Crossing the Collaboration Chasm


In a series of articles I wrote entitled, A Process to Showcase SharePoint’s Value to Your Organization (Part 1,2,3), I walked through the process of easily displaying the different business processes that SharePoint supports in your organization. The whole intent of the process is to get visibility with management to show how SharePoint has been used to support the business.

This is needed because in most organizations SharePoint is introduced via a bottom-up approach, largely driven by early adopters, without a direct connection to the corporate strategy. This type of ad-hoc utilization leads to fast adoption rates at the lower levels of an organization (people that are closest to the business processes of the company) but not much visibility with the executives – because there is no connection with the corporate strategy and the top priorities of the company.

Eventually, SharePoint’s growth gets management’s attention when they realize there is a lot of mission critical information residing in the system. Then attention is usually focused around how best to control the application (governance) to ensure data can be recovered in a timely manner.

I think the majority of companies are missing a terrific opportunity when they reach this stage. They should turn their focus to determining how the company can better leverage collaboration to drive business value.

In order to better leverage collaboration to drive business value, companies need to:

  1. Develop a Collaboration Vision and Strategy that aligns with and enables the business strategy and priorities (i.e., don’t deploy social media and then look for a problem to solve)
  2. Instill a methodology to develop and execute successful collaboration and social media initiatives
  3. Realize business value is significantly increased when solutions are applied to cross-functional business processes 

Identify Where You Are with Collaboration

The Collaboration Consortium (more information at the end of this article) identified three stages an organization goes through in regards to embracing collaboration. These three stages are part of the collaboration evolution curve.

From the report, “Making Collaboration a Reality: Insights from the Collaboration Consortium, Year One,” published in February, 2010:

Investigative: Typically, use of collaboration technologies in an organization begins when people who enjoy experimenting with technology identify points in their own work processes where a Web 2.0 tool may add value, and then try out such a tool, with the goal of improving their own productivity or capturing some other value for themselves or a small number of peers. At this “investigative” phase, individuals or small groups are experimenting with “one tool for one task” (a wiki to gather ideas about new products, for example). Adoption of the technology tends to plateau because the majority of people, who are more pragmatic or conservative about technology, don’t perceive that the innovation benefits them (i.e., they don’t see “what’s in it for me.”)

Performance: It is when employees say “this is how I’m doing my job; it makes me more productive and successful” that the organization attains the critical mass of usage to add richness and performance to the processes. It is in this phase, which involves multiple collaboration tools for multiple tasks, that collaboration becomes embedded in business processes and drives performance improvements. This is the phase of structured collaboration execution—the point in the evolution when a broad range of employees say, “We (not just one or two people but the entire organization) are going to serve our customers differently.” It is at this point that the technology becomes relevant to people’s jobs. Here is now a compelling reason to adopt the collaboration technology, because it links business priorities, processes, and key metrics for success. It takes commitment, will, and incentives to make this happen, but the payoff can be great.

Transformational: After improving performance in existing business processes, some organizations use collaboration to create new ways of doing business that were not possible before. This phase, combined with the prior one, enables the greatest improvement in business value.

How to tell you are in the Collaboration Chasm

The following examples are good indicators you are in the collaboration chasm.

  • You embark on isolated collaboration projects to build solutions
  • After deploying the tools the business as a whole is not being furthered by the collaboration efforts
  • You throw additional collaboration tools into the mix via new isolated projects, and you are still not seeing the business benefits

In order to cross the Collaboration Chasm, you must build a communication channel with your senior leadership. You must have a clear understanding of the top business priorities – and leadership must be aware of the economic value (new revenue or cost savings) you are providing.

How to Break Out of the Chasm

  1. Crossing the collaboration chasm starts with establishing a link between collaboration initiatives and business objectives by engaging senior leadership on the value of collaboration
  2. Obtain insights from executives to form a Vision and Strategy
  3. Conduct focus groups in the context of client needs to validate the Vision and Strategy
  4. Secure executive sponsorship for projects

The Process of Creating a Collaboration Vision & Strategy

RAND Corporation is one of the participants of the Collaboration Consortium. As an organization, RAND was in the investigative phase of the collaboration evolution curve. In fact, according to Donny Wise –Program Manager, Collaboration, they had been in this phase for a couple of years.

RAND went through a survey process with senior leadership, and then conducted focus groups with employees of RAND to validate the findings from senior leadership. After examining the data, RAND was able to cross the collaboration chasm by clearly defining the Collaboration Vision & Strategy of the organization. As a result, they had executive backing and funding to focus on targeted collaboration initiatives that supported the corporate business strategy and priorities.

From the report, “Making Collaboration a Reality: Insights from the Collaboration Consortium, Year One,” published in February, 2010:

About RAND Corporation
RAND is a not-for-profit institution whose mission is to help improve policy and decision making through research and analysis. RAND employs approximately 1,500 people and pursues its mission by conducting research on topics faced by policymakers around the world, including national security, healthcare, criminal and civil justice, public safety and homeland security, intelligence and counterterrorism, education, labor and population, and science and technology.

Tackling some of the most challenging international issues of today, RAND depends on a staff of expert researchers working in various locations around the world. RAND’s mission is to deliver high-quality research and analysis to tackle such complex issues.

Why is Collaboration Important at RAND?
Research at RAND is characterized not only by technical depth and methodological rigor, but also by an analytical approach that is collaborative. Multidisciplinary teams work together to deliver research and analysis that bear the key characteristics of quality and objectivity. As a result, collaboration at RAND means multidisciplinary teams working together on complex issues to deliver high-quality research and analysis for policy and decision making.

Developing a RAND Collaboration Vision Statement
A collaboration vision statement is a succinct statement that defines how collaboration creates specific value for that organization. In order to define how collaboration could add value at RAND, a face-to-face interview was held with a vice president who had visibility into the company’s current priorities and responsibility for all of RAND’s support departments. The interview began by describing how collaboration can generally benefit a company. This benefit is encapsulated in four words: reach, richness, openness, and speed. We tailored the definition of these words within the context of what is important to RAND:

  • Reach: Collaboration enables researchers to reach other experts across the organization, helping ensure that research projects are staffed with the right people, regardless of location and time zone.
  • Richness: Collaboration connects people and brings new ideas to life.
  • Openness: Collaboration bridges gaps between groups and creates a culture in which researchers benefit from peer experience and information sharing.
  • Speed: Collaboration accelerates a person’s ability to deliver quality output.

Below are the follow-on questions that were asked and the answers that the vice president gave:

Q: How do you see collaboration furthering RAND’s business objectives?

A: Collaboration will enable us to mobilize RAND’s full capabilities in order to deliver the best-quality research to our clients. Our clients choose RAND over other institutions because of the quality of our research. It is therefore important to enable staff at RAND to have rich collaborative interactions to ensure that research projects are properly staffed and that activities during the research lifecycle deliver high-quality solutions within the client specified time and budget constraints.

Q: What are the key areas within RAND where you see the need for increased collaboration?

A: The question is, “How do I find out who and what I don’t know?” If I don’t know there is a new researcher at RAND who has expertise in a problem I am trying to solve, I don’t gain the benefit of that expertise. What is needed is not merely more collaboration, but optimal collaboration. I need a way to find the best sources of information inside and outside the corporation.

And I need a way to see whether a particular researcher meets the requirements of the project that I am executing. Partnering with our clients is important, so we need to provide primary investigators (who act as the face of RAND to the customer) with a way to connect with staff around the organization.

Q: Do you have collaboration initiatives planned for this year?

A: Yes, but we need to get additional feedback from researchers in order to ensure that our initiatives align with their high-priority needs. We also need to provide them with information on what tools we already have, as well as information on how these tools can be useful to their research efforts.

After this interview, several focus groups and one-on-one discussions were held with individual researchers to form a holistic view of how collaboration can benefit RAND. Subsequently, the following collaboration vision was crafted:

RAND’s Collaboration Vision: By connecting people with expertise across the organization, collaboration will enable RAND to mobilize its full capabilities in order to deliver the best-quality research to clients.

Developing the RAND Collaboration Strategy Statement
While the vision describes how collaboration creates value for RAND, the collaboration strategy statement outlines a systematic plan of action, explaining how to execute on the vision. Based on the executive interview, RAND’s Information Services and Technology (IST) collaboration program worked to identify three key goals that will achieve RAND’s collaboration vision. 

Each of the goals below is the result of extensive discussions with both researchers and executive management:

  1. Deliver solutions that locate experts around the organization so that all of RAND’s intellectual capabilities can be brought to bear on the complex issues brought to us by our clients.
  2. Improve the quality and relevance of existing technology offerings by (a) upgrading the quality of collaboration tools so that distributed teams can have rich interactions with each other and with experts and (b) educating users on best practices in applying tools to their research activity.
  3. Integrate technologies so that people can access information from a common gateway, saving time and money.

This strategy lays the groundwork for follow-on projects that will first be tested with smaller research teams and then expanded throughout the organization.  

Resources to Better Understand the Business Value of Collaboration
I highly recommend the following sources to become well versed in the process of collaboration:

The following two articles are not directly related to collaboration, but are extremely helpful in understanding the changing landscape of how people work (which points to why collaboration is important), and how competitive advantage is created and sustained through strategy (which will help you ensure your collaboration strategy is integrated to your corporate strategy).

I encourage you to read the Collaboration Consortium report, as well as the articles and books I reference, and to provide any feedback you might have.

In my next blog entry I will explore the Collaboration Readiness Assessment – which provides organizations with a roadmap for executing collaboration projects that link to the corporate strategy.

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2 thoughts on “Crossing the Collaboration Chasm

  1. Pingback: Driving Business Value with Enterprise Collaboration – Part 3: Setting the Direction for Companywide Collaboration « Ben McMann's Weblog

  2. Pingback: Driving Business Value with Enterprise Collaboration – Part 2: How Collaboration Adds Value « Ben McMann's Weblog

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