Conference Notes

Notes on "Enterprise 2.0 Case Studies from the Frontier"

From left to right … Jessica, Jeffrey, Sujatha and Carole

After lunch I attended the panel session moderated by Jessica Lipnack, looking at case studies on how to bring the people side of collaboration to the technology. There are three people on the panel … Volvo IT, and Jeffrey Stamps (NetAge).

Jeffrey Stamps, NetAge
Jeffrey started by talking about Shell. In 1997, there had just done a large poll which show that they had transitioned from owning 100% of their assets to owning only 33%. The “Networked Community” project from 1997 was for driving collaboration throughout Shell.
– 1998-2000 … knowledge management, communities of practice, and virtual working projects. Followed a consistent methodology on how to set up and maintain virtual teams over time.
– 2001-ongoing … technology for virtual working implemented in Livelink by the group IT organization. Built team rooms on top of Livelink, a traditionally knowledge management platform.
– 2002-2003 … pilot collaboration between EP and Global IT stressing “new ways of working”
– 2004-present … a key European business unit invests consistently in collaboration experiments and education. HR was a key driver, as managers had to manage distributed teams.

Presented by Carole Boudiney, Volvo IT, Manager Collaborative Work Solution Center,

Around 2000, wanted to understand how collaboration could help Volvo become a more effective organization. In the first years, to 2003-2004, the collaboration center was there to build and provide new solutions, to support the users, and the idea was support users and emerging project teams. Technology included mail, messenger, NetMeeting, and Audio conferencing. The virtual teams guide included creating direction and energy in virtual teams, effective use of collaboration tools, and shared agreements.

There was a communication campaign too, with a focus on behavior (see the 10 keys below), communication, training, and change management.

The 10 keys to virtual work … (1) be organized, (2) plan ahead, (3) show respect, (4) be clear, (5) seek confirmation, (6) dare to ask, (7) give response, (8) seek understanding, (9) address problems, and (10) resolve conflicts.

Roll-out steps … (a) virtual team assessment, (b) coaching and exercises, (c) operating agreements built, (d) tools and rules are implemented, (e) coaching and advising and helping the team, and (f) assessment review. This is supported using virtual trainings by a world-wide network of culture ambassadors and collaboration consultants.

Question 1. What does the culture ambassador and collaboration consultant do?
They are located throughout the organization (in different groups), and they promote the Volvo culture, encourage following the values of Volvo (eg, in management style and when interacting with customers), and encourage collaboration. They have a functional manager, the Head of Culture (a senior executive team member at Volvo), and they deliver methods, messages and communications to the rest of the firm. This takes about 10% of their time; they also have a “90% job”.

Question 2. How does this play out in the operations of the company?
Virtual teams are present in all of the business processes of Volvo … product development, IT, supplier interactions, business areas. The biggest change is that divisions are no longer co-located, so working across boundaries is key. Virtual teams are part of the organizational design.

Question 3. What was the business driver for virtual teams?
To be able to leverage knowledge from across the world … as new companies were purchased, as outsourcing was embraced … they had no choice. “Collaborate or die”.

Presented by Sujatha Bodapati, President of ProdexNet

Sujatha heads up ProdexNet, a 10-year old services / product business headquartered in Silicon Valley. Clients include Fortune 1000 companies, have offshore operation in India, and almost all R&D is done in the Indian operation. Business focus is the product development process. 1/2 of the workforce helps other customers with product development, and the other 1/2 build ProdexNet offerings.

As the tools and technologies have become more usable, ProdexNet has moved more of its development to India.

The situation: during a product development process, there are at least three entities that need to collaborate. The challenges are cultural, time zone difference, work style preferences, and where everyone is not on the same page (don’t understand the why’s, what’s, how’s and when’s). Have had to adopt collaboration tools to enable communication and collaboration between people, and to get over these challenges.

Technologies used … email (when an audit trail is required), message boards and wikis (for individual projects, and technical details), online chat (for quick clarifications, and real-time collaboration), and web conferencing / desktop sharing (for formal meetings, real-time collaboration, user interface discussions / debugging and technical support).

The processes used to enable collaboration include:

  • Regularly scheduled meetings … for formal announcements, status updates, etc.
  • Smaller team sizes … so there are fewer links of communication. Big teams are broken up into smaller teams to facilitate this. 5-7 people is a good number.
  • Encouragement of informal phone conversations … to increase personal touch.
  • Flexible timings … due to the time zone differences, people can work flexihours.
  • A non-bureaucratic open loop communication structure … no rigid hierarchy through which things have to go down a certain path. There are challenges to this, but it allows for free exchange of ideas better.

A case study … for the specification, prototyping, alpha and beta testing of a new product. New technologies have been incorporated into the product, and the client is very happy with the project results! There are two organizations in the US, interacting with a team in India … have been collaborating for 19 months, but so far there has been no face-to-face interaction. The first phone conversation happened last month … after 18 months. Why has it succeeded?
(1) the client has exceptional written communication skills. Good analysis of what is needed, in addition to why it is supposed to be done that way.
(2) message board (Basecamp) for technical interactions
(3) use of online chat for ironing out development / debugging details
(4) willingness to use tools for communicating
(5) no bureaucracy or protocol to impede communication

Bottom line … the human interaction / attitude is key.

Question 1. How do you instill willingness?
It’s not easy. It is very important as to who you put on the team. Do they have the passion? Are they interested in their work? Everyone on the team doesn’t have to be like this, but at least a couple must / should.

Question 2. Does a project get kicked off with a governance model or charter or business rules?
Did not have a formulated and formalized method of communicating … because the firm is smaller and it has been grown organically. There are certain things that are unsaid, but these are part of the workplace culture.

Question 3. How do you draw the line between an email and IM, from an audit trail perspective?
It’s not from a legal stand point, but rather is dependent on what the organization needs. What needs to be documented and kept for future reference?

Question 4. When large teams are broken up into smaller groups for good collaboration, how do you keep overall coherence?
There is someone who keeps the lines of communication open between the various groups.

Question 5. How do you share prior information with future teams? Eg, sharing best practices
Do a project post-mortem, and post the results for others to review.

Global IT in a Financial Services Company
The Global IT department suddenly had to globalize. People were on different continents, with different languages. Launched a project to take the best practices of sociology of collaboration with wiki technology for collaboration. A pilot was launched with five teams via day-long training with embedded labs. and follow-up consulting to team leads. Net 34% increase in virtual collaboration based on pre- and post-surveys.

The initiative was lead by HR.

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