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Here’s some great examples of bad examples

Simon Terry, someone I think highly of, mentioned an article in a recent chat:

Simon Terry (via Yammer chat)

This is one of the worst examples I have ever seen of using technology to extend Taylorist thinking by creating a better form of micromanagement. The authors suggests that collaboration and leadership is an all powerful manager remotely changing a process and then rely on measurement to track the performance as if it was a science experiment.

Where is the collaboration and leadership in this example? It doesn’t reflect my understanding of those terms.

I was intrigued, so I took a look at the piece, published on Dzone’s Social Business page, entitled How online collaboration drives leadership, sponsored by a company called Comindware and without a human’s name on it. It seems to be describing functionality of Comindware Tracker, a task management solution with some degree of workflow rules in it.

Micromanagement off, Comindware Tracker on

First of all, always know what your employees are currently occupied with and the current state of every process you are responsible for. Without using Comindware Tracker, this can lead to what we all want to avoid – micromanagement. But if you have designed your processes in Comindware Tracker and your employees are actively using it, there’s no need to constantly ask them (remember – they can be in another office, at the other side of the world) – ‘What are you currently doing?’, ‘What are you going to do after that?’, ‘When you are going to finish that?’. Each process corresponds to a work item in Comindware Tracker and you can see whatever you want on your screen.

[…]

Another key feature for a successful onlineoffline leader is to constantly improve the processes they control. Do not be afraid to redesign your processes, make significant and less significant changes to improve them. All you need to do is to open your process in Workflow Editor and add/remove steps, transitions or validation rules. Your changes are instant – all your employees will have access to these changes immediately. Important note: the process is implemented smoothly. It is not disturbed while being modified in Comindware Tracker, so your work activities keep rolling and your employees are using the system with no interruption while you bring changes to the workflow.

This seems to be describing an old school command-and-control approach to work management, where the boss breaks down all work into discrete tasks and defines the routing of work artifacts — like documents or folders — from one person to the next, like a 1990s insurance claims processing process. This is totally at odds with modern creative or cognitive work.

I will use this as a stark example of how seemingly positive terminology — like leadership, collaboration, or avoiding micromanagement — can actually be a smokescreen for coercive and intrusive business principles, or, perhaps unsurprisingly, micromanagement instead of leadership. My sense is that anybody would feel uneasy is working with tools whose purpose is for managers to know exactly what we are working on, at all times, rather than helping us be more productive.

This is a form of writing I see a great deal, but it may be no worse than the fluffery that arises when techno-utopians jumble concepts together almost randomly, like these that made me glad I didn’t attend SxSWi this year:

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