Introducing Christianson’s Law of Communication Platforms

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As I write this, Amazon is on the verge of launching a new messaging platform called Anytime. The press is all excited about Anytime’s new features and the grand possibilities for making the world a better place. Whether Anytime’s features will truly be new remains to be seen—any one else remember Google Wave’s ability to pull people into past conversations?

I just can’t get excited about another platform. I don’t need another platform. I have way too many already. By my count, these are the systems I have used to communicate professionally and personally in the last month, in general order of frequency:

  1. Email
  2. Cellular voice
  3. SMS
  4. iMessage
  5. Facetime video
  6. Slack
  7. Zoom
  8. WhatsApp!
  9. Google Hangouts
  10. LifeSize Cloud
  11. H.323 Videoconferencing
  12. Microsoft Lync
  13. GoToMeeting
  14. Jabber
  15. Skype
  16. Infrastructure Canvas
  17. Basecamp/Highrise
  18. Blackboard connect
  19. Land-line voice (required by my institution…ack.)
  20. Facebook Messager
  21. WeChat
  22. Twitter DM
  23. Asana
  24. Acono (Cisco Meeting app)
  25. and Fitbit

Yes, %&#ing Fitbit.

You see, a much younger business client of mine works at a new startup. And he is the quintessential digital native, tied to the smartphone and hopping from one app to another faster than I do about anything these days. He communicates by whatever means is in front of him. And whenever he has the desire or thought to communicate. So I now get work-related messages via the Fitbit app!

As a generation Xer teetering on 50, this doesn’t fit nicely into my workflow.

I have always believed in going where your clients are, but keeping up with all these platforms is reducing my productivity to practically zero, if not negative.  I am spending more and more time switching platforms and keeping track of messages and less and less time doing important work.

Brook’s law says that the productivity of a team goes down as the number of team members increases. This is due to several reasons, but the main factor is the increasing number of communication channels and the time spent maintaining those channels. With each new team member (n), the number of communication channels increases according to the formula:

Communication Channels = n * (n − 1) / 2

For example:

  • 5 developers = 10 communication channels to maintain
  • 10 developers = 45 communication channels to maintain
  • 15 developers = 105 communication channels to maintain
  • 20 developers = 190 communication channels to maintain

The result of this combinatorial explosion is that the team’s productivity decreases as you add more people to the project.

I hereby bravely—and humbly—put forth a new law which calculates productivity as communication platforms increase among a group: Christianson’s Law of Communication Platforms.

My law states: The productivity (p) of each individual in a community will be related to the number of people in a community who are communicating with each other (w), and the number of communication systems (s) used by this community. The formula is as follows:

p = 100 – ( (0.2 *w) * (s * s-3)

In Christianson’s law, p is expressed as a percentage of individual productivity. Obviously, we are all willing to sacrifice some personal productivity for the benefits of interacting with others, getting help, selling and buying, etc. So in any real world situation, we can expect p to be less than 100 percent—consider p to be a measure of work effectiveness, not efficiency of communications.

Let’s run a few numbers and see if it jives with oberservations.

  • With ten people in a group and two platforms that you have to check for communications, productivity will be at ninety-six percent. So you are giving up just four percent of your productivity to be able to communicate with your colleagues.
  • Change the number of people in your group to fifty but keeping just two communication platforms and your productivity drops to eighty percent; twenty percent of your energy is devoted to keeping track of messages, logging in and checking for messages, switching to the right app to talk to the right person.
  • Back to the scenario with ten people in your group, but increase the number of communications channels to ten, and you have reduced your productivity to a measly ten percent. Ninety percent of your productivity is sucked up managing communications.
  • Finally, let’s look at the list of people I regularly communicate with (~30) and the approximate number of communications channels lists above (25). My productivity is -1,700. Looking back at my goals for the past few years—and my productivity—this number seems about right. I declare Christianson’s Law proved.

What do you think? Platforms seem to be the future. Standards not so much. Are we really getting less productive with more platforms, or can we maximize our productivity by using as many platforms as possible? Does this “law” reflect your work life? Let us know in your comments below.

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About Author

J Scott Christianson is a successful instructor and business owner with more than 23 years of experience in networking, videoconferencing technology, and project management. A Project Management Professional (PMP), Scott has worked on more than 400 videoconferencing projects. He currently serves as an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Trulaske College of Business at the University of Missouri and remains actively involved in videoconferencing technology and applications. The opinions expressed in Scott's commentary are his own, and are not representative of Let’s Do Video or the University of Missouri.

2 Comments

  1. andre.deus@mail.missouri.edu'

    Makes total sense. As a new Graduate student I find myself waisting too much time going from the following apps to keep up with whats going on:

    Facebook (messenger, and different MBA and working groups)
    Instagram (MBA Group)
    GroupMe
    WhatApp
    Sms
    Canvas
    Blackboard
    Email (3 different accounts!)

    I agree that going through these communication channels are the most consuming activity of my day!

    Christianson’s Law proved.

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