Within the last year Comedy Central augmented its digital workspace with two new third-party systems, one for task management system and a sister system for project management. This filled a real need; our workflow tool already let users leave notes and comments about the media, and it retained the chain of conversation around a project or asset. But it just wasn’t enough.
So here we go again — creating two more silos of information and communication. Clearly, this went against my conviction that an integration solution should be our first resort. But, a void was filled… however poorly.
System Number One, for project management, failed – and rather quickly. The system was simply rejected, like an organ transplant gone wrong.
Turns out, users saw it as just one more darn they had to log into to set up all the project information, team members, creative briefs, calendars and notes other useful stuff just make it even minimally viable. An oh, it spawned another slew of emails of mostly irrelevant information that nobody wanted to read. Any potential benefits — and the calendar was the most promising — were vastly overshadowed by the time required to do the inputs. And for end users, finding needed information was also a work-stopping chore — they had to log in and then peck around for that essential bit of information that was hidden in there, somewhere.
After the system’s failure to launch, nothing filled its void. Well, that’s not quite true. We just reverted to team meetings or in a pinch we’d get up from the desk to hunt down someone who might know someone who knew the answer. We still do need a project management tool, though — something as elegant and efficient as an old-school job jacket, but digital. The need has not gone away.
System Number Two, for task management, was another matter. Our tool comes from the software development world, where it used massively. For us its purpose took shape around creating tickets and subtickets, and setting up deadlines. But nobody likes this beast, and it isn’t the beast’s fault: The poor thing was never designed for creative teams, let alone our unique environment, and no amount of skinning could put lipstick on this pig.
But, it’s definitely not a fail. At long last we’re having a trackable conversation about the work, all in one place. We love that jobs can be assigned and watched. My favorite thing is being able to check things off as done and see them disappear from the dashboard, before my very eyes. But if you haven’t been added to the team, and if you don’t know what you’re looking for, and (and this includes not being able to effectively search one’s email inbox for an email with a link back to the ticket) it can still be a time-consuming chore to find that needle in the haystack. That’s pure torture for impatient creative types.
The primary shortcoming is that the much-needed trackable conversation ends up trapped in the conversation space. It’s all just talk there, with the conversation occurring in a totally different room of the house from where our digital assets hang out. It’s hard to imagine how it could possibly be more orthogonal to what we need. To be effective, this needs to be flipped on its side. The work is king, and the conversation supports it. Not the other way around. For our team, the work — that movie clip or jpeg destined for a website or social network — is the beginning and end of our output. Everything pays service to the media. (And of course, the media pays service to the business objectives of our network.) Except that, for this system, and just about every alternative I’ve seen, media management is an afterthought.
In the meantime, I take this as a challenge: Be inspired by the parts of the task management system that work, and find a better way to help the team communicate about the work, right where they can see it, integrated in our core platform.
It’s gonna be a lot of work, starting with solid research and user interviews to fully understand our needs… and then designing it will be the next interesting challenge. But we’ll nail it, and the improvement in our users lives will be immediate and dramatic. Guaranteed.
Task Management is a problem we have yet to solve. There are some good models out there, but they’re awkward to use, the learning curve is a bit steep for creative users, and they’re simply not optimized for the way we work. Plus, media integration is an afterthought.
I suspect I’ll have more to say about this in the future.