Ding Dong, That Wicked Office Model is Dead

Author, Mike Hansen

Author, Mike Hansen

Somewhat of a departure from my posts of late, but it kind of irks me when I get a Microsoft Office document in my inbox. By definition this is a document you can edit, implying (sort of) that someone is looking for feedback, comments etc. It’s kind of comical when I get a resume in .docx format via email from someone seeking a position. I can only imagine the response if I were to send back fixes to some simple grammatical issues or maybe turning that 9 page CV into a single page of the stuff I actually cared about.

Just yesterday I received a position description document in Office format, along with 5 other people on the email, with a request for feedback from everyone. Anyone who has tried consolidating comments and changes, regardless of the use of the change tracking features, knows the pain that impies. These are ingrained behaviors, of course, but that model of collaboration has long been outmoded. Either send a PDF or send a Google Doc.

The Alternative: Google Docs

Google Docs has introduced a quantum leap in real-time document collaboration. If you have used it heavily, this is probably not news. If you work in a highly distributed organization, it can be a force multiplier. The speed at which you can iterate on a document is extraordinary, watching ideas gestate and evolve in real-time as people participate in a kind of directed brainstorm, on steroids no less. Frankly, the same benefits are possible even with a team that is sitting together in the same office when the need for such collaboration arises. Hint: This is appropriate more than you might think.

A Case Study

Not too long ago, we had to go through our first formal security vulnerability disclosure as a company. This is where you tell your customers and users that there is something horribly wrong that we didn’t know about until now and that their immediate action is needed. There was a fair amount of internal anxiety stemming from the seriousness of the vulnerability and the uncertainty with how the users of our products might take the news. It turns out that if you handle things diligently, communicating clearly and effectively and providing the necessary support, you will have a highly receptive and appreciative audience. And, “diligently” is where Google Docs really delivered.

There were a vast array of moving pieces associated with making this disclosure. For example, we have many public facing and independently operated installs with vast user communities. In total, Nexus has a user base in the millions, and everyone was potentially at risk. As soon as word of the vulnerability hit the streets and updated software was made available, the clock began ticking. While the advisory was intended for the good of the community, it could also be used for more nefarious purposes as bad actors worked to reverse engineer our fixes, create their own exploits and begin launching attacks.

We needed to ensure we had our bases covered; that we had a comprehensive checklist to guide our actions and ensure nothing was missed. So, I created a new Google Doc and pulled 7 other key members of the team in to build out that checklist in real-time. It was amazing to watch the checklist unfold before my eyes as people across the US, Canada, UK and Europe whipped up the comprehensive list of actions and follow ups. We also captured outstanding issues and risks, mitigation, general commentary, much of which led to fleshing out more actions that were needed. In less than 15 minutes elapsed time, we produced an exceptional quality, 3 page document that guided us to a perfectly executed disclosure process that unfolded in the days following.

The Outcome

I wish I had recorded a screen capture because if you haven’t seen this kind of collaboration, it’s really the only way to grip the true impact that it can have. Of course, people probably would claim I was running the video at 10X real time! The speed combined with the comprehensiveness and quality was something I had just never seen before. And though the wow factor and the goose bumps may now be long gone, the magnitude of the impact and the coolness of it all are still not lost. It is an absolute “must have” in the arsenal of tools that let you and your team move faster and faster, one used heavily here — and hopefully exclusively soon enough.

Final Word

OK. I am clearly a Google Docs fanboy. Whatever. Guilty as charged. But, if you aren’t yet part of a team that has “unleashed the fury”, you are missing out. If the Wicked Witch of Microsoft Office still pervades your workplace, well, hopefully you will be singing “Ding dong, the merry-oh” soon enough.


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Mike Hansen

Head of Products at Sonatype
Relentlessly working to surround myself with technical people better than me, making sure they have what they need to excel and when appropriate, quickly getting the *#$& out of the way. And, when not busy doing that, playing the piano or looking for the next Colorado 14er to climb (30 bagged to date).

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