Chasing the same rabbit down a different hole

Companies, especially big ones, pursue thousands of initiatives every year. These initiatives range from new product lines, to geographic expansion, to mergers or acquisitions. Each of these initiatives creates a raft of supporting material and requires numerous decisions to be made, the most critical of which is "are we going to pursue this or not?”

I’m always amazed at the extreme disparity in activity levels that the answer to this question creates. Rarely does a single decision lead to such opposing behaviours.

If the answer is "yes, we are going to pursue this initiative” it stimulates a frenzy of action; project teams are hastily assembled, purchase orders are drawn up, project implementation plans are created and budgets are allocated. In turn, all of these activities lead to more decisions, more documentation, mountains of emails and endless meetings. The flow-on effect of the "yes” decision creates a paper trail as long as your arm and deep analysis about the initiative and everything involved with it.

However if the answer is "no, we’re not going to pursue this initiative” it stimulates, well, nothing.

At first this seems straight forward and logical. We decided not to pursue that initiative and therefore we’ll scrap what effort we’ve put into it so far and move onto the next initiative. Afterall it’s the new products, new office locations and new acquisitions that deserve the resources.

All this is true, except for one major issue. An issue which most companies end up wasting vast amounts of resources on; if you simply pack-up and move onto the next initiative what is to stop you repeating this process in the future?

How are you going to answer that all important question: have we done this before?

When companies decide to pursue an initiative it creates lots of activity and lots of evidence about the "yes” decision. However if the decision is not to pursue the initiative more often than not there is little or no evidence of the decision and it is almost never available to the wider organisation, it’s known only to those people who were directly involved.

The impacts of this are obvious once you think about it. However it’s a problem that is rarely understood or even acknowledged. Most organisations don’t realise that the "no” is just as important as the "yes”.

By formalising the "no” decision and making that decision readily available to the wider organisation you dramatically reduce the risk of repeating the same initiatives and wasting precious resources on something you’ve already addressed. As the workforce becomes more geographically dispersed and as turnover occurs more rapidly there is a greater risk that one of your colleagues in another location, or even the new guy who joins your department, will think they have come up with a great new idea and start investing their time into it without realising this initiative has already been evaluated and declined. Your colleagues could spend weeks or months on this before the initiative gets shutdown all over again.

By formally recognising the "no” decision and making it available to others in the company you can prevent this wastage.

Reducing this wastage is usually motivation enough, however there is an even more important reason for addressing this issue: if the "no” decision is not properly recorded then in future it won’t be properly understood, and if you don’t understand why you decided not to pursue the initiative how do you know if the decision is still valid.

Business conditions change all the time; profit margins shrink or grow, technology enables new functionality, foreign exchange rates shift and product lines vary. With all of these changes comes the opportunity to review past decisions in a new light. Just because we decided not to pursue an initiative two-years ago it doesn’t mean this decision is still valid if conditions have changed.

However it’s almost impossible to review and revise a previous decision if the reasons for making the original decision are not understood in detail. Often it’s the how and why of the decision that are the most important elements; we know we decided not to pursue that initiative two-years ago but we don’t really know why we decided that, which means we don’t know if the decision is still feasible or if it needs to be revisited.

Knowledge retention is becoming a key issue for most companies. Thousands of decisions get made every day, some of those decisions generate new initiatives and some of them kill-off an initiative. However all of these decisions have value and all of them should be definitive, accurately captured and readily accessible.

Understanding why the decision was a "no” is just as important as a "yes” because otherwise you’re destined to chase the same rabbit down a different hole.

By James Cattermole, Founder and CEO, Hexigo

Greater Transparency

Decision Export & Decision Activity Tracking

Today, Hexigo releases some great new functionality, most of which comes directly from customer requests. Along with a few bug fixes and some other smaller updates, the primary enhancements to Hexigo are; the ability to export a decision, visibility over who has agreed or disagreed with a contribution and the tracking of who has and hasn’t contributed to a decision.

Decision export (print to PDF)
The decision export functionality allows you to PDF an entire decision so that it can be shared with a wider audience. By simply clicking the new “Print” button in the top menu the entire decision is converted into a PDF that you can email to colleagues or print for meetings. The PDF has the original issue/question at the very top and the final decision immediately underneath it, which means the decision can be put in front of your manager and they can easily what the issue was and how the team decided to handle it.

With the decision export functionality you can share the full detail of how and why a decision was made with people who aren't even users of Hexigo. Simply email the PDF to a wider audience or upload it to a file sharing system like or SharePoint.

Decision Export

Agree / Disagree transparency
Hexigo has functionality which allows you to agree or disagree with a colleague’s contribution with one-click. Previously this functionality has been anonymous. However, due to requests from customers, we have now made this functionality transparent so you can see who has agreed or disagreed with a post.

Agree / Disagree transparency

Contribution visibility
Within a team it's critical to clearly understand who is and isn't contributing. As such we've added a new feature which allows you to instantly see which of your colleagues have and have not contributed to a decision. A new panel has been inserted to the left of the decision, displaying which members have contributed to the decision (green dot) and those members who haven't (red dot).

With this simple functionality you can instantly identify which of your team mates are contributing and which ones need “a little push” to help reach a final decision on an issue.

Contribution visibility

Greater transparency
Each of these features is designed to generate greater transparency within the decision making process. We’d love to hear your feedback so please let us know what you think of these new features once you've tried them out with your team.

Knowledge Disappearing Right in Front of Us

This week much of the world's media has been focused on the disappearance of Flight 370 in Malaysia. For those who don't know, Malaysia Airline Flight 370 left Kuala Lumpur early Saturday morning heading for Beijing and then, quite literally, disappeared. The plane never arrived in Beijing and so far no one has any real idea what has happened to it.

The plane, carrying 239 passengers, left Kuala Lumpur and was flying northeast across the Gulf of Thailand and into the South China Sea when it dropped off radar without any indication of technical problems.

Sadly, things look grave for the passengers and crew of Flight 370. And while our thoughts are with them and their families, the main question that keeps coming up time and time again is: how could this happen? How, in this day and age, does a modern passenger airline from a respected airline simply disappear without a trace in mid-flight? The plane involved is a Boeing 777 with supposedly all the latest technology, monitoring and radar equipment. And yet it still just disappeared.

While this seems like a strange segue, the unfortunate situation with Flight 370 got me thinking about how other things can disappear when there is no logical reason. In many companies the most crucial thing that disappears, on an all too regular basis, is knowledge. Despite all sorts of systems – email, document management, file storage – knowledge simply disappears inside companies all the time.

Whatever happened to that thing? Haven't we done this before? Why did we do that? These questions, questions we should know the answers to, get asked every day; knowledge disappearing right in front of us.

When most people think of knowledge retention they are actually thinking of data management without realising it, but there is a crucial difference between data and knowledge. Data relates to documents, spreadsheets, transactions and images. However knowledge refers to the human elements within a company; the discussions between team members, the great ideas, the key decisions and the reasoning behind action. In short, knowledge gives context, and data without context is of limited value.

Imagine trying to put a puzzle together without knowing what the full picture looked like. You could do it, but it's going to be a lot harder. Retaining the human context behind the data is like having the complete picture to reference, making the process more efficient and increasing productivity.

Understanding why a piece of data exists, what it was originally for, what value it adds to the organisation and what part it played in a previous decision are the contextual elements that knowledge adds to the raw data. Context helps us understand not just what we did but, more importantly, why we did it.

There will be one billion knowledge workers by 2015. Many of these workers will be remote or virtual, a trend that will increase dramatically over time. How will the vast amounts of knowledge these one billion workers be managed? How will their decisions be tracked? How will we maintain context in this chaos? Companies need to recognise this dramatic shift in their work practises and begin to adapt or risk being left behind. And as an industry we need to provide the tools and processes to help them.

Knowledge, not data, is the most important element each employee contributes to their team. At the moment when they leave they take this knowledge with them… disappearing right in front of us, even in this day and age.

Our thoughts are with the passengers and crew of Flight 370 and their families.

Introducing Notifications and @username callouts

Today, we're excited to launch Notifications and @username callouts for Hexigo. This is functionality we've been busily putting together over the past month or two, functionality that we are certain is going to change the way you use Hexigo - for the better!

The new notifications area of Hexigo dramatically enhances the existing Activity Feed. We have extended this functionality through the new Notifications area to be much more granular and personalised to you. While the Activity Feed gives you updates on all of the decisions, the Notifications section informs you of activity that requires your action: specific activities that you actually need to respond to or tasks you need to perform.

Notifications dropdown. Easy access to 'your' Notifications
Notifications Dropdown

Callout or @username functionality.
And even more exciting, you also have the ability to @mention or as we say 'Callout' a specific user. This means you can reference your colleagues at any point in the decision making process with the knowledge that the system will prompt them to engage and respond.

@Username. Reference or callout a colleague
Username callouts

@Username. See where you have been referenced in the decision trail
Username callouts

More focused, more productive.
These new features have now rolled out and are ready for you to use. Internally we’ve been using them for a few weeks and are thrilled at how much more focused and productive the decision making process is. So get on in and see for yourself how great these updates are. We’re looking forward to hearing what you think.

Unproductive Meetings

Stuck in another time consuming, unproductive meeting? You are not alone. Harvard Business School historian, Nancy Koehn recently reported findings that there are 11 million meetings across the country EVERY day. Most frightening is that HALF of those are reported as unproductive and potentially waste companies $37 billion each year. While that should shake the ledger of even the toughest CFO, more findings from MCI Conferencing show that an astounding 90% of attendees daydream during meetings and 75% bring other work while being forced to sit through wasted hours. And with no tangible outcome or decision made? Better have another meeting!

It seems that technology may be the trigger for this wasted unprofitable time spent in meetings. Koehn reports that email makes it easier to invite colleagues to a meeting and therefore waste more people’s valuable time. So more people are being included in meetings that are unnecessary and expensive. And any information that comes out of such meetings is lost in an extensive email chain or handwritten in a notebook. Meetings should focus on the outcome with all employees being able to contribute.