Note:the screenshots in this article will need a bigger screen than a phone.
The challenge: Build a next level, deliberately developmental technology company.
The founders of Signify.ai hired Lisa and I at The-Organization.com to assist them to design their technology and organizational platforms. Lisa and I began work with two of the founders two days a week in September 2017, and the team has since grown to eight members.
Over the year we have been working relentlessly on a mixture of technology, governance and collaboration practices, personal development, and conscious culture creation. It’s been an amazing journey, filled with moments of jubilation at our successes and deep personal doubt about our ideas and abilities. (But I suppose that’s pretty normal.) We have learned so much, in so many areas, and there is an incredible amount to share.
In this article, I’m going to focus on a short intro to one of the tools that we have recently started to use as the foundation of our day-to-day governance processes, and our ongoing workshops and training.
Coda.io : A new day for docs
I must have signed up for the coda beta months ago, because I had completely forgotten about it when I got the email that I now had Beta access. (Coda is still in closed beta, but you can jump the queue! ) I got pretty excited about what I saw when I logged in.
Coda allows you to work with data in a flexible free-form way, in the middle of collaborative text documents.
Coda was the tool I needed to get our organisational governance up to the next level. We have been working on building up dynamic governance practices step by step, constantly learning and evolving what and how we did things rather than fully adopting any existing system (Like holacracy), and so I had been avoiding using any pre-packaged tools (like www.glassfrog.com).
You can read some of the story, and see some of the card based processes we used in this article:
Creating culture with agreements
Thoughts on the foundations of collaboration, and what makes an organization.
What I immediately saw in Coda was a tool that would allow me to quickly evolve the database we needed to support our processes. Working with index cards on a board was fine for the very early days, but we grew out of it fast.
I’d been looking at other software, spreadsheets, custom Drupal sites, but none of them did what I needed.
After discovering Coda, I also quickly found Airtable.com, and I have been recommending that to many others as it’s a far more mature tool to Coda — and you don’t need to be on any kind of waiting list. I’ve stuck with Coda however because of the way it allows me to mix text and data.
Dynamic Governance is a constant learning and education process
Over the last four or five years I’ve been working to establish various forms of dynamic governance in the companies I have run or been part of. The practices and processes of this form of governance are new to pretty-much everyone and no matter how simple things may seem in theory (and they actually sound complex in theory) when you try them on a day-to-day basis with a growing team, they always feel much more complex.
Changing everyone’s assumptions about how a company could actually be run take time. There are so many details, so many new concepts, so many ingrained ways of being and acting that need to change. Every day requires exploration, learning and sharing of ideas, very often going round and round over the same simple concepts…for months. What we found in Coda was a way to mix the training and documentation with the data!
We have now started to build our governance database, and mix in practical workshops that allow the whole team to work on concepts, learning step by step — while actually performing the actions of governance.
It’s all under construction
We’re building and rebuilding this tool every day. It’s very much a work in progress — and always will be. As of this moment, while Coda is still in closed Beta, I’m not quite able to share our actual work — although if you email me, I can get you access — so what I am doing here is sharing some screenshots of the progress and experimentation we are doing.
It’s always a bit embarrassing showing this kind of thing. It’s full of things that I know could be better, it’s full of half finished, out of date text. But, like open source software, sharing early and often is a great way to be better.
A little tour of our governance manual at Signify.ai
I’m adding some animated screenshots that will show some glimpses of what Coda can do as a platform for governance. Click on the screenshots to see them a little larger.
To get an idea of what Coda’s features, have a quick look at their website (https://coda.io/welcome). I’ll speak a bit more about how we use it in practice.
Screenshot one shows some of the pages for managing tensions and governance meeting agendas. Each of these pages can contain information explaining the governance process, and also contain the tables of data, and controls to run the meetings.
Coda documents can exist as a collection of folders and sections, and we group all the sections/pages needed to manage governance meeting into a section.
Personal views and dynamic filters
Coda allows for tables (and views of tables) to be embedded onto any page, and filtered in many different ways. We can create a folder in the document that contains pages that show only data relevant to the current user.
My personal roles, the responsibilities and evaluation criteria for each role and any personal initiatives can all be made easily available for status updates.
The big picture
Coda builds databases not spreadsheets. The tables you create can be cross referenced, and displayed in many different ways. There is no duplication of data when you create a personal view, or an organizational overview — these are just different windows onto the same data.
We can provide pages that show roles relevant to a single person, or we can show everything and how it all fits together. Our manual has sections for people, domains, agreements, roles, role details and role assignments. All of these different pages cross reference each other…. and the process for building the cross eferences is amazingly simple, requiring no coding… unless you want to start getting fancy.
Interactive workshops with real data
Recently we have started to build training workshops directly into our governance manual. In developing the team’s confidence in the tensions -> proposals-> roles process, we can build the training material, and then do interactive sessions where people are participating, in the process, using the tools in real time. We can also gather immediate feedback in the effectiveness of the workshop because we have real data. (Everyone liked my first interactive attempt, but the data showed that I had a lot of work to do!)
Coda makes it very easy to export data to other documents via cut-and-paste. It also has an API for those who want to dig in.
We plugged our data into kumi.io to do some visualisations. These visuals can then be embedded back into Coda pages.
That’s it for now
Coda will launch soon. I hope to be able to refine things a little further, and then release this work as a coda template to allow others to build on these foundations if they want to.
I’m always interested in other people’s experience of practically running organizations in this way, and would love to hear what problems and solutions others are facing.
Al Chen from Coda got in touch and has given me a link to fast track readers through the waiting list. If you sign up via this link, you’ll get immediate access. (Thank you Al)