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Robert Johansen

March 1987


Center for Information Systems Research

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Sloan School of Management

77 Massachusetts Avenue

Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02139


Robert Johansen

March 1987


01987 Institute for the Future

Center for Information Systems Research

Sloan School of Management
Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Robert Johansen*
Institute for the Future (IFTF)

2740 Sand Hill Road

Menio Park, California 9^^025


♦Robert Johansen is a Senior Research Fellow at IFTF, as well as a Research Affil
iote at the Center for Infornnation Systems Research (CISR) in the Sloan School
of Management at MIT.

The ideas in this paper have benefited greatly from discussions with Jeff Charles,
Elliot Gold, George Goodman, and Paul Saffo.

Paper P-143

March 1987




NOV 2 2000



Robert Johansen

Computer-supported teams are small collaborative work groups that use special-
ized computer aids. Typically, these ore project-oriented teams who have important
tasks and tight deadlines.

The team members may be present in the same room or they may be attending
an electronic meeting at which other participants are not in the same place at the
same time. If team members are physically separated, they may decide to use a store-
ond-forward communications medium that allows them to communicate according
to their own schedules. Sometimes, computer-supported teams are permanent groups;
more often they are ad hoc task forces or other teams with a defined lifetime. The
group interaction might be formal or informal, spontaneous or planned, structured
or unstructured.

While computers have been used to support previous team efforts, the emerging
concept of computer-supported teams differs from that of past computer support.
Many computer systems are already used by more than one person (for example, time-
share computing), but such user "groups" are simply aggregations of individuals. That
is, each computer user is seen by the system as a discrete unit; there is no little or
no direct interaction among the users. The software typically is designed for individual
users. Computer-supported teams introduce a new dimension: software designed specif-
ically for groups.


What could group-oriented software do to support the work of teams? This paper
begins by introducing 17 approaches to team support as it is already beginning to appear.
A definite" overlap occurs among some of the approaches, but each has its own perspec-
tive. These 17 approaches represent a variety of possible steps toward computer-sup-
ported teems; the steps get larger (with reference to the present) as the list progresses.
Each approach is described, illustrated by a brief scenario, and followed by a brief
assessment of the current status of this approach and a notation of possible pitfalls.


This is an inductive approach to computer supported teams: it begins by simply
describing what is going on in the user world. After this overview, I will come back
to categorizing current efforts and anticipating what is likely to happen next.


I. Foce-to-foce Meeting Facilitation Services .

Face-to-face meetings are already a way of life in business and there are people
who specialize in facilitating these meetings. Typically, such facilitators work inde-
pendently on a consulting basis, but large companies sometimes hove in-house people
who are on call to help make meetings work. Today, the normal tools of the facilita-
tor are the flip chart pad and the felt tip pen. What if electronic support for the facil-
itator were available, which, in turn, could support the activities of a work team?

Scenario I : "Chauffeur" (Sijpport for foce-to-foce meetings)

The team members are in a spirited argument as they explore
their options for presenting an interim report on their work to
date. This is a meeting to plan the presentation they have sched-
uled with their boss in two weeks, the halfway point in their task
force assignment. As the team members talk with each other, a
facilitator types quietly at the side, recording summary phrases
from each statement that are projected on a screen for the group
to see. Periodically, he stops the meeting and asks the group
members to look at what he has recorded and to check it for
accuracy; he then tries to organize what he is hearing into a more
coherent whole. If the facilitator doesn't understand, there is
little chance that the boss would understand. Some of the notes
created by the facilitator look like electronic versions of what
would have been written on flip chart pads. There also are brain-
stormed lists of ideas and graphic summaries that the facilitator
thinks might work for the executive presentation. As the meeting
ends, the team agrees on four alternatives for consideration.
Draft versions, along with the complete meeting notes, are
printed on a laser printer at the back of the room and photocopied
for the team members to fake with them as they leave.

CURRENT STATUS: A small company called Meeting Technologies (Berkeley, California)
performs a service quite similar to the one described in the scenario using three Mac-
intosh computers that they have connected together and some special software they
have written for group recording. Several other group facilitation companies are mov-
ing in a similar direction. Also, several user organizations have constructed perma-
nent rooms to support such facilitation activities.


POSSIBLE PITFALLS: Facilitators are not well accepted in most companies. In addition,
most facilitators are not adept at computer use and the software tools for such facili-
tation are not yet fully developed. Conference rooms will have to be specially equipped
to support such activities, or the facilitators will have to carry their equipment - like
traveling rock groups.

2. Group Decision Supp>ort Systems

Decision support systems (DS5) have gradually emerged and are used heavily
within many user companies. Keen and Scott Morton introduced the concept of DSS,
defining it as the use of computers to: "(I) Assist managers in their decision processes
in semistructured tasks; (2) Support, rather than replace, managerial judgment; (3)
Improve the effectiveness of decision making, rather than its efficiency." Why not
extend the DSS concept into Group Decision Support Systems (GDSS)?

Scenario 2: "GDSS" (Support for foce-to-face rr>eetings)

The team has to decide. There are seven different views among
the seven team members, but they have to reach one decision.
The first thing they agree upon, though not easily, is how to
phrase the question, how to decide what they have to decide.
Next, the GDSS asks them for anonymous judgments, it asks them
about their own uncertainties, and it asks them to self-rate their
expertise. After all the team members have entered their judg-
ments, the system does some aggregation of the opinions and
feeds back a first round set of judgments from the group. The
group goes through a series of these "rounds" until a decision is
reached. The system certainly does not make the decision, but it
provides an effective and efficient group decision-making process.

CURRENT STATUS: Group decision support systems have been in use in limited ways

for almost 20 years. Kraemer and King have conducted a recent survey of such systems

and conclude that, in spite of years of attempts, "The field of GDSS's is at yet not

well developed, even as a concept." These ore isolated examples, but there is little

success to report.

POSSIBLE PITFALLS: Formal procedures for decision making often are frowned upon
by "real business people"; significant changes in perceptions and prodedures may need
to occur. Decision support tools, while plentiful for individuals, often lack the flex-
ibility needed for group applications in business. Conference rooms may need to be
adapted to allow for GDSS and this adaptation is likely to be expensive. Most compa-
nies are used to conference room expenditures that only include items like overhead
and slide projectors, or (perhaps) a speakerphone - not expensive equipment.


3. Computer-based Extensions of Telephony for Use by Work Groups

The telephone is a "workstation" thot is familiar to everyone. If it is possible
to build from the telephone, the leap to computer-supported teams does not seem as
great for prospective users. There are two basic approaches that are not necessarily
exclusive. One builds on the capabilities of the telephone network itself (or private
networks); the other builds on the on-premises private branch exchanges (PBXs or the
smaller systems, called keysets) that are already common and are becoming powerful.

Scenario 3: 'Telephone Extension" (Support for electronic meetings)

The team meeting is booked for 2:00 p.m. and the phones ring
right on time. Each team member sits at his or her desk, with a
screen display that shows a virtual conference room table
indicating who is present and who is talking at the given time.
Each of the seven team members is acknowledged on the screen,
with their voices coming through the high-quality loudspeaking
telephone. When a team member has a draft or some data to
show, it can also appear on the screens. To the team members,
the system is an extension of their telephones, an extension that
includes what they used to do on a personal computer and what
they used to do through a surly conference call operator. Face-
to-face meetings still occur, but the telephone meetings provide
much more regular communications options.

CURRENT STATUS: Northern Telecom's Meridian already provides services very much
like this scenario, including one called "Meeting Services." Meridian is a PBX that
also acts for all the world like a computer. A telephone network-based product that
provides some of these capabilities is the AT&T Alliance bridging service. This service
now provides long distance conference calling for much of the United States through a
digital bridge that also has capabilities for exchanging graphics among group members.
These are both leading edge products, but I expect that they will be followed by an
increasing number of group-oriented telephony products and services.

POSSIBLE PITFALLS: PBXs are just developing group support capabilities and these
capabilities may be tied to expensive purchases of complete new PBX systems. This
linkage to larger systems is positive in the sense that group support capabilities will
be positioned as features on the new system, but it also means that it may be difficult
for teams to get access to such systems without becoming involved in a larger purchase

decision. (Network-based services do not have this problem, since they can be sold
as services and prices can be based on use.) Telephony-based approaches also need
to be connected in some way to the computing equipment already used by teams, and
this connection, in some cases, may be difficult.

It. Presentation Support Software

Team members often hove to make presentations, either to the team itself or
to people who have an interest in what the team is doing. Software can make the pro-
cess of preparing presentations much easier, even if the meetings themselves have
no new electronic aids. Instead of relying only on a graphics artist, with frequent long
delays, many presentations can be prepared by the author. Professional graphics assis-
tance can also come into play, but many uses of graphics for teams will not require
such specialized skills.

Scenario A: 'Presentation Prep" (Support for foce-to-foce meetings)

The team has worked over the ideas for weeks. Now it is time to
do a briefing for the boss and the boss's boss. Vugraphs
(overheads) are the medium of choice in this company, so the new
ideas have to be boiled down into vugraphs. Each team member
has played with vugraph content, formats, and styles before the
meeting. After going through various drafts, they finally agree
upon just the right "look" for their presentation. Then comes the
final rush: as usual there are changes up to the last five minutes
before the meeting. When it was over, the presentation looks
great, except for the laser-printed typo in the lower right-hand
corner of the concluding paragraph,

CURRENT STATUS: Presentation software is becoming more common, primarily be-
cause of the rise of "desktop publishing." Indeed, presentation software is a variant
of desktop publishing. One aerospace company has developed its own software that
is geared toward its own infernal project briefings, with slide preparation software
(for preparation and display on personal computers) and links to conference calling
capabilities. Several software companies are introducing extension packages that allow
output from existing software (for example, a spreadsheet or idea processor) in a form
that can be used directly for presentations.

POSSIBLE PITFALLS: Such software may introduce role conflicts within an organization:
presentors aren't used to creating their own visuals and graphics artists may feel left
out. Role changes will need to occur, such as presentors learning enough about style
and format to use the software. Graphics artists will need to learn the software and
adapt their skills to those areas where a nonortist with software cannot perform well.
In addition, quality control problems con arise.


5. Project Management Software

Work teams have obvious and often pressing needs for task planning and coordina-
tion. Specialized software could help them plan what needs to be done, track their
progress in reaching goals, and coordinate activities under way by individual team mem-
bers. The big issue with project management software is to find a system that all team
members will actually use.

Scenario 5: 'Team Conscience" (Support befween meetings)

The team has better things to do with its time than keep records.
There is a harsh set of deadlines to remember, however. While
the team focuses on the content of its work, the system has a
basic record of tasks to be conducted, task assignments, subtask
breakdowns, and schedules. Each team member reviews his or her
progress with the system on a weekly basis; the system is used
during team meetings every other week. The software has very
little intelligence; it simply organizes what the team has to do
and reminds the members when it has to be done. This discipline
and resulting coordination is probably more important than the
actual functions performed by the software.

CURRENT STATUS: Project management software is becoming increasingly common
in the personal computer arena and increasingly good as well. Some systems even in-
clude limited artificial intelligence capabilities that allow for internal judgments about
progress or lack of same.

POSSIBLE PITFALLS: Any approach to project management must be used by all key
team members in order to be valuable. Project management software must be compat-
ible enough with the styles of team members to allow this participation to occur. This
will be tough for software designers, since the needs and styles of work teams will
vary greatly.


6. Calendar Management for Groups

This, is a straightforward approach: work teams need to coordinate calendars
with each other and perhaps others. Unfortunately, implementation is not as straight-
forword as the concept implies. Many people are reluctant to use computer-based
calendars in the first place, often with good reason. Yet anyone who has tried to sched-
ule a meeting among several busy people will have thought: there must be a better way.

Scenario 6: "Our Block Book" (Supp>ort between meetings)

Each team member designates times that are unavailable and
available, with a weighting that indicates flexibility in the event
the system has trouble finding matches of free time. At first, it
is hard to get everyone to use the system. Gradually, however,
the team agrees that "The Black Book" should be the calendar of
last resort and that each team member has to be responsible for
keeping his or her own calendar in synch. "If only it would fit in
my pocket!" is the recurrent lament.

CURRENT STATUS: Electronic calendars have been accepted very slowly within most
user communities, especially by those people who have secretaries or assistants who
will schedule meetings for them so they can avoid the hassle. Gradually, however,
calendaring systems are coming into the marketplace. On the research side, the logis-
tics of group calendaring are becoming better understood and applications are promising,

POSSIBLE PITFALLS: As with project management, group calendaring requires full
participation and this will be difficult to achieve on many teams. In addition, many
people are very protective of their personal calendars; these people are likely to resist
the notion of an electronic calendar, especially when it is shared and — to some extent -
under the control of others.



7. Group Authoring Software

GroLfp authorship is a common practice already, typically via a series of scrawled
comments that are centralized onto one draft before changes are made. Group outhor-
ship software would allow team members to make document revisions, with the system
remembering who made which changes. Team members could suggest changes without
wiping out the original; comparisons among alternative drafts would be allowed easily.
The overall goal would be to improve the speed and cfjality of group writing.

Scenario 7: "Group Writing" (Support between meetings)

The brief is being filed today in San Francisco because that is
where the court is, but the principal attorneys are in New York
and Washington, The first draft was done in New York and
shipped electronically to Washington and Son Francisco. Changes
were made in all three cities; the system kept all the versions of
the brief, with indications of authorship. The lead attorney made
decisions to take this paragraph from Washington, this one from
San Francisco, and so on. The brief is being filed on time.

CURRENT STATUS: Group authoring software has been introduced recently by at
least five separate companies, all with interesting products. These introductions,
however, have just occurred and it is too early to see how successful they will be.

POSSIBLE PITFALLS: Group writing is a delicate process at best and working together
through software could increase the difficulties for some work teams. This delicacy
magnifies the problems inherent in creating group writing software. Even if the soft-
ware works well, coordination of the various authors will be critical to success. Some
teams may give up early because the barriers of behavior change, learning, and coor-
dination are too imposing.


8. Computer-supported Foce-to-foce Meetings

In this case, the team members work directly with computers, rather than through
a "chauffeur" (as in approach I above). This is a bigger step, of course. There is a
requirement for more than one workstation in the room, for software that can provide
direct group support, and for enough user skills to make it possible. It builds, however,
on the familiar notion of face-to-face meetings. As Mark Stefik, developer of the
most advanced system of this type states, the primary competition is the white board.

Scenario 8: "Beyond the White Board" (Support for foce-to-foce meetings)

Each team member had been working on a section of the final
report. They walk into the specially equipped room with diskettes
in hand (although one person has managed to send his files through
the company's local area network from his desktop workstation to
the conference room). The half-circle table includes six personal
computers connected together and a display screen. Team
members work privately during the meeting or display their work
for others to see. In the meeting, they work through each section
of the final report, doing revisions on the fly. When they leave
the room, they leave with a common "group memory" of what has
occurred and which next steps will occur next.

CURRENT STATUS: The COLAB at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) is already
beyond this scenario, though only for a single user group. It is based in the Intelligent
Systems Laboratory at PARC and is designed for a high-level team of artificial intelli-
gence researchers. Several commercial attempts to develop more limited systems
have met with little commercial success. Research experience, however, is yielding
significant insights that can contribute to future products.

POSSIBLE PITFALLS: The technology for acting out this scenario is almost here, but
it is difficult and expensive to assemble. Integration of the hardware components is
also tricky and the software, In most cases, is only available in upstream R&D settings.
The Issue mentioned In Scenario 2 regarding the reluctance of companies to spend money
on equipment for conference rooms Is also a pitfall.


9. Personal Computer Screen-sharing Software

If onre person can make good use of a personal computer ond that person is also
involved in team efforts, wouldn't it be useful for that person to be able to "share screens"
with other team members? This approach to computer-supported teams builds directly
on persona! computer use: anything that can be displayed on a personal computer screen
could be shared with another (and perhaps more than one other) personal computer

Scenario 9: "Screen Sharir>g" (Support for electronic meetings)

"I think we should move this circle over here and turn the arrow in
this direction . . ." He talks as he moves the circle and redraws
the arrow on his PC, but the other team members see it change on
their PCs as he does it. They are also connected by conference
call to discuss the revisions. They are in a "scratchpad" version of
the program right now, but the system keeps track of the drafts
and of who creates what. At the end of the meeting, everyone
has revised versions on their own PCs.

CURRENT STATUS: Various attempts to create personal computer software for screen
sharing have been made over the past several years. So far, none has been a commer-
cial success. There seem to be at least two problems: first, it is tricky for users to
get the logistics down (to be sure you have the right diskette in the right drive, the
right modem settings, and so on). Second, while the idea of screen sharing is immedi-
ately attractive to many PC users, it also requires some behavior change. Are there
really that many times when you want to share a screen while you talk with someone?
I suspect that we will see an era of computer-supported teams, but that some changes
in ways of thinking will be necessary first. Screen-sharing software is increasing grad-
ually in popularity, but rapid growth does not seem likely. Screen sharing for special-
ized teams, such as architects or engineers doing computer-assisted design, seems
to be the most likely early applications area.

POSSIBLE PITFALLS: Screen sharing is one of those ideas that looks great in principal
but that has sticky problems at the implementation stage. As indicated above, the
logistics of multiple users and multiple screens con be very difficult for both system
designers and users.


10. Computer Conferencing Software

• Computer conferencing provides group communication through computers. It
is the group version of electronic mail. Electronic mail systems are designed for person-
to-person communications; filing of messages is by the individual. Computer conferenc-
ing systems are geared toward groups; filing of messages is by group or by topic. Com-
puter conferencing is a logical step toward computer-supported teams: once communica-
tions take place through a computer, other forms of computer aids should be easy to

Scenario 10: "Invisible College" (Support for electronic meetings)

The team is close: they work together each day and often some
work of them into the night. The six team members are based in
three countries and two states within one of the countries. The
"time window" when they are all in their offices at is very short.

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Online LibraryRobert JohansenUser approaches to computer-supported teams → online text (page 1 of 3)