Culture & Competency

Defining Collaboration – 5. Collaboration Scenarios as a Way of Classifying Collaboration Technology

This is the fifth post in a series about defining collaboration. Previously:
– Post 1 looked at the three P’s of collaboration (potential, process, and practice).
– Post 2 talked about four types of work.
– Post 3 examined the ceiling of opportunity and value.
– Post 4 was concerned with mapping people, work, and outcomes to technology capabilities.

This post extends the previous one, and looks at the concept of collaboration scenarios as a way of classifying different types of technology to support collaboration. And by implication, it provides a framework for thinking about the collaboration technology needs of a specific group or team within your organization.

Posts 1-3 talked about the theory of collaboration – the potential, value, and opportunity that could be gained by people working together toward a common outcome. Post 4 started the translation of the theory into more practical matters. One way of thinking about it that Posts 1-3 dealt with the “what/why” of collaboration, and Post 4 and 5 deal with the “how” of collaboration – or “every WHAT has to be carried out via some HOW.”

What’s a Collaboration Scenario
A collaboration scenario describes a work activity that people do together – either directly and at the same time (and either in person or remotely), or indirectly because there are time delayed hand-offs involved (and because it’s indirect and involves time delayed hand-offs, it can’t be done in person at the same time).

A List of Collaboration Scenarios
Here’s a (partial) list of collaboration scenarios:

  1. Managing a Project … Working with other people to make something different come true – a specific outcome to achieve. Will usually involve multiple people, a timeframe of weeks-months-years, and the allocation of work among the involved parties, among other things.
  2. Co-Authoring a Document … Working with other people on a document – a press release, an RFP, a contract, or an article. The document needs to include the ideas of multiple people.
  3. Managing a Collection of Know-How … Developing written material to describe the know-how of a current process or product, and keeping this up-to-date via a group of experts.
  4. Scheduling a Meeting … Finding a time that multiple people can meet in person or remotely to discuss an idea, work through an issue, make a decision.
  5. Tracking What’s Going On … Keeping informed about relevant events inside your organization that could impact on the priority of specific projects or activities. Learning about other people inside your firm, that could have insights to add to your work.
  6. Finding Experts Inside the Firm … Discovering people inside your firm with specific expertise to help resolve current issues.
  7. Holding Conversations … Discussing and debating ideas, evaluating alternatives, and coming to a conclusion about how to proceed.

How to Use Collaboration Scenarios
As the list above shows, there are many different types of work that have collaborative elements/aspects. To use these scenarios in planning your collaboration technology strategy, do the following:

1. Look at specific groups/teams and classify/count the different collaboration scenarios that happen as a regular part of their work.
– Eg., research firm: Co-Authoring a Document

2. For each scenario, understand and write down the current state used by the specific group/team.
– Eg., research firm: Using Microsoft Word, lead author drafts the document, sends it around by email for review and input, and then has to collect/collate the feedback sent back in multiple copies of the document.

3. For the most frequently used scenarios, investigate products/services from different vendors of collaboration technology. Choose a short-list of products that will meet your decision criteria for tools that can be used by your employees.
– Eg., research firm: Google Docs, PleaseReview, Agilewords, SharePoint Document Library, Confluence Wiki

4. For testing/evaluation purposes, develop an alternative way of carrying out the activity using the different technology options.
– Eg., Google Docs – one document, everyone is invited to work in the document, no multiple copies.
– Eg., PleaseReview – master document in Word, uploaded to PleaseReview, others invited to comment/edit, no multiple copies in existence.
– Eg., Agilewords – ditto, per PleaseReview
– Eg., SharePoint Document Library – one document, put into the document library, alerts trigger edit requests, check-out to edit, check-in to upload, no multiple copies
– Eg., Confluence Wiki – document drafted as a wiki page not a Word document, everyone is invited to work on the wiki page, etc.

5. If there is a sufficient benefit to be gained by carrying out the collaboration scenario in a different way (with different technology), go back and start working with the business group – explaining the benefit, demonstrating the new way of doing things, gathering support – in short, doing both engagement and user adoption.

Question: Which collaboration scenarios are common at your firm? Which ones are you focusing significant effort on during 2011?