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The use of task in a social business

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The use of task in a social business

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I’m firmly of the belief that to become a social business requires organisations to create an environment that encourages social and collaborative behaviours.  A big reason for the high failure rate thus far is that whilst investment is being made in social software, many other aspects of the business are still sending signals that individual behaviour is valued or that decisions are made based upon hierarchy and status rather than merit.  Until everything aligns, it seems difficult to expect any organisation to be truly social.

One of the levers at managements disposal is the task lever, where you can utilise how tasks are performed to encourage collaborative behaviours.  A fine example of this in action is via the open source software movement.

The open source movement have a proven track record in enabling a disparate community to collaborate and produce wonderfully innovative products, and central to that success is the way they have packaged up tasks.

The following are three key lessons you can learn from how the open source industry go about their stuff.

  1. Modularize tasks – You want to create as few barriers to participation as possible.  Breaking your project down into smaller chunks makes the project seem much more accessible.  The open source movement is outstanding at this, breaking software down into modules and creating an architecture that allows those modules to work together.

    It also allows individuals with unique talents to see the part of the project where they can best apply those talents.  So not only do you reduce barriers to participation, you’re also broadening your talent pool.  This is not an easy thing to achieve, but if you can get it nailed you will see the benefits.

  2. Encourage small contributions – Chances are lots of people in your organisation have talents that they can apply to your project, however small they may be, so make sure you encourage all participation, even if only small.

    The open source movement works so well because there is no obligation on developers, they can do as little or as much as they wish, and all contributions are appreciated.

  3. Make it easy for people to find information – An iterative approach to evolution demands an excellent information store that is both open and transparent.  That way people can see what has already been achieved and can either reuse earlier work or build upon it.  Creating a strong information commons is crucial to the success of your collaborative efforts.  An excellent example of this from outside the software industry is the Human Genome Project.

    That project demanded that any participants made their discoveries open to the community to view and build upon.  You will need to demand similar from your community.  Silo thinking is not the way to achieve a social business.

The open source movement do all of these things very well, but they aren’t the only ones that have taken a novel approach to how tasks are devised in order to encourage greater collaboration and innovation.

A nice example of this in action in other industries has hit the news today.  Crowdsourcing website CrowdFlower have announced its next generation crowdsourcing platform for large-scale data projects.

The platform will allow users to break a project up into microtasks that can be performed by thousands of people via the cloud.  The tasks could see participants classify content, analyze sentiment, improve search performance, moderate text and photo content, and perform many other data-intensive processes ranging in skill, geography or demographic.

“This new version of the CrowdFlower Platform lets anyone design and run their own microtasking projects,” said Lukas Biewald, CEO of CrowdFlower. “Accuracy of data and getting faster results are what customers want to see in a solution, something we ensure with our platform whether you’re a CMO, data scientist or in sales operations.”

It’s the kind of thing that I can see migrating to a wider range of projects over the coming years as organisations come to appreciate the flexibility that comes from having such a mobile workforce, and of course the ease of which they can access new skills externally.

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