Which Tool When, v3.0

Of all the questions I’ve been asked over the last 6 years in my role as “Collaboration Tool Evangelist to Employees” in Microsoft, one has consistently been the most common:

“Which tool do I use when?”

This question about tool choice needs to become a decision to change the way we work. New tools will arrive every year, so continually returning to that question will either paralyze you or keep you trapped in the Tools of Yesteryear, never realizing the full potential of the old or the new.

Evolutionary Thinking

My journey with this question started in mid-2011, when I was trying to get employees to use an internal newsfeed called OfficeTalk that we’d been using to replace the lackluster SharePoint 2010 Newsfeed (“My Site”). One morning, I had one of those Flux Capacitor moments that usually come when I’m shaving. When I got to work, I put together this simple graphic.

Which Tool When, v1.0

It became the most liked and referenced image on OfficeTalk for the year. The simple quadrants became an easy way to talk about it.

Then came 25 June 2012…

Microsoft’s acquisition of Yammer certainly complicated (and improved!) my job, but the “which tool when?” questions started pouring back in. As the toolset expanded, employees wanted to know how everything fit together. I wanted to keep the model simple, but I added SharePoint in an evolution of the concept.

Two years later, I’m STILL getting asked the question, partly because Microsoft keeps speeding up their innovations. Here’s a new version, tweaked for what’s currently available in Office 365.

Which Tool When, v2.0

I went to blurry shapes here to reflect the inevitable overlap between tools. We like to think tech is always clean lines and clear value, but the truth is just as messy as life.

In this version, replacing “portals and blogs” with “publishing and Delve Boards” reflects O365's move to a simpler publishing model, optimized more for crowdsourcing than control, with Delve Boards being Exhibit A. The new Groups will provide group collaboration for teams that prefer either type of conversations: email or social feeds. But standalone Yammer groups are still there, and are ideal for larger, company-wide communities of practice. Persistent chat, while only available on-premise, is a scenario that’s seen a resurgence with services like Slack.

Delve Boards

Is it about “who” or “how”?

What is it that drives this question about what to use? Do we really not understand the tools, or is it that we don’t see how they help us achieve our business goals? Switching from email to social networks seems to be particularly tough, as the benefits are largely collective rather than personal. The essential difference is transparency, and that can produce fear as often as motivation.

However, that transparency can increase the agility of a team, and by extension, their responsiveness to the market. Watch the video at left to hear Yammer co-founder Adam Pisoni explain how this works.

Transparency can also now be applied to most of the technology we use. I’ve revisited my model below, replacing audience size with an axis of more critical importance to companies: responsiveness. To be clear, this doesn’t assume that those technologies on the right are “better,” just better suited for scenarios where the values of transparency, enablement, and flexibility are more important than secrecy, control, and long term planning.

The return to sharp lines below don’t imply overlap has gone away, but they emphasize the left-right continuum. I’m suggesting that we should be thinking more about how we use all of our tools rather than getting too hung up on which one to use.

Which Tool When, v3.0

While Yammer is the most recent poster child for transparency, it also has features that let you keep your secrets when you have to. SharePoint sites are normally only as organized and transparent as their owners create them to be, but Delve Boards allow any employee to be the curator of the collections your team needs. The default save to OneDrive for Business is to the cloud, but is still private. Saving to the “Shared with Everyone” folder means you’re sharing as well as saving.

The “Which Tool When” question isn’t going away any time soon. Before long, we’ll be asking when to turn on the holograms in our conference rooms vs. sticking to video. And these decisions will always be fraught with politics, generation gaps, and… human messiness.

However, by keeping a few North Stars in view—the culture, values, and needs of your business, and your role in it—perhaps the question of what tools to use and how to use them gets easier. Instead of using tools in ways that force you to decide who needs to know, let the information find its way to those in your company that can make the most of it.

PS. (March 2017) The continual evolution of Office 365 provided another opportunity to revisit this topic with the introduction of Teams. Here’s my post about that new wrinkle.