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7/27/2007
12:00 AM
Irwin Lazar
Irwin Lazar
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Collaboration Is Hard, Let's Go Shopping

One of the constant refrains I hear when talking to companies about how they manage deployment of collaboration applications is that “collaboration is hard”, what they mean isn’t that it’s hard to collaborate, rather it’s hard to get everyone in the company to use the tools that are available to collaborate, or to get workgroups to adopt new tools.

We all know e-mail, we’re all familiar with e-mail, and I’d bet if you are like most folks, you hate e-mail.  But e-mail is the constant, the known quantity, the comfort food you eat when your favorite team leaves the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth down by a run.  And collaboration tools such as wikis and shared repositories can be like a loud bump in the night at 3:00 AM, leaving us longing for something to settle our nerves, which brings us back to e-mail.

In my conversations with enterprises I’ve seen hodge-podge of tools, often brought into the enterprise by a member of a workgroup who then vainly tries to get the other members of the workgroup to use the tool, but lacking the authority to force the use, or buy-in from management, his (or her) efforts falter, and the tool goes on the shelf into the dustbin and everyone goes back to e-mail.

So what’s it take for a successful roll-out of a new collaboration tool?  It’s actually quite simple, educating the group that the benefits of the use of the tool outweigh the pain of learning something do or doing things the old way, and perhaps most importantly, gaining support of management.  Without management setting the example by using the tool themselves, and mandating its use among workgroup members, the effort is likely to fail.

Why did e-mail succeed in the enterprise?  It’s because managers flat out told their employees that this is the way we’re going to communicate from now on.  Why have wikis succeeded in some organizations but not in others?  It’s because managers mandated that wikis would become the repository for project note taking rather than e-mail.  The same is true for successful deployments of shared workspaces, which perhaps require an even greater commitment to use among managers and workgroup members alike.

So those of you who are trying to get your co-workers to move beyond e-mail don’t despair, convince your boss of the benefits to a new approach and you’ll win the battle.

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