Collaboration is not a tool; it is not a set of features. Collaboration has more to do with establishing communication patterns within your organization and across your partner and customer networks, so that these patterns soon become incorporated into the very fabric of your business.
A common theme I am hearing from customers is their need to build "an overall collaboration strategy." Of course, dig a little bit into the issue, and most people cannot provide much detail beyond the investigation of the latest tools on the market.
Your collaboration strategy is not just a matter of signing up for an online service, such as Box or Yammer, or even deploying a software platform, like SharePoint, no matter how comprehensive the feature set seems. Document collaboration is not the same thing as social collaboration, though both may be part of your overall organizational list of requirements.
The tools you use are an important part of your strategy, to be sure. As teams and business units increase their requests for tools and features, it might be time to step back and assess your broader collaboration goals to make sure you're taking advantage of all of the latest technologies, but also to avoid rolling out a set of tools that you may quickly outgrow.
But developing a collaboration strategy is primarily a Business Analyst activity in that it requires a firm understanding of what the technology is capable of doing, as well as a rich knowledge of the business. No matter how comprehensive the technology seems, the real work to be done is all offline. A holistic approach to your collaboration strategy begins with a firm understanding of two core components:
- What is your business trying to achieve?
- What are the end user expectations?
A good Business Analyst will quickly move beyond the obvious business goal platitudes of "communicate more" or "improve collaboration." While these statements may be true, they are meaningless in their ability to help a business leader align collaboration activities to core objectives in a measureable way. Furthermore, these simple goals do not move the needle on helping you to meet end user expectations.
When people begin to identify specific work activities (use cases) that can benefit from collaboration solutions (things like aligning team calendars across organizational boundaries, providing a more transparent method for reporting system outages or crowdsourcing product management prioritization), an interesting thing happens: people begin to envision additional ways to improve common workloads, and break out of the rut of existing information silos.
Once your organization has a firm grasp of the key use cases and where immediate results can happen, ensure that the appropriate time is dedicated to put a solution in place. Technology should be the last topic on a business’s list in a holistic approach to collaboration, allowing a business leader time to flesh out all the necessary steps.
When looking at ways to improve overall business collaboration, below are some criteria to consider:
There is the infrastructure side of things, but what is truly meant by connectivity is how businesses connect with data sources. Data comes in all shapes and sizes, some on premises and some in the cloud. There are companies creating innovative products and solutions for storage, business intelligence and data visualization. Be clear on what data is needed, in what format and how frequently it is used, from what source it comes and how frequently it is refreshed, and the rules around which it needs to be managed for better collaboration.
Everyone is salivating after all things social, yet how much do you really understand about what your organization needs? Most enterprise applications have started adding a social layer, but how these various layers fit together to enhance business goals has yet to be discovered.
More importantly, questions include which use cases would benefit from more transparent and social collaboration, and which use cases need to be more secure and restricted? Making every business activity and conversation public to everyone in the network through adding a social layer may not be the right solution in every case, especially when looking to improve collaboration.
Maybe my interest in this facet goes back to my data warehousing and supply chain technology days, but when it comes to collaboration, it’s simple: if you can't track it, you can't measure it. Visibility and analytics will be the key to success in the enterprise space, and your collaboration strategy must make tracking and measurement a priority. Furthermore, businesses can make data-driven decisions based on the information being measured to ensure collaboration processes are succeeding.
Different people interpret data in different ways, and the creative visualization of data is another key facet of successful collaboration. Abstracting our tools and even data away from the presentation layer is key. Allowing people and organizations to consume, transform and present data in whatever methods necessary to meet their business requirements is key to a holistic collaboration approach.
At the end of the day, you need to be able to manage all the processes that come with a holistic collaboration strategy. Your use cases may require a certain amount of oversight. You might work within a highly regulated industry, or have clearly defined reporting and auditing standards. As you dive deeper into your use cases and data, a business leader needs to be crystal clear on the guidelines and standards.
A common deployment mistake is to raise end user expectations around what a tool can do, and then reduce features or take the tool away from them after finding out later that a key feature violated a compliance standard. Be clear on the boundaries of your system before moving forward to ensure that collaboration processes are always moving forward, and never backward.
Understanding the cultural fit for the solutions you propose is another key component of a comprehensive collaboration strategy. A solution may be cutting edge, but does it meet your business objectives and does it align with the way in which your end users expect the solution to work?
Finally, you are ready to begin reviewing the various technology options, and mapping their features and capabilities to your detailed use case assessment results. Carefully review and assess, and weigh the capabilities against the business’ use cases, and if testing is possible, work with a subset of your end users to validate your recommendations.
Few organizations take the time to properly plan out their Information Technology strategies, which is a key reason for why they fail at such a high rate (depending on who you ask, the failure rate is anywhere from 35 percent to 75 percent). What makes collaboration strategy planning even more difficult is that aspects of your deployment may be viewed as successful even though the overall company benefit may be limited, with key needs going unmet. For example, a company-wide social platform, such as Yammer, may provide visibility into conversations across organizations and be highly regarded by both managers and front-line workers, but the platform may not answer the broader needs for more structured collaboration and automation not possible through the social feature set.
By making the effort to map out use cases, and approach the macro collaboration needs of the company up front, organizations will be more able to identify these key priorities through a holistic approach to improving the bottom line through collaboration.
Title image courtesy of VLADGRIN (Shutterstock)
Editor's Note: Read more of Christian's thoughts on collaboration in SharePoint, Chatter, Jive, Oh My! 5 Tips for Safe Collaboration Across All Platforms