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8/22/2012
12:25 PM
John McGreavy
John McGreavy
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The Problem With Social Collaboration On IT Projects

The buzzword of the day takes communications to a whole new level. It may ease implementation--or mean getting bogged down in consensus building.

I was just putting the finishing touches on our company's bring- your-own-device policy when Sam, our CEO, dropped by for a chat. I eventually got around to the BYOD strategy, mentioning the planned move from company-issued BlackBerrys to employee-paid, personally owned devices of choice. "This is going to be a big change for some of our staff," he said. "You better socialize this."

"Socialize" is one of the über-buzzwords of the day. To socialize an intention is different from communicating, explaining, or discussing it. It requires taking communications to a new level of importance and intimacy with the organization. In fact, to socialize an intention means it's further from implementation than you might expect.

Socializing generally involves communicating from one to many and, more important, encouraging much more feedback from and interaction among that many. For example, you might socialize your plan to replace Office 2010 with Office 365 by posting this information on the company blog and asking employees to weigh in with comments and suggestions, even alternatives. In the past, the IT organization would just make this decision and implement it.

I'm now working through our new smartphone/tablet/personal device policy, and it's clearly a high-touch, high-feel subject. In the past, my team would weigh the options, consider the overall business case and value drivers, and set a policy that we would then implement. But the past dealt with cell phones and laptops. With consumer devices, most employees have a much stronger opinion. Rather than come to us, the IT experts, for advice ("Which home PC would you suggest I buy?"), employees are now coming to us with advice ("The company should issue everyone iPhones, as I've found that they're the best smartphones on the planet.").

Not only does socializing involve a fairly broad audience (socializing with your staff doesn't count), but it also implies true interaction. And with that interaction comes the expectation that the mobile device approach our company ultimately will take won't necessarily be the one my IT team would lay out if we were (no pun intended) left to our own devices.

We will start the process at the top. I will send a summary of the initial plan to our CEO, and I will then present it at our next senior leadership meeting--not as a fait accompli, but as an idea. I will provide all of the answers to their questions. Members of the leadership team will chat about the idea, and eventually share it with their direct reports and ask them for feedback. Much of that feedback will come in the form of questions, which my team will answer, and I'll communicate those answers back to the broader management team.

This cycle will continue for a few iterations, before we open the discussion to employees and begin to zero in on the end point.

The Big But

This all may seem like an exercise in bureaucracy and CYA, but I have no doubt that the socializing process will produce a much easier implementation. But … and this is a big but: If the socializing process morphs into consensus-building, we'll have a huge problem, because there's no chance everyone will agree on what to do with smartphones, tablets, and other personally owned devices. At some point, our IT organization will have to make a decision based on our expertise, a decision that will be unpopular with some, even many, employees.

In the past, our IT organization's approach was to get our hands on everything and manage the heck out of it. We negotiated cellular contracts, locked down rate plans, set policy on our BlackBerry Enterprise Servers, centralized billing and chargebacks, and monitored expenses. I slept very well at night.

Adoption of personally owned, corporately enabled devices is very different. Centralized control will be expensive and will stifle the productivity benefits these new devices have to offer. There's no right answer, but if socializing means coming to a collective agreement, we may be a BlackBerry customer for much longer than I thought.

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bentrem
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bentrem,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/19/2012 | 9:12:22 PM
re: The Problem With Social Collaboration On IT Projects
I just re-reread your "Socialize This" in the 3SEP dead-tree edition of InformationWeek. I think you've nailed some key points.
Maybe "socialize" doesn't add anything as a term. It might have buzz, but I don't think it's accurate. We're talking about something closer to user stories aren't we? When I do a subject matter expert I know what I can expect, and am ready to let go my favorite nomenclature for whatever s/he applies. But with a user? For me that's more like an anthropologist talking to someone in a second language. I don't expect the user to be using precise terminology, or to know or appreciate consequences or how their preferences ramify through the chain.
"It [socialising] it also implies true interaction." I think that means listening to what I call "subjective narrative", something like how LEO listens to narrative while conducting cognitive interview. There isn't always coherent story, but there's always narrative, and in there somewhere is the stuff that makes a use case. The inherent knowledge is there.
"there's no chance everyone will agree on what to do with ..." Agreed. Different goal for different situation. But I'll add my opinion: I think the blocking factor here is more often a matter social dynamics and maneuvering, or differences in vernacular than actual substance. And that's where SME as rapporteur has to come in and read the bird's guts.
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
9/4/2012 | 11:11:29 AM
re: The Problem With Social Collaboration On IT Projects
Thanks for using the "++", but in this case "++ber" is part of an adjective and therefore is not capitalized. If you need to borrow German words for effect then at least do so correctly or use the English word instead.
delphin
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delphin,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/3/2012 | 2:54:28 PM
re: The Problem With Social Collaboration On IT Projects
When I hear that something must be 'socialized/socialised' through a project or some other means, it inherently means the wrong people were in the room when a decision was made in my personal experience. The people who made the decision have been 'empowered' through some part of the organization to make a decision where they are neither RESPONSIBLE nor ACCOUNTABLE with the consequences of the decision. At some point in the near future, someone is going to be made a fall-guy for a decision in which they had no input - but will bear the blame when the decision is found to have faults or glaring flaws leading to a loss of market share or data security or other item of value to the firm.

Only the truly fortunate have enough *teflon* to survive. Frequently when done in a project, the consultants are already gone and and employees involved are exiled to a meaningless part of the organization or reorganized right on out of a job, made redundant, or laid off. (Your choice of term)

Here in the US, I also find that there is just a core aversion to the term 'socialized/socialised' due to the political connotations of such a term. It is a jargon term I have heard used for over 7 years and in particular in one UK-based firm where the cultural variances in places where they do business are not recognized or appreciated. I am annoyed with the MBAs and PMPs who are told to use this term without regard to the context of not only company culture but regional culture.

In either case, this term if used in an interview for an opportunity causes me to think just how much to I want to be involved and frequently my personal answer is "No Thanks."
pcalento011
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pcalento011,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/31/2012 | 4:34:00 PM
re: The Problem With Social Collaboration On IT Projects
Reminded of a piece of advice from Joel Dobbs, a former VP of IT at Eisai Corp, "Offer no more than four choices, three if possible, one of which is doing nothing." But another issue to address is who should be creating the policy. May not be IT in all cases. --Paul Calento
MyW0r1d
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MyW0r1d,
User Rank: Strategist
8/30/2012 | 3:34:45 PM
re: The Problem With Social Collaboration On IT Projects
I agree that it will lead to longer times to realize/implement a given IT product. As the article stated, "at some point our IT organization will have to make a decision based on our expertise.."

So what does this socialising add? It imposes a check which oftentimes was overlooked and led to the tail wagging the dog, ensuring that IT is providing a value added product or service that operations wants and will use. It means getting the business involved much sooner to avoid reworking a misconception of the need and having IT develop a product undesired or with the wrong functionality which then becomes a paperweight. It refocuses on the core business needs/wants instead of the supporting organization's current knowledge base.
Tadahel
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Tadahel,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/30/2012 | 9:03:19 AM
re: The Problem With Social Collaboration On IT Projects
Presumably the 'socialising' (sorry but I'm English) exercise will not only involve you receiving feedback from the whole community but will also involve your whole user-base in intra-community conversations as well - adding to the time taken to make any kind of decision. This also flies in the face of one of the perceived benefits of a BYOD policy - that of speed of response and being able to react more quickly to developing trends. And you don't even mention those other inconvenient factors (but somebody has to think about them) - security and privacy etc.

The jury must surely still be out on whether or not this whole strategy will ever actually deliver on its hype?
Andrew Hornback
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Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/30/2012 | 12:13:10 AM
re: The Problem With Social Collaboration On IT Projects
Well, as a life-long IT guy - this means that thing are going to start going somewhat backwards.

The IT department is there to support an organization - exists because it is the local experts in all things technology. Now to take the decisions that the IT department should be making and placing them in the hands of those who are much less technical and much less involved with supporting the organization is a recipe for disaster.

Let's use a somewhat absurd example - the users are being asked for feedback on various endpoint security products. Some users have really good feedback about performance impact and stability, others choose a product based not on the merits of the product, but solely on the GUI or even the company logo. In a fully democratic organization, a real dog of a solution gets chosen and the CIO gets told to implement that solution. Knowing it's not the best solution for the organization but being given orders to implement, what does the CIO do? Cause a revolt amongst the userbase or cause a revolt amongst the IT department?

When it gets to that point, you're likely to find me selling pretzels in Central Park, thanks.

Andrew Hornback
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