IPMA International Project Management Association
3 April 2018 / 6:57

Working Out Loud – an idea that became a movement

The idea of “Working out Loud” (#wol) was first described by Bryce Williams in 2010. He published “When will we work out loud? Soon!” in his blog “TheBrycesWrite” describing the idea behind the concept. As it might be difficult to grasp, I just copied in the key parts of his blogpost:

“So we’ve got “Working Out Loud” bouncing around with “Observable Work” and “Narrating Your Work” as options we can use to teach folks new behaviors within our companies and ways to leverage open social collaboration capabilities. I think fundamentally each phrase is trying to convey the same point. Although, as I thought about each, I tried to think how people may interpret each phrase if they had never heard them before. I thought some different interpretations were possible, and here is how I am resolving it all in my head:

Working Out Loud   =   Observable Work   +   Narrating Your Work

Assumption: Narrating Your Work implies the act of journaling (blogging, micro-blogging, etc.) what you are doing in an open way for those interested to find and follow…however, by terminology doesn’t necessarily describe creating the work outputs / deliverables themselves in a manner available for others to consume. It also brings with it a “feel” of an additive activity to already-existing workload, which in my experience, some folks can be reluctant to accept… Now, I realize that the benefits of doing this eventually buys you time back in other areas (email updates, status reports, status meetings, etc.) with a net overall time savings, but the act itself is still framed as a separate activity from the work itself in this phrase.

Whereas Observable Work to me implies creating / modifying / storing your work in places that others can see it, follow it and contribute to it IN PROCESS. The key being that items are available during the course of being worked on, and not waiting until a “final” deliverable to publish to a broader audience.

But those two concepts combined, however, bring it all together. Social-based software platforms can aid in this process, with capabilities that automatically “narrate” your Observable Work activities by publishing notices to the activity streams of your followers or the followers of communities in which you are conducting Observable Work. But the art we develop as socially proficient knowledge workers is where and how to best complement the activity-triggered auto-narrative with our own meta-narrative to achieve the types of positive benefits Joe describes in his blog post above.”

Later, John Stepper picked-up the idea, advanced and documented the method and is now advocating it throughout the world. In a TED-Talk he describes the making of a movement.

But what is WOL exactly? John Stepper describes it as follows:

“Working Out Loud is a way to build relationships that can help you in some way, like achieving a goal, developing a skill, or exploring a new topic. Instead of networking to get something, you invest in relationships by making contributions over time, including your work and experiences that you make visible. The results? When you Work Out Loud, your contributions over time build trust and deepen a sense of relatedness, increasing the chances for cooperation and collaboration. You’re more effective because you have access to more people, knowledge, and opportunities that can help you. You feel better too, because your bigger network of meaningful relationships give you a greater sense of control, competence, and connection. All of that leads to more motivation for individuals, and to more agility, innovation, and collaboration for an organization.”  

At the heart of WOL there are the WOL Circles. That´s a peer support group of 4-5 people in which you ask yourself basically the following questions: 1.) What am I trying to do?, 2.) Who is related to my goal?, 3.) How can I contribute to them in order to deepen our relationships? The circle meets for an hour a week for 12 weeks, and a short, simple guide helps you take small steps each week. By the end, you’ll have developed a larger, more diverse network and a set of habits you can apply toward any goal.

Does it work for projects? Certainly it does! Especially in projects, dedicated to innovation or developing new business models, products and services it might be the method of your choice. A press release “The future of work” of the largest Automotive Supplier Bosch enthusiastically states the following about WOL: “Working Out Loud allows us to promote digital collaboration and advance our culture of learning and working, thereby enhancing our innovative strength.” Other large German companies such as BMW, Deutsche Bank, Siemens or ZF have also implemented it and spread WOL throughout the entire organisation.

WOL to me is a guide for working every day while being in connection with others. It’s a work style building on special relationships, inviting others to see your work in progress and share, argue, imagine, reflect and learn. It requires openness, connectedness, empathy, reflection and mindfulness. Anyway, all necessary in a VUCA world…

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Reinhard Wagner

Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 30 years in the field of project- related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Air Defense, Automotive Engineering, and Machinery, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As a Certified Projects Director (IPMA Level A), he has proven experience in managing projects, programmes and project portfolios in complex and dynamic contexts. He is also an IPMA Certified Programme and Portfolio Management Consultant, and as such supports senior executives in developing and improving their organizational competence in managing projects. For more than 15 years, he has been actively involved in the development of project, programme and portfolio management standards, for example as Convenor of the ISO 21500 “Guidance on Project Management” and the ISO 21503 “Guidance on Programme Management”. Reinhard Wagner is Past President of IPMA and Chairman of the Council, Honorary Chairman of GPM (the German Project Management Association), as well as Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH.