David Maldow, the founder and CEO of Let’s Do Video, has worked on both sides of visual collaboration technology.
He spent 10 years as an attorney, which gave him an end user’s perspective. He’s also been a managing partner at Telepresence Options and ran the test lab at Wainhouse Research, where he developed an “appreciation” for making technology easier to use over time.
Coming into the industry, his focus was primarily on how things worked, looking at the ins and outs of products. “I was interested in the bits and the bytes, the speeds and the feeds, and the protocols,” he said during his keynote address at AVI LIVE in Minneapolis, Minn., titled "Smells like Team Productivity: How to Find Workflow Nirvana."
“Now, I don’t care so much — the stuff works … I want to dig deeper," he said.
What he’s been focused on lately: workflows and productivity, “the things that we’re actually trying to support with these technologies.”
Workflows and productivity are all about the experience end users have with technology -- something that's expected to efficient and limitless. The way users look at technology today, you’d think the possibilities are endless, Maldow explained. And, in some respect, they are. He gave Star Trek as an example.
People didn’t see automated sliding doors — like the ones at the grocery stores — until the 1960s when Star Trek came out. When the science-fiction show aired, Maldow said a hospital administrator watched the convenience of these automated sliding doors and wanted them for his facility. Only, when this hospital administrator found out how the doors worked, he realized the technology wasn’t there yet.
“The way the automatic doors work is,” Maldow said of Star Trek’s reply to the hospital administrator, “we have a prop guy who stands off camera and when the actor walks toward the door the prop guy” pulls the door open and pushes it closed once the actor passed through.
“From your users’ perspective, they don’t know that we, the IT-AV community, are that prop guy behind that door,” he said.
While automated doors are ubiquitous today, so are others kinds of technologies that depend on “the prop guys” to ensure everything runs as it should. Both "the prop guys" and the technology impact on the way teams work together, determining efficiency, adoption and more.
— AVI Systems (@avisystems) May 24, 2017
‘The Traditional Approach’
“The traditional approach has brought us some headaches,” Maldow said, explaining that there’s traditionally been a lack of flexibility in the industry.
Maldow explained that clients would approach him, asking for a solution that was comprised of products from multiple different vendors. They wanted it all to talk to each other, to interoperate.
“I really wouldn’t recommend it,” he would say to the client. “It’s going to bring you some headaches.”
“We should never struggle with ROI."
Even though it would’ve been the ideal case on the clients’ end, it’s likely going to cause problems. However, the solution to this problem wasn’t ideal either: “Just pick a vendor” and get everything from that vendor.
What happened next was a poor return on investment. “We should never struggle with ROI,” Maldow said.
Since the solutions weren’t tailored to the clients’ needs, the more generic solution took its toll, with ROI taking the biggest hit. To avoid this, adoption programs were implemented.
“In my time in this industry, nothing has upset and frustrated me more than the fact that we have adoption programs,” he said. “This stuff should be self-adopting.”
However, adoption can be difficult when some people in the office are so used to the way things are, he said, giving video conferencing as an example.
Before video conferencing, meetings could still happen remotely, but it was over the phone. And while the audio call might not have the same impact that a video call does, it was quick and simple.
But more importantly, people were used to it.
It wasn’t cumbersome or time-consuming like the video equipment. It was easy enough for people to keep doing what they were doing. In Maldow’s words, “It was too much of a change to the workflow.”
You have to find a balance. You can’t force users to adopt the technology, and you don’t want to interrupt their workflow. You need to keep your team happy.
‘Keeping Your Team Happy’
“There’s been a shift,” Maldow said. It’s important to loosen up schedules, supply the right tools and pay employees well. They work harder and more gets done that way. However, that’s not all.
“Now it’s not only about keeping your teams happy," he continued. "It’s about keeping your teams."
In the past, it was common to find people working at a job for decades. Today, the opposite is true. People often pick up and move on to the next opportunity after only a few years. This frequent change and disruption can cost companies a great deal in training, productivity and more.
“I strongly believe what a five and a 10-year team can do, a three-year team could never do,” he said. “So how do you keep your teams together?”
It’s not money. Maldow said that people are more likely to leave a higher paying job for a lower paying one that seems more fulfilling.
“They want to work for a killer team that’s knocking out projects,” he said. To create this sort of team, you need to give them the tools they need to “knock out projects” and keep the momentum going.
And to do that, you need to start with the workflow, Maldow says.
Understanding Productivity Workflows
“Everybody is agile these days,” he said, and everybody works differently. Some people are remote for a portion of the week, while others work on the other side of the country full time. No matter where they are, people choose to complete their projects in ways that work best for them.
Maldow refers to these individual ways as "desire paths," which are the routes people choose to take over the routes that have been laid before them.
“What I suggest is not to help them do it your way, but help them do it their way."
On the screen behind Maldow was a picture of a stark dirt path, beat down between two very green sections of lawn with a sidewalk around the perimeter. Instead of taking the sidewalk, people often chose to cut through the grass instead — likely to make their commute time and distance shorter.
“The first instinct when you see a desire path might be to say, ‘users are doing it wrong, I’m not going to let them do it wrong,’” he said. “What I suggest is not to help them do it your way, but help them do it their way. We take their desire paths and we smooth it down for them.”
Maldow offered some ideas for smoothing down a team’s desire paths, starting with virtual, cloud-based solutions that allow for video and remote collaboration to complete tasks the way they want to, with the tools needed from whichever vendor.
“Interop works now,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to embrace new solutions.”
Instead of waiting for the hardware to sit on the market for a while before adoption, he said to go for it. If Skype is the preferred method to communicate, he said to use it, and the same goes for any other communication platform out there. The point is that whatever the solution might be, that it contains the features your team wants to use.
Maldow has put these ideas to practice with his team at Let’s Do Video, which is entirely remote. Everybody on the team relies on individual technology solutions to complete their tasks, but at the same time, they’re also very collaborative, he explained. So, they have solutions like Trello to find common ground. The famous American rock band Nirvana worked together in a similar way.
As Maldow was talking about case studies on stage, he walked off to the side and grabbed a black electric guitar and plugged it in.
“The story of Nirvana is the way Kurt Cobain liked to get things done,” Maldow said. “Intense teamwork.”
— AVI Systems (@avisystems) May 24, 2017
One day, Maldow explained, Cobain was playing guitar riffs when he had a sudden breakthrough. He rallied the band and they practiced all day until they found what Cobain was looking for. “And what they came up with at the end was magic,” he said, referring to the band's popular song, "Smells like Team Spirit."
“They didn’t require a lot of support,” Maldow explained. “Their amps had to work, their guitars had to stay in tune, but that’s not the point. The point is they did it the way they wanted to do it, and it changed the world of music."
- Workflow first – The technology is still important, but how it’ll be used determines adoption.
- Talk to your people – The best way to figure out how your team likes to work is to ask them.
- Consider new technologies – In the past, it might’ve been "safer" to wait until the technology was on the market for a few years before adopting. Maldow says to go for it instead of waiting.
- Customize and integrate – Tailor technology solutions for workflows and needs. Technology can talk to technology fairly easily now.
- The follow-up: Are you being more productive? – At the end of the day, you should find out if your team’s experiences has improved. Having the technology on hand is only part of it.