The Way We Work – Confluence

In this episode we lift the lid on our use cases within Atlassian’s Confluence application, dive into the pros and cons, explore the impact it has had within our team and tackle the question ‘is there actually a place for Word and Excel anymore?

First Impressions

We were first introduced to Confluence in the Spring of 2013 and at the time it left us scratching our heads as to what it was and how we would use it. It was not until a team member joined the fold in 2015 that had a great love for all things Confluence that we decided to take a guided look at this simple yet highly intelligent Team Collaboration tool.

There! We said it ‘Team Collaboration’. Much has been written of this ‘new’ way of working that in some circles its becoming a bit of a bore, however with each new application that adorns the market not all get this concept right (in fact most don’t). This is where Confluence far exceeds anything that has come before it as well as those that reside beside it today. In essence Confluence is nothing more than a Wiki, open and collaborative storage of data that wants to be updated. But then to call it a Wiki is not doing it justice.

Living In The Past

Prior to 2015 the business had relied heavily on Excel, Word and Power Point and had recently made the transition to Office 365. Whilst this environment provided reliable and consistent user experience, Team Collaboration was stifled depending on who in the business you were collaborating with. MS has made a living on infinite possibilities (which they have been walking away from in recent times) all designed to cater for not only the corporate masses but the sub culture Mums and Dads, Students and Teachers users as well. So for us, having tools that enabled information to be created in an infinitely possible universe of course led to collaboration occurring in many ways (or not at all) which led to an inconsistent and confused user experience.

When we launched Confluence in the Summer of 2015 it received a muted response. Confluence is light on for formatting (aka stripped bare) and the way it performs Word or Excel like tasks is not like….well….Word or Excel. Version controlling and storage is taken away from the user and managed on their behalf and what on earth is this ‘Publish’ button all about.

What Does It Do

Ok, so what are some of the key Confluence concepts one must understand;

  • ‘Documents’ disappear and are replaced by ‘Pages’
  • ‘Workspaces’ are created based on a function or a team (eg. ‘Projects’, ‘Support’)
  • Auto saving is constant (and works)
  • Historical versions of pages are infinite and live on forever
  • ‘Publish’ is what is done when a page is created/updated so that those that are ‘following’ pages are alerted to changes (this in itself has saved countless hours and emails notifying team members of changes the ‘old way)
  • ‘Preview’ is what you do to see how a page looks in the real world prior to ‘Publishing’
  • There is only one font type (thats right….just one!) and only one font size (what!! it doesn’t go up to 11?!?!)
  • External sources such as pictures or web links are a breeze and as its cloud based pulling in resources such as live feeds or you tube videos happen with ease
  • Tables are terrible…..until you realise that as there is only one way to do them nobody can do them differently (JOY!!)
  • Pages can be flat without structure or a payout that creates sections can be built to allow for greater uses of page space and readability without the need for tables
  • When changes are made, users can be prompted to complete the ‘What did you change?’ section on ‘publishing’ which works awesomely for version controlling
  • A Table of contents have never been so easy and yes there is only one way to do it!
  • Multiple users can edit one ‘Page’ at a time and there is a visual representation of who is making the edits as they occur

Then there is the world of plug ins and the Atlassian e-commerce eco system that opens users up to the development world. Activity streams, embedded macros, page design tools plus an ever growing list of capabilities all within a mouse click away.

A Time to Focus

Realising early on that we may well be out of our league, we formed a super user group representing the core elements of the business and started to rethink our business cases quickly arriving at the need to collect all operational and admin information that was scattered around the business in the form documentation and upload as raw text, pictures and tables into Confluence. Our Body of Knowledge (BOK) was born!

Our BOK today contains admin details, ABN & Banking details, ‘how to’ guides and the Team Org Chart. Policies and procedures, expense management, leave entitlements and ‘How we Say Our Name’ instructional videos all together in a single searchable bucket of information. In building the our BOK we quickly found that the super user group had started adopt to the way Confluence worked which was largely forced on them due to the simple nature of its capabilities. Push on we did through tantrums and ‘this is too hard’ sessions.

It wasn’t long before our support team jumped onboard. They had longed for a world where everything was in it’s place and easy to find, simple data storage and search capability is what they yearned for. In Confluence they got it all! Contract particulars and SLA agreements are now beautifully sown together and the moment mis information is found its stamped out by those that found it, quickly and efficiently (and again whilst notifying all followers of the page of the change)

The Legend Grows

Then our IT Team joined the Confluence revolution uploading and advancing our IT standards and strategic plans followed shortly by our Project team who suddenly had a tool in which data could be created and shared to the masses without the need to fret over version control. Shortly after our entire supplier database found its way into the tool and accessible via all.

We began managing our team growth and appraisal plans within Confluence, R&D functions and most importantly team inductions.

It was around this time we discovered ‘Templates’ that can reside as ‘Global’ templates accessible within all ‘Workspaces’ or workspace specific templates and suddenly it all came together as templates are now managed centrally and changes can occur by the template owner in the background and away from the general user group.

Nothing More Has Changed the Way We Work

Its hard to not overstate the impact Confluence has had at POMT and our Super User base has continued to grow and along with it use cases we never imagined back in 2015. This article itself was written, proofed, finalised and approved all in Confluence, shared with a select group tasked with content creation. All providing real time feedback on the article as it was written!

Most recently Atlassian updated its mobile app and with it came a new use case. We are feverishly building out a ‘Standards’ space which those in the field have access to so they can confirm the way things should be done and comment on and update pages in real time from their mobile devices!

So there you have it, a lid has been lifted. Why do we do this? Because we want to share in our successes, support businesses grow and develop and be part of a broader/wider discussion around what is possible in the workplace. Further more, if your organisation is thinking about jumping on board the Confluence bandwagon we would love to hear from you!

Oh and yeah! That question! Yes we still have the traditional MS suit of applications available to users within the business and yes we almost never use them!

If you like this, then please share!