Nobody’s surprised when their collaboration initiative succeeds, but they’re always surprised when it fails. Usually the warning signs were there all along. It’s a lot easier to prevent deployment and adoption issues than fix them. 

In my experience, the five scenarios below lead to trouble. When you know what to watch out for, you can create a project plan to head off these problems.

Choosing the Wrong Champion

Executive support is crucial, but only if it’s the right executive. Impressive titles aren’t enough. A senior manager on the way out (retirement or reassignment) isn’t a good choice. Neither are executives with no political juice or those who’ve never led a change initiative. Leaders at every level -- executive, project and team -- must be respected by their peers, known for getting things done and have first-hand experience actually using collaborative technologies. A “champion” without these qualifications is a figurehead, not a leader.

No Pilot-to-Deployment Plan

Leading with a pilot is standard practice, but many companies overlook what happens next. It’s important to “mind the gap” -- the transition from pilot to general deployment. It’s great when 20 users breeze through the pilot, but it doesn’t mean you can roll out to the next 20 (or 200 or 2000) people without observing the results and making course corrections along the way.

Ignoring Small Wins

The benefits of collaboration are cumulative. To build momentum it’s important to acknowledge progress as it happens. Public recognition keeps people committed and engaged. As you watch key indicators (you are tracking metrics, right?), stuff that deserves a mention will be obvious.

Learning Opportunities

Inflexible or Invisible Goals

I can’t decide what’s worse: unrealistic project goals or no project goals at all. The first situation is usually the result of a mandate -- “you will collaborate” -- from an executive with no experience in corporate change. The second situation (yes, there really are multi-million-dollar projects with no published goals) is a play-it-safe mentality. “Tangible goals are risky. What if we fall short?”

No Business Consequences for Failure

It’s surprising how many organizations undertake projects without answering the obvious question -- what happens if this doesn’t work? Defining failure is the flip side of defining success. For example, we’re launching this collaboration initiative to shorten time-to-market and increase market share. Therefore, no improvement in these areas (plus lost opportunity costs plus negative return on investment) constitutes failure. Viewed this way, assigning accountability for project performance is more straightforward, and people have a clear idea of what they’re working toward.

Editor's Note: You may also like these additional articles on Enterprise Collaboration