sign for throwing out trash
PHOTO: Gary Chan

I’m on a five-hour flight to Houston from a large, east coast financial services client where I facilitated a workshop on collaboration, and my biggest takeaway is “forget about collaboration.” What I mean by that is that no one cares about (or is paid for) collaboration: they care about (and are paid for) solving business problems. So instead of talking about collaboration, let’s talk about the business problems that can be positively impacted by improving collaboration capabilities.

Creating Collaboration Focus

Step one is to forget about collaboration. Instead, focus on the business problems collaboration can (potentially) impact.

Start by creating a list of business scenarios or processes that theoretically be impacted by the application of collaboration technologies. When creating this list, look for items at the level of “retain more inter-generational wealth management clients” or “reduce slack time for preventative maintenance by twenty percent,” not at the level of “working together to serve clients” or “operating more efficiently.” Choosing more specific business scenarios allows you to then coordinate with just-as-specific technology capabilities — one key to being successful with enterprise collaboration.

At this stage you want to cross reference your collaboration scenarios with collaboration capabilities to identify where there are overlaps and gaps. The best way to do so is to create an Excel spreadsheet with a row for each scenario and columns for each capability. Then you mark an “X” in each column where a scenario requires a capability. 

This matrix indicates what capabilities are required to support the scenarios you’ve identified as critical. Which, given that most collaboration initiatives die on the vine due to scope issues, allows you to hone in on the right scope — you still need to deliver on your promises, but this gives you a reasonable place to start from.

Related Article: 5 Places Where Social Collaboration Tools Help Business Processes

Goodbye Generic Collaboration Goals

Once you complete your scenarios-to-capabilities matrix, you can tie the capabilities dimension to your technology portfolio. This is where the real value of the model comes to the fore: given the business needs, what technology (a.k.a. solutions) provides the capabilities needed? And based on that, what technology should we invest in, maintain or sunset? That is, how do we manage our tech portfolio for maximum value for the dollars we spend?

The key result of all this work is your roadmap for making progress is crystal clear: whether six months, 12 months, two or three years, or more, once an organization adopts this approach to addressing collaboration, it’s much easier to justify the work that needs to be done as well as the associated cost and effort.

Another result of this approach is it makes determining what success looks like (and measuring it) far easier as well, because you have everything you need to tie capabilities gains to process improvements — the holy grail of IT development.

The end result is you can take the collaboration business scenarios most critical to end users, tie them to collaboration capabilities, which are then linked to collaboration technologies — all of which allows you to prioritize what collaboration technology to invest in and what collaboration activities to support … a far cry from the typical, all-too generic “we want to improve collaboration” mantra heard at most organizations. Doing so will enable you to deliver collaboration capabilities that match the business need and to articulate the value of that delivery in business terms rather than IT terms … and ultimately enable higher value from your IT collaboration efforts.

Related Article: The Collaboration Problem No One's Discussing