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Chris Ciborowski

I'm a technologist & entrepreneur helping companies see the endless possibilities provided by DevOps and cloud application delivery. I'm a Docker Captain and CEO & CO-founder at Nebulaworks.

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We owe a major “thank you” to the Slack team. Not only have you changed the way the we are communicating internally, now we are also doing the same with our clients and partners. This is so good, it is worth some words.

A little background to frame my perspective

Way back when, in the early ’90s I was so hip. Had a super fast 9600 baud modem and by dialing into the university had email (with Pine!). What an unbelievable concept…able to get through to folks in order to talk about class material, assignments with professors, etc. (with a side bene using Kermit to access UC libraries card catalog). Back then, people took email seriously. In fact, it was fun. If something couldn’t be done over email, we took it to the phone. If not over the phone, in person. Problem(s) solved.

But over time, email took a turn for the worse. It went from a tool used to communicate effectively to something that you just “do.” Decisions pushed off, not enough time to read ongoing and endless threads and crafting the right response, and of course, the equivalent of “my dog ate my homework” - “I never got your email”. Using it to manage projects? Good luck with that. To do something about the single largest waste of productivity and time at the workplace I replaced it with Google Wave for my internal teams. What a revelation (that was almost as good as Slack). We were able to share, collaborate in real time, and integrate all of our Google tools. We went from archaic to the future, overnight. But it took a different way of thinking AND working…almost too soon for something so revolutionary. And it wasn’t something we could use reliably outside of our internal staff. When Google shuttered the platform, we, reluctantly, returned to email.

Slack: Back to the future

When Google did away with Wave it was a bummer. Back to chat we went for RTC, which just didn’t have the same impact as Wave. Years went by, and I went on to found Nebulaworks. When I started the company we made the decision to go with lean tech too, all SaaS. Of course Google Apps, but this time adding a number of other tools to help us collaborate and get our job done efficiently. Take GitHub for example. Not only do we use it for source code, most everything goes there. Docs. Drawings. PDFs. If it needs version control, it goes in GitHub. So much so, our deliverables (documentation) we write in MD and its in a repo with the rest of the source. Spending so much time using SCM and with development teams we decided to take a look at Slack. Whoa! It was like being reunited with an old, lost friend!

We began using Slack internally and it was quickly adopted. In fact, most of the chatter on the email, SMS, etc., have all fallen off. And the pace of activity on Slack has picked up. And the benefits are immense:

  • No more “missing emails”
  • Integration with Google Apps (and other tooling) for sharing and chaining
  • Real-time Q&A
  • Transparency. You write it, it’s there.
  • Searchable
  • Mobile friendly +

Did I mention integrations? We haven’t even dipped into all of the options, but thus far with just a few (GitHub, Google Apps) I am really impressed. And then, it hit us…if it worked this well for internal use, how else could we benefit?

Connecting Teams

Being a consulting firm, we have a number of projects going on simultaneously. Frankly, most of the project tools we’ve used have been pretty crappy - always leaving something desired. Discussing a recent engagement, we started thinking about a better way to communicate with our partners and clients. Most, if not all of our customers are using Slack, for certain using it the same way we are internally. Why not create a private channel for each project, and invite end users for collaborative participation? Full disclosure, if you will.

This move was brilliant. Sure, we still have some cumbersome project management tools that are fantastic for mapping progress, maintaining key dates, rollups, etc., but crappy for sharing and collaborating…which defaulted to email. Using Slack, efficiency is up, teaming is up, and the overall level of collaboration and knowledge sharing (the goal) is much higher. Clients and partners can “see” what is going on with their projects, even if they are not participating. They are privy to our internal discussions, as well as the challenges that we face as we proceed through our phases. This is a BIG change. No sugar coating. Raw, unfiltered project progress. Good stuff.

This is not without some drawbacks. First, cost. Adding an individual is going to cost you money. Single Channel Guest or Restricted User? Yep. Even if they are using Slack, inviting them to a channel isn’t free. There are other “slack-like” platforms out there that don’t charge for this - but I see this causing the same problem as Wave…few use those tools. However, I also see this as cost of doing business so it is a non-issue for us. Secondly, and probably more important, Slack supports instant gratification. Well, it’s closer to the crack version of instant gratification. If we are on a channel, great, but what if the client needs something now, and we are not? That is problematic. Pretty easily solved through proper expectation setting. To date this hasn’t been an issue but if I’m a betting man it will pop up at some point. Last, security. Some clients require a high level of comfort with regards to how their data (even if it isn’t customer or sensitive data) is handled. We make sure that any policy we are given regarding data protection and retention is adhered to, and we note that our company extensively uses “as-a-Service” technology, typically housed in a public cloud (clears throat, AWS). It has never been an issue for us, but could be for some other firms depending on the client.

So, you could say we are quite happy with the move. With the way teams work today, this just makes sense. Clearing the lines of communication and enabling collaboration and knowledge sharing with Slack will provide a tremendous benefit to our clients and projects, the same way that it did for Nebulaworks internally. Give it a shot…maybe you’ll just want to dump email too. I would if I could.