Easy PTM Integration Tricks
Our URL based service world makes it easy to use Persistent Team Messaging (PTM) as the hub of your project based communications while leveraging outside tools. Basically, any service, portal, or tool that can be accessed via URL, can be tied into any PTM service in a number of ways. Now, some PTM solutions actually include a number of collab tools. For example, some PTM solutions include strong file share capabilities. Obviously this type of full feature integration is preferable, but my point is that if your PTM doesn’t include this type of feature, it is easy to add yourself.
Going back to the file share feature example. All external file shares services offer URL based file sharing. We all know how to use a URL link to share a Dropbox or Google Drive file in an IM. If you are working with your team in a PTM room, and want to share a file, just paste the Dropbox link in the chat. Not rocket science. The bonus is that a few days (or even weeks) later when you are working on that project and want to work on that file again, the link will still be right there in the chat, in the context of the last discussion about its relevance and status. When we are looking for something, our instinct is to look in the last place we used it. Even if your Dropbox filing system is logical and immaculate (mine is not), it can still be easier to find a recently used file by scanning the last discussion in your PTM room.
File sharing is just one example of features and addons that either exist as part of PTM packages, or can be easily integrated. Another is video chat. Acano, Cisco Spark, and Unify Circuit offer integrated video in one form or another (a discussion of their differentiators are beyond the scope of this article). Even commercial apps like Hipchat or Slack are starting to offer integrations with services like Google Hangouts. But whether or not there is an available API based plugin, any PTM chat can leverage any existing video platform. The key is that most cloud video solutions offer invite by URL. For basic use, paste the URL in your chat, and jump into the meeting. Not that hard.
With a little thought you can make it even more convenient. Create a room for your team with nothing but links to your other comms and project management tools. Think of it as your team bookmark room. You can use it to quickly paste links to your team’s productivity apps, cloud file sharing services, website admin portals, a variety of communications tools, etc. Basically, any team resource that has a related URL can be added to this team bookmark room, for easy access by any team member at any given time, and easy sharing in any of your chat rooms.
If you really want to get creative, you can use Slack’s chat robot (Slackbot) to help with integrations. Please see the pics below to see how I use Slack to launch calls using a selection of services from LDV sponsors and friends. In the picture on the left, you can see how I “taught” Slackbot to post certain comments in response to specific keywords. In the picture on the right, you can see how it works in practice. If my keywords show up in any of my messages, Slackbot immediately provides the correct response in the next line.
(Important Note: I rotate between all the solutions mentioned in this article and more. I do not endorse or use any particular solution preferentially over any other solution.)
While not necessarily a “tip”, I do want to quickly share and discuss the concept of contextual multitasking since it is a such a strange and interesting phenomena that heavy PTM users can experience and leverage. I didn’t come up with the term “contextual multitasking” but I can’t credit the creator yet because his company is secretly working on a PTM solution. Hat tip to you if you read this.
We are all juggling multiple projects, on our desks and in our minds. How often does someone start spouting project details at you, and you have to stop them and say, “Hold up, what are we talking about here?”. The fact that the PTM discussions are happening in clearly labeled rooms helps to automatically contextualize all discussions. If I want to tell my team about an idea for an upcoming podcast, I put it in the podcast channel. If that channel lights up, I am expecting that message to be something about podcasts.
Having each comment (or shared file, meeting invite, etc) immediately in context changes the way I process communications, particularly in how it allows me to multitask effectively. Let’s imagine a reasonable situation where you are working on 3 projects with your partner, and 4 with your other partner, with a bit of overlap between them. Managing this through email starts to quickly get out of hand. When you write an email, you tend to include everything you have to share, even if it relates to multiple projects. So we soon have email threads with mixed information about multiple projects. We manage it, because we are smart and skilled, but it’s not ideal. If you start to get truly busy, you soon have to offload project management from email by using some sort of GTD or team based system.
Now imagine the same situation, but you have 7 chat rooms set up, one named for each of the 7 projects. A big part of your brain that was worried about project management, that was worried about contextualizing incoming emails (and remembering what happened in old emails), is now free to focus on moving these projects. It becomes like a video game. One of the 7 channels lights up, you click on it to see what is going on. Someone has a question, you answer it, and go back to whatever you were working on. That project just moved. Another channel lights up, your partners are working together and you aren’t needed, but now you know exactly what is going on without the need for a status update email or meeting.
Another channel lights up, your partner wants you to review a doc, you scroll up and see your conversation from yesterday where you asked him for this doc, now you have the full context to do this review. As you open it up to review, remember you wanted to send your partner a file for another project. You drop the file in that channel with a quick comment, knowing your partner will get to it when he can, and will know exactly what it’s about without the need for a big explanatory email.
As you get more and more comfortable with this dynamic, you realize you are doing the work of 5 people (which we all do these days), but all at once, and with no confusion. A three person team functions like a 15 person team. David the Writer is chatting in the “LDV Writing Room” about upcoming content, while David the CEO is chatting in the “LDV Marketing Room” about plans for InfoComm, while David the Analyst is working in “LDV Premium Room” our premium content infrastructure, while David the Video Editor is uploading clips to the “LDV Podcast Room” for the team to review. All of this is happening at the same time, without stress or confusion. It’s almost fun.
You can get a lot of plates spinning at once, and it can whip up into a whirlwind of productivity. So much is getting done, so quickly, by so few people. When this is happening, its almost liking having multiple personalities, but in a good way, as it is all managed, contextual, and focused. We all talk about wearing multiple hats at the office and struggling to keep it all straight. Contextualizing all of your communications certainly seems like a logical step towards keeping your many hats straight.
Obviously, we can’t work all day in a whirlwind. Even if its a managed and well tracked whirlwind. At some point we need to push it aside and do some solo work. But not everything is so black and white. It isn’t a choice between turning off all communications, and full on whirlwind. There are 100 levels in between, and you can get pretty good at putting yourself in the right spot, depending on what needs to get done. This is nothing new, we all have gotten very good at monitoring incoming communications while we are trying to work, and balancing priorities on a case by case basis. PTM just makes this process a little easier and less distracting because the incoming hits are all immediately in context.
To wrap this entire three part series up, I think we are at a pivotal point in the development of communications technologies. It may be too early to predict that presence will die, or that PTM will be its successor. There is so much activity in the space, and vendors trying new paradigms, that something completely different could catch on and take over at any minute. But for now, PTM is hot, and I will be continuing to use it, and gather more tricks, tips and thoughts.