Questions from “Preparing a Business Case for Collaboration” Telebriefing

September 12, 2007 at 3:49 pm | Posted in business case, collaboration | 2 Comments

Note: This is a cross-posting of an entry I did in the official Collaboration and Content Strategies blog.

In my telebriefing on “Preparing a Business Case for Collaboration” I was pleased with the great questions that were submitted. I’ve posted them here along with my answers.

Q: You mentioned “managing high expectations” [as a risk factor for collaboration projects]. How do you recommend a deployment strategy strike a balance between addressing enterprise-wide expectations with focused hand-holding deployments? In other words, a great solution for a few or a plain-vanilla for everyone?

A: This is a difficult issue to address since in many cases one benefactor is footing the bill for collaboration technology that can be used by many users. Naturally that benefactor expects it will be customized to meet their needs over those of the non-paying masses. If you truly think the solution meets only a narrow niche in the organization, I’d recommend examining the following strategies:

  • Try to find basic infrastructure that can be customized (i.e., templates) to meet the benefactor’s needs today and then, when business needs justify rolling it out to more users it is be customized to meet other needs as well.
  • Try to hunt down one or two more areas of the business that can split the cost of the project in return for balancing the requirements to meet everyone’s needs.
  • Talk to a CIO that is above the benefactor and see if he/she can exert pressure to generalize the requirements or chip in on the price to give the rest of the organization a say in the capabilities needed.
  • A last resort is to purchase a niche product to meet their very specific needs (hopefully it’s not too expensive or maintenance intensive) and put governance in place to make it clear this is not for the entire organization.

Q: How would you overcome cultural roadblocks to Collaboration deployments?

A: To be clear, there are generally not many cultural roadblocks to the collaboration technology itself other than the difficulty in getting people to learn a new interface. The roadblocks are all non-technological. And there’s no silver bullet either. But your question was what have I seen used in practice to overcome them. Here are a few that I’ve seen in practice

  • Big splashy rollouts: Meeting in the company cafeteria, catchy names and slogans, balloons, little knick-knacks to put on the desk. This generally causes a small spike in usage but doesn’t go much further. In theory if awareness was the only roadblock this could work, but it usually isn’t.
  • Changing performance reviews to emphasize collaboration: Some organizations have realized their review processes focus exclusively on individual performance and have altered them to take collaboration into account. This can be in the form of qualitative ratings (obtained by talking to peers, work on team projects) or quantitative measures (social networking ratings). One always has to be careful when tweaking performance evaluations, but this can be part of a good strategy if individual performance is being exclusively emphasized when teamwork is needed.
  • Internal research: Most organizations don’t really know the reasons collaboration is being avoided so imposing solutions is a shot in the dark. In this case it is a good idea to actually talk to people from the executive office to staff workers in short interviews and determine their views on collaboration and why it does/doesn’t occur in their area. This is often done by external consultants to encourage anonymity. Formal network mapping can provide a more extensive look at where the informal collaboration networks in organizations lie and where opportunities are being missed.
  • Changing incentives: In cases where specific incentives are often tied to individual behaviors (e.g., salespeople), formulas are sometimes tweaked to provide better compensation for collaborative efforts. This can be very tricky, but probably needs to be addressed if the behavior being incented doesn’t match the collaborative needs of the organization.
  • Removing inferior alternatives: Eliminating shared drives while making information workers aware of team workspaces can tip their behavior in favor of collaborating. It’s no guarantee – they may simply walk files over on a thumb drive or email them too, but it eliminates one avenue. I’ve seen the same done with e-mail attachment limits as well, although there are sometimes good reasons to e-mail large files rather than posting them to a workspace.
  • Leading the horse to water: Sometimes collaborative tools aren’t used because there is no established pattern of behavior. They simply haven’t used them and are more comfortable with the old ways. In these cases, a mandatory activity that forces usage of the tools at least once exposes them to the technology. Just like coupons are, in part, to establish patterns of behavior, these efforts can get information workers used to a technology as well and if they see a need for it soon thereafter, they may use it. Examples include requiring status reports to be filed on a wiki, requiring time off to be noted in a shared calendar, or requiring presentations for an internal conference to be uploaded to a workspace.

Q: Do I have an example of this methodology being used for a government agency?

A: I don’t have completed examples I can give you. I do have a template that guides you through the sections that I showed briefly in the presentation and in more detail in the Methodology and Best Practice document I published on this topic (Building a Business Case for Collaboration Initiatives). If you’re working on a business case I’m also happy to talk to you and give advice as well as give it a once-over before you send it to your management to see if it can be strengthened.

Q: Can I get a copy of the slides?

A: Yes, they are posted on our website here. You can also hear a replay of the telebriefing there as well.

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