The Problems with Collaboration

Scott White
June 28, 2019

“Collaboration” has overwhelmingly positive connotations. The collaborative process brings people together, improves productivity, and naturally aggregates diverse perspectives.

However, for its many benefits, productive collaboration is hard to achieve precisely because it relies on the coordinated effort of many individuals with different motivations, communication styles, and beliefs. In a collaborative relationship, no individual has complete control.

At its core, workplace collaboration requires working with multiple people to complete tasks in a particular order, using many tools.

Sometimes, this complicated balancing act breaks down. The reasons are fairly simple:

  1. Humans are bad at managing dependencies
  2. Context becomes lost in translation between people and tools
  3. Transition costs in collaborative processes are high

Example: A Simple Bug Fix

Flow chart of receiving and resolving a bug

One of the most common examples of workplace collaboration is the discovery, exploration, and resolution of a customer issue. Throughout the bug discovery and resolution loop, many people must exchange context across multiple tools. Let’s explore the common bug through the lens of the failures of collaboration.

Lost in Translation: Context Gets Spread Across too Many Tools

Bill Murray

People use different tools to get their work done. When multiple people collaborate across many ecosystems, certain participants don't have access to the context in the tools of their colleagues, so they can't get the whole picture.

  • In our example, the support person can’t see the discussion on the Asana ticket because he/she doesn’t have a license.
  • The engineers only have access to the message that was shared with them by the support person, not the entire thread or updates to that thread.
  • Content of the slack conversation about the bug, which might be important for future instances of the bug, doesn’t get added to the ticket for reference, and is quickly buried by subsequent chats.

When something changes in one place, it has downstream effects on other people and tools in the chain of collaboration

  • Items that are conceptually linked are not aware of each other across tools. For example, the build for a pull request can fail, while the ticket related to the issue itself can be resolved.
  • In our example, if the customer were to respond that the issue came back, the engineer would not be able to see that until the support person communicates it to them.

3 Ways to Fix Collaboration

At Monolist, we’re out to fix the problems inherent in collaboration. To do so, we want to eliminate the transition cost between tools, and make important context available to anyone in the chain of collaboration.

Step 1: Eliminate loss of context

In Monolist, you can share any type of item with any other person, whether they use Monolist or not. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pull request, a task, or an email — as long as it’s in Monolist, you can share it with anyone. After you’re done with the task, you can un-share it to make it private again.

Opening a shared Monolist item as an anonymous user

Step 2: Reduce the transition costs between tools

Context gets lost between tools. In Monolist, you can link any item to any other type of item, so whenever you see an individual task in Monolist, you can see all of the related context for that task.

Linking cross-application items in Monolist

That way, to use our example, if the bug in question were to come back and the user reach out a second time, whoever receives the email will know exactly where to look for the context on how it was dealt with last time.

Step 3: Keep everything up to date

Everything in Monolist updates in real-time. Any item you share with someone will update if something changes. In our example, if you’re the engineer and you follow the email thread from the customer, you'll get an alert when they respond to the thread, even if you’re not a recipient.

Common Use-Cases

Curious how you can use Monolist to improve collaboration at work? Here are a few examples:

Track bugs that originate with emails

When a customer reaches out with a bug over email, simply share a link to that email and paste it in a ticket. That way, when the customer responds, you’ll always have access to the most recent context, and know where to refer for any information related to the user.

Collaborate on email responses

You can take notes and add tasks to any item in Monolist. When thinking about the best way to respond to a particular email, simply share a link to it, and any of your colleagues can add a comment to help inform your response.

Track reference material for pull requests

Link Slack threads, emails, and tickets to your pull requests in order to refer back to the original impetus for making the change.

Want to try it out?

Request access to Monolist here.

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