And the journey continues…

“Nothing is permanent but change” — Greek Philosopher Heraclitus

Less than a year ago, our team decided to start describing our journey towards the top of the service research field through this blog. Back then our team had been recently established as a part of organizational change at VTT during spring 2012. The team was built on various types of complementary competences related to digital service research. We were filled with enthusiasm and dedication to make the difference and aim to the top of science world. Although we progressed tremendously during our first year and had excellent scientific and business results, there was yet another organisational change coming, which will end the story of this particular team by the end of this year.

Now don’t get me wrong, even though the story of our team will end, most of our team members will continue the odyssey to the top of service research. More importantly, the new organizational structure will bring many of us to the core of VTT’s Service Research Network, which is a cross-disciplinary intra-organisational network of service researchers at VTT. The network includes a large number of highly talented and recognized service research professionals and its scientific work is steered by one of the world’s most highly-reputed service innovation researchers, Professor Marja Toivonen. As a result, the blog will also be transformed to tell the story of all the members of the VTT’s Service Research Network and their efforts on the journey towards world-class excellence and outstanding achievements in in the field of service research.

Personally I have been highly impressed about the energy and dedication that our team members have had on defining and taking our joint journey towards excellence in service research. I’ve been privileged to be part of the first part of our odyssey, and I’m delighted that as we set sail for the second part of the journey we will have many new and enthusiastic service researchers on board. I still don’t know where our shared odyssey will finally take us, but I’m sure that the pursuit of excellence in service research will take each of us to the right direction no matter where our personal paths will lead us.

On behalf of the whole team, team leader Arto

”Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

Greek Philosopher Aristotle

The Others

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Scientists…are they team players or lone wolves? For some reason it’s thought that scientific work is a solo performance, it’s you against the world kind of situation. The Finnish culture doesn’t really ease the situation, Finns aren’t very talkative and information in given on a “need-to-know” basis to others. But you are not alone, in fact, did you know that you do have co-workers? That you are not alone? That there are people in the same situation as you?

Who are these people, and what are they working on?

Have you seen them? Those strange people that are some how affiliated to you at work place. They work near you, walk in the same hallways, use the same lavatories as you, eat in the same cafeteria as you. And last time you checked….they even work in the same team as you! One of them even tried to greet you while passing by in the hallway!

Yeah, they are called co-workers. Why are they called co-workers and why are you guys in the same team….because your work is supposed to go together. You are a Team.

Yes, Team, I like that, but I don’t know anything about their work!

This is quite common in research institutes, probably in all professional service industries as well. Individuals are experts and experts have a weird tendency to get isolated and work alone like hermits. But we are not hermits, we are social animals!

Best results happen when experts come together, and expertise’s get mixed up. And you get know you co-workers as well (it’s polite to greet back you know…)

To make this happen, we have introduced “Substance Quarter”  in our team. Every Friday at 08.30 AM (I know, brutal time, isn’t it 🙂 ) someone from the team will give a 5 minute introduction on some topic he/she is working on currently, or finds interesting. This way we get to know what interests scientists in the team and what are their viewpoints and methods. Remaining 10 minutes are reserved for discussion, questions, drinking coffee, being amazed from the presentation, eating pastries (remember, we work on “pulla, see post by Kaarina).

And this activity is, again, completely voluntarily.

Presentations…again?!

Yes, again. Giving presentations about you work is excellent practice and makes you really think about what you are doing. Especially because you need to be able to mainstream your work for people who are not experts in your particular field.

So if you feel like Sting, like a legal alien (Englishman in New York) in your team, start the substance quarters today!

The art of goal setting

As already mentioned a couple of times in this blog, we had an organizational change at VTT’s ICT cluster last year. A new knowledge centre “Digital service research” and our team “Value-driven service business” were formed within that change.

The new team was of course in a need of a new vision and goals for the future. Early on we decided that we wanted to set our future goals as a joint exercise with the whole team to ensure that everybody could relate to the outcome and be inspired by it. In this post I describe this process in brief; in real life it of course was not quite as straightforward as in this story.

VisionWe started by identifying all the possible beneficiaries of our work including e.g. industry, academia, peers, funders and the public audience. Then we talked through what we thought that these different entities might be expecting from us. Based on this discussion we drafted our value propositions for each different actor and combined these value propositions together. After that we formed our vision accordingly. That vision was that our team was to be among the best service science research teams in the world.

After setting that inspiring but somewhat far-away vision, we needed some concrete success factors which could take us closer towards realizing our vision in the future. By mapping our current competences and identifying areas for improvement and learning, we came up with five success factors that we see critical for us. These are:

  1. Conducting high quality research
  2. Ensuring industry relevance
  3. Building broad and common understanding
  4. Networking globally
  5. Creating inspiring work environment and excellent team spirit

For each of these factors we ideated super goals. These goals are very challenging; something that we could see possible maybe after five or ten years (e.g. publications in A level journals or TED talk with millions of views).

GoalsFinally we focused for our goals for 2013 for each of the success factors, both for the whole team and for each índividual team member. These initial goals will further evolve based on the individual development discussions held in the next couple of weeks.

Let’s see what we will come up with!

TeamUpSpace – get yours today!

Do you like team work?

Do you enjoy being around people?

Would you like to get influenced by others?

Do you want to think differently?

Did you say yes? Then what you need is a TeamUpSpace! Yes, that’s right, a TeamUpSpace will make your creativity skyrocket and break innovative ideas free!

Sooo… what is this TeamUpSpace?

TeamUpSpace is a non-reservable space with bright colours, inspiring wall paper and funky furniture. You know, something you WON’T see in a normal meeting room. This is because it isn’t a normal meeting room. The idea is that anyone can come to the TeamUpSpace at any time and work there. The catch is that there are others working there as well, and they can see that you are doing something – and maybe even ask what it is you are doing.WP_000004

Iiik! But they will see my work, then what?!?

Yeeees, that’s the idea, to show others your work and your interests. Who knows, maybe they will have something to say about it, maybe even feedback to give, or maybe, just maybe, they’ll have an INFLUENCE on your work. Imagine that! It actually is good to showcase your work and to see what others are doing as well. There is a good change that you will learn from one another. And that is something that WON’T happen in you private office room, in that chamber of secrets you have. TeamUpSpace is also very handy for ad-hoc meetings, brainstorming, socializing and whatnot.

Hmm, so what ingredients does a TeamUpSpace have?

Anything that makes you feel comfortable and cozy, basically. We have used bright colours and out-of-the-context furniture. We also added some LCD-screens, network cables, power plugs here and there, and so on – to make working and sharing possible. Yes, we use laptops quite a lot around here, so that’s why we have the tech. Also we have added big desks, colorful papers and markers for drawing up things. And to spice things up a bit, we have a nice comfy couch and a couple of fatboys! (The bean bag chairs, not actually two fat boys standing around.)WP_000008

All right, I’m convinced – I want to try it!

That’s the spirit! All you need to do in order to build a TeamUpSpace is to find an empty room, or a room with no meaningful purpose, and convert that to a TeamUpSpace. It would be nice if the room had a center location so that it would be easy for people to accidentally drop it. Better yet – location and room structure should be so that people could see inside the room and peek what’s going on in there when they are walking by to their private offices.

…or if you are visiting VTT premises at Oulu, come and try our TUPS at the E-wing, 2nd floor, room number E226.

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The team newsletter – Extra work or a useful communication tool?

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”          – George Bernard Shaw

The team newsletter is a co-produced team communication platform. It is a Word-document including the following sections:

  1. Team highlights: Team members’ accomplishments and contributions to the team’s goals (High quality research, Industry relevance, Networked globally, Building broad and common understanding, Building inspiring work environment, and Excellent team spirit)
  2. Project news: Resourcing of the team, calls for funding instruments, projects under preparation, new funded and declined projects
  3. Upcoming events
  4. Current activities: Ongoing projects, team member activities, ended projects
  5. Publications
  6. Service science related conferences and journals

This tradition has been started in 2011. The need was obvious then as several team members were located in different countries and it was not so easy to keep track of what everyone was doing. Since then the newsletter’s format and content has been developed further, but it has remained a monthly activity in the team for everyone to update and share their knowledge to other team members also through this channel.

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The newsletter is available in the team SharePoint workspace. Before the end of the month the team leader reminds everyone by e-mail to update the file. The task in minimum is to fill in the “Team member activities” section’s personal part, where everyone writes down what has happened, what’s next, where, and what’s the boogie. Other sections are filled in if and when there is something to contribute.

As I started writing this post I asked the team members for honest opinions about what pros and cons there are in the newsletter. Not all team members’ opinions were received but here are the results of my short survey:

Pros:

  • In team meetings there is no need to go through one-by-one (in a list-like fashion) what every team member is currently doing, in which projects participating, etc. Team meetings can concentrate on other important matters and time is also saved to more relaxed gatherings
  • Makes you think what you have done and what you will be doing every month
  • Transparency of activities to all team members
  • Goals are visible and hence better remembered
  • One way to give positive feedback
  • Nice to read what everyone else is doing – either in more details or just to get a quick glance
  • Otherwise it would be difficult to know about more than a few of our team members’ work
  • A nice way to let the center leader, professors etc. to know about us and our doings
  • Communication between team members in distant locations
  • Documentation of what has been done before (possible to check things)
  • The co-creation aspect of the newsletter is saving the team leader’s time as those same activities should be recorded by him in a similar form every month anyway; this spares doing the individual “interviews”

Cons:

  • Difficult to avoid a boring layout and too many bullet points and other lists
  • Hard to remember to look the newsletter more than once in a month, i.e. when you update it yourself
  • Somewhat faceless
  • No interaction
  • No proof that someone actually has read what you have written…

The quote that started this post is in the core of the problem. It is easy to assume the value of the newsletter as a way of improving our communication – and in many ways it is. However, it is true that just having the information available does not guarantee it will be used. Maybe we will find new ways to develop this platform to better match our needs.

The fact that it has been used this long does implicate that we are doing something right. We will continue using this tool and reporting any major changes that might occur in the future.

Are you using anything similar for communication purposes in your group or team? What are your experiences?

It’s all about substance

When evaluating the impact and success of our work, many times the focus seems to be on different kind of numbers representing e.g. the utilization rate, operating income or amount of publications. It is of course necessary to follow the statistics, but we think that in order to have any success in our efforts to reach our vision of becoming one of the best research teams in the area of Service Science, we need to concentrate on what really matters, i.e. the competence and knowledge of the team members as well as the substance of our work.

As there are researchers representing many different backgrounds and disciplines in our new team, we need to establish as broad and as common understanding of our current doings as well as our future research vision as possible. This of course requires a lot of interaction and discussions between the team members.

Interaction

Substance Quarters – communication on what really matters

As one tool for internal knowledge exchange, we’ve launched informal gatherings called Substance Quarters (SQs). This is a succesful practice copied from another team inside VTT. Our team’s SQs are arranged every Friday morning and their purpose is to share and discuss about different kind of interesting and relevant research topics, concepts, studies, papers etc.

At the beginning of an SQ one of the team members presents a short 5-10 minute introduction to a topic according to his/her preference. Any method can be used, for example slide shows, videos, pictures, or drama. The idea is to build the presentation so that it allows other to relate to the topic regardless of how different their own research interests are. After the introduction there is plenty of time for discussion. From most of the presentations a blog posting will also be submitted here in the team’s blog. This way also all you blog readers can participate in this knowledge sharing and building exercise.

Stay in tuned for more communication tools and methods used by our team and feel free to share yours!

Service Science Odyssey – Why and by whom?

This is the first blog entry on our odyssey to the world of service research. Our journey’s goal is to become renowned throughout the world for our research. Even though our vision is high above in the skies, we start our journey by acknowledging that we are still far away from the top and admitting that the path we have chosen is still very foggy. That is the reason why we call this an odyssey. This blog will share our experiences on the odyssey and we try to describe our journey realistically. However, before continuing it is good to look back at the starting point and the reasoning behind this goal.

In 2011, ICT sector in Finland was going through some dramatic changes, and it was realized in VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland that also the ICT research has to adapt to the changes in business environment. At the same time service research had gained stronger foothold from VTT’s research portfolio and service-oriented thinking had started to spread to the business world. VTT saw this development as an opportunity and decided that there is a need to reorganize research in ICT cluster. By the end of June 2012 a new knowledge center focusing on digital service research was born. Our team is part of this new knowledge center.

Teams within the new knowledge center were organized in a fast phase, and our team was formed on the competencies from four different previous teams. We had researchers who had focused on a wide range of topics outside service and business research. Hence, in our new team we have a good mix of people representing various disciplines and studying various phenomena in the ICT context. As a joint effort, we managed to identify two common research areas related to digital services: 1) business effects and transformation, and 2) customer value and understanding. Hence, the new team was named as value-driven service business, and our journey was ready to start.

The key driver on our journey is that we are dedicated towards becoming a top research team, and our versatile experiences and backgrounds provide excellent starting points for that. We believe that multidisciplinary background (e.g. marketing, economics, information processing, information networks, software and industrial engineering, information security and strategic management) of our team members is our biggest strength which helps us to find our spot for contribution in the field of service science. At the same time we understand that our biggest strength is one of the biggest challenges on the journey, since multidisciplinarity makes it much more difficult to find common ground for the research. However, we are motivated, dedicated and ready to work hard on the journey. Above all, we are passionate to find new ways how research can make world better place.

In forthcoming posts we will present you insights into our journey. Since we don’t yet have a clear plan where our journey is taking us, we don’t know what future posts will cover. However, we promise that this blog will:

  • shed light to latest research topics of the field (hopefully in easy to read format), and
  • describe our team’s way of working towards the top position in the scientific field.

Some of the posts will be more like personal opinions, whereas others describe our teams joint effort and challenges. We also aim to introduce you interesting blog posts from other professionals at VTT who are researching similar or complementary topics.

Embark on this journey with us and enjoy!