Why You Need a ‘Which Tool When’ Guide and How to Keep it Simple

Have you ever used the concept of Occam’s Razor to consider the solution to a problem? In layman’s terms, Occam’s razor is a problem-solving principle that essentially states, the simplest explanation is most likely the right one.” If you woke up to a mess in the kitchen, it’s more likely that your hungry teenager woke up for a late night snack than it is that a bear broke into your home. If you can’t reach your boss on the phone, it’s most likely that she is busy or her phone ran out of battery rather than that she was abducted by aliens. You get the drift. The simplest answer is most likely correct. 

Occam’s razor applies very much to work collaboration as well. We find over and over again that users choosing their collaboration and communication solution will choose the simplest option in the exact moment that they need to get work done. For many, that means sending an email out of habit. For others, it means responding to a pop up alert from a desktop app. And for many, it means simply phoning a friend. Seeking and sharing knowledge is just as bound by the principle of Occam’s razor as our everyday life experiences – which is why companies need clear guidance about which tool to use and when.

“The simplest answer is most likely correct.”

We find that well-meaning users want to do what’s right for the company and share information in the best way. But in a sea of complicated and competing tools, with poor or no guidance, exhausting training guides and a newfound independence working from home, users choose the tools that are the most comfortable and that create the least amount of friction in their day.

Enter #WhichToolWhen, a series for IT and Communication leaders partnering to build a simple and informative “Which Tool When” guide. There is no perfect solution that can be applied to all companies, but we believe in a few guiding principles. 

1. Employee Discovery is a Must.

Taking the time to interview a representative sample of employees will give you a sense of their work day. How many emails do they receive? Where does their manager communicate with them? Where are the collaboration bottlenecks? This is the single most important step in developing a Which Tool When guide because it can help you decide which types of information seeking and sharing should be governed by your recommendations. 

2. It Doesn’t Have to Be Exhaustive.

Your Which Tool When guide should cover the basics of how most people get work done. It does not have to cover everything. Email, chat, finding news and collaboration needs? Absolutely. Where to file a help ticket or code repositories or other bespoke solutions? Probably not. Keep it simple and basic to start. 

3. End Users Don’t Think Like IT and Communications. 

Let’s face it – we technologists live in a world where we just “get” the nuances of myriad tools. We appreciate features and complexity and thrive as power users. Our end users don’t. When we issue Which Tool When guidance, we have to put ourselves in the shoes of everyday users who will likely use the most basic features. Word choice is important – and again, simplicity is key. 

4. Prepare for Multiple Versions.

While the basics should be the same for most audiences, consider customizing your Which Tool When guide to key groups that have differing habits and needs. For example, a company with employees and real estate agents may need to add external social media groups just to the agents’ Which Tool When, reminding them where to share listings with external companies. Frontline workers may not have email access, and a Which Tool When for this population could simply include a chat app and the intranet. Very large organizations may want to include hyperlinks to specific communities or channels within the most-used collaboration tools, guiding users to just a handful of managed areas. 

5. Middle Managers are Your Champions.

If we could ask just one thing of our customers, it would be to give middle managers and people leaders 1×1 support and training. These are the people who will bring their teams along into the tools that your organization wants to bless and approve. Their top-down behaviors will guide the actions of their direct reports, as nobody wants to miss what the boss says. We suggest that you partner with managers and help them understand how the Which Tool When guidance applies to their daily lives, as this will quickly grow purposeful adoption. 

 6. You Have to Make it Simple.

Have we stressed this enough yet? We encourage our customers to avoid adding unnecessary complexity by talking about inner and outer loops, or the urgency of a message, or the length of a message, or other characteristics like tone and time constraints that would cause analysis paralysis for most end users. Can you define a tool’s purpose with a single sentence, using simple language? If so, you have a great Which Tool When guide. 

We are just getting started with this series, and we hope you’ll join us for ongoing and deeper perspectives about the #WhichToolWhen dilemma. We will cover topics around training, shadow IT, the “gotchas” that come with vendor bake-offs, platform migration learnings, and our own experience blending the new Yammer and Teams (alongside many other tools that we also use at TSTM).


Talk Social To Me can help you accelerate & rebuild your community.

Learn More