CIO Insight magazine has an article about the way Boeing is building its new 787 aircraft. In short, it’s an intensely global and collaborative effort, involving design participants in the US, Japan, Russia, and Italy. According to Scott Griffin, Boeing vice president and CIO, "We still do manufacturing, but we are moving up the value stream to become a large-scale systems integrator." This represents a massive change from the old Boeing, which was first and foremost an aircraft assembly operation.
A companion piece to the article describes the concept of virtual distance. Virtual distance was developed by Karen Sobel Lojeski as a way to measure risk on large-scale collaboration projects. To quote from CIO Insight:
Companies are scored on 11 factors. Three of them involve "real" or "actual" distance, including geographic distance, time zone differences, and organizational differences between different companies. The other eight factors are softer, including cultural differences, social factors, relationships and work histories, goal and role interdependence, technical skill, amount of multitasking, team size, and mix of face-to-face interaction versus phone, video, etc.
What’s most interesting is the notion that collaboration risk is not necessarily a function of physical distance. According to Lojeski:
"I started out assuming that geography was a necessary feature, but you can have just as high a rate of Virtual Distance among collocated workers as distributed people."
When evaluating risk factors that drive project success or failure, understanding among team participants is a key element. In other words, are members of the team operating out of the same playbook, or does it seem they are not even on the same team? I wonder whether there is a correlation between the amount of virtual distance that exists on a project, and the degree of consensus that is present around key project issues. Regardless of the answer, we can safely say that when team members are not on the same page, your project is at risk.