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Practically Speaking: Ditching Data Silos

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About the Episode

Welcome to Practically Speaking, the monthly show where hosts Ryan and Lindsay talk about the topics that changemakers, digital leaders, and innovators like you care about most. On this month’s episode, Lindsay and Ryan discuss why documentation is so important to productivity, the popularity of no-code tools, and how to avoid data silos. They close it out with another #PaperHaters chat about how people get transitioning from paper to digital so wrong.

Episode Highlights

Meet Our Guest

Our featured Genius Spotlight guest was Rose Anne Martinuzzi, a senior IT project manager with more than 15 years of experience in business process improvement, software acquisitions, and project deployment at universities such as Lehigh and Campbell. She’s dedicated her professional career to helping universities run more efficiently and effectively through data-informed decision-making. Listen to her full episode How to End Data Silos and Make Better Decisions now.

Episode Transcript

Lindsay McGuire: So something I've been thinking a lot about since our last episode, which probably isn't the most exciting or sexy topic of all time, but it's a really important topic I don't think people talk about enough, and that is documentation. I know, I know. Riveting, riveting. But I swear there's an importance to this topic starting out this episode. I know last time when we chatted Ryan on the last Practically Speaking episode, you touched just a little bit about how you are focusing on documentation going into 2023 and that you're going to use that to really set our team up for success. But I think it deems a whole entry point conversation. So can you talk a little bit more about why you are so passionate about documentation, its purpose, how it can help people set themselves up for success? Because I think a lot of people, when they hear that, it just sounds like one more thing to do or add to their plate. So please explain.

Ryan Grieves: Yeah, I will say I was definitely in that camp for many years of my career, especially even back when I was an individual contributor. And the thing that I've seen over the years of the teams that are high performing teams and the ones that continue to scale and the ones that continue to grow and produce great results after somebody has even left the organization, maybe they took another opportunity, is documentation. And it can kind of be a boring topic, but it's so critical for organizations from documenting your rituals, documenting your processes inside of an organization, documenting how you use technology, how you go to market with certain things, how you have playbooks for certain aspects of your business. All of that feeds into documentation.

Really what I mean there is documenting what's often in multiple people's brains or based on experience of we've always done it this way, or, yeah, so and so over in product, he knows how to do X, Y, and Z. Documenting that in a way, whether that's a Google doc, whether that's your internal wiki, whatever you might be using in your organization. So as people come into the organization, they can quickly get onboarded. And as you offboard folks that have moved on to other opportunities and you hire for new folks, they can quickly get into that and realize what went into that decision, what goes into how we move forward. And it's pretty critical not only for knowledge share across your team and across your org, but also that onboarding and offboarding so you can keep scaling and you don't have a departure of knowledge that goes off with somebody as they exit the organization. Have you seen that on your end Lindsay?

Lindsay McGuire: Yes. Oh yes I have in a lot of different ways, but I think too that resonate with me right now. The first is I actually lead, which Ryan used to lead and now as a group member of, but I co-lead our Formstack for Good group, which is our social impact movement. And one of the things that we have struggled with as a group is the initial leader who launched the program in 2020 did unfortunately leave. And a lot of that institutional knowledge was in her head and it was not written down, was not put in anywhere. And so you talk about how difficult it can be to try to figure out those processes when they're not put down anywhere and they're just in someone's head, especially if that person leaves. And I know we're seeing a lot of instability throughout a lot of verticals and industries right now as far as hiring and people leaving or people getting laid off or whatever the situation might be.

So having some of these things documented and it's kind of silly, but just even thinking about even the minute little tiny things of if you need this contact this person, or if this needs to happen, then here's the login information. Just even things like that can really make a whole process so much easier if anything happens to one person or one part of an org. And so just knowing that if you can just be as clear, crisp, just black and white, clear cut in these kind of documentations, that'll do a world of difference. And productivity. Right? You don't have to figure out how to do the same thing over and over.

Ryan Grieves: Yeah, exactly. And we have, especially on the marketing team at Formstack, we have so many different initiatives, campaigns and projects that are happening from time to time. So you want the ability for somebody else, whether they're brand new or they've been around for a while, that might not be the initial leader. You want them to be able to quickly pick that up and run with it. And the only way to do that without having to sit with that person that historically had ran it is through documentation. It's this living breathing document of some sort that people can pick up and apply to what they do. And double clicking into that, which I hate that term, but I just use it here on this podcast.

Lindsay McGuire: I love it.

Ryan Grieves: Specifically for this audience. When you think about workflow automation, when you think about your tech stack, all of that needs to be documented as far as the individual processes. What are the individual touchpoints? Where does the routing go for your data journey? And then you think about from a tech standpoint, your systems and technology that you use to maybe orchestrate all of that. Is that clearly documented? And sometimes those are the same from your data standpoint as well as your systems, but are you documented in a way where anyone could understand what is happening as you kick off an actual workflow, as you understand where this data is getting routed to. Lindsay, I know you've definitely seen that through some of your conversations.

Lindsay McGuire: Yeah. Again, coming back to even my Formstack for Good situation, we are an all volunteer group, and so we have employees coming in and out of our group every few quarters, every quarter, whatever the cadence is. Employees can kind of choose how long and when they join our group. But even with that, being able to document, like you said, that entire workflow of how our, let's say for instance, our product nomination process goes internally from an employee nominating an org all the way to the org being accepted into our program, being able to have a document that has all those steps written down, the clarity's there, every single question can be answered, has enabled us to use our time as a committee more strategically because we don't have to spend time onboarding other employees who are volunteering their time with us. They can access this one singular document, they can understand exactly what's going on, they have questions, they can bring those questions up with the appropriate person.

But it just saves so much time and allows us to focus on the things that we can combine our brains together strategically to improve upon. And then going back to some of my conversations with customers, even knowing how documentation can help you get a holistic view of your organization and the tools you're using. For instance, I did a recent interview with YMCA of Delaware and she made the great point talking about how once you have an understanding of the tools in your tech stack, and once you're able to document what they all do, you can kind of see where you might have point solutions or you have tools that are doing duplicate work, duplicate actions, creating data silos as Roseanne said on her episode.

But again, once you have things written down and you're in this culture of keeping track of everything, and we even see that in our digital maturity report, where the more optimized in organization, the more likely they are to track what tools they're using, how they're using them, and how they can be combined together. So I think it's just this one big circle, and once you see the impact that just even having transparency and documentation can do for you, I think you'll get hooked. I mean, it's kind of weird to say someone would be addicted to making documentation, but I'm going to make a case for it.

Ryan Grieves: Yeah, I mean it definitely is under that mantra of slowing down to speed up. And while it definitely takes a lot of thought, energy and effort to document stuff that has historically probably been in multiple people's brains and putting it actually into a digital document repository of some sort, it definitely can speed you up in the long run.

Lindsay McGuire: And we talk a lot about different tools you use for documentation, whether that's a Confluence or Atlassian or Google Docs or whatever it might be. Maybe you're using a no code tool like Notion. Maybe that's one of the roads you're going down for documentation, but bringing up no code. Again, we all know it's one of our favorite conversations, but in last month's Practically Genius insider newsletter, we asked the question about how familiar are people with no code tools. So Ryan, do you want to talk about the survey question we asked last month and what the results were?

Ryan Grieves: Yeah, I'd love to. We asked how familiar are you with no code tools? And surprisingly 46% said extremely familiar and love no code tools, which is, one, amazing. And even at the higher end, two, an additional 17% that says very familiar, I use them often. So you know, think about that. Well over 60 plus percent of folks that are very familiar with that. I think if you rewind, Lindsay, correct me if I'm wrong, I think it was around like 18% of people with the rise in the no code economy report and survey that were familiar with it. So just tremendous growth in familiarity and use of no code tools over just the last two years.

Lindsay McGuire: Yeah, I will say I expected this to be higher than our rise in the no code report findings because it has been over a year since we ran that survey, but I did not expect it to be in the majority. I still kind of thought no code might still be a little fuzzy for people, but it really shows that it really has become more mainstream. But another thing that is also interesting is it kind of shows too how our data reflects in this of even the people who don't have access to no code tools, they want to have no code tools. So I think we're going to continue to see more and more people who are inching up this beyond even somewhat I've used them, but going into either I use them often or extremely, I love them. Cause as we've talked about on this season, once you start using them, it's hard to go back to something more technical. So I'm excited about these results, it's really cool. I'd love to know people's favorite no code tools.

Ryan Grieves: Yeah, it would be great to hear what's in your stack. I think some of the ones that come to mind for us that is definitely integrated. I mean besides Formstack, which we use across the organization, shout out to our own company, but we are big advocates for Web Flow, Notion, Zapier.

Lindsay McGuire: Smartsheet, and Airtable and those kind of tools as well.

Ryan Grieves: Yeah, a lot of great tools out there to be able to use, once again, if it makes sense for you, makes sense for your tech stack and obviously having some documentations as far as what you're using and why you're using it. And then obviously the process that you're bringing it on for. Well, if you've been keeping up with our Genius Spotlight episodes, you've definitely heard of Roseanne Martinuzzi at Campbell University and she spoke about putting a stop to data silos, duplicate data and shadow it. Lindsay, I'd love to hear some of your thoughts that you took away from that conversation.

Lindsay McGuire: Yeah, so bringing back the documentation word again, that's one thing that Roseanne really harped about is having that documentation. And there's actually a really cool blog post and it actually talks about one really important piece of documentation that is the acceptable usage policy. So really mapping out why you use a tool like you were talking about with no code. If you do implement a no code tool, what should some of the regulations around that use be? What do you need to document about that tool? But other than that, what really was fascinating about my conversation with Roseanne is even though the main topic was data silos and how to get control of your data, how to clean your data, how to ensure its integrity, really what it all came back to during our conversation was culture and the kind of culture you create in your organization and how that ties back to your ability to use data.

I know that sounds really weird, but hang out with me for a second. So she talks about why you can't really get to the results you want with data until you've built the relationships with your colleagues or those other departments and teams you're working on because you're not going to be able to see the same end goal if you're not on the same page and you really have to build trust. And so Ryan, I don't know if you've seen this in your career, but if you don't have that trust across departments, across teams across your org, it can be really difficult to get any project up and running, right?

Ryan Grieves: Yeah, I think it all comes down to understanding what you are trying to accomplish. So if that is a new initiative, a new project, a new system that you're bringing in, I think where trust breaks down is when you don't get all the people that are impacted the stakeholders in the same room to align on that. So then you can take all of those considerations into the decision making process and then obviously the rollout and an adoption of that. And at the end of the day, more and more companies are data companies at their core. And so I love what she talked a little bit about that because it's so critical across organizations to get smarter with our data, to use data to impact the customer experience and make better and more informed decisions as a business. So I love that idea.

Lindsay McGuire: And you even said exactly what's in my notes of her talking about making space for people during the process of bringing in new tech or even launching a new process. They go hand in hand. If you're launching new process, you might have new tech, you have new tech, you're probably going to launch a new process. But one thing I really loved about our conversation is it did all connect back to our research in the digital maturity report. So one thing we found when we created our digital maturity pillars is that culture is actually a huge pillar of digital maturity. So your culture within your organization, the culture of your people impacts whether you're able to become an optimized organization. And so it's really fascinating to see in our research we talk about you need to create a culture that welcomes change, encourages new ideas and supports learning to be able to enact on these digital transformations and these large scale big move the needle projects and initiatives.

But at the same time, you can't get there unless you have built this culture into the fabric of your organization. And she even talks about it on her episode from building out either a tech governance committee, so putting in the time to strategically build those relationships before you jump into a project. So she really hits onto all of those points in our research that establish why you need to be more of an open collaborative united organization. And it's not just on your individual team or your individual department needs to be kind of an org-wide initiative.

Ryan Grieves: I mean, it's really about creating a culture that embraces change, as you said. And I think the more that we as individuals and as an org can embrace change and knowing that change is not a bad thing, change is a good thing, and whether you want to or not need to evolve as an organization. And so how can you do that in the best way? Well, that's to build that into your fabric of your company, build that in the fabric of your team that we should be constantly testing, optimizing everything that we possibly can and that's how we get better.

Lindsay McGuire: I will say it can be scary at times. So think about change, but it's not just change for change sake, right? Change is what keeps you competitive and ensures you're keeping up with market expectations, allows you to fully pursue that data-informed decision making, like she talks on her episode. But at the end of the day too, it just makes sure that you are doing the right things at the right time. And if you are able to address the concerns and work together to make change, you're just overall going to be more successful. Sounds really cheesy, but it's true, y'all.

Ryan Grieves: Big agreed.

Lindsay McGuire: And so now comes this segment of the show where we do what we do best, which is hate on paper, but we do want to make something clear. So we don't just hate paper, we actually love paper in the right context, right, Ryan?

Ryan Grieves: Yeah. Paper airplanes, paper mache volcanoes. Remember those back in the day?

Lindsay McGuire: Oh yes.

Ryan Grieves: Birthday cards. Love me a good birthday card. So we don't hate paper, we actually hate paper processes, things like paper forms, physical paper contracts, those are more of what we're talking about with paper haters.

Lindsay McGuire: Yes. So we're not just simply advocating for moving out of paper processes into digital. It's actually a lot more than that because the same issues we have with paper can be actually moved digital. So Ryan, do you want to uncover this one and dig in a little bit more for our friends?

Ryan Grieves: Yeah, I think one thing that we talk a lot about and our friend Tom Goodwin, innovation leader, big business transformation consultant across a lot of organizations and big speaker on the topic posted recently about he was going after electronic signatures and how really it's taking a paper process and really just digitizing it but not actually thinking more in terms of how they can improve it. So I think Tom put it best. He said digital thinking isn't taking what we've made before and finding new places to sell it or new ways to advertise it. He said digital thinking is to rethink what we make, how we charge for it, how we work, what business model is, what skills we need, what new possibilities emerge more. And I love that sentiment because I think it's an opportunity as we move to more digital, as we move towards more automation, we should be rethinking more of what we actually do in our workday.

I know one thing we've talked a lot about, and obviously built it into our own product, is this example of even not ever asking the customer the same question twice. And we do that through our form pre-fill, where you can pre-fill data into a form based on CRM, whether that's Salesforce or another. And pre-filling that with data that you already know about your patient, your customer, your student, and not asking them for that again. That's a good example of something that you took as a once, hey, this is a paper form and a doctor's office that we're going to have to ask them the same information again and again, now that you're digital, how can you rethink that overall because you already have this data in your database?

Lindsay McGuire: There is a pain point in that idea of like, oh, I'm using a pen on paper. But when you really think about what is the actual pain point that is you off there, it is the idea that you already have this information on me. I've already given you this data. Why am I doing this yet again? And that translates digitally. If you are just digitizing that form, but you're still making that patient do the same thing over and over and over again, you've only put a bandaid on the problem and then the band-aid's like half off already. So it's really not even that helpful. We just get stuck thinking of this is the way it's always been.

I think one thing in this conversation, this is getting a little existential, but I think sometimes we want to move so fast, quote unquote, that we don't take a moment to think about what are the possibilities here? What are the things that we're not even thinking of? And we just rush ourselves to try to figure out, well, what's the bandaid for this? Right? And not actually like, oh, let's create a brand new solution that will totally remove the affliction, but instead we just keep burning ourselves on the stove and we never really escape the main pain point. So I think if you can just take the time you need to do things right and correct so that you can save yourself time in the end. It's easier said than done, I think. But I would say that's kind of a main takeaway there.

Ryan Grieves: Love it.

Lindsay McGuire: Well, thanks so much for joining us for this episode of Practically Speaking.

Ryan Grieves: Be sure to subscribe to Practically Genius insider newsletter. Thanks for listening and we'll be back soon.

Hosted By
Lindsay McGuire
Senior Content Marketing Manager
Co-Hosted By
Ryan Greives
VP, Brand & Communications

Practically Genius is a show built for innovators championing digitization within their organization.

Hosts Lindsay McGuire and Ryan Greives host conversations with real-world innovators sharing stories of digital transformation while also providing helpful advice and insights to listeners.

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