The 36 chambers (#channels?) of chat

You may not master them all, but it’s good to have a defined progression

In the classic martial arts film The 36th Chamber of Shaolin [1978] the protagonist must follow a prescribed path to become a master of Kung Fu. Each chamber teaching a skill or strength, while seeming mundane, leads to total body and mind enlightenment. 🙇

In the same way, as a company looks to take on chat as a new tool they need to be guided along a path allowing them to incorporate the benefits without leaving workers alienated, or frustrated. Similar to the movie, I’ll take you through the first few chambers in detail, and then gloss over the middle bit and just present you with an image of the awesomeness of complete mastery.

In my previous post, I made the assertion there is a role for chat in the Enterprise. What is the role? Many of the ideas I’m presenting I was able to experience while working at GitHub, others are based on opportunities I have seen in my 15+ years working for/with large Enterprise companies.

A brief disclaimer: There are many paths to success and your best bet is to know your organization. However, the intent of this post is to provide an example of incorporating chat into the Enterprise along with some lessons learned.

Start with the basics

For any new tool to be adopted successfully there needs to be a clear articulation of value and ideally sponsorship and support from the top down. If the goal is to enable an Enterprise or large organization with a chat platform, this means the leadership needs to be invested and participatory.

If the tool is viewed as something to placate younger workers, adoption will be a long and painful process likely of failure. Or, at least the larger value proposition of knowledge centralization will be limited. Because, like it or not, chat is already part of the Enterprise workflow.

This may take many out of their comfort zone, but without this engagement it is a missed opportunity.

Executives should be thinking of chat as a way to gain insight and visibility at the ground level of your organization. Instead of being dependent on status reports or lengthy weekly update meetings, you have access to the information as it happens. It is also a great way to ensure your priorities get disseminated and articulated as you intended.

Define your cultural norms

In every established company there are cultural norms around communication tools. When to include your manager in an email, when to call the CEO on their cell phone listed in the corporate directory, or expectations around hanging memes in the break room.

This will be defined over time with chat as well, and is more often than not up to the CEO or exec team to dictate. There is a huge potential for chat to be an engagement tool, but just like an open-door policy, it has to be sincere.

Chamber #1: First Class

It’s no coincidence, chat as a platform started to spread amongst developers and operations teams; mainly because those teams have been using chat as a tool for years.

So, rather than trying to blaze a new path and starting with your Finance or Marketing teams; build some wins first. Often times this is already taking place, so make sure if you are rolling out a new chat platform to include your developer and operations teams in phase one. This will ensure the platform you have chosen will integrate with the systems on which your most advanced users will be most dependent.

In the realm of dev and ops there are few teams not already using some type of chat platform. The important part to understand is to what extent. For some IRC functionality is sufficient, while others have gone full-in on ChatOps, but most are in the middle. The most successful teams are the ones who build out their chat integrations over time based on established workflows and business process then scripted or automated.

Similarly, when on-boarding or training new employees it is important to make sure they understand what the automation is actually doing and why the process benefits from the automation and chat-based implementation. The best way to instill this mentality in dev and ops teams is often to associate an on-boarding project with optimizing an existing automation, or creating a new one for an established process.

Take the time to look at the breadth of scripts for Hubot you’ll quickly realize the all-the-things-bot was not built in a day; and has grown because of a community. There are also an ever increasing number of bots being build for Slack as well as other chat platforms.

The possibilities for automation and integrations are just starting to scratch the surface. And there is a bunch of folks have written awesome posts on the topic. But let’s stay on our path.

Chamber #2: Support

Similar to your operations team, the shared space aspect of chat lends itself perfectly to support organizations. Applications like ZenDesk have solved this challenge of shared inbox, shared support tickets, etc. I’m not convinced chat is at a point where it eliminates the needs for tools such as a ticket management system; but I have seen chat make those tools far more effective. Ideally, chat is integrated with these systems to build out a knowledge base more contextualized and more broadly applicable than just a collection of tickets seen by support.

By having support tickets integrated with a chat room you are able to engage in an internal conversation with resources no longer needing access to the external support tool. This can save on license costs as well as limit the possibility of an inappropriate response.

Having an integration linking your support systems to your chat platform in a manner that passes information in both direction can also provide greater context when reviewing entries in a ticket system. Suddenly, you can see conversations about a specific issue from your ticket system and have a quick and easy way to see the history of an issue from your chat channel.

However, the real value and return on integration (the new ROI) is the potential for this transparency to be used for training new members of the support team, improving product and user experience, and having the issues be part of the larger company data stream.

Training new support team members in a chat based environment allows for the concept of N:N mentorship. Instead of having new support team members shadow or work with a single individual, you can create a culture able to on-board a large number of new individuals very quickly by allowing them to ask question in an open environment and get responses from not one, but many senior team members.

Products and Engineering teams can sit in support rooms/channel and see the issues as they come up and can even reference portions of the thread and associated tickets with feature enhancements or bug fixes. By bringing this information in the chat platform, there is one less data repository needing to be queried to get this feedback into the development cycle.

Again… this is basic, but often overlooked.

Chamber #3: Sales

In the Enterprise, sales is not typically the team you want to introduce to new technology. But, when done correctly, chat presents a huge opportunity for both sales and the rest of the company.

IHAC… Who owns the XYZ account? What’s the standard discount on this size deal? Does anyone know someone at company ABC?

For the Sales team there is value in having a searchable shared space. IHAC… Who owns the XYZ account? What’s the standard discount on this size deal? Does anyone know someone at company ABC? All of these questions permeate Sales email distribution lists. For those not in Sales, you may ask “isn’t that what a CRM is for?” In short, yes. In reality, it is often easier to just ask.

CRM’s are great for reporting, they are not great for selling. If you have a team focused on closing deals, fast access to information will greatly improve team satisfaction and productivity.

When integrated with your CRM, chat can be used to pull and push information with the benefit of a shared space. This means others can help you find what you’re looking for or gain insight into what you’re working on incase there is overlap.

The SalesForce API may take a little effort to enable, but a quick search and you can find a number of projects to give you a head start. And in the case of SalesForce you can always find a Systems Integrator more than happy to help you out.

Chambers #4 — n: Roll-out Plan

Once chat has made a mark on Engineering, Operations, Support and Sales; there is no going back. Those organizations will likely start to prefer to engage internally with the chat tool and the rest of the company will be brought along for the ride.

The trick is to have some plans in place to enhance the engagement of those organizations as well. For Finance this could be an integrations with NetSuite or the billing tool of your choice. For Marketing this could be an integration with Twitter or Facebook to know when folks are mentioning your product, company, or industry.


Adoption and value will depend on the user(s). In the case of chat, as with any collaboration tool, it is better with more people engaged. However, there are also challenges when operating at scale as well. Different tools have chosen to solve scale in different ways; FlowDock has threaded chat, HipChat recently added a sidebar with the ability to integrate “glances”, and most platforms have looked to provide greater access controls around notifications.

All of these platforms require a certain level of finesse and savviness to move from using to useful. However, the key distinguishing trait for this new generation of chat is the expectation of programmatic interaction. The chat functionality is a UI that ties together extendable business logic to make life better.

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