Information Alignment

by grouperlab

Since this is the first post to the GROUPER Blog, there is no better time to talk about its purpose.  In GROUPER, we talk every day about information:  its delivery to people so they can make decisions and how they share it with others so they can make better decisions together.  And so, GROUPER’s motto is “Studying how people get, share, and use information well.”

Lately, we have stressed the timing of that getting, sharing, and using information.  The importance of the timing of information is not all in the speed with which the receiver gets her information.  While speed is important, the frequency of her receiving information is often more important.  This update frequency is important whenever the receiver needs the information to do her own work—more often than not.

All people do their work in cycles, some long, some short.  A cycle in this case can be as long as a year if you are talking about project cycles or as short as a quarter-minute if you are talking about the discussion in a meeting.  The most recognizable and universal cycle is a work shift, which is a cycle of somewhere around eight hours.

In GROUPER, the concept of a work cycle is important, because we recognize that when a person receives information—such as directions from a supervisor, an outline of the day’s needed work, or a set of engineering requirements—he can usually start working right away according to that information.  By the time he needs more information to continue working, enough time has gone by that the information that he needs might be ready and waiting for him to request or retrieve it.  Another worker has the task of producing this information—directions, an outline, or requirements.  It is her job to produce information in time for those who need it.  She, in turn, needs information from somewhere else to do her job.  Even the highest-ranking managers need to communicate with others to make decisions in order to pass down information.  Therefore, all employees require information from someone else to do their job.  When workers get the needed information from others at or near the same time that they need it (that is, when their work cycle ends), those two workers are said to be in alignment.  GROUPERs specifically call it information alignment.

Consider a situation in which Ashley needs information from Prof. Caldwell to start working.  Once she receives that information, she might be able to work for five days autonomously before needing more information.  If Prof. Caldwell produces an email with the information that Ashley needs before those five days elapse, then Ashley can continue working seamlessly, and they are in alignment.

Now consider the set of scholars, practitioners and companies in the world that are interested in the work that GROUPER does.  If they are to work seamlessly across their work cycles, they need to work in roughly the half- or full-year-long cycles that GROUPER takes to produce successive journal and conference papers on our research topics.  We anticipate that this is too long, and that we need to produce commentary or reflective material on our research topics with a faster update frequency than currently possible by the peer-reviewed platforms offered by our favorite scholarly organizations.  On the other hand, we don’t plan on giving you tweet-style updates every few hours.  You don’t care what we’re having for lunch, and we don’t want to spend so much time tweeting that we never have time for our real work.  The best update frequency for our partners, customers, and potential collaborators is probably on the order of days or weeks—between the micro-scale of the tweet, and the macro-scale of the peer-reviewed paper.  Thus, this blog serves to help us align ourselves better with you.