Online Collaboration On A Document – A Great Story

Sometime ago a few of the WaveAdept team were over in Sydney working hard (that’s our story and we’re sticking with it!). Whilst over in the Great West Island we stumbled over an opportunity that we believed the team really should have a crack at … but we only had an afternoon to gather our thoughts, write up an RFP* and get it out to the relevant people.

AND, I instantly muddied the waters by suggesting that a third party based in New Zealand would make a perfect partner for this work. So there we are with 3 hours, a Microsoft Word document and Ben in another country/timezone to contact and collaborate with. We love a challenge as much as the next person but we knew we had the tools and, to to be honest, the only issue was getting in touch with the other party, would they be online … w00t, they were!

Over the next few hours we:

  1. Used Skype to chat with Ben – yes, he love to be involved, but only had 2 hours before other commitments
  2. Converted the Word document to a Google Doc
  3. Shared the doc with the WaveAdept team + Ben
  4. Using Google Doc’s inbuilt chat assigned the sections to each person
  5. Watched the words appear, corrected typos (your own and others), chat when clarification needed
  6. Assigned another WaveAdept team member to QA using comments as required
  7. Downloaded to PDF / Microsoft Word to email the final document
    (which was sad, why couldn’t we have just shared the doc and save the email attachment?)

All achieved in 2 hours leaving an hour to sit back and have a congratulatory beer.
Would we have been able to achieve this without true cloud collaboration, no of course not. We would have run out of time emailing the document between ourselves and Ben would have had to leave the document half finished as he ran out of time. As for our QA person, well, poor sod would’ve have spent an evening collating the copies into one to be sent out.

But the promise of true real-time collaboration is nothing new … no, you are correct the promise of working like this has always been made and I have been in this industry long enough to know that it has never been delivered quite as smoothly as that before. In essence the technology has finally become invisible, a non-issue and “out of the way”. We did not have to fight versions, wait for updates, share document locks or any of the “1 document to 1 person” that has beleaguered knowledge workers until the recent past. In essence, it was the perfect real life example of exactly why YOU should care about Google Docs.

Two other observations on the experience.

Firstly, it was one of the few times I have collaborated online and it felt as if everyone was physically in the same room. This could only happen through real-time updates together with multiple collaboration means – we had the document, IM and video chat which were used as required with none being used 100% of the time, we flip-flopped between them. Think of the behaviour in a physical meeting, there are many types of human interactions but it’s the sign of a “boring meeting” when it’s only one type being used (one person talking, only being able to read PowerPoint slides …)

The second observation took some thinking about and it only came to me working on other documents in a similar way. When you’re in a physical meeting you do not (hopefully) just start talking when you feel like it, cutting out others, interrupting as you go and generally paying no heed to what others are doing. The same goes for collaborating (it’s NOT just “editing”!) on a document – you do not dive into a sentence being constructed by someone else and start changing it, even if it’s just to correct a typo. No, you wait until they have finished. However, what I noticed was that, much like in real life, you can tell when people are waiting, there is an air of “once you’re done I have something to say” about them and with a Google Doc it is the flashing coloured cursor of the other person at the beginning of the line. You can tell where they are in the document and that they may be about to edit, but they are waiting.

BTW: There is something similar when working with Google Wave (learn more …)

Oh, on more observation – it was so much fun as we chatted, laughed, were silly. Work is about people (in my industry) and people are not robots.

I trust this wee look into how we work has given you food for thought and talk to us about your particular challenges and let us bring our experience and tools to your collaboration needs.

* RFP = Request For Proposal, government speak for “tell us about why you fit with our requirements … in a document”. A fundamentally flawed to approach to the start of a relationship both parties hope will last the test of time – would you start that way with a new boyfriend/girlfriend you both would like to be husband/wife?

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One comment:

  1. Gavin Knight says:

    great story, some real learnings there for all of us

    agree on RFPs too, a very broken process which larger organisations are too wedded to

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