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Community serendipity delivers value

A couple of weeks ago Enterprise Twitter – the BPX view from a BPX perspective. Little did I know that 14 days later I’d have had the pleasure of working with a talented bunch of folk from Austria, Germany, Norway, India, UK and Brazil. My job was to Enterprise Twitter – the BPX view developed by Richard Hirsch into a voice over. As the deadline for submission approached, things became increasingly hectic but the team remained calm and good natured throughout.

I learned a great deal about how communities operate and the benefits that can be derived. First up, I should say that I’ve only met two of the main participants in the real world. Building virtual relationships is challenging because ‘we’ can never be sure who we are dealing with. A lot has to be taken on trust. There are many ways to assess this.

We can for example look at what a particular person contributes to the community. We can track how others react in comments. We can use existing trusted relationships to receive introductions to other trusted persons and so extend the network. Since ESME is designed to demonstrate the creation of groups in a problem solving environment, we had to ‘eat our own dog food’ as part of the process.

The proof is in the final outcome. ESME was created for DemoJam and as at the time of writing (I will update), we don’t have an MP4 file that shows the final screencam. Having seen the Camtasia file, I was astonished at how well the script was interpreted by the development team working on the AIR client and data creation. 

Here is what I learned:

  • This team came together *because* of the community.
  • The people all ‘know’ each other from what they’ve seen contributed to the community.
  • There’s instant trust between all players, whether dev, BPX or business.
  • Stuff just gets done.
  • Business people can work successfully with BPX and developers when the ‘story board’ of what’s needed is clear and where there’s a commonality of purpose.
  • There’s no internal pressure.
  • It’s seriously good fun.
  • There’s a lot of goodwill from those who have supported the project.
  • Much of the background knowledge needed to make the project feasible already exists inside the open community.
  • It’s all been done in people’s spare time but development proceeds very rapidly – at least so far.

Here’s the caveat list

  • SAP community has been going for years. The mentors and evangelists work hard to keep things going. I’ve been involved for maybe 8-9 months, others for years. That makes me the newbie.
  • This could not happen unless there was an established community where sharing, collaboration and attribution are already baked into the community as ‘normal’ values.
  • The group has been wholly self selecting.
  • As far as I can tell, there is no way that you can realistically ‘force fit’ people into these types of project.
  • I’ve yet to form an opinion about the optimum size of such groups but my feeling is that they can’t be much larger than that which we already have, though it will be possible to drop peple in and out as circumstances dictate.
  • Next steps may not be as rosy but that’s another story for another time.

Some cynics might say that we were lucky. I don’t think so. While there is no doubt that we are a committed group of individuals who believe that Web 2.0 style methods and technology can help us meet our goals more effectively than email and traditional forums, the core reason for our ability to ‘get things done’ comes out of past and consistent participation in the community. In my view, it is a part of what Andy McAfee calls ‘emergent’ behaviors:’

Emergence is the appearance of global structure as the result of local interactions.  It doesn’t happen in most systems; what’s necessary is a set of mechanisms to do critical things like connect the system’s elements and provide feedback among them.

The Web’s emergent nature doesn’t stem from the fact that it’s a huge collection of digital documents; if the Library of Congress were digitized tomorrow and put on line, it would not constitute an emergent system.  The Web is emergent because it’s the dynamic creation of countless people around the world interacting with each other via links as they create new content.   

What happens next is yet to be determined. However, on the basis of what I’ve seen so far, I am hopeful that not only will ESME succeed, but that it will serve as a great long term case study in how communities deliver genuine value. 

If that prospect excites you then I’d encourage BPX’ers to consider how this example could be reflected in the projects they are planning. It is a different way of working that is far more rewarding than operating in traditional hierarchies. And as we already know, people who feel their work is rewarding tend to be more productive and deliver higher value. 

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  • This was a great experience (on a personal and professional level) that proved the worth of involvement in virtual communities. Within a period of only two weeks, ESME moved from a Plurk conversation all the way to DemoJam submission (based on a real Flex client). What others do in months with a huge team, we did two weeks with actually only week for the DemoJam submission. Wow!

    The cooperation between individual members was amazing and the global character of the group meant that something was always happening and -via the Web 2.0 tools that we used – you could follow the project’s progress  or quickly respond to problems.

    All in all, a worthwhile experience. See everybody at the DemoJam.