Collaboration - Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow - Boston KM Forum

March 30, 2006 · · Posted by Jordan Frank

ImageAt the Boston KM Forum meeting today, Lynda Moulton and Larry Chait put together a speaker lineup that reminds us of past experience where collaboration worked, and highlights key trends that speak to trends making collaboration a credible activity in the future. I did my best here to capture a few best practices and key learnings.

Patti Anklam, Former DEC now Hutchinson Associates, gave a presentation asking "Are we collaborating yet?" DEC's VAX Notes was their collaboration platform of the day, unfortunately now extinct when VAX terminals were replaced by PCs.

She mentioned key success factors include the same social software and technology constraints and opportunities which we face today:

  • Project manager commits to the Notes platform as the sole source of data.
  • Adherence to social norms.
  • Central directory
  • Integrated with email and the file system.
  • Same tool available on everyone's desk.
  • Corporate support and commitment.
  • Moderators with access to many spaces add value by helping to organize and structure the spaces.

Comment from a another former DEC employee in the audience: I think the personal Notes files that allowed people to self-train. This learning on my own time was self-motivating and enhanced the way I used the shared Notes files.

Patti points out that another success factor was driven by the homogeneous network where everyone used the same terminal type, the same email and were on a common network.

Implication: Browser, email and web services standards now only begin to provide the value of the homogeneous networkof the 1970s.

Liz McKay Beckhardt (former QuickPlace product manager) told "the QuickPlace Story."

Liz started by presenting the idea of a Haiku (A minimalist form of poetry containing 17 or fewer syllables through which to convey a rich experience) as a metaphor for simplicity in QuickPlace. The product evolved and the team went from focusing on SMB to large enterprise. In the process, enterprise features and use cases became a focus.

Quickplace was most successful when used for a specific use case or business process. Less successful for "loose collaboration."

Implication: Focus on a business case or process helps people get out of email and normalize behaviour in a collaborative space.

Applied to Liz's own team, they had a hard time weaning off of (Lotus) Notes. As they adopted and became "advanced" collaborators, the "Haiku" concept became a memory.

Implication: Simple was OK as a base from which to start, but with a little time and training in the use of the collaborative space, teams demand full tool sets.

Comment from the audience: I am working at an enterprise that deployed collaboration software. 100s of spaces have been made but only dozens are actually in use. The spaces are transient at best. Knowledge is lost.

Liz discussed need for access controls. Her opinion is that controls on commenting are as important as controls on posting or reading. People in teams were not comfortable (For a variety of reasons) to take comment on works in progress. They typically had no problem publishing content openly after they are complete.

Donald Chand (Professor of CIS at Bentley College) discussed the "Social side of making global work collaborative."

Collaboration doesn't just happen. Global groups are faced with challenges of Distance, Technology-mediated communication, and Cultural differences.

In an analysis of culture, Dr. Chand found that across a range of cultural metrics (Performance orientation, social responsibility, supportiveness, emphasis on rewards, stability, competitiveness, and Innovation), employees from India, Ireland and the USA scored the same.

To be successful with collaboration, companies need to invest in Technology, Training, Travel, and Process & Models. His findings suggest that these sorts of formal training must be complemented by relationship building. His suggestions on relationship building include:

  • Use Social Software
  • Help Workers find common ground (encourage chit chat, train workers on popular culture)
  • Replace cross cultural training with relationship building training
  • Hold face to face meetings at neutral sites to reduce travel load.

Implication: Global collaboration requires global cooperation and a set of tools to facilitate communication and the relationships which come from it.

Bob Wolf (Boston Consulting Group) presented "Collaboration Rules - Extreme Collboration at Toyota and in Open Source Software."

Bob led off by quoting Joy's Law: "No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else."

To illustrate he showed a few diagrams resembling the back of a retina. In truth, these were social network diagrams.

  • The first showed a pharmaceutical research group at the fringe of a well distrubuted network with many satellite clusters rather than center of their technical domain.
  • Another showed the linux kernel mailing list. This diagram showed a massive contributor pool at the margin, and a center that is very small (maybe 10 people), and focused more on response than contribution to the community.

Implication of the Linux community: Program teams are tightly bound around small core groups.

Bob continued on presenting a great deal of research to be published in HBR. One more key finding: Trust is the most essential element in a social network.

Bill Ives was also at the KM Forum on Collaboration and, in a post about IBM's new Global Innovation Outlook 2005 report, expands on Bob Wolf's discussion of the Linux Community's ability to respond to a crisis.
April 19, 2006 | # | Jordan Frank

Larry Chait (Managing Director, Chair and Associates) finished with "Tying things together." He compiled 9 key success factors that are worth sharing:

  • Personal Imperative
  • Mission critical to team
  • Management commitment
  • Committed moderator
  • Embedded into work processes
  • Culture and behaviour change
  • Infrastructure support
  • Appropriate technology
  • Rollout process

Implication: While collaborative environments and social networking software can be adopted virally, a range of success factors must be in place to enable or accelerate the process. Larry's points underscore consistent emphasis on need to garner management support, engage a collaboration champion or mentor, build human relationships to increase trust, and finally to train the team on the technology and the business case, where the business case includes the cultural norms for the collaborative space and the business process that is targeted.