“I thought Yammer was quiet” was the response from one of my colleagues when he discovered I was on annual leave this week. In mid-2009, Suncorp began using Yammer to provide staff with a platform to collaborate in an informal and immediate manner. I was one of the early adopters of Yammer in Suncorp and currently ranked the most vocal contributor on the internal forum. Owing to the frequency of my daily ‘yams’ it is little wonder that my colleagues notice my absence from Yammer when I am on leave.
What is Yammer?
Yammer is a micro blogging tool specifically tailored for use within an enterprise. In contrast to Twitter which is used to publish short messages in a public forum, Yammer is an example of enterprise social software. Yammer messages are only shared with staff members within a company and access is restricted to users with an appropriate email address. The rationale behind Yammer is that people in a company always know what their colleagues are working on.
Yammer’s short concise messages are less invasive than instant messaging and are not as laboured as email. The messages serve to provide high visibility of initiatives and projects within a company, negating the need for continuous meetings or broadcast emails. This provides significant advantages for higher level management as Yammer provides them with a platform to assess what everyone is working on and to concisely communicate strategic initiatives within the company.
Promoting Usability with Yammer
When I initially joined the Suncorp team as a Usability Analyst, my first challenge was to promote usability and the benefits of its practical application to technology projects. This challenge was compounded by common misconceptions about usability and the introduction of Agile.
I spent most of my time on projects educating my colleagues about usability and how it could be practically applied in an Agile environment. However, my influence was restricted only to the projects I was formally assigned to within my own division – that was until Yammer was implemented, then the way I worked changed dramatically.
A new way of working…
My adoption of Yammer came naturally for me. At the time Yammer was implemented within Suncorp, I had been using Twitter as a research and networking tool to connect with other usability professionals and designers around the globe. In my mind, Yammer was simply a ‘different’ version of Twitter and potentially a powerful tool that can be used to provide the right influence to multiple technology projects within Suncorp.
I started a ‘ usability campaign’ by broadcasting daily usability tips that were solutions to common problems I would encounter with interface design within Suncorp. I rapidly gained a following with my ‘yams’ about usability. The short, simple structure of many of these tips ensured uptake by many projects. As a result, I began to note a reduction in many of the common interface problems I originally encountered during system evaluations.
The general perception about usability also began to change. Initially, I found it challenging to convince projects to implement simple design techniques because usability was generally perceived as ‘too hard and time consuming‘ to implement in Agile projects owing to its traditional focus on upfront design. Usability was generally regarded as either a ‘waterfall‘ method or the ‘use of graphics‘ to improve an interface. With time and persistence on Yammer, I began to change original perceptions. Graphic design is now regarded as a small component of usability rather than the only component. Staff also now recognise that investing small amounts of time in discovering a users needs or goals actually speeds up Agile projects because time is not wasted developing system features that would not be used.
Today, I continue to ‘yam’ on a daily basis; sharing links to design and usability articles with my colleagues that I also ‘tweet’ about on Twitter. I invest around an hour each day researching and sharing links to articles about usability and design on Twitter. If an article is also pertinent to any of my work colleagues, I add the #yam hash tag to the tweet so the link is also pushed through to my Yammer profile automatically.
Benefits of Yammer
My experience with using Yammer to promote usability best practice within an Agile environment highlighted a number of clear benefits of using an internal micro blogging platform for collaboration and efficiency within the workplace.
- Reduced Email: My email was significantly reduced after using Yammer. Prior to Yammer, I encountered issues with ‘email overload’ owing to other staff members emailing me separate questions about usability. Now, staff simply yam a question and I respond accordingly. The visibility of my responses also serves to assist other staff who may have the same question or are facing a similar interface design problem with their project.
- Improved Networking: In large companies, it can be difficult to track staff with particular skill sets. Yammer exposes the skill sets and expertise of staff from the quality and content of their posts or their participation in online conversations. From my perspective, my frequent posts and responses on Yammer promote my expertise in usability and I am now recognised as one of the company’s thought leaders in this domain.
- Reward & Recognition: Yammer contributes to building strong working relationships with my colleagues. I prefer to publicly thank other staff who have assisted me in projects through Yammer. My appreciation for their assistance is visible to all staff and much more powerful than a ‘one to one’ thank you email.
- Improved Brainstorming: Yammer provides a simple platform for rapid brainstorming of an idea. Simply post the idea or question and ask for feedback. Everyone jumps in to contribute their thoughts.
- Self Organizing Teams: Yammer transcends traditional organisational structures. Staff have the ability to set up their own groups of interest or practice regardless of the division or department they are working for. Personally, I have found Yammer to be a valuable tool to easily recruit participants for usability testing, participatory design sessions or card sorting workshops.
- Improved Search: My daily ‘yams’ of usability articles and links also include hash tags ( e.g. #usability ) that concisely describe the content of the posts. Hash tags facilitate rapid search activities through the archives for messages relating to usability or design. I view Yammer my internal links/bookmarks repository, similar to delicious.
- Promotes transparency: Yammer is focused on staff answering the simple question of ‘What are you working on‘. When everyone shares updates or challenges on projects/initiatives, everyone has a greater visibility of the work that is currently in progress. This reduces risk of similar projects running concurrently within silos. This feature also allows me to proactively influence projects that require assistance with design or usability.
- Reduced meetings: The collaborative, conversational nature of Yammer encourages online conversations around a particular topic. In essence, Yammer provides a platform to accurately record the contributions of everyone who chose to participate. This is far more powerful and efficient than holding a meeting and distributing ‘meeting minutes’.
- User Behavior: I use Yammer to observe user behavior. Most of my projects are Intranet design related projects, so it makes sense to use Yammer to observe the behaviors of staff using an Enterprise 2.0 tool.
- Instant feedback: The short concise nature of the messages on Yammer encourage staff to contribute their thoughts. Yamming is far more efficient than email and supports collaboration owing to greater visibility of the messages. For this reason, I prefer to use Yammer to obtain quick feedback on problems or interface designs. The new polling feature in the recent release of Yammer reinforces seeking rapid feedback, so I am keen to begin using this feature in the future.
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