Discussions on a work

When the lockdown started, one of our first remotely-held planning meetings was to brainstorm what we could do to help our clients in their newly-remote working situations. We were living the reality ourselves – and will be doing so, of course, for the foreseeable future. (There’s another blog post brewing about our own working arrangements. Spoiler: remote working is going well for us, and it’s saving us money, and allowing us to spend more time with family and friends. None of us misses commuting. So it looks like we may well adopt remote working as our own normal working practice, after the current emergency abates.) At our brainstorm, we wanted to see if there was any helpful work to be done, or any priorities to be re-drawn, to ameliorate the working conditions of the new situation our clients find themselves in.

And sure enough, an idea that had been bubbling away for years on the one day list bubbled its way at last to the surface. The idea was about discussions.

The idea of Consonance being one version of the truth is one that we talk about a lot. We have written our software to blur the lines between departments. Editorial don’t maintain a product list separate from Rights, separate from Production: there’s one list for everyone to refer to, to see the latest publication dates, contributor credits, page counts, price and so on. One version of the truth means less confusion, less admin, less busywork, less duplication, less inefficiency, and more egalitarian access for everyone in the business to the data they need to do their job.

In recent times, we’ve extended this idea to types of data beyond bibliographic, contracts, rights and royalties, to workflow. Our to-dos functionality allows teams to maintain a shared list of what needs doing, when – even allowing users outside of the system to see lists of to-dos, via an iCal export that makes to-dos show up in Google calendars.

But there’s been a further, human, aspect of a shared truth missing in Consonance, and that’s the ability to manage discussions. Discussions are the fluid, un-plannable, unstructured conversations that flow through a project team, and whose content depends on shifting context and circumstance. Who’s to say whether a team will end up discussing an event, a problem, an idea? It’s the nature of agile projects that you can’t plan every last thing up front, and it’s the hallmark of a functional team that it can pivot and adapt to conditions as they change. Those teams need the tools to enable that discussion.

Now, back in the Before Times, the most natural thing to do might have been to bring things up in discussion up at the weekly team meeting, or wander over to a co-worker’s desk to chat it over: because, six months ago, most publishing teams were not remote. But now, the vast majority of publishing teams are, and for who knows how long. Some teams, like us, will stay remote, now they’ve tried it and discover the up-sides are greater than the down-sides. Others may adopt a hybrid approach and end up working from home a bit more often. Others still may go back to the office, but be aware that lockdown may come back, that circumstances can always change, and that PostIt notes stuck to computer monitors on a desk in an office on the Embankment in London are not the most convenient project management tool when you are in Hemel Hempstead. And those who’ve been juggling myriad systems such as Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Monday, emails, VPNs and more are only too aware of how much better it is to have just one place in which you get things done.

So we jiggled our planned development schedule around and set to work on building the ability to manage discussions within Consonance – conveniently alongside all the other data needed to manage a publishing list. Six weeks of hard work by the team means you now have the discussions picture above.

Start a discussion, add your colleagues to it, and before long you’ll have a rich, nuanced history of the thought process behind decisions in your projects. And, critically, these discussions are accessible to anyone, geographically, and temporally, where and whenever they’re reading and contributing from.

Being thrust into 100% remote working isn’t how any of us would have planned things. But here we are, and we’re impressed every day by how imaginatively our clients are managing. We hope this new ability to manage discussions helps you navigate the myriad tasks and considerations required to keep your publishing going.

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