Response to Jed Cawthorne's "What exactly is 'collaboration' – and who owns it?"

My (virtual colleague) Jed Cawthorne recently shared his thinking around collaboration technology and the ownership thereof in an organization. From What exactly is ‘collaboration’ – and who owns it?, Jed writes:

This article is mostly prompted by internal discussions within my group at work, but also because I have been reading Prof. Andrew MacAfee’s book on Enterprise 2.0. Also in the bigger picture it links back to some posts from late last year on the TiMAF definition of information and information management, because your definition of what constitutes collaboration will impact on who the ‘owners’ are.

To set a little context, we have been taking about business ownership models for SharePoint (MOSS 2007) in our organization. Our CIO is very much focused on IT providing a service to the business and as such we always look for the ‘business sponsor’ or ‘business owner’. For SharePoint specifically this an issue due to its both its broad feature set, and in no small way due to the Microsoft marketing which depicts it as a tool which ‘the business’ can use with a lot of help from IT.

So how about splitting up SharePoint’s major features does that help? Well it may do, because it might be fairly easy to find the business sponsor for records management functionality, or for business intelligence features. I suppose document management might be more difficult to find a single owner because of its broad scope, unless you have an ECM strategy which in turn has a business owner/sponsor.

Collaboration however is a much more nebulous beast. What exactly constitutes collaboration may change depending on the organization or even the circumstances, and who might want to stand up as the business owner of something so ephemeral ?

Jed proposes a five-way division:
– Messaging Centric Collaboration
– Content Centric Collaboration
– Conversation Centric Collaboration
– Process Centric Collaboration
– Collaborative Management

If it works for you, and simplifies understanding and ownership, then great. That’s all that counts.

However, I think the distinction between the five isn’t tight enough, and leaves too much overlap. For example, if I hold a “conversation” with my “geographically dispersed team” via email, I’m doing “conversation-centric” via “messaging centric”. The conversation is happening, but we’re collaborating via messaging tools.

An Alternative: Team, Group and Organizational Collaboration
I prefer to slice and dice in the following ways, and as I’ll outline in a moment, the majority of Jed’s five sub-categories fall into the team collaboration one:
– Team Collaboration … for a team working towards a deliverable.
– Group Collaboration … for a group that shares a common interest or practice.
– Organizational Collaboration … for creating opportunities to collaborate.

I advocate this approach because it separates the discussion of intent and scenario from any particular collaboration technology.

For example, on team collaboration:
– A team could work toward a deliverable using email (Jed = Messaging Centric). Hey, we’ve done that for years.
– Or they could do so via a blog or wiki (Jed = Conversation Centric).
– If the deliverable is a document or set of documents, it could be done via a Document Library in SharePoint 2007 or something similar (Jed = Content Centric).
– Or if they were trying to resolve a process issue, it could be done via a workspace such as the eRoom example (Jed = Process Centric).
– Or if they were co-ordinating a project, it could be done via a team workspace (Jed = Collaborative Management). I wrote a whole book on this one!
– What’s common (to me) in all these instances is (a) clearly defined purpose, (b) set group of people, (c) shared responsibility, and (d) an end signal (the project is done, the deliverable is delivered, the process exception is fixed, etc.).
– My team framework is called 7 Pillars. It’s a free download. Enjoy.

In terms of group collaboration:
– The group could use an email mailing list (Jed = Messaging Centric).
– It could use one of the newer style technologies, such as a blog, wiki or micro-blogging service (Jed = Conversation Centric).
– The defining characteristics of a “group” include (a) emerging or loosely defined intent, (b) free flowing

I am currently writing up my Four Foundations model for organizational collaboration, but I don’t see much overlap between what I’m doing there and Jed’s five divisions above. The Four Foundations model is coming … help! … it’s got to be ready for my keynote speech at IntraTeam Event 2010 in less than a month!

So How Does One Align “Intent” with “Tool” Then?
In my way of thinking, the next question is how to align a specific intent (above) with a particular tool. For that I give you my Messaging News article from February 2008, called Investing in Collaboration Tools.

In additon to the Messaging News article, basically I would argue that:
– Examine the actual capabilities of the different tools, and strip out the vendor-speak about governance approach.
– As part of your engagement with the business, you should get an understanding of work practice today. Next step is to develop scenarios that enable the business groups to re-enact their work practices using newer tools.
– Talk about the vision of how these newer tools could improve work practice (eg, no more document chaos, you get a single version of the truth, you have less conversation clutter and confusion, there is better tracability, etc.).
– See what resonates with your people, and take it from there. In SharePoint Roadmap language, that’s “Engaging with the Business” (Chapter 5) and “User Adoption Strategies (Chapter 6).

Just FYI: an update and wider analysis on this approach is coming in book #3, Collaboration Roadmap. I’m sorry it’s not available yet!

So What About Ownership?
I have an idea on the ownership side, but it’s not fully developed. So, I’ll leave you with:
– Chapter 4 of SharePoint Roadmap for Collaboration, about governance and ownership (shared ownership between three groups, with IT owning the *technology*).
– My blog post (see the comments too) from August 2009, Who Owns “Collaboration” At Your Firm?.

… and, a quote from Richard Dennison from BT (again, make sure you see the comments):

One of the serious dangers of introducing social media tools onto your intranet is that, because they are ‘free’ and simple to deploy, techies start deploying them left, right and centre. Before you know it, the hard-fought battle for business-led technology deployment is reversed to the bad-old-days of technologies popping up all over the place looking for a business problem. And, if it isn’t clear who owns the business requirements for collaboration, the danger is even greater as techies start enthusiastically deploying tools to fill the void and meet local needs, rather than concentrating on common capabilities that solve enterprise wide business problems. These under-web tools will also ignore governance, information management, design etc policies and standards.

So, my top-tip for the day is decide who owns the business requirements for collaboration sooner rather than later if you don’t want to spend months unravelling the technical mess that will ensue if you don’t!

Basically, we agree that it needs to be “owned” outside of IT … but by whom? Perhaps this calls for a governance theme on ownership.

0 thoughts on “Response to Jed Cawthorne's "What exactly is 'collaboration' – and who owns it?"

  1. I’m not sure whether to respond to this post or Jed Cawthorne’s! The reason that I like Jed’s definitions is that they recognise that collaboration involves information, usually in the form of a ‘document’ though it could be an Excel spreadsheet. Let’s not get too pedantic about what a document is. The difficult question is where do the documents come from, and where do they end up. I am finding that documents are being taken into collaboration spaces to be the catalyst for discussion. They are then hidden inside the space (because no one likes to share work-in-progress in case there is no work and no progress) and all too often nothing emerges because at the end of the collaboration process the outcomes are rarely placed in a repository where they can be found by anyone who might need them.
    I’ve using Jed’s categories for the last year and they resonate with organisations. This is especially true of the business process category, where often the same task is performed every year by a different group of people.
    As for not being tight enough I have difficulty with the difference between ‘team’ and ‘group’ in Michael’s definition, and if a group that shares a common interest or practice does not deliver something (which seems on the surface to be the significant difference between the team and the group categories) then it is very likely that the group will cease to exist because no-one under the pressure of today’s business environment is going to spend time in a group that does nothing. I also have a difficulty about Organisational Collaboration, because it seems to assume that collaboration will not take place unless you provide opportunities for it. Collaboration has been going on in organisations for years. It’s not effective for reasons totally unconnected with technology. Read Morten Hansen’s book on Collaboration and you will see what I mean. Hansen states (with the evidence to prove it) that bad collaboration is worse than no collaboration.
    The problem I have with Team is that the definition that Michael offers is one that also defines a Committee! Teams often do not have set memberships – as the process of collaboration continues people will come in and out as their expertise is required. In my view what Michael suggests are Groups are in fact Communities, and that takes us back to the fundamental work done by Wenger over ten years ago on communities of practice, and it is also well worth reading his latest book on Digital Habitats
    Both Michael and I will be at IntraTeam in Copenhagen in March talking about collaboration, so do come along and join in the discussion. There is still so much to do in this space and thankfully Michael is brilliant at forcing others to reconsider their preconceptions and misconceptions.

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