For the past few months, I’ve been using the teams feature of Cisco Spark to manage the projects that my team – the Chief Technology Office in the Cisco Collaboration Technology Group (CTG) – is undertaking. This experiment has been a smashing success and I wanted to share the interesting way in which I’ve been using Cisco Spark.
In case you are not familiar, Cisco Spark is a tool that provides messaging, meeting, and calling in a seamless experience. One of its features is called teams. A team is a collection of users working on a shared goal. Each team has spaces (formerly known as rooms) where users can chat, share files, and have meetings. Any team member can join or leave any space in the team at any time. (Read more about teams.)
The CTO organization is a really interesting one: We’re 25 engineers across 9 time zones. Most of us are senior and heavily engaged in projects across CTG. In fact, the CTO organization supports around 20 distinct projects. I needed a lightweight way to keep tabs on the progress of each initiative and to have a continuous dialog on how we’re doing against goals.
To facilitate that, we created a new Cisco Spark team called “CTO FY17 Initiatives.” Into this team went all the members of my organization. We then created a space within that team for each initiative. The first screenshot, taken from my actual Cisco Spark application, shows our first few initiatives.
For example, one of our initiatives is working in the Alliance for Open Media (AOM) on a next-gen codec. So, there is a space called “AOM” in the “CTO FY17 Initiatives” team. I have 20 initiatives, and thus 20 spaces within the team. The owners of each initiative joined the space for the initiative they own. In the beginning of each quarter, the initiative owners create a single slide summarizing their goals for the quarter and post that slide into their respective space. Each Friday, they post a weekly update into the initiative space. I review the update, post questions, and we have a dialog in the space about how the work is going.
This has worked really, really well. First, it provides me a single place I can go to see all of my team’s initiatives in a single list. In the past, that list would be in a spreadsheet or a PowerPoint slide somewhere on my desktop, and I’d have to hunt for it. Now, with Cisco Spark it’s easy to find.
The real benefit is that everything is together. In the past, my PowerPoint Initiative list was disconnected with the quarterly goals (usually on a different slide), which was even more disconnected with the discussions around each initiative, which were spread across calls, emails, and Cisco Spark chats.
By using Cisco Spark teams, it is now all in one place. The team list shows me all the initiatives. With one click, I can go into each initiative, and click on the files activity to see the quarterly goals. The messages in the space show me the weekly updates and conversations I’ve had around them.
Because spaces are persistent, I have an easy way to go back and look at the agreed upon goals, review the progress and discussions each week, and easily understand the current situation and history. This is literally a dream come true for project management.
Another benefit of having all of the initiatives in a single team, in one place, is that I can easily run through the list and visually confirm that I received updates on each. As you can see in the screenshot to the left, by simply looking at the team list every Friday I can quickly see which initiatives are missing a weekly update. The blue dot indicates there is a new message–in this case, a new update.
This allows me to really be on top of everything. If I haven’t seen an update as expected, I can post a message asking for status. In the past, this would have been really, really hard to do: I’d have to pull up my initiative list in PowerPoint, do multiple searches in email against the owner name and/or topics to find emails with updates, and then if I didn’t see something, I’d have to create a new email asking for updates. That’s the kind of tedious project management that no one likes to do. By using Cisco Spark in this way, those days are gone. In just a few minutes I can see the latest update in every initiative and poke when there wasn’t one.
My team also likes using Spark teams because they feel that I have better visibility into what they’re working on each week. In the past, we’ve relied on larger infrequent updates or weekly one-on-one meetings. Now that we’re using Spark Teams, we can use our scheduled one-on-one meetings to focus on other topics and discussions because we’re already current on the initiatives. Furthermore, it is easy to bring other members of my team into any one of the initiatives spaces should I need them to join the discussion. With all the past messages and documents already in the space, they’re up to speed in no time.
The open nature of the team means everyone in my organization has full visibility into progress and can drop in and out of each of the initiative space to chime in as they see fit. This makes everyone feel included.
I’ve used many tools over my career to manage programs for a small team. Cisco Spark is by far the best. Its persistence, its integration of messaging and content, and its teams feature have made it the best tool I’ve ever used for staying engaged with my team on their individual initiatives and keeping track of progress against goals.
Got a small team you want to manage? Give this a try and let me know how it works for you.
Start by visiting the Cisco Spark site and downloading the app.