Fitting an Activity-Centric system into an ecology of workplace tools


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  • When I started making this presentation, I opened up powerpoint. But I needed the information and support from all sort of other documentation. Second, I went to the CHI paper we had written, but that wasn’t enough. I needed also the excel spreadsheet that contained our survey data. And Third, Tara and I had written back and forth a lot on ideas in email and IM. So for this single activity, all these interrelated actions and events were required for a common goal.
  • Additionally, for this single activity, work is fragmented across all these various tools.
  • Activity Centric Computing is seen as a potential solution to this problem of fragmentation. Researchers claim that ACC systems encourage users to structure individual and collaborative work around the construct of an activity by supporting a diverse set of actions within a single tool and enabling the consolidation of related people, artifacts, resources, and actions.…however, the use of an ACC system in a real-world environment with real users, not recruited users, has really not be examined. That’s what we set out to do.
  • Well, we were in luck! IBM has built and deployed Lotus Activities, a system that was designed to be activity centric. At the time of the study, Activities has over 30,000 users. 1st evaluations of this type of systemHere is a screenshot of the application and someone’s list of different Activities. It is a web-based environment and it is meant to serve as a locus for aggregating resources relevant to carrying out specific tasks. Also, it is meant to encourage awareness of project and task status and of member action, as shown here with the recent updates bar on the far right. Creating an Activity is quick and easy, as is adding members to it.
  • We had 2 main research questions. The first was:
  • So how did we go about answering these questions.
  • We had 22 users that we randomly chose using a stratified sampling methodology.occasional users - 1-4 Activitiesmoderate users - 5-19 Activitiesheavy users - 20-49 Activitiescommitted users - more than 50 ActivitiesThis was a two part study – with an interview and survey.
  • Interviews focused on our first research goal – to understand how lotus activities affected work practices.
  • Participants were also asked to fill out a survey and this focused on what tools do people use for different tasks. We had a set of 6 tools and 2 different task types that we were interested in learning about. The 6 tools were commonly used by employees of the large company. They included…The 2 task types were group management tasks which included sharing work materials and coordinating tasks and the second type were Collaboration tasks such as solving problems together and drafting documents.
  • On to the results
  • Here are the survey results. We have the percent of participants who used each tool for the two different tasks.On the surface, it looks like people are using a lot of tools for similar tasks. For example, looking at group management tasks, most tools are used by about 40-50% of the users. But if we look closer, we see that people use specific tools for specific uses. What did they use Lotus Activities for?
  • We found that Activities supported bounded, in progress projects. What I mean by bounded is projects with a definite goal and they were usually shorter term with a known end point. In progress refers to the fact that these activities were actively or currently being carried out.These quote helps illustrate this point. One participant mentioned in her interview…consolidation
  • Going back to the survey results, we also see that Shared repositories and wikis are used for group management tasks. We found that participants used repos and wikis for long term archival use. For example, one participant said, …What about fragmentation of work across these tool groups?
  • Well, what we found is Activities and wikis/repositories were complimentary to each other. …There was the active phase or work phase and then the after use/storage phase or archival phase.
  • What about collaboration tasks? Participants chose to use Activities more for group mgmt tasks than for collab tasks.
  • One reason is that these tasks require directed communication which are better supported by tools that are meant to be communication tools, such as email, IM and meetings.
  • With respect to email, participants really felt that email was a significant contributor to work fragmentation. 17 of our participants said they were motivated to try Activities in order to replace email. This is not a new story. As one participant said…
  • Our interviews lead us to think of group management tasks along a temporal landscape. On the left hand side, you have the daily grind of short term, active projects and as you move towards longer term projects, you use more sophisticated project management systems. Also, for archival purposes you may choose to use something more like a wiki or repository.
  • At this point, we were really curious, why did Lotus Activities support group management tasks over collab tasks and why in particular bounded, in progress projects?
  • We found that specific design characteristics of Activities drove how users adopted the tool. In particular, we found that two design characteristics engendered two perceptions of how people used the tool.
  • First, Activities had a limited structure – it was easy to start and there was freedom on how to organize entries.Second, it was designed to have liberal access controls – it is easy to add new people to a group. You don’t need to get someone’s approval, give them a password.
  • These two design characteristics lead users to feel the tool was lightweight. As this participant described…Contrast to more heavy structured tools – with access controls, complex org structures, etc; control access, control membership
  • Second, limited structure and liberal access controls engendered feelings of shared ownership. Participants felt that everyone owned the Activity, that burden didn’t rest upon one particular member.
  • Activities helped, but does not eliminate the need for other tools for different tasks.- Wikis & repositories are used for long-term / open-ended projects and to store materials after a tasks is completed.- Email continues to fragment tasks (since materials from many tasks are mixed into one inbox) and some users turn to Activities to reduce this fragmentation (by aggregating task materials in one place).
  • I’d like to thank the following people and you for listening this morning.
  • And finally, I’d love to answer any questions you have.- Categorized users: surprised it was by #activities rather than frequency of use (answer: that's the only data we could get).- Steve W. seemed unconvinced by the use of self report of tool use per task type.- Separation of tool used for client-based tools for creating information and for later storing the information, i.e., knowledge management. (I don't remember what this comment means now...)- Julia's future work suggestion: help guide people when to use Activities.- Jalal: interested in before and after -- how much did Activities help with fragmentation?
  • Fitting an Activity-Centric system into an ecology of workplace tools

    1. 1. Fitting an Activity-Centric system into an ecology of workplace tools<br />ArunaBalakrishnan<br />Carnegie Mellon University<br />April 13, 2010<br />Tara Matthews <br />Thomas P. Moran<br />IBM Research – Almaden<br />
    2. 2. 2<br />An activityis a set of interrelated actions and events arounda common goal. Christensen et al. 2002; Gonzalez et al. 2004<br />
    3. 3. 3<br />Work is fragmented across tools.<br />
    4. 4. Activity Centric Computing: Solution?<br />ACC systems structure work around the construct of an activityby:<br />Supporting a diverse set of actions<br />Consolidating related people, artifacts, resources, and actions.<br />Bardram et al. 2006; Kaptelinin et al. 2003; Muller et al. 2004; Yarosh et al. 2009<br />4<br />
    5. 5. Lotus Activities<br />5<br />
    6. 6. Research questions<br />For what purposes do users choose an ACC system among an ecology of many other workplace tools? <br />Does Lotus Activities, an ACC application, provide a solution to work fragmentation across tools?<br />6<br />
    7. 7. Methods<br />7<br />
    8. 8. Study participants<br />22 Users<br /> 8 female, 14 male<br />average age 37 years<br />represented different business units within a global company<br />Stratified sampling methodology<br />30,000 users of Lotus Activities<br /> divided by Activities usage<br /> occasional (8), moderate (7), heavy (5), committed (2)<br />8<br />
    9. 9. Interviews<br />Focused on:<br />whether and how organization by activity affected their ability to collectrelated artifacts together<br />Coded for common themes using grounded theory<br />9<br />
    10. 10. Ecology of tools survey<br />What tools do you use for different tasks?<br />Tools<br />Lotus Activities<br />Lotus Notes email, calendar, todo’s<br />Sharedrepositories databases<br />Wikis <br />IM<br />Meetings either phone or in-person<br />Task Types<br />Group Management Tasks<br />Share materials<br />Support awareness<br />Coordinate tasks<br />Reuse materials<br />Collaboration Tasks<br />Generate ideas<br />Solve problems<br />Draft documents<br />Make decisions<br />(McGrath and Hollingshead, 1993)<br />10<br />
    11. 11. Results<br />11<br />
    12. 12. Survey results<br />12<br />
    13. 13. Activities supported bounded in-progressprojects.<br />Boundeddefinite goal and <br />shorter-term end-point<br />In-progressactivelybeing carried out<br />13<br />[Lotus] Activities… is the most effective way when I’ve got a specific short-term kind of project that involves multiple people where I will use it as a place to store our documents and our communications as well as assign to-dos and trackthose...<br />
    14. 14. Repositories and Wikis for long-term use. <br />14<br />A wiki is for a more elaborate effort of consolidation of information created over the course of months. The Activity is just for that set of concrete tasks – let’s say one week…– where you have to do something very specific... Once it is done, you may want to share that on the wiki.<br />
    15. 15. Complimentary tools<br />Lotus Activities worked in conjunction with shared repositories and wikis.<br />Using all these types of tools did not add to fragmentation of work across tools because they were used during different phases of a project.<br />15<br />
    16. 16. Collaboration tasks<br />16<br />Participants use Activities for group management tasks more than for collaboration tasks.<br />
    17. 17. Collaboration tasks<br />17<br />Participants use Activities for group management tasks more than for collaboration tasks.<br />Participants use email, IM and meetings for directed communication.<br />
    18. 18. Email contributes to work fragmentation.<br />Participants were motivated to try Activities in order to replace email. (17 participants)<br />18<br />Everyone is realizing that email is not an effective way to keep that cohesive stream of thought. They are starting to move to Activities.<br />Email is not the ideal way because you have the mail-tag thing. You send mail around and hope that everyone reads it. And you also have the problem of somebody being missed or somebody joins the team later and trying to get them up to speed. This is the biggest advantage of Activities - when you introduce new people, email fails completely.<br />
    19. 19. 19<br />group management tasks<br />short-term long-term<br />tools<br />email<br />Lotus Activities<br />wikis<br />repositories<br />project mgmt systems<br />resources<br />papers, presentations, notes, links, spreadsheets<br />
    20. 20. Why did Lotus Activities support certain tasks over others?<br />
    21. 21. Design characteristics drive tool use. <br />Design characteristics<br />21<br />Perceptions<br />
    22. 22. Design characteristics drive tool use. <br />Design characteristics<br />Limited structure<br />Liberal access controls<br />22<br />Perceptions<br />
    23. 23. Design characteristics drive tool use. <br />Design characteristics<br />Limited structure<br />Liberal access controls<br />23<br />Perceptions<br />Lightweightness<br />Shared Ownership<br /> It is not complicated from an organizational perspective. It is really a stream of consciousness. More traditional shared repositories have more structure and take more time to organize.<br /> It is a great place to quickly share information and get people connected, especially when you have a team that might expand as the event unfolds from 3 to 20 people involved in the Activity. It allows us to bring people in quickly. <br />
    24. 24. Design characteristics drive tool use. <br />Design characteristics<br />Limited structure<br />Liberal access controls<br />24<br />Perceptions<br />Lightweightness<br />Shared Ownership<br />The flexibility at which an owner can just go in, create a new Activity and just start adding people. And then those people can just add other people, they don’t have to go back to the owner. That’s just amazing.<br />
    25. 25. Summary<br />For what purposes do users choose an ACC system among an ecology of many other workplace tools? <br />Activities supported bounded, in-progressprojects. <br />Does Lotus Activities, an ACC application, provide a solution to work fragmentation across tools?<br />Activities helped, but does not eliminate fragmentation or the need for other tools for different tasks…<br />Why?<br />Wikis and repositories preferred for long-term archival use.<br /> Email contributes to fragmented tasks.<br />25<br />
    26. 26. Thank you!Barton Smith, Jimmy Lin, Lana Yarosh<br />Image Attributions<br /><br />
    27. 27. Questions?<br />ArunaBalakrishnan<br /><br />Tara Matthews<br /><br />Thomas P. Moran<br /><br />Summary<br />Activities supported bounded, in-progress projects.<br />ACC system helped reduce fragmentation for a specific type of task.<br />