Work Processing: Coming soon to a ‘Doc’ near you

In June I wrote a piece on what I called ‘work processing’, where I explored some ideas about the use of new productivity apps, like Dropbox Paper,, or Quip, and looking at how these tools that support sharing, co-editing, and commenting of digital ‘docs’ can form the groundwork for something altogether different from what we used to call ‘word processing’. In reality, these tools are increasingly being used to manage and share information related to coordinating work. Along with the social communications built-into these tools — like commenting, @mentions, and co-editing — inclusion of checklists has led to these solutions acting as content-centric work management tools, or ‘work processing’ tools.

About Work Management

Work management is a term that has become widely used (one that I’ve advocated for some time) which represents the current state-of-the-practice in task management. Task management tools formerly were limited to a list of tasks: tasks with core attributes like due dates, descriptions, notes, attachments, and perhaps subtasks. These were amplified in more recent years with social sharing and communication, so that tasks could be assigned to other people, and comments could used to support basic communicate with team members (’team task management’). Nowadays, the most competitive tools incorporate social communications, like chat, @mentions, and messaging: these I consider work management tools, like Asana, Trello, and many others. I recently published a Gigaom report on this subject, 2016 Work Management Baseline Narrative.

(A few) Types of Work Technologies

About Work Processing

Using something like Dropbox Paper as a way to share work-related information is quite different than using a work management tool. Instead of putting lists of tasks at the center of the stage, relatively unstructured content — written text, images, tables, videos, audio, and other forms of content — takes the central role in information sharing, while tasks are indicated by checklists.

Metaphorically, work management is based on the human tendency toward making lists, while work processing relies on our natural urge to tell stories.

Metaphorically, work management is based on the human tendency toward making lists, while work processing relies on our natural urge to tell stories. Or, less romantically, work processing is more like writing in a journal, where occasionally you might add a list of things to do, but where the prose is where the most important information is found.

Using Dropbox Paper as a Work Processing Journal

For several weeks, I have used Dropbox Paper as a work processing journal. This experiment has not involved others, so the social dimension has been limited, but I’ve used Paper with teams in a few projects before, so I can talk to how that might work.

At the start, let me say that Dropbox Paper would be way more effective as a work processing solution if checklists were more task-like, and not just one of various sorts of lists, like bulleted or numbered lists. While checklist items can be used to indicate a task, and the checkbox can be checked to indicate being completed, if checklist items only had a bit more of a task model — with due dates, assignment, and so on — I would be more likely to promote Paper as a foundation for work processing.

Adopting the journaling model is straightforward. For each week, I create a new Paper document titled ‘week <Monday’s date>’, like ‘week 2016–08–29′. I define a Paper section to each day of the week, like 2016–08–29, or 2016–08–31. Then, for each day, I write notes and create tasks in one of the three timeframes:

  1. looking ahead, or prospectively;
  2. in real time, when I working on something alone or with others, as during meetings or on calls; or
  3. looking back, or retrospectively.

Here’s a screen capture (edited) of such a week journal:

Note the section markers in the left margin, where a click takes the viewer to the appropriate section, in this case, the five days of the workweek.

I haven’t displayed Paper comments: any piece of the doc can be selected and a right margin comment can be attached.

Collaborators can be @mentioned anywhere, which leads to them being notified. This requires them to be sharing the doc.

I started to used #tags in the document, although they aren’t supported yet, but it works for searching already, externally or internally.

I also create individual docs for calls and meetings, since they are better shared in that granularity, but I will often retrospectively copy some lines and/or tasks from such a call/meeting document back into the week journal, since it serves more as the system of record than individual call/meeting docs.

Where Dropbox Paper Falls Short in Work Processing

I’ve mentioned the problems with using checklist items as tasks, already, as the major issue with using Dropbox Paper in this way.

Other aspects of the experiment worked surprisingly well for me. I thought I’d miss a rich task model — due dates, notifications, etc. — more than I did. What I learned is that I relied on propinquity: the week journal doc was basically open all day, and as I was adding more information to the various sections I would reacquaint myself with things I need to be working on for Friday, or next week, as I entered new content. And I felt like I had a better big picture sense of what I was working on each day and for the week, than when I just relied on a work management list of tasks.

It would also be great — since Paper supports the idea of doc sections — if sharing could be linked to the section level of a doc, and not just the doc as a whole. Then I could create a section in a journal doc for a single meeting, for example, and invite those attending to share just that section.

However, the core problem I’ve encountered is the dimension of time. Journaling and task management aren’t organized around semantic nesting of docs in folders or the semantic structuring of content within docs, which is the organizing principal of Dropbox Paper (and other tools like it). Journaling and task management should naturally be based on time — hours, days, weeks, and months — not semantic nesting. Yes, I created a form of doc based on a weekly journal, but it’s not native to Paper, just a poor approximation.

In my next post in this series, I will be writing about an alternative to content-centric work processing, one that starts with the calendar as its foundation. Coming next in the Work Processing series: Beyond the Calendar, to Work Journaling.

Originally published at

Busybot: A ‘Parasitic’ Task Management Tool For Slack

Because Busybot and Slack look so much alike and are so tightly connected, I avoid the cognitive costs of switching.

I’ve tried using work management tools like Asana in connection with Slack, and the results have been mixed, principally because — I think — there is a mismatch in the basic orientation of the tools: Slack is messaging centered, while Asana is task centered.

In the case of a tool like Asana, when the Slack connection is used notifications are sent to a Slack channel whenever changes occur in the Asana workspace. For example, whenever a task is created, completed, or commented upon. A slash command (‘/asana’) lists tasks, and arguments to the command can lead to creating tasks, assigning tasks, and commenting on them.

Asana integration in Slack

But I confess that I have found this style of integration difficult. The two models of use — chat-based conversation in Slack and task-based coordination in Asana — don’t align for me, and the mapping from an Asana workspace to a Slack channel doesn’t always line up right. And I don’t necessarily want to have every tweak to a task dumped into the channel in Slack, per se. I don’t want that endless stream of noise, because Slack is noisy enough.

I recently encountered a tool that takes a different tack. Busybot avoids the mismatch problem by operating in a parasitic way. By that I mean it relies totally on Slack’s architecture to the greatest extent possible. For example, there is no independent login: you use Slack’s login. And once logged in, the channels of the team that you sign into are duplicated as contexts for tasks in Busybot.

Here’s the login:

login for Busybot

Here’s the #general channel for in Slack. You can see that I /invited busybot to the channel (I had already created the integration).

Inviting and Creating a Task

I typed a message to busybot, ‘ask Esko for a contribution’. If I had added ‘@stoweboyd’ that would have assigned the task to me, as well. Slack team

Over in Busybot, everything looks extremely similar:

Task in Busybot

On the left, the design of Slack is emulated, so that for each Slack channel there is an equivalent Busybot channel, where all tasks can be found. I’ve selected the ‘ask Esko’ task, and then the task pane opens. I’ve selected the ‘add checklist’ feature.

Task Checklist

I’ve added a single checklist item, but you can have as many as needed. Also descriptions, comments, deadline, and assignment of the task are available as metadata.

The task list can be sorted, which is moot in this case, since there is only one task:

Also note that the ‘@stoweboyd’ option at the top opens all the tasks assigned to me, and ‘all tasks’ opens all tasks in the team, sorted by channel.

Tasks can be added, edited, and deleted in Busybot, but can only be created and displayed in the Slack side of the integration, at present. I’ve been told by Busybot’s CEO and founder, Damian Bramanis, that various new features are coming, like multi-team functionality, new ways to groups tasks in views, and tags.

Conclusions and Takeaway

Busybot works for me despite the minimal degree of metadata, and I think the reason is the equivalence between the Slack and Busybot information models: I don’t have to switch gears mentally when I move from Slack to Busybot, or vice versa. It feels like I am in the same place, just looking at different attributes of the same system of information. Moving from Slack to Busybot feels like I am just zooming in on task details that are suppressed on the Slack side. Because the two ‘sides’ look so much alike and are so tightly connected, I avoid the cognitive switching costs of moving from Slack to non-parasitic tools, like Asana.

Yes, I’d like to be able to do more with Busybot, though. For example, I’d like to be able to change task attributes on the Slack side, like adding a comment to a task, so that the text of the task comment would appear both in the Slack chat history and in the task comment thread. Damian tells me they are working on ways of accomplishing more sophisticated sorts of integration like that, perhaps with a /busybot command, or clever use of the channel topic (setting the topic to the name of a task, for example, so that commands could refer to that task).

At any rate, I will be watching the developments at Busybot with close attention.

Crossposted 1 May 2016 on

Update 1 May 2016 4:30pm: Several folks mentioned Swipes for Slack, as another approach to accomplish some or all of what Busybot does. I will review in another post.

Samepage wants to get us on the same page: very 2010

Samepage is an emerging work-media tool based on the design metaphor of shared “pages” that are made up of widget-like elements: text regions, files, images, maps, events, tables, tasks, maps, videos, links, and HTML. There are associated comments for each of the objects. Its parent company, Kerio, has developed the product as a way to help cooperating teams see eye to eye, but it’s unclear that we need this in the workplace. In reality, we need to get our work done, and that requires a great deal of integration with existing tools rather than the approach Kerio has taken.

In a way, the tool reminds me of a better-structured wiki, partly because each page can have many sub-pages and the fact that pages are composed of structured elements.

Here’s the basic view of a Samepage page:

Screenshot 2014-11-30 14.32.04

As you see, the various widgets can be added to the region on the left while comments are shared in the right margin.

Here’s sharing options:

Screenshot 2014-11-30 14.33.41

Users can invite people by adding email addresses or by making the page public, allowinganyone with the URL to view the information shown.

Here’s a more elaborate page showing a calendar, images, and table:

Screenshot 2014-11-30 14.33.11

The Bottom Line

I understand that some contingent of social-collaboration users may want the flexibility that Samepage offers — namely the ability to integrate information elements of various types into a shared page. This is much like the desire to build custom websites or to tinker with presentation formats.

However, I am convinced that there is a social cost that comes from using solutions where each new page can have a unique layout: The invited participants must learn the layout of each one in order to effectively use them.

Just as important, each of these widgets is a simplified version of their counterparts in other tools. The table widget is something like a Google or Excel spreadsheet but much less feature-rich. Likewise, the task features are less rich than counterparts like Asana, Todoist, or Trello, and Samepage doesn’t support their integration as it does with cloud-file solutions.

And there is no way to convert a Samepage page to a Word document, which is a widely used format convertible to Apple Pages and Google Docs, and something that is easily distributed. Yes, you can publish to the web, but that’s not the same experience.

The fundamental question is this: Do people want all their shared information in a single, proprietary silo or do they want to distribute and integrate information in a collection of best-of-breed tools? The all-rolled-up-in one mantra seems very five-years-ago. In 2014, my bet is on the best-of-breed approach. Witness the rise of Slack as an exemplar of this.

Slack is largely a collection of chat rooms with a great search and user experience, built on the notion of being a central integration point with a network of cooperating applications. In this way, the user can converse with coworkers in the context of what is being discussed, like design documents, trouble tickets, customer support reports, and sales stats. However, that content is created and managed in best-of-breed applications that play nice with Slack. So Slack doesn’t have to manage all that content itself but simply presents it in context and provides deep indexing so everything can be found again.

So, the The San Francisco Hiking Club example page above might wind up being the sweet spot for Samepage: loosely connected groups that interact infrequently and that do not rely on a battery of mission-critical enterprise apps. But tightly connected coworkers communicating frequently about information produced by mission-critical enterprise apps will be unlikely to gravitate to Samepage.

Google teams up with PwC for work

Seems like there’s a lot of teaming up going on. This past week we saw Twitter announcing a relationship with IBM to provide data mining and analysis of Twitter data for enterprise clients and brands. That follows on the recent partnership of IBM and Apple via which IBM plans to build apps for iOS devices (see Apple and IBM team up to go after the enterprise together).

In other, and more work technology-oriented news, Google and PwC have announced a partnership where the global consulting organization of almost 200,000 professionals will deploy Google tools internally, and steer clients toward them as well.

The company is rolling out 45,000 Google for Work seats in the US and Australia. It’s not known what email services is being replaced, but it’s reasonable to assume Microsoft Exchange.

Along with Google for Work, Drive for Work, and related tools (like Hangouts, Docs, and so on), PwC will be developing new security monitoring algorithms on Google Cloud Platform, as well.

These moves are intended to blunt the argument made by Google’s competitors that the company is not really focused on the enterprise marketplace. Although Google has 450 full-time security engineers, however, those claims are largely sour grapes about the rapid growth of Google’s work products.

Google Drive has grown an additional 50 million users since June, since offering unlimited storage for $10/user/month (see Google releases Drive for Work: unlimited storage, $10 per month) and is now above 240 million users, for example.

Perhaps the availability of migration apps by a number of Google partners is part of the reason, with simple ways to move files from Box, Dropbox, OneDrive, and personal Google Drive accounts.

The deal isn’t exclusive so PwC and Google are free to work with other companies.


Slack raises $120M, now valued at $1.12B

Slack, the wildly popular work chat application, has raised additional funding of $120 million from all existing investors and some new ones, like David Sacks (founder and former CEO of Yammer), Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Google Ventures, bringing investment to $180 million. Tbe post-funding valuation is $1.12 billion.

The company is showing blistering growth: over 30,000 companies have signed up since the February launch, and that number has doubled in the past 10 weeks. More than 200 million messages are sent daily. More than 73,000 of the daily active users are paid seats, and the company is adding $1 million in ARR every week.

This looks to be the fastest growing enterprise software-as-a-service company to date.

I’ve written about the company many times, as in Contextual conversation: Work chat will dominate collaboration, and Work conversation tool Slack raises $43M. As I said in February, when the product launched,

Slack is the conversational tool from Tiny Speck, founded by Stewart Butterfield of Flickr fame. He signed up 8,000 companies in the first 24 hours after the launch in August, and it is intended to be more than just a chat utility. It also serves as a file manager — based on its search, it’s much better than storing anything on your hard drive –and as a Yammerish work media tool. But his aspirations are greater: he wants Slack to be the social layer for a company’s information flow on tools like Dropbox, Zendesk, Heroku, and Helpscout, where the messages from those apps would surface in appropriate chats on Slack.

Two people I really admire — John Doerr, general partner of KPCB, and M.G. Siegler, general partner of Google Ventures — will be taking observer seats on the board of directors.


Stewart Butterfield

Stewart Butterfield, CEO and founder of Slack, seems eager to grow the company, saying

The world is in the very early stages of a 100 year shift in how people communicate, and we’re determined to push the boundaries. As the leader of a brand new product category, we have a huge advantage right now. These next 6 to 18 months are going to be critical for growth and this funding round gives us unlimited flexibility to ensure that Slack’s momentum will continue to pick up steam.

David Sacks, who knows a great deal about work technologies, will be serving as an advisor to Slack, and he said this:

Stewart and his team have done an amazing job designing this product, hitting the right balance between power and simplicity. The rates of growth, engagement and retention are unprecedented.

Maybe they’ll hire some marketing and sales people, since they have none at present. Wait a minute. Maybe they shouldn’t, at that.

Update 10:08pm ET 31 October 2014 — M.G. Siegler recounts how he learned about Slack and why Google Ventures is in.

Google Enterprise is now Google for Work: The rise of the personal

I had an opportunity to meet with some Googlers this week, and we talked about the renaming of Google Enterprise to Google for Work, which was announced Tuesday, in a post written by Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman.

When I heard about the change, I immediately saw it as a reorganization of the point-of-view. Enterprises do business, but people do work. This is a dramatic shift away from a corporate, managerial positioning of the tools, to a personal, individual position. They are saying that Google is building these tools for us, the workforce, so we can get our work done, so we can connect with others, and we can achieve our goals.

They are moving into a discourse about our personal involvement with tools, and through them with each other.

This is turning out to be the week of the personal, what with this rebranding and the unveiling of Apple Watch. Tim Cook said ‘Apple Watch is the most personal device Apple has ever created’. 

Our attachment to tools and devices is personal: we use them every day. We live in contact with them. Jony Ive observed that the Apple Watch is touching you, touching your skin, sensing your pulse. You can’t get more personal than that. Although the tools we use shape our minds and culture, even if we aren’t physically touching them. That is just as personal.

The Googlers — from the Google for Work Team — agreed with my take. It will be interesting to see how this shifts the the contours of the tools themselves, but changing the thinking about who the products are for — living, breathing people, not an amorphous enterprise —  and what needs they have is a first step in that department, too.

The New Visionaries: An Interview With Susan Scrupski

I’ve known Susan Scrupski since we served on the Enterprise 2.0 conference program committee, and followed her creation of the 2.0 Adoption Council. Over the years we’ve become friends, and I thought it was high time to interview her for this series.

About Susan Scrupski

Susan is, her tells us,

tirelessly working to foster new thinking and behaviors in global enterprises.
Susan Scrupski founded the The 2.0 Adoption Council and is currently growing Change Agents Worldwide.

The Interview

Stowe Boyd: I’ve watched your work since the mid ‘00s, when we served together on the Enterprise 2.0 conference program committee. And I was very intrigued when you formed The 2.0 Adoption Council. What led to the formation of the Council? You merged that into Dachis Group where it became the Social Business Council, which seems to have gone dark since September (see Juxtaposition: Dachis Group is acquired by Sprinklr, PostShift opens for business). Is it dead now?

The same way Airbnb is in the hospitality business without hotels, we are in the consulting business without employees. – Susan Scrupski

Susan Scrupski: I’d been blogging and tracking the developments of what we originally called, “Web 2.0 in the Enterprise” from 2006 on my ITSinsider blog. You and I served together as board members on the first Enterprise 2.0 Conference held in Boston in 2007. Back in those days, it was a small cadre of passionate people who were writing about the so-called movement around more open and collaborative ways of connecting and working in the large enterprise.
As a board member of the E20 conference, I noticed something distinctly different at the 2009 conference – customers were actually showing up. At that time, there was no real expertise on how to “do” E20, as most of the early adopters were just experimenting themselves. There were no consulting firms who had more knowledge than the customers themselves; not even the platform vendors were able to help these early adopters in many cases. So, The 2.0 Adoption Council was the solution to that problem in a classic startup sense. It was wildly successful and grew to many hundreds of members in a few short months. As we rolled into 2010, I started looking for ways to grow the Council beyond my ability to support it as a sole proprietor. Altimeter made me an offer; I spoke to Emergence Capital about possible funding, but it wasn’t until I had a conversation with Jeff Dachis that I felt I was ready to take the Council to the next level.
Dachis Group acquired the Council in 2010, and ultimately rebranded it to become the Social Business Council. Considering the exit Dachis Group just made, it’s clear to see why the Council was not really a fit as the focus of the company turned more toward building software for marketers. Dachis Group pulled the plug on the Council in the fall of 2013.
SB: You’ve now started Change Agents Worldwide. What’s the vision for that group?
SS: My vision has remained constant since I started tracking this space. I’ve always advocated for advancing the liberating, evolved freedoms that come along with the adoption of more human-based technologies and processes for the large enterprise. I learned a lot about networks and how people behave and what they can achieve together in networks via my experience with the Council. More importantly, I learned that there are a lot of people around the world who share my beliefs, and that there is a certain DNA required to do this sort of work.
Change Agents Worldwide is the next evolution of the work I’ve been doing since 2006. The group’s vision is squarely centered on helping large companies transition from old world models established in the industrial era to modern network-based, agile models that improve not only the work experience for the workforce, but lead to top-line gains in innovation and growth. We are a small cadre of professionals from various disciplines (HR/learning, IT, Marketing, R&D, OD, KM, Innovation) who share the same vision and values, and we run our company in the way we’re advocating by putting these principles in practice.

We’ve moved beyond the adoption of new technologies to the core tenets of what it will take to evolve the organization and the nature of work itself for the future. At Change Agents Worldwide, we believe that embracing the principles of social (transparency, authenticity, trust, and a culture of sharing/collaboration) are the foundation for the future of work. – Susan Scrupski

SB: CAWW is a loose network of cooperators? The Agents are not employees drawing a salary, right? How does an engagement with an organization work?
SS: Engagement happens within our private client pods. The network is not really that loose. We see ourselves more as a coalition and engagement within our network is fairly high. When we’re talking about project work, we like to describe our network as a “collaborative sharing economy model for consulting.” We don’t have employees; we have network members who consult. So, the same way Airbnb is in the hospitality business without hotels, we are in the consulting business without employees.
SB: What’s your take on the ‘social business is dead’ meme? My position is that it’s not dead, but it’s not enough, either: there are a number of critical trends and tech impacting the modern business, and social is just one among a short list of major forces.
SS: I was against co-opting the social business label for this sector from the beginning because it was essentially “taken” already by Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, who just so happened to be trying to solve world poverty. I couldn’t convince anyone it was a bad idea back in ‘08 or so when it cropped up, so I capitulated. That editorial footnote aside, in theory, the macro conversation around what our industry’s version of social business stood for is still as relevant today as ever, in many ways, even more so. It’s problematic, however, that social pundits oftentimes use “social business” to describe two completely different phenomena, namely social inside the enterprise vs. external social media marketing and customer relations. These two worlds share a common vocabulary, but oftentimes confuse and conflate issues, further damaging a busy executive’s ability to fully grok what the import of these trends are and how they can help (and hurt) the company. Add to that the internationally well-understood concepts behind Social Enterprise (businesses with a social or environmental mission) and Yunus’ Social Business, and it just gets needlessly more complicated.

Stowe Boyd: What do you think is the single greatest barrier to company’s adopting those organization changes?
Susan Scrupski: Ironically? Success.

To your second point, could not agree more. We’ve moved beyond the adoption of new technologies to the core tenets of what it will take to evolve the organization and the nature of work itself for the future. At Change Agents Worldwide, we believe that embracing the principles of social (transparency, authenticity, trust, and a culture of sharing/collaboration) are the foundation for the future of work. Upon that foundation, organizations must retool to embrace the ubiquity of mobility, sensors, robotics, and whatever is coming next that stand to upend businesses and whole industries. And that’s just the technology thrust. The organizational changes required to compete in the 21st century are even more complex and more difficult for prevailing socially stratified leadership to accept. That’s the greater challenge, and where real expertise is in short supply.
SB: What do you think is the single greatest barrier to company’s adopting those organization changes?
SS: Ironically? Success. Successful companies have no intrinsic motivation to change, but dating back to a piece I like to refer to by the founder of BCG written in 1968, “Why Change is so Difficult,” there are predominantly three dependent reasons why companies fail to change and ultimately fail altogether: executive management doesn’t recognize or believe there is a fundamental shift underway important enough to affect the business, leadership doesn’t champion the change, and by the time they figure it out, it’s too late. This has never been more true than it is today.
SB: Thanks for your time, Susan.
SS: My pleasure Stowe! Thanks for having me.