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The Facebook Effect: Three Ways the Social Graph is Transforming Business Collaboration

By November 14, 2011Article

In this summer’s blockbuster movie, “Captain America,” Chris Evans starred as a geeky 10-pound weakling who is transformed into a lean, mean fighting machine after an injection of some super secret sauce. And, if you can suspend your disbelief about that transformation, imagine what would happen to all those clunky project management solutions we all love to hate if they also received a dose of that same awesomeness.
According to recent statistics, Facebook now handles 600 million users worldwide. Its not-so-secret sauce is, of course, its ability to scale the “social graph” to unprecedented levels. But in the same way that Facebook wants us to make everything personal, there is also a huge opportunity for companies to employ the same approach to their people and products.
The world is now a fast-moving place, and information is flying at us every moment of the day. From the second we wake up and check our news feeds and email, to the way we work, often in distributed teams but at the same time with an intense focus on deeper and tighter collaboration. And we’re faced with an ever-shrinking window of opportunity for getting things right.
Call it information overload, or the Facebook Effect, but when everything is your business, all of the time, you need the right people and the right tools to make it work.
Enter the new breed of project-management solutions
In today’s business space, we see one billion knowledge workers with many intertwining and overlapping relationships between them, across an enormous number of work activities. Imagine that the smallest nodes in our social graph represented not people, but units of work – tasks, which are then connected to the network by larger “containers” for these tasks – tags, projects, products, categories, teams, etc. Just as individuals share their personal photos, interests and news on Facebook, within this “work graph,” people share the work-related data they collaborate on.
Four characteristics of a work graph
1. The work graph can save us from “busy” work and rework, saving our time and our sanity. Many collaboration solutions offer a way to organize work data in separate silos (projects, files and workspaces), in strict hierarchies (e.g., folders) or with a flat tag list (categories). These three approaches have very serious drawbacks: segregation of information, very limited flexibility and lack of scalability. So, they might work for, say, a team of three running one short-term project; but as things scale up, the number of cross-project interactions increases, the systems become more cluttered, harder to navigate and, sooner or later, unusable. By instead implementing the work graph model, we can successfully navigate multiple tasks in multiple dimensions and scale our efforts quickly and easily.
2. The work graph can connect the disconnected. Another challenge the work graph can successfully handle is the “disconnected” – for example, the various workgroups that an individual has to collaborate with. Let’s imagine Joe, a busy manager. In Joe’s company, colleagues share tasks, plans and work-related documents in a collaboration system. To keep in touch with partners, Joe mostly relies on email. However, some of the copywriters Joe works with share their texts with him on Google Docs. So, in these tools Joe has three groups of contacts and collaborators, and it’s most likely that some of them are duplicated between the apps. Wouldn’t it save Joe time and energy if he could connect with them in one hub?
Through unification of data, the work graph concept would help to design a system that would scale well and handle daily interactions between hundreds and thousands of users, thus building a truly connected real-time enterprise. It would also eliminate the unproductive duplication of connections across several apps and thus give users a way to manage their work and collaborate in one spot.
3. The work graph can make us all “super knowledge” workers. The core feature of the work graph is its scalability, which, in its turn, is enabled by flexible sharing rules. Visibility into the work graph varies between teams and employees, just like in social networks where you only have access to certain parts of the social graph. This funnels all the way down to individual tasks; so visibility into the work graph will vary greatly between, say, a VP of marketing, the outside PR agency, the QA intern and the software development team. But at the same time, underlying that data is a connected graph, and the CEO can have a full picture of what’s going on inside the organization at any time.
This scalable work graph, connecting tasks and deadlines for more and more people who collaborate on thousands, millions and billions of various projects, would still allow a specific user to easily get the data he or she needs in just a couple of clicks within the system. The beauty of it lies in its one-to- infinity scale.
For information workers, getting their tasks connected in a graph means centralization and quick accessibility of their work data, time saved on navigation, smooth sharing and better control. All these factors allow us to create a flexible and easy-to-navigate, collaborative environment that would feel equally comfortable no matter how many projects a worker is involved in: dozens, hundreds or thousands. In this era of information overload, we need “super knowledge” workers to handle projects and keep us on task, without losing their minds.
4. The work graph saves the day. Think of the “work graph,” and any project manager or knowledge worker should be thinking “ease” and “efficiency.” However technically sophisticated the system is, the user shouldn’t notice it in his experience. Again, think about Facebook, and the frantic paddling under the surface it must take, to give every user a deeply personal, yet deeply connected and seamless, intuitive experience. That’s the experience every knowledge worker deserves too. It should feel just as easy when they’re connected to dozens, even hundreds of people within their own work graph as when they were connected only to their boss.
When you come up with an elegant solution to these challenges, the work graph model becomes a powerful alternative to the segregation model that lies at the core of many existing project management and enterprise applications. The work graph can help you build easy-to-use, scalable and efficient software that bring business users into one collaborative workspace and ensure smooth collaboration. And just like Captain America, they can even lift up giant trucks with just one finger.
Andrew Filev is founder and CEO of Wrike, a leading provider of online project management and collaboration software that is trusted by thousands of companies all over the globe. He is a software entrepreneur, project and product manager with more than 10 years of experience in the IT arena. As a CEO and seasoned project manager, Andrew puts his focus into improving project management tools and practices with the help of new-generation technologies. Andrew’s views on changes in contemporary project management are reflected in his Project Management 2.0 blog.

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