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Achieving Major Benefits from Collaboration with a Collaboration Framework

May 14, 2010

Fredrik Matheson left a comment on my previous blog entry with the following provocative statement:

Collaboration 2.0 fusses over tools, ignores collaborators, community and domain knowledge and – to be a little mean – favors mechanisms over outcomes.

Tools are useful, but they’re only part of the puzzle.

Hence, I’m compelled to excerpt a bit (or lot) more from the “Making Collaboration a Reality: Insights from the Collaboration Consortium, Year One” report (I guess people just don’t bother to read documents on the Web anymore <shrug>):

The insights from organizations that are achieving major benefits from collaboration are the core of this report and have been codified into the Collaboration Framework to help companies on the journey to become collaborative enterprises. The Collaboration Framework consists of two components: the Collaboration Vision and Strategy component, and a second component that consists of three organization enablers.

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First, the framework’s Collaboration Vision and Strategy component articulates where collaboration drives business value and how to capture it. It ensures that collaboration efforts are aligned with the business vision and strategy of the organization. The collaboration vision, or strategic intent, explains how collaboration helps an organization to achieve its three-to-five year business vision and, at a high level, how it creates business value. The collaboration strategy outlines the sequence and types of collaboration actions that are required to capture the business value of collaboration. Implementation of the strategy is done through a collaboration operational plan, which describes in detail the future state of business processes targeted for performance improvement via collaboration.

The second component is the set of organizational enablers required to foster and sustain the value of collaboration. This set includes three elements:

  • People and culture. This is the human element of collaboration. It describes the approaches to foster desired collaborative behaviors. Examples of “soft” and “hard” issues to address for this element include management and execution guiding principles, employee workspace policies, the collaboration profile of employees, and individual performance metrics.
  • Process and governance. This is the set of business systems to implement and manage collaboration. It includes the internal business model to operationalize collaboration—staffing and funding, support services, and the change management approach—and the organizational model that internally governs the evolution of collaboration.
  • Technology. This element describes what collaboration technologies are required, how they will be evaluated and introduced, and how they will integrate with and be supported by the broader technology architecture.

It’s important to note that the Collaboration Consortium intentionally mentioned the “People and culture” and “Process and governance” organizational enablers ahead of “Technology.”

The report continues by providing detailed insights into each component of the Collaboration Framework:

Aligning Collaboration Vision with Business Vision and Strategy

There are four major benefits to collaboration: reducing costs, enhancing quality, accelerating speed, and creating business agility.

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For a company in survival mode, collaboration can help reduce costs and sustain the business. A company on firmer ground can use collaboration to increase the speed of product delivery (for example, by reducing decision making time or time to market). Another may focus on enhancing the quality of deliverables (again, decisions or products) or creating a new strategic capability, such as the ability to redirect an organization rapidly in response to market changes. An organization with a strong balance sheet may be able to emphasize all four goals. In fact, in a down market like today’s, a strong company that invests in collaboration may be able to redesign business processes and create new ones to differentiate themselves and benefit from the recovery when it comes.

There is no generic collaboration vision; instead, each organization must align its vision with its own goals. Shaping a collaboration vision should be a conscious decision to create a platform to drive business performance.

Once an organization is clear on its collaboration vision, choices must be made to translate that intent into a collaboration strategy: Where will collaboration have the greatest impact? Where should we invest first? How should we proceed? How will we measure impact? These choices can be made by identifying opportunities and setting priorities.

The report then describes the collaboration vision from three different organizations, each of which illustrates the alignment between the organization’s collaboration strategy and its business objectives, provides examples of collaboration initiatives, and highlights the business impact of collaboration. To save space, I will not excerpt that portion of the report here, but I’d strongly encourage you to take a read when you have more spare time.

Identifying Collaboration Impact Zones

The greatest payoff from an investment in collaboration comes where people and content intersect, whether in real time, asynchronously, or both. Collaboration drives the greatest value where there is a high concentration of (1) interaction—for example, in-person meetings, phone conversations, or project teams; (2) expertise—an exchange of tacit knowledge or expertise, such as an executive, knowledge worker, or specialist might have; and (3) information—as found in databases, working documents, and archives.

Those junctures where interactions and the exchange of expertise and information are frequent, urgent, and complex are what we call “collaboration impact zones.” Collaboration impact zones help an organization focus on the right areas of collaboration to ensure that the financial return of collaboration is greater that the associated opportunity and collaboration costs. Collaboration impact zones can be focused either on internal operations, or on external operations, i.e., processes through which an organization connects externally with customers and through which collaboration can have a positive impact on sales, customer experience, and the value of a brand.

What does a collaboration impact zone look like?

The three components of a collaboration impact zone are (1) the part of a business process in which there is a high concentration of expertise, information, and interactions required to deliver the process outputs, (2) the communication and collaboration tools deployed to enable collaboration, and (3) the business impact, as measured through the metrics of the business process impacted by collaboration.

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One of the great benefits of collaboration technologies is that they empower people to solve problems and eliminate the intermediaries of hierarchy and time. These technologies help connect the people who have specific information and expertise with those who need it: People on the front line can access the expertise or information they need instantly, instead of reporting a problem and waiting for it to go up the chain, over to an expert at another location, and back, with delays throughout the process. Human latency in business processes is removed, time is saved, and better decisions are made.

Setting Collaboration Priorities

While collaboration leverages knowledge and skills throughout an organization and empowers front-line workers, decisions about which collaboration impact zones to invest in must be made and owned by business leaders and other key stakeholders, in alignment with the business strategy. These are strategic decisions with business-changing results and, for some, big price tags. Thus, they require top management perspectives on business priorities. Key business leaders, in consultation with the CIO, must determine what those processes are, what the potential collaboration impact zones within those processes are, and what their priorities should be.

Traditional approaches to prioritization—such as plot ting all potential collaboration impact zones on a prioritization matrix whose axes combine business value and ease of capture—can be useful here. In addition, since collaboration creates shifts in the organizational mindset, it is useful to consider criteria that take into account the human behavioral aspects of collaboration:

  • Reach: Will collaboration in a given process help you reach the right communities and the right experts from both inside and outside the organization, even those you don’t know exist today? Will it help you access the “wisdom of the crowds,” your customers or potential customers, who can add to your bottom line? For example, thinking broadly about knowledge networks can lead to innovative ways to co-design new products or services with customers.
  • Richness: Will collaboration enable you to bring new ideas to life and help people interpret, understand, learn, and contribute to each deliverable in a business process? Will it tap into existing information or expertise that is not easily available today? For example, querying a large community of practices on a decision may rapidly yield a richness of insights well beyond those provided by a small circle of advisors.
  • Openness: Will collaboration make it easy to bring the best people into a key business process and to collect the best-quality inputs? Will it take you beyond the organization’s real or virtual walls to leverage user-generated content? Can people easily contribute if they so desire? For example, making collaborative interactions visible to a broader community has a viral effect, which encourages others to contribute.
  • Speed: Will collaboration shorten cycle time to deliver the outputs of a business process? Will it create a moderate boost to performance? Or will it create disruptive innovation for an organization to gain competitive differentiation?

Once the prioritization of the collaboration impact zones is complete, an organization has all of the pieces to assemble the collaboration strategy. The collaboration strategy consists of (1) an intent for collaboration aligned with the business priorities, (2) a set of targeted processes with prioritized collaboration impact zones arrayed in an implementation sequence, and (3) business performance metrics. The collaboration strategy may combine structured collaboration initiatives in some parts of the organization and investigative initiatives in others. The structured collaboration efforts scale up the benefits of collaboration organization-wide, enabling “collaboration chasm crossing.” The approach is replicated across a broader organizational scope for further success.

Well, there you have it – the first component of the Collaboration Framework fully explained. I wish all of my blog entries were this easy to write. 🙂 My next blog entry will focus on the second component of the Collaboration Framework, which is the set of three organizational enablers – (1) people and culture, (2) process and governance, and (3) technology – required to foster and sustain the value of collaboration.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 15, 2012 12:12 PM

    I had seen the work of the collaboration consortium and I still think it is right on. Actually I think it is in line with a study Cisco did in 2006 with EIU (Foresight 2020). Thanks for posting here. All the best! Ron.

Trackbacks

  1. The Collaboration Framework’s Organizational Enablers: People and Culture (1 of 3) « Collaboration Zen
  2. The Collaboration Framework’s Organizational Enablers: Process and Governance (2 of 3) « Collaboration Zen

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