There are more productivity applications out in the world than I would ever care to count.
The search for the right combination of applications has been particularly informative over the past few months as I explore the capture of design processes here at the d.school. While the exploration has been an interesting one from which I have been able to reap personal benefits, I'm still struggling to find a single application or process that others will readily use in an active team environment.
As I write this, I am sitting in a meeting with our teaching fellows, Ashish Goel, Alissa Murphy and Erik Olesund and our media curriculum designer, Seamus Harte. The purpose of the meeting: to begin gathering all of the artifacts and insights from this year's bootcamp class.
There's a huge repository of information -- everything from sticky notes of all sizes to videos, photos, blog posts, folders of paperwork and whiteboard work. Here's the problem: tomorrow is the last day of class. This means we're collecting nearly everything after-the-fact. Ideally, these would be cataloged throughout the class. So, why weren't they?
Well, for one thing, there are three members of the teaching team for bootcamp, and each of them has their own way of cataloging their process. Then there are the media they generate in meetings and the media they ask students to generate to capture their own process. There are a lot of files and paperwork flying around.
But what if there was a tool to streamline all of it?
Well, there is not only one tool -- there are plenty.
There were already tools that could have streamlined their data-gathering process. For example, photographs of sticky notes can be collected in Evernote alongside meeting notes. A blog can be set up in no time on Wordpress, tumblr or Squarespace. All of these come with mobile applications, which make data collection from your phone or tablet relatively seamless.
So, why weren't any of these applications used by the teaching team?
In some cases, the team didn't know about the ways in which these applications could be leveraged. It's also easier sometimes and more natural to stand around a whiteboard and dive into a problem or begin planning a class than it is to do so over laptops and mobile phones. In large offices with teams spread across buildings, remote teamwork can be useful. But when you are on a small, agile team -- it can feel better and be more productive to work away from your gadgets. This means that collecting what results from these meetings is something that must be done after-the-fact.
Often, the next thing -- meeting, class, gathering or even e-mail backlog -- gets in the way before time can be spent capturing and cataloging everything.
Also, capturing process depends a great deal on how the data will be used in the future. That means what you capture can be largely if not entirely determined by where you see the data going once you've captured it. For example, is it going to feed a web site, a brochure, a book, a feature-length movie? Answering these questions can determine what you collect to say nothing of whether you dedicate any time to collecting the data at all.
But is that the best mindset to have -- one where the use of your data determines what you collect and how? I would argue it is not. But, then again, collecting everything can be simultaneously overwhelming for the team and the sheer volume of the data can mask important trends.
Then there is the issue of capturing the team's process versus capturing an individual's process. For example, some people prefer notebooks whereas others prefer digital platforms. Then there are people like me who are constantly bouncing between the two. This makes consistent cataloging of notes a nightmare. Then there's the consistency of capture in and of itself. If you've noticed, my #DailyNote practice (while better than it was before) is still less than perfection.
I see a combination of five things being necessary to facilitate meaningful in-process capture:
Mindset: Team members and individuals have to be in the mindset of capturing. This means the act of capturing fulfills more than a want to capture or even a need -- it's an actual frame of mind. It's as if somehow their work isn't complete until they have captured their process.
Customization: The tool and the process have to be customized to that team so that it fits seamlessly. For example, I am beginning to lean away from the idea that there is a one-size fits all application for process gathering. A team has to establish a method and (see above) stick to it. That's the only way to produce material in a way that reveals trends.
Repetition: A team and/or an individual has to capture the same way every time they set to capture. This doesn't mean there can't be slight deviations, since those in and of themselves can be revealing. But the capture method has to be the same everytime. Think: ritual.
Mission: The team or individual has to know why they are capturing their process as it unfolds. If they can't say what the point of their doing capture daily, weekly, etc. is, they are far less likely to engage in doing so on a regular basis (if at all). For example, my mission with the #dailynote is to see trends in my own process and thought patterns. But, even in writing that, I am beginning to realize that the mission I've set may not be compelling enough for me to engage in the daily ritual.
Time constraint: Teams and individuals cannot feel that they will be trapped in capture once they start. They have to be able to see a clear beginning, middle and an end. For example, perhaps a team can set a five minute timer at the end of the meeting to do a quick round-robin oral capture that another team member files away on a server or Soundcloud.
Now, I'd like to focus on customization, since I think that can help establish and strengthen mindset, realize mission and enforce time constraint. So, what do you think? Let me know in the comments.