Social Product Development

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Scrutinizing time spent social computing?

Occasionally when I’m walking past a colleague’s desk at the office I’ll notice them quickly minimizing their browser at the very moment I’m passing by. Until recently, I would notice them discretely covering up news sites, shopping sites and often sports sites like ESPN. But more and more I’m noticing social networking sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. As a manager, my initial reaction is to ask myself how anyone is getting any work done with the pervasiveness – and addictiveness – of social media. You could literally spend all day networking online with friends and co-workers (including those in the office next to you..??) if you aren’t careful.

But then I heard my mother’s voice harkening back to my childhood where she would often encourage me to stop watching TV (usually after only 20 minutes…) or stop playing video games (that was Space Invaders and Donkey Kong for me). Back then, I knew that I wasn’t watching too much TV or playing too many video games, mainly because I had far too much to do. I always made time to complete my homework, hang with my friends, walk my dog and play sports. And then it occurred to me that there must have been laggard managers out there in the business world when email and the Internet were first introduced, who wondered back then: How can anyone be productive with such “disruptive”, time-wasting technologies at their fingertips?

The answer is that breakthrough new technologies like this do not need scrutinizing because good, smart, committed employees will always find the right balance between getting stuff done and leveraging a new phenomenon like social networking. In fact, what will be really interesting is to watch the evolution of those who figure out how to leverage social computing to become even more productive in their professional lives.

Product Development is an excellent case in point, because it’s a highly iterative, collaborative, and social process. Product Development will undoubtedly benefit from an “industrialized” version of social networking whereby engineers will be able to more easily find each other, work with each other and learn from each other. I’ve already seen how time spent in online communities saves time and results in better informed decisions. The project deadline, or the urgency to get a product to market, will naturally regulate against the overuse of social computing technologies.

And, as it relates to Marketing - an area that I am keenly interested in - social computing has limitless possibilities for improving access to market research and customer information as an example (I will explore some of these possibilities in my next post).

As for my colleagues who minimize their browsers when I walk past your desk, no worries. I know you are making yourself smarter and more productive in your everyday work by leveraging technology to engage in social networking and, in particular, to better understand our customers. Similarly for myself, I will leave the blog page open proudly when you walk past my desk as they often have great ideas about improving accuracy and hitting your target...


  1. Greg: As social networking tools become more pervasive, I think we'll have to learn to adjust to a new mode of working -- personal and professional interactions overlap, and work and play take place simultaneously.

    In many cases, people who are reading blogs at work are also learning better ways to use a certain software. And a casual exchange online could lead to a partnership on a new project.

    The area I'm having a tough time managing is the blending of private and public lives. I doubt anybody will come up with a set of tools to help me with that.

  2. Greg- You have made some great observations - I had felt the same way as you - and now I know I need to become more aware of social net working. And your comments about how it can relate to improving product development are right on - being able to get more of the right people engaged in the early iterations around product development are critial to creating world class products.

    Also- when Atari first came out a long time ago it came with games like pong and tanks - the games certainly have evolved - but could you imagine how fast they could have evloved with social networking and social product development...

    I look forward to your next post.

  3. Wow! Thank you so much for posting this. I only wish my boss could read it. All social networking sites are blocked on our computers, but even if they weren't I'd be too afraid to go to them. I constantly have people walking past my desk trying to see what I am doing. I am a receptionist, and no matter what I do-there will be times when I absolutely can't think of anything else to do. I take online classes, and I having even had to endure being disciplined for working on that in my down time. I don't get paid enough for any of this, and the least thing they could do is allow me to enjoy my free time. Yes, you pay me $10.74 an hour to do a job and I do it. But is it that employers think their workers aren't giving them their money's worth if they actually enjoy their job. I wish I could email this to him without him knowing it was me. Thanks for letting me vent!!!