Too many projects fail because of a lack of communication. A report by PMI in 2013 stated that “$135 million is at risk for every $1 billion spent on a project. Further research on the importance of effective communications uncovers that a startling 56 percent ($75 million of that $135 million) is at risk due to ineffective communications.”
Five years after the report, the problems remain the same for many organizations. While they may have moved from asynchronous (email) to synchronous communication (audio conferences and instant messaging), they are still periodic in nature.
When one thinks of communication, it is normally periodic exchanges of information through mediums such as voice, email or messaging systems. The information transferred informs tasks that people then perform in the course of their role in a project or job.
The problem is that communication does not directly contribute to completing a project. It merely shares knowledge about that project between people. What is needed is for people to do more than just communicate—they need to collaborate. This is not merely communicating, but helping one another to deliver an outcome that can only be accomplished through working together.
Throughout the ages, technological improvements in communication have allowed better collaboration between people. The invention of the wheel, the telegraph and the internet have all contributed. There has never been a period in history where so many companies were founded, ideas shared and collaboration tools released onto the market. Yet many organizations still don’t have a coherent or successful approach.
The key to collaboration is that it is not just auditory and visual but kinesthetic too. Some companies are adopting leading edge technologies such as the Mezzanine collaboration solution from Oblong Industries. An early version of this was first seen in the film, Minority Report. These are beyond the reach of many though. There are also a huge number of communication and collaboration tools on the market, but no company wants to run them all. Are there some fundamental properties that a company should look for when considering their technology suite?
I’ve downloaded this great app…
Companies often make the mistake of adopting consumer grade technologies to collaborate. This sounds like a good idea. After all, it will deliver a consumer grade experience to users. The problem is compliance and security. Consumer grade applications rarely offer the privacy, encryption and security that organizations and their customers require. Collaboration vendors Slack and Atlassian Jira are built as business grade solutions. Others such as Dropbox offer business grade solutions that include the security features businesses need. Some still carry huge risks if used for business.
Even with business grade solutions, companies need to consider the risk of data exfiltration. This often happens when a user decides others in the project need access to documents they have. Those other parties may not have the clearance or permissions. As a result, data is shared into document libraries which circumvents corporate data controls. To track and manage this, the enterprise may need tools on top of their existing systems. It is therefore important that their system of record has tight integrations with the collaboration tools they require.
What do you need to collaborate?
To collaborate effectively, all participants need to engage through a single platform that connects all the communication tools. Businesses should not select point solutions or even those that have integration tools between each other. They need to identify the product that will drive the heart of the business, the prime system of record. It should control the flows of data to each of the other tools and provide a single repository where every piece of information flows in and out of.
The platform should work in the same way that unified commerce combines different channels to provide a single journey for customers. It doesn’t matter where the communication originated—it should be held against the project, whether it is email, instant messaging or documentation related to the project.
This, however, is not true collaboration. It merely captures the information flows that happen around a given task or project. The next step is to allow the simultaneous update of documents and tasks by multiple individuals from all companies involved in the project.
Modern document sharing solutions allow individuals to truly collaborate and work on project documents simultaneously, adding notes, making observations and working towards goals. This is not always easy. In the same way that there is an etiquette for phone calls and audio conference there is an etiquette for sharing documents. This includes making appropriate comments about changes and also utilizing other communication channels such as instant messaging to discuss changes with other team members.
There is a further aspect that companies need to consider and that is the modern workforce. Workers today no longer want to sit in a small cubicle in front of a desktop computer. The next generation of tool needs to be cloud based and mobile enabled. People, especially millennials and later generations, expect to work on mobile devices, often anywhere and at any time.
How do you get there?
Here are some of the questions that companies and project organizations should ask when starting their journey from communication to collaboration:
- What is the outcome that the collaboration is seeking to achieve?
- Who is involved in creating that outcome?
- What is the system of record best suited to be at the heart of the process?
- Is that platform enabled for secure integration to other tools?
- Is it mobile enabled and is it in the cloud?
- Which communication tools integrate with that system of record, and do they provide the mediums through which parties can coordinate?
- Is the solution business grade with appropriate compliance and security protocols?
- Consider the etiquette of collaboration internally and externally
The key is to keep the focus on what outcome the organization is trying to achieve, not on a single communication tool. Charles Darwin once said:
"It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed."