Shared Insights PCC: Picking the right tool: e-mail, IM, post or publish

I arrived in Las Vegas late this morning for my presentation tomorrow morning, just in time for lunch at the conference. Sometimes, timing is everything.

For the first afternoon breakout session, I sat in on Craig Roth of the Burton Group discussing how to pick between modes of communication and collaboration. His main premise is that we often use the wrong tools for communication and collaboration — where e-mail is likely the most widely used and the worst — and he presents a chart for figuring out which method to use for which types of interactions.

This chart, and using it, formed the bulk of the presentation, and it was pretty interesting. Basically, it has four quadrants, with divisions by “communication” and “collaboration” on one axis, and “asynchronous” and “synchronous” on the other axis. For example, synchronous communication channels includes IM, telephony and audio/video chat; asynchronous communication channels include e-mail, RSS feeds and alerts; synchronous collaboration channels include web conferencing and whiteboarding; and asynchronous collaboration channels include wikis and discussion forums. It sounds a bit complicated, but it’s actually quite elegant and obvious when you see it.

He then overlays a decision flowchart on the 4-quadrant chart to show how you decide which quadrant that you should be in, then which tools in that quadrant to use. For example, the initial decision is “purpose of interaction”, where “telling” puts you into the communication half, and “collaborating on goal” puts you into collaboration. Once you’re in the communication half, the next decision is “when are responses expected”; either “now” or “today” puts you into the synchronous communication quadrant, with different channels for each of those two responses, whereas “over time” puts you into asynchronous communication. There’s a number of tools and channels that he doesn’t include here, which he still considers to be under the radar; surprisingly, workflow is included in that group, although it’s not clear what he means by that or why it’s under anyone’s radar.

In general, his quadrant chart could be a pretty useful tool, although I find some of the distinctions by content type to be a bit fuzzy. He has some great recommendations on battling dysfunctional behaviours and getting people to use some of the new tools as well.

Leave a Reply