetings"  "A world where we do things differently much better, learn new things, get the work done and make decisions?"  "This is what I liked about working on QUBE."

About a fifth of the energy we use is used for transport - mostly to move people from homes (with computers connected to the internet)  to and from offices or schools  (with computers connected to the internet) or to and from meetings.

Any serious plan to re-balance the world that doesn't involve a radical rethink about moving electrons instead of people isn't really serious.

About a fifth of the average worker's time is spent in meetings of which a quarter of that time is completely wasted, according to Management Today.  Harvard Business Review warns us that for senior management, it's more like four-fifths spent in meetings and that doesn't even take into account the time spent getting there and back!  McKinsey's warn about the wasted time.  But worrying about time is not enough.  In our fast-changing, complex world, without new learning, how good is the quality of any decisions taken in these meetings?  How good is the perspective of any plans made in these meetings?

Any serious plan to build a world-beating 21st-century business or organisation that doesn't involve a radical re-think about how to integrate continuous, collaborative learning and working into the core of the enterprise instead of individuals working independently and meeting up periodically to share 'past sell-by-date' thoughts isn't really serious.

Join us and experience what working and learning does look like in the 21st century at our open inspiration event or just contact us to find out more.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Instructions for INNOVATION*

Innovation is nothing less than:
“The process of Turning (new) Ideas into Money (or social benefits).”

1- Innovation is change – so the Laws of Change** apply. But because it is (new) change, engagement must be more than logical – it must be emotional and/or cultural

2- The Sparq of an idea goes on a journey to end up as Money (Social Benefits) – as on any journey The Speed of Innovation and time taken is Determined by the Bottlenecks not the number of ideas which set off!In a complex system there are rarely ever more than half a dozen bottlenecks. Innovation has five potential bottlenecks:

  • Lack of opportunity to begin to innovate Create the Opportunity
  • Lack of focus and clarity on ‘why’ and ‘what’ we wish to achieve or is acceptable Achieve Focus
  • Lack of engagement of the people inside or outside the organisation (customers) Engage Commitment
  • Inappropriate scale or poor protection Make t Possible
  • Ineffective execution or inappropriate project management  Make it Happen

3- For every extra idea squeezed through the bottleneck you will have an extra innovation – so increase the throughput through the bottlenecks. All time and resources spent on nonbottlenecks will have no impact at all on the level of innovation achieved. Its’ not how big the funnel is it’s the size, organisation and use of the orifice!

4- Sparqs which originate outside the organisation, Pull Sparqs are at risk inside the organisation – Sparqs which originate inside the organisation, Push Sparqs are at risk outside the organisation. The closer to the end recipient the Sparq originates the more likely it will be accepted. The closer the Sparq originates to the capabilities of the organisation developing it the more likely it will be executed.

5- Because innovations change the world they enter, success is not just the impact of doing something. Success is the sum of the effect of doing something AND downsides of doing nothing!  This means that conventional business cases and value calculations are irrelevant


– Watch Eddie Obeng on TED global talking about innovation at

* From the book Who Killed the Sparq? - Get the free ebook download at
** From the book Perfect Pojects -Read it on Amazon

Meet, interact and apply this with Eddie Obeng and your work colleagues on QUBE
Read about other companies using Eddie Obeng's Innovation Accelerator

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

I've been nominated - now it's your turn...

Last month in Croatia I was soundly 'told off' for not doing all I can to make sure that I could to make sure that 'Every Single Business' person has seen my 12 minute TED Global talk. to help them thrive in our World After Midnight (WAM). The challenge has bothered me - how do I do this without it just looking like self promotion?  How do I do it as a Question4 (see Money Making Machine) at minimum   I think I have come up with a cunning plan - I will offer some fun and learning and ask the favour that people pass on the request to watch the talk!

Here we go.  Some images which made me smile since they summarise reactions to our complex- fast changing world.

So what capabilities do you have access to which you aren't using?
Are you giving away wheels or dragging the cart?
If you smiled a little, please tweet and blog about WAM and nominate a couple of your friends to watch Smart failure for a fast changing world on TED and nominate their friends...

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

When Habit Trumps Innovation

If you know me , you'll know I like quirky, non-mainstream tech. At home I still have a "Pick up, tap, tap, tap  and shout 'Operator' several times!" phone and a Bakelite phone (both still work!).

In the late 1980s I decided to "splash the cash" and buy a cordless phone.  I'd seen it for sale in Tottenham Court Road in London but the stimulus, as always, was when I described it to a friend.  They laughed at me impulsively and asked why on earth anyone would need a cordless phone?  As a rule I use derisory laughter at ideas I propose as a sure-fire acid test of innovative change.  So I bought it, took it home and installed it.

I waited patiently for someone to call me so I could experience the freedom of walking to the hall, answering, and walking back to the room I'd been in and continuing what I was doing rather than as usual, being forced to sit chained (or corded if you prefer) to the phone in a freezing hall!.

I waited.  Then it rang.  Joy!  It was my mum.  I picked up the phone, sat down and fifteen minutes later was shivering as I hung up.  Yes. I had done what I had always done picked up the cordless handset and sat down next to the base on the bench we always sat on to make calls. 

When the moment for innovation came, I simply forgot my opportunity to do something different.  My automatically learned actions kicked in. I didn't even consider not sitting down - it never came up into my conscious decision-making brain!  It took a pile of books on the seat and about a month of conscious hard work to create the habit of picking up and walking away.  (Developing the habit to put the handset back was far easier - I didn't have to unlearn anything.)

Despite my best efforts my habit subverted my conscious desire to innovate.

I was reminded of that story today when I came across a number of long email exchanges between several Pentacle tutors who've just joined the network.  Just like me, they had let habit overcome innovation.  As Pentacle tutors they now have access to QUBE the most powerful collaborative-social medium in the world - they could easily have resolved the discussion on QUBE with a meeting as qubot avatars or by working asynchronously or by leaving videos or snapshots to explain the details but instead they had resorted to multiple emails!

Despite our best efforts our habits sometimes subvert our conscious desire to innovate.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

How many fingers can you cross?

At the moment my record is eight fingers, four toes, two arms, two legs and a knitted brow!

I'm very excited about our work with the team at Wolters Kluwer (the firm that specialist advisers turn to for specialist advice!)   Led by Elisabetta Galli the WK/Pentacle team used QUBE to do the impossible.   Usually, I'm the one persuading and pushing for people to leave the Old World and move to the New but it was a real joy to work with Elisabetta whose vision and determination were enriching.  The team had to deliver a global project (which normally would have taken at least four months), learning and applying WAM tools and techniques to a challenge which required deep buy-in from very senior leaders from around the globe.  Not only was the project delivered in record time of less than a month.  the participants were left with some new, strong and deep working relationships.   Illustrating how working virtually on QUBE can often be more humanly enriching than traditional meet, squeeze hands and watch body language events 

So why are my fingers crossed?  Because we have been shortlisted for the prestigious Wolters Kluwer Innovation Awards!

There's more on the Pentacle New World Times Blog and please keep your fingers and toes crossed for me