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2014

A long time ago I learned one of the most important concepts or practice that has helped in my embracing and developing collaborative partnerships - assume innocence.  This simple phrase is one of the most powerful practices in developing a business relationship and culture to support collaboration.  Interestingly enough, this simple phrase is also one of the most difficult to embrace.  Generally speaking I have found that simple phrases can sometimes bring the greatest impact.  What do I mean by assume innocence?  It is very simple - in all your interactions with others always begin with the assumption that the other party does not mean harm, or does not mean to do you wrong. 


I can imagine what you are thinking, because I thought the same thing the first time that someone suggested this simple concept to me.  I thought it was silly and that of course other mean to do you wrong, maybe not all the time but many times and you shouldn’t start from an initial point of trust.  After all, I had always been told that you must earn trust and respect. 


Over the years however I have learned to embrace this concept a little bit at a time until I’ve reached the point now where I strongly believe that the foundation for taking that first step into a successful collaboration partnership is this simple concept - assume innocence.  This means that you must take a breath and think before you react negatively.  This means that when you read an email that you think includes a derogatory comment you should take a breath and assume innocence.  Another way to think of this is to put yourself in the other’s shoes and think about their side of the conversation.


This concept is extremely important when interacting with people and cultures outside of your normal circle.  The challenge with people outside of your normal circle is based on cultural differences and the norms that may collide in your interaction.  To make a lighter reference, think about the classic reaction to the ‘ugly american’ concept.  This reference is comical but it highlights the differences that keep people and cultures apart.  Think about this when you are dealing in your early interaction with new partners.  It is very hard to develop a relationship when you are only dealing with one or two asynchronous methods of communication such as email and texts, or social networks.  In order to improve the chances of developing a strong collaborative relationship you must use verbal communications and if possible, in-person interaction or at least video conferences.


Developing a collaborative partnership depends open and honest communications and developing these open and honest communications is enhanced and encouraged by assuming innocence.  Start with embracing this simple concept and you will never be mistaken for the ugly american.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

Have you considered the impact of words on your team culture?  How do phrases and gestures add to your communications?  How do you build a cross cultural relationship?  Have you dealt with an overseas outsourcing provider?  How did you navigate the communication and cultural differences?

After my recent discussions regarding the tools and activities that are required to develop a value add collaboration partnership you may be surprised at the level of effort in preparing your collaboration methodology and value add partnerships.  Like any other major initiative there are many details and steps that must be taken in order to increase the likelihood of success.  Developing a collaboration methodology for utilizing and bringing value to the partners definitely a major initiative from two aspects; it involves key areas of your own organization and it involves external organizations.  The risk and effort in this initiative is the effort required to build the framework of understanding.  Do not take this effort lightly; organizations that take on this type of initiative thinking that the collaboration will just ‘happen’ because your partners are interested is frankly doomed to fail.


I know that from my own perspective I was a little surprised at the level of effort required to be successful in this type of initiative.  This series was a great exercise for me to develop a greater level of understanding also.  Like any initiative spending time up front on planning will pay off in the long run with increased value.  Like any initiative, the greater effort you put into planning and developing your detailed requirements up front the greater the value your effort will provide. 


A collaboration initiative is essentially an effort to develop a new culture across organizations and time zones and this will take a lot of preparation planning to be successful. This type of initiative depends on open and honest communications across internal and external partners and without the tools I described and recommended previously your initiative’s success is a great risk.  The critical aspect to the success of your initiative is that you respect and understand the your partners’ viewpoints, methods, culture and common practices.  The tools and exercises that I have been recommending will help you to build a strong foundation for this new collaborative culture that you are developing.


I have lived in many different regions of the United States and traveled to foreign countries and the aspect of these travels that I find most interesting is the difference in cultures, common practices and languages that I have experienced in all of these different places.  While the United States is a homogenous country with a common culture and language there are variations in every region that make it special.  Add to this the foreign country perspective and you can begin to experience a clash in cultures and languages that can cause major issues.  I feel that these experiences of mine have prepared me for the challenges that will be encountered when developing a valuable collaborative partnership.


I believe that the key to the success of your collaborative partnerships is to remember that first and foremost these partnerships are developing personal relationships.  In order to develop strong personal relationships you must start with a base of open communication.  When dealing with many different people from different regions and even cultures it is important to define your base methods of communication.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

Have you considered the impact of words on your team culture?  How do phrases and gestures add to your communications?  How do you build a cross cultural relationship?  Have you dealt with an overseas outsourcing provider?  How did you navigate the communication and cultural differences?

A reader provided a great suggestion to add to the collaboration partners framework that I think provides an important addition, the charter.  The charter document is a standard project startup document and will provide the same value to your collaboration partners relationships.  I have previously suggested that developing your collaboration partnerships should follow a project management methodology and this includes developing documents and procedures that can provide a solid foundation to your collaboration partnerships and provide a guideline for maintaining, improving and even expanding the partnerships.


A charter supporting your relationships across your internal and external collaboration partners is a little more complicated that a charter for a project.  The charter is different that the rules of engagement that I discussed previously.  The charter describes the collaboration expectations and objectives, where the rules of engagement describe how your partners will interact.  You can see that these two documents support and extend each other. 


What adds to the level of complication in developing the charteris that you will need to develop your charter in four steps -

  1. Define the overall or primary partnership collaboration charter.  This charter defines the relationship across all partners both internal and external including overarching scope, objectives and participants in the collaboration partnerships.  In other words, this will describe the overarching expectations for the collaboration relationships across all partners, both internal and external.
  2. Define the charter for each collaborator.  This charter takes it down a level of detail and gets specific for each of your collaboration partners.  Remember that the objective of this charter document is to support the primary collaboration document.  The combination of all of your collaboration partner charter documents should support all of the scope and objectives defined in your primary charter.
  3. Define the mechanisms that will be used to modify the charters.  This is important because your charter should be a living document that changes as the conditions and expectations change within your collaboration partnership.  Is is important to define the modification procedures in this type of environment because of the number of partners involved.  The more partners that are involved the more complicated the relationship and the higher the likelihood of modifications to clarify definitions and expectations.
  4. The final step is critical to the continued success maintaining the living charters, defining the review and update schedule.  As I’ve previously discussed I think that a quarterly collaboration review is appropriate to maintain the relationships.  This review would include the charters along with all of the other critical relationship documents such as the rules of engagement and glossary of terms.


I want to thank the reader again for this valuable suggestion.  This is the reason why I publish to various groups and sites, to collaborate with the audience in order to develop a concept with greater value.  The addition of the charter to the collaboration partnership development initiatives will provide a valuable addition to the definition of your relationships.  The more you put into the definition of your partnership the higher the likelihood of success.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

Have you considered the impact of words on your team culture?  How do phrases and gestures add to your communications?  How do you build a cross cultural relationship?  Have you dealt with an overseas outsourcing provider?  How did you navigate the communication and cultural differences?

A glossary of terms can become complicated very quickly when you must take into account cross cultural definitions of terms, phrases and concepts.  This makes a glossary of terms even more important as a tool to support your collaborative objectives.  Think about your experience in integrating and becoming a member of the team when you change jobs.  The term ‘onboarding’ may be the commonly accepted term for the activities, learning and changes that you go through to eventually become an accepted member of the new team.  The term ‘onboarding’ however I think misrepresents level of change and effort that is involved in these activities, learning and changes.  Now extend this concept to your external collaboration partners and I hope you can see how this challenge is magnified because of the combination of company and even geographical cultures.


Remember what you are creating with your internal and external partners is a new culture that crosses over time zones, geography, companies and languages.  Now think about the effort and challenges you encountered when you changed jobs in your onboarding efforts and imagine how those onboarding activities would be impacted if you were working across time zones and external company and nationalist cultures.  Then add to this challenge the impact of trying to accomplish this without being able to benefit from face to face interaction.  Based on these challenges I’m sure you can see how critically important the glossary of terms and conditions will be for the success of your collaborative partnerships.


After accepting the importance of the glossary of terms the next step is to develop the glossary of terms.  I think there are three phases to developing your glossary of terms; initial collection and definition, review and revise with all partners, on-going maintenance reviews and updates, or continuous improvements.  I will be the first to admit that the initial description of the three phases is very misleading and the actual development will be very complicated.  You must remain focused on the execution and also remain focused on inclusion of your partners opinions and definitions.  You must not downplay the importance of developing a robust glossary of terms.  The glossary of terms will not only provide the basis for effective communications across your internal and external partners, it will also provide the basis for your working relationships and new culture across your internal and external partners.


In order to develop a value added glossary of terms you must understand and embrace the value that it can provide.  This exercise and the resulting glossary of terms will not only provide value as a communication tool across your internal and external partners, this will also provide the basis and the tools that will help you to develop a new collaborative culture.  This culture will be based on communication and a framework of shared understand that will drive value across all partners in your collaborative network.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

Have you considered the impact of words on your team culture?  How do phrases and gestures add to your communications?  How do you build a cross cultural relationship?  Have you dealt with an overseas outsourcing provider?  How did you navigate the communication and cultural differences?

A Document of Understanding is much more than a glossary of terms.  It includes such points and definitions that provides the basis for a communication strategy the is the foundation of your mutually beneficial relationship across both your internal and external partners.  A glossary of terms is a key ingredient to you document of understanding that will also include your terms and conditions for engagement and problem resolution, your concepts of operations for how you will perform in your cross functional engagements, your service level agreements and your guiding principles.  All of these documents and agreements are, or should be, part of your working agreements with your partners and the document of understanding rolls these into one place to provide.


The glossary of terms can be a challenge when you are dealing with internal and external partners and especially when dealing with foreign partners.  This is the reason why this documents plays a critical role in the development and value of the document of understanding.  I have found that you will deliver a glossary of greatest value if you start the definitions at the beginning of your engagement with each partner and continue to update and add to the glossary all the while you are defining the partnership.  As I’m sure you have discovered in the past when you sit down in one setting to define your glossary of terms you end up overlooking and forgetting some critical terms.  It is much better to develop your glossary of terms like a parking lot during meetings.  In other words, place a document on the side during your discussions and when you have to define a term or phrase it should be added to the glossary of terms. 


The other sections that I’ve suggested should be included in the document of understanding are generally accepted as key documentation for either project or engagement management.  The service level agreement will measure your execution and depend on effective definition of key performance indicators.  The definitions of your conditions for engagement and problem resolution are also known as escalation procedures.  Finally the last critical document included in your document of understanding is the guiding principles.  This document defines your ‘rules of engagement’ and is critical as an extension of the conditions for engagement. Your guiding principles provide guardrails for decisions in working with your partners, if you make your decision within the guiding principles you can be sure that the decision will be accepted by your partners.


I think it is important to roll the documents into one document of understanding so that it can provide an easy to use and consolidated guide for your collaborative relationship with internal and external partners.  This document must be considered a living document and as such it must be regularly reviewed and revised to ensure that it meet the groups changing needs.  In fact I would suggest quarterly reviews with the group as a whole.  I think it is important to review as a group in order to gain the benefits from everyone’s participation.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

Have you considered the impact of words on your team culture?  How do phrases and gestures add to your communications?  How do you build a cross cultural relationship?  Have you dealt with an overseas outsourcing provider?  How did you navigate the communication and cultural differences?

tbrouill

Words Are Important

Posted by tbrouill Feb 16, 2014

Words can make or break a relationship and it is important to be very clear in your initial communications while you are building the common language.  Communication in a cross functional, cross organizational and cross company team is a critical ingredient to the team’s success.  Communication, as we all understand, is made up of verbal written and physical methods and all of these methods support and promote communications.  The verbal, and written, aspect of communication however provides the foundation of communication.  In order for this to support your needs in this environment it is important that partners come to agreement on terms and conditions and definitions in order to effectively communicate in a collaborative environment.


There is an additional aspect of successful communication that is critical in this collaborative and cross function team and that additional aspect is culture. For collaboration to be successful, there needs to be cultural compatibility.  In order for your culture to be compatible you must develop a common and compatible communication foundation.   The culture can be developed over time, however it starts as a part of the institution - whether a organization, or a team or function in the organization or even an external organization. In order for you to build a successful communication foundation, there has to be a commitment to openness. Next, in order for your commitment to openness to be successful it must be based on a clear understanding of the communications as I mentioned above.  This can be a very complicated process, especially when the external members of the team are international organizations.


Culture plays a critical role in the the communications framework on all levels of communication that I’ve outlined above; verbal, written and physical aspects of communication. Culture must be taken into account as you are developing your communication foundation at the same level as your team’s glossary of terms.  In fact, you cannot hope to develop or complete an effective glossary of terms without taking into account the meaning and usage of the terms in different cultures, countries and even regions within a country. Considering all of the various factors that play into communications I think you can understand the importance of developing the team’s glossary of terms and conditions.  In addition to this, you must also remember that this glossary of terms and conditions is a living document and must be maintained to continue to provide value.


In this effort to develop your team’s terms and conditions do not overlook the importance of non-verbal communications.  The spoken tones and physical actions that make up and extend your communications must be taken into account when developing the team’s culture.  Spoken tones and physical actions take on their own meanings within a culture and these are critical aspects to developing your team’s culture.  The team’s glossary of terms and conditions is an important aspect of your team’s culture and will provide a basis for building on that foundation.  The non-verbal communication aspect is a close second and must not be treated lightly.  An innocently intended throw away phrase in an email can damage a relationship if it is not built on a foundation of the cultural relationship that is developed through non-verbal communications.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

Have you considered the impact of words on your team culture?  How do phrases and gestures add to your communications?  How do you build a cross cultural relationship?  Have you dealt with an overseas outsourcing provider?  How did you navigate the communication and cultural differences?

The final step in the tools selection process, or initiative, is the selection of the tools.  This will be a thoughtful and well-informed process if you have followed methodology steps of defining the strategy, developing your objectives, defining how you measure the success of your tools, and finally defining the categories that you will group your tools.  The objective of this initiative is to select the tools that will support your collaboration methodology across your internal and external collaboration partners.  In my discussions leading to this point I’ve focused on inclusion of your external partners throughout the previous steps.  This will ensure that your partners, both internal and external, will embrace the tools supporting the methodology.  This will also ensure that you are making the selections for the right reasons and have taken all of your options into account in making this decision.


You have all of the pieces and selection criteria in place before you now and you just have the ‘easy’ piece left, right?  Well yes and no; yes you have all of the input to make your decision, no the decision is still more involved than ‘eeny, meeny, miny, mo’.  The final decision you must make prior to your final decision is will you select best of breed tools and then integrate those tools yourself, or will you select a suite of tools from one supplier?  These decisions are important and each options provide benefits and challenges that you must evaluate in your decision process.  In the past this was a major decision because of the effort involved in integrating a best of breed solution.  Today, however, and especially since the objective is to select collaboration tools the integration is much easier and should not weigh heavily in the decision.  This will allow you to make your selection decision based on the objectives and not worry so much about how the tools will fit together. 


The next step I like to perform is to identify the tools that will support multiple functions.  This is where your creativity will add a great value to this process.  Let me take video conferencing for one example; video conferencing will be an important aspect of your communications tools and there are many tools that will provide that capability.  One of the big players in this category is Webex and I’m sure that Webex is included in your list of communication tools.  A newer player in this market is Google+ Hangouts and Hangouts On Air (HOA) that will allow you to perform video conferencing with anyone that has a Google email account.  The think I like about the Google+ option is that you can start with a free tool to build your capabilities and then switch to a corporate account to increase and expand capabilities.  Both of these tools provide access via the Internet to external partners around the world.  The Google option gives you the added opportunity to connect directly to your address book for contacts and this all connects into the Google email tool. 


The above provides a good example of selecting a tool when you are starting from scratch.  This process changes however when you take into account the tools you already have in place.  This process changes again when you take into account your external partners start tools.  Following the suggestions I provided in these discussions will allow you to make your tools selection in a thoughtful and logical manner without getting distracted by shiny objects.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

Have you contemplated the challenges and benefits of expanding your use of social or collaborative experiments?  Have you contemplated the reevaluation of the collaborative practices and methods you currently utilize to identify if they are providing value and support your strategic goals and objectives?              

Categorizing your collaboration tools is important from many aspects and throughout the lifecycle of your collaboration methodology.  It is important to identify the categories of tools and their objectives for each phase of your collaboration methodology and it is important to include the on-going maintenance and support of your collaboration methodology in this exercise.  In order to start this exercise I suggest you identify the categories based on your collaboration methodology objectives.  After this initial cut at definition of the categories you will need to reconcile the categories to generally accepted industry terms in order to research and select the tools that meet your needs..


To start the exercise I will break down the categories into the collaboration methods in the same manner that I covered in previous discussions.  The key categories that will support your collaboration methodology are communication (including workflow), sharing (collaboration), storage that all partners can access.  When you categorize tools in this method I find it much easier to understand. As you probably noticed, the categories are based on objectives rather than any particular tool capability.  I feel it is important to focus on objectives rather than methods because it allows you to maintain a focus on value how the business will incorporate the tools.  Another benefit to categorizing tools based on objectives is that it will be easier to convey their use across your external partners.  Finally, categorizing tools in this manner will encourage you to identify tools that will support multiple categories and this is where the value will be derived when you identify tools that can support multiple categories.  I have an additional piece of advice for this exercise, be creative and utilize the exercise as a brainstorming and team building exercise.


Communication tools include things like the telephone, email, EDI, FTP or video conference to call out some very basic and common communication tools.  The communication, including workflow, is probably the largest category of tools mainly because of all the different methods that people, teams and organizations communicate.  The social networking tools will also fall into the communication category such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and the cornucopia of tools that fall into this category.  I would also include in this category smartphones because of the bridge that smartphone provides to bring together so many communication tools.  You would benefit in development of this category also if you invite a teenager to participate in the brainstorming session, that is if they will even find interest in participating.

 

Sharing, or collaboration, tools allow you to work in an across time and distance to develop project deliverables.  Sharing tools include tools such as Google Docs, Sharepoint.  This category is made up of tools that allow people and teams to update documents, including text, spreadsheets and presentations in a teaming approach where multiple teams and people in multiple locations can view and update simultaneously or at least sequentially.  One simple example that comes to mind is the change tracking feature found in Microsoft Word.  This simple feature allows multiple people to collaborate on the development of a document.


Storage tools allow you to access your work objects anytime and anyplace from any device.  Storage tools include tools such as Sharepoint, Google Docs or Dropbox.  The common theme these tools share is they are or can be cloud based to support the anyplace requirement of your storage tools.


This exercise will get interesting when you start to brainstorm how the tools may cross over to support multiple objectives.  Its important to go through this exercise in a freewheeling manner so that you use your imagination to identify the tools under multiple categories.  The ability to use tools to support multiple categories will bring additional value to your selection.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

Have you contemplated the challenges and benefits of expanding your use of social or collaborative experiments?  Have you contemplated the reevaluation of the collaborative practices and methods you currently utilize to identify if they are providing value and support your strategic goals and objectives?

How do you measure your tool performance to ensure they are meeting your objectives and supporting the value proposition for your collaboration methodology?  This is the point where the rubber meets the road; when you begin to incorporate the tools you’ve selected into supporting your collaboration methodology.  It is important especially in the early stages of implementation that you clearly define how and what you will measure by the outcome and capabilities of the tools.  This will be an interesting exercise because you must take into account the values that all of your partners have expressed when making these evaluations.  This can bring about interesting results such as reducing individual benefits for your partners in order to increase benefits for the entire collaborative group.


The important point that I want to focus on is the level of complication that is inserted into this exercise due to the external partners involved.  When you are dealing with only internal partners the measurements are more straight forward and in addition, your internal partners have the same company strategic goals.  When everyone has the same company strategic goals, they are more likely to line up in the methods to reach those goals.  Your external partners are very likely to have different goals, although I don’t think their company strategic goals would be in direct conflict with your own company strategic goals.  Your external partners’ goals however will have different priorities, at a minimum and at most they will be very different. 


I’m not suggesting that you must align your company strategic goals with your external partners’ company strategic goals, I am saying however that you must take them into account so that they can be coordinated. I think the most appropriate method to coordinate is to come together with your external partners to define how you will measure the outcome and and capabilities of the tools. 


Measurement of the outcome provided by the collaboration tools will depend on communication.  All of the points in your measurement program will depend on the communication base that you initially build.  Remember that you must take into account that were will be many cases where there are different meanings for each of your partners.  It is critical to the success of your collaboration that you maintain a strong focus on the clarity and understanding across all of your partners.  In effect you are developing your own Rosetta Stone as it relates to your partners.  You must take into account not only company cultures but potentially world cultures into your communication plan.


Your communication plan will be a critical piece to your measurements so do not short change this piece of your measurements.  Coming out of this measurements exercise you will have developed your service levels and rules of engagement that will be important pieces of your measurement program.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

Have you contemplated the challenges and benefits of expanding your use of social or collaborative experiments?  Have you contemplated the reevaluation of the collaborative practices and methods you currently utilize to identify if they are providing value and support your strategic goals and objectives?

Defining your collaboration tools objectives is a critical next step in your journey to developing and implementing a collaboration methodology.  The objectives definition phase is the next phase in a standard project management methodology and as I’ve mentioned previously, in order to increase the likelihood of success I am recommending that you follow a standard project management methodology to implement the collaboration methodology.  As a recap then I have discussed the tools strategy development where you will develop your direction and rules for implementing this direction, or end state.  Next you must define the objectives for your end state, in this case the tools that will be used to manage and support your collaboration methodology.


The the combination of objectives and the requirements define the ‘what’ of your project, in this case it defines what you plan to accomplish in utilizing the tools that you are selecting to support your collaboration methodology.  I am focused in this piece on the definition of the tools objectives.  I try to follow a general rule of thumb in defining objectives - objectives should be defined from a high level and leave the details to the following steps in your initiative.  Remember your objectives are the ‘what’ and your ‘what’ should be defined at a high level to keep things simple.  A phrase that helps me in many aspects of initiatives is ‘Simple, yet elegant’, this means that you should focus on the simple and straightforward because this will deliver an elegant solution.


The key objective of your tools is to support your collaboration methodology. This means that you must have gone through the previous exercise of defining the methodology obviously.  I am going to discuss some of what I believe to be the key objectives of the tools that you will be selecting.  Collaboration objectives are very straight forward and simple - communication, sharing, approval methods and place to store information are the key objectives to be successful in collaboration.  These are simple and yet the selection of the tools, implementation and utilization of these tools can be extremely complicated.  The communication must be open to both internal and external partners and yet it must also be secured because the information being communicated will be proprietary to the partners.  The sharing must be open and allow and encourage real time collaboration.  The approval methods must support a process that crosses between external and internal partners.  The place to store information must be secure, robust and support real time collaboration across multiple platforms.


You can see from just my brief explanation above that what start as simple objectives quickly progress to increasing level of complication.  This is why its important to start simple and try to continue to focus on straightforward methods.


In the future discussions I will cover the measurements of how these tools meet the objectives.  This will be an interesting exercise because you must take into account the values that all of your partners have expressed when making these evaluations.  This can bring about interesting results such as reducing individual benefits for your partners in order to increase benefits for the entire collaborative group.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

Have you contemplated the challenges and benefits of expanding your use of social or collaborative experiments?  Have you contemplated the reevaluation of the collaborative practices and methods you currently utilize to identify if they are providing value and support your strategic goals and objectives?              

Selecting a tool is a critical aspect to the success of your collaboration methodology.  Selecting and implementing collaboration tools are a challenge and you should take on this challenge like any other process and follow your methodology to successfully complete your tools selection process.  In addition as I mentioned previously I want to also emphasize that you should enter into this selection process with the understanding that you may not select one tool that supports all of the requirements.  Simply because of the type of selection that is involved this tools selection process should be taken on as a continuous improvement process that will change and grow as your collaboration methodology, capabilities and requirements change and grow.  Start with a ‘bite’; identify the first piece or requirement in your tool objectives to focus and then build on that with your partners.


As with any process, the tools selection process must start with a definition of your objectives, in other words you must define how big is the elephant.  As I mentioned in previous discussions, there is an additional factor involved with this tools strategy and selection process and that is the inclusion of external collaborative partners.  Because of this additional member in the team you will need to include in the tools strategy and selection process.  This external member will most likely have different priorities than you and your internal partners.  These additional objectives will need to be taken into account, and potentially reconciled against your internal priorities in order to ensure that your external partners are fully engaged in your collaboration methodology.  This reconciliation process must be defined in both directions, your external partners must accept your internal priorities and objectives in order for the collaborative partnership to work. 


There are some things that you should evaluate in this first step of this process. I think that the first requirement all internal and external partners must agree is how to simplify the review and approval process.  The first step to this simplification is that you must start with an agreement on the method to review and prioritize these objectives.  I have a simple set of rules that I follow with every engagement, and this is certainly an engagement with external partners, first define what I refer to as your rules of engagement.  What I mean by rules of engagement is the methods you will follow to execute your engagement such as what type of objective will have the greatest impact on your decision process.  An example of this is will financial objectives have more weight in the decision than customer satisfaction?  Another point that must be completed is a definition process, by this I mean a definition of terms and phrases.  An example of this is who is the customer?  This definition process is critical to the success of not only your tools strategy definition and selection, it is also critical to the continuing success of your collaborative partnership.   


You must start any initiative with a solid foundation and this collaboration tools strategy and selection is no different.  Do not short change this foundation step because it is critical to the continuing success of your collaborative methodology and partnerships.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

Have you contemplated the challenges and benefits of expanding your use of social or collaborative experiments?  Have you contemplated the reevaluation of the collaborative practices and methods you currently utilize to identify if they are providing value and support your strategic goals and objectives?

tbrouill

Examples of Success

Posted by tbrouill Feb 6, 2014

Many people may be asking why develop a collaborative framework and methodology?  In order to answer that question I will provide a personal example of the benefits that can be achieved through a robust collaborative framework and methodology.  My recent experience with an Amazon Kindle Fire will highlight some of the internal and external benefits that can be achieved through collaboration.  Let me set the stage for this review; I purchased a Kindle Fire for my wife for Christmas and she loves it!  One day last week it just stopped working.  Some of you with a Kindle Fire may have experienced this same problem, Amazon calls it a startup loop; the device just keeps restarting for some reason and won’t stop. 


This had to be fixed as quickly as possible and my main concern was the fact that I purchased the device directly from Amazon, so there wasn’t a store to which I could take the device for repair.  On the day the of the problem I called the extended warranty provider for repair / replacement.  After explaining my problem the representative determined that it would be covered under the standard warranty and could save my extended warranty for another day.  The representative transferred me over to Amazon for support.  The Amazon representative then walked me through a couple of troubleshooting steps to see if the device could be reset.  When the device could not be reset the representative promptly arranged to send a preplacement device.  The representative made the arrangements for a replacement order, verified the order would ship that day, arranged 2-day shipping and provided an explanation along the way of everything he was doing at the time.  The representative wrapped this up with an explanation of how to return the defective device and explained that everything would be covered again in an email he was sending at the end of the call.  After this explanation you might think this process took quite a while to get through.  In reality this took only 20 minutes which was much quicker than any experience in Best Buy.


This example however highlights the benefits and capabilities of a collaborative and open framework.  These benefits crossover between Amazon’s business partners and out to the end consumer.  Let’s start with the initial call to report the problem; I looked this up using my original order that is stored for reference on the Amazon site, the warranty representative seamlessly connected me to the Amazon representative (without a loss of my order or problem information which is impressive compared to my cable provider).  From that point the Amazon representative was connected to the order entry and fulfillment, provided specific carrier information for delivery tracking and then arranged for email notification of the package tracking until delivery.  All of these collaboration points brought about a great customer service experience and from beginning to end (problem occurrence to deliver of replacement) took 4 days, mostly because it crossed over a weekend. 


Just to put a bow on this entire experience, there was no loss of games, apps or books with this replacement and in fact the book my wife was reading when this started opened to the correct page on the new device.  This provides a great example of the benefits that can be achieved throughout your chain with a robust collaborative network.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

Have you contemplated the challenges and benefits of expanding your use of social or collaborative experiments?  Have you contemplated the reevaluation of the collaborative practices and methods you currently utilize to identify if they are providing value and support your strategic goals and objectives?

Collaboration methodology tools make up a special challenge that must be carefully reviewed and defined in order to identify and select the most appropriate tools to meet the the requirements.  I know there is nothing special about this statement; every selection process must carefully define and review the tools based on the requirements and needs of the selection topic.  The special, or defining, aspect of the collaboration methodology tools is a simply defined but difficult to achieve requirement - the tool must be open, or shared, to provide access to external partners through a variety of tools. 


Probably one of the best examples of this is notification of change and approval requirements to the shared partners that are external to each other.  On the surface this is a very simple question and the simple response to this question is that email should be used to support the notification and approval requirements. The complexity comes into play when you survey your partners within your collaborative enterprise and realize that there may be as many email platforms as there are partners.  I’m only slightly exaggerating this to make a point; questions and requirements that are simple within a cohesive organization will increase in difficulty and complexity when you extend your base to external partners.  To add to this complexity you must also take into account the fact that you will not be able to dictate your requirements to all of your external partners in order to create an external cohesive environment. 


Sharing documents and artifacts is another example that will present a challenge from two perspectives and you must take into account equally both of these perspectives:

  • The tools used to create and maintain these documents and artifacts, such as the MS Office Suite of tools.  While there is not nearly the variety of office tools as there are email tools, you must still take into account the fact that not all of your external collaboration partners will be using the same tools.  Today you have offerings from Microsoft (both cloud and individual program based), Google and even Oracle in the Java tools.
  • The repository where these documents and artifacts are stored and maintained must support rubust collaboration capabilities.  The repository must allow for collaborative updates to the artifacts and maintain the ability to reverse updates up to restoring the original document.  The level and individuals allowed to share and update documents and artifacts must be robust to support needs of the collaborative partners.  This repository also must be accessible from any platform.


As you can tell from the brief examples above, the tool selection process can be very complicated and even almost overwhelming if you try to boil the ocean in selecting a tool.  I want to emphasize here that selecting a tool is another process and you should follow your methodology in this process.  I want to also emphasize that you should enter into this selection process with the understanding that you may not select one tool that supports all of the requirements.  This selection process simply because of the type of selection that is involved should be taken on as a continuous improvement process that will change a grow as your collaboration methodology and capabilities and requirements change and grow.  Start with a ‘bite’; identify the first piece or requirement in the tool objectives to focus and then build on that with your partners.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

Have you contemplated the challenges and benefits of expanding your use of social or collaborative experiments?  Have you contemplated the reevaluation of the collaborative practices and methods you currently utilize to identify if they are providing value and support your strategic goals and objectives?

The framework that you implement to guide your collaboration methodology is important to the success of your collaboration methodology from two perspectives; first it is important to have pre-defined guidelines for direction and second it ensures consistency in execution.  The challenge with any methodology framework is how do you provide the appropriate level of governance and guidance without overwhelming the implementation and organization with bureaucracy.  This challenge is also probably the single greatest contributor to the failure of acceptance of any methodology in an organization.  The collaboration methodology increases the level of complexity of this challenge because of the addition of external partners to the acceptance of this methodology.


In a previous discussion I provided the following list of what I consider the “do’s” in developing a collaboration methodology:

  • Objectives definition so that everyone clearly understands the desired outcome
  • How does it support your enterprise strategic direction and objectives?
  • How does it support your external partners’ strategic direction and objectives?
  • Requirements definitions
  • Critical success factors, in other words how are you measuring and testing for success?
  • Build - this is where the rubber meets the road and you build your collaboration
  • Review - Did you meet your objectives?
  • Define improvements and any next steps to expand

With these steps to your methodology you will increase the likelihood of success of your initiatives and in addition you will be able to easily coordinate your collaboration initiatives with your other strategic initiatives.
The next step in developing your framework is selecting a tool, or tools, to support the framework.  This tool will need to be cloud based in order to provide the connectivity and visibility of the artifacts to both internal and external partners.  The tool should provide the ability to:

  • Store artifacts in a secured location that can be accessed by all partners.
  • Provide a means to distribute the material as appropriate, this should ideally distribute links to the artifacts stored in the secured location.
  • Provide a means to approve and attach the approval to the artifacts.
  • Provide a means to communicate to team members of an individual project in a secured manner.  A chat room that provides video conference and document sharing in discussions along with maintaining the history of the discussions for future reference is the key requirements for this tool.
  • Provide flexibility and extendability to support new features, functionality and integration to additional tools in the future.


You will notice that I am being very careful in not suggesting specific tools but focusing on the requirements the tool must provide and the objectives the tool must meet.  The reason for this is very simple; I believe strongly that you should take the time to develop the framework that works for your requirements and objectives without the influence of a tool.  After you have defined your framework you can test the framework effectiveness with the simple tools that you develop prior to performing a search for any specialty tool.  Always follow this methodology for tool selection to ensure that your tool meets your objectives and requirements, never select a tool based on a sales demo.  I lean towards utilizing free cloud based tools as a starting point to work through your framework implementation framework, the best case outcome of this practice is that you obtain a set of robust tools that support your requirements and objectives at a minimal cost, worst case is you’ve validated your framework and you have the requirements clearly defined to use in selecting the appropriate tool.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

Have you contemplated the challenges and benefits of expanding your use of social or collaborative experiments?  Have you contemplated the reevaluation of the collaborative practices and methods you currently utilize to identify if they are providing value and support your strategic goals and objectives?