The optimal MOCA blend

This is a long overdue post about the Microsoft Modern Collaboration Architecture (MOCA), authored by Rishi Nicolai, Marie Chua, and Reggie Best. The MOCA model is the latest, and in my opinion the best so far, of the models proposed to address the “which tool when” question. What I appreciate most about their presentation is that they accompany the science demonstrating the importance of changing the way we think about our tools with an in-depth discussion of the most important, and most frequently missing, solution to poor collaboration: culture change.

The framework is described and elaborated on the Microsoft adoption site: Enabling Modern Collaboration. There is a whitepaper, videos discussing key concepts, and even a customizable PowerApp you can deploy to your users to help them navigate these questions.

I couldn’t agree more with the authors that one of the key obstacles to effecting our change to new ways of working is that the adoption of these tools is being driven by things like cost savings, security, or as we saw in 2020, by external forces like pandemics creating a need to conduct meetings online.

“All too often organizations purchase technology for reasons that have nothing to do with corporate priorities. They want to stay up-to-date or reduce costs. IT decisions are not seen as contributing to corporate objectives in the same way that talent acquisition or financial management do.”

Microsoft Modern Collaboration Architecture Whitepaper

Not until working in new ways gets tied to strategic goals like innovation, retention, inclusion, or key business performance indicators will the “pain of change” become less than the “pain of the same.”

They talk about “goal displacement”: the replacement of a business goal with the desire to fix the technology that was mismatched to the original challenge, frequently because the technology decisions were made in isolation from strategic goals. This is another way of describing what I’m trying to do with this site: replace the tech-leading “which tool when?” question with questions about your business goal like “should we foster employee growth through communities?” or “do we value transparency more than control?

The core of the model is how the four main areas of productivity can be enhanced through tools designed for each area, and how these areas relate to and support each other. The graphic below is the most comprehensive illustration of the four areas:

  • The individual
  • The team
  • The community
  • The organisation
MOCA model
The model: four inter-related areas of productivity

The Individual has content creation tools (Word, Excel, etc.) and places to keep their own content. Outlook becomes the way that I send / receive targeted instructions for individuals: an approval notification, an action I personally need to take for company compliance, etc. The ubiquity of email also means that the majority of my external contacts will at least initiate through email. The main change here is that the volume of your daily email should drastically reduce from 500 messages that are a mix of urgent notifications and collaborative conversations of varying relevance to your objectives down to just 50 or less critical action-oriented messages just for you.

The Team now has a tool designed just for them: Microsoft Teams. Note that it’s still a relatively small number of people in the collaboration. There’s a great discussion in this interview with Rishi about the ideal size of a team: about seven.  Rishi talks about seeing in their data that tasks are finished slowly when sent in email where no one is watching but the sender and recipient. Productivity also falls in large teams because of the fear coming from too many unknown observers. A close-knit team that follows the “2-pizza rule” is optimal.

Working in Teams channels is particularly effective when all the tools and resources that the team needs are “pinned” in the channels, just one click away from the conversation that drives their collaboration.

The Community is likely the least understood and appreciated area of productivity. Most Yammer networks fail not because of the tool (we see networks based on many platforms fail at the same rate), but because the organisation places no value on communities, and doesn’t provide the resources needed to foster them. As the model explains, the community exists to help the individual grow and learn through connections to resources the individual or the team didn’t know existed. These are large conversations to address larger topics than are typically addressed by one team’s scope. As I tell all my customers, properly adopting Yammer is a culture decision, not a technology decision.

The Organisation exists to enable all the other areas of productivity with resources like that community support, intranets on SharePoint for authoritative and consistent messaging and priority setting, and custom apps that improve specific processes.

What’s your mix?

In summary, the problem we have when we ask “which tool do I use when?” isn’t that we have too many tools. We all have lots of tools in our personal lives and don’t spend any time wondering which one to use. The problem is the organisations and teams selecting the wrong tools for the job, which is most often driven by culture.

I’ll address their thorough examination of the role of attention in another post. For now, I’ll leave this with a challenge to examine your organisation’s “MOCA mix” and ask hard questions about whether some culture change could drive more alignment and efficiency.