It's the people, stupid

There's plenty of great online and mobile technology available across a wide range of price points for small & medium businesses right up to global enterprises, but none of them will be of much use without successfully motivating your prospective participants to start interacting through these channels
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor on

I know ZDNet is primarily a tech blog but the reality of successful collaboration is completely around confidence, trust and value to those participating. There is plenty of great technology available across a wide range of price points from free to pricey, for small and medium businesses right up to global enterprises, but none of them will be of much use without motivating the prospective participants to start interacting through these channels.

Bill Clinton essentially got elected on a simple James Carville created phrase 'It's the economy, stupid' which became the core of his 1992 campaign. The simple line clearly resonated with a recession mired electorate because of its digestibility and fit as a solution to the recession miring the US at that time.

Whether you're contemplating a new collaboration initiative or wrestling with an existing environment and its dependencies, there's a commonality  around confidence that people will work collectively within the processes and channels you define for them. It doesn't matter what size you are talking about, whether a departmental solution, a small business or a global processes initiative, it's the people's use choices (stupid..)  that will determine success. There's plenty of shelf ware - both expensive and free - sitting around in companies that back this up.

Obviously I'm a big advocate of the value of well defined collaborative practices in organizations since that's what I've done and do, and have seen the value which was sought realized. Getting it done can be harder, more involved and with more moving parts than some realize but there are some elementary mistakes people make which can stymie the rest of their plans before they ever get started.

Staged Show House Syndrome

As it says at the top of this post 'It's the people, stupid'. There's a half century of management theory  around organizing people and being more efficient, countless academics, authors et al throwing ideas into the mix as to what could work, yet many corporate querents lose their objectivity when tire kicking the various shiny new options available to them. Whether standalone solutions or features of larger enterprise apparatus, and empty or reference populated, collaboration environments are like houses for sale.

The intent of house marketing stagers is to move in a collection of matching attractive furniture and accessories that shows the property to be as light, spacious, airy and attractive as possible. Many California realtors bake cookies in the oven the morning of open house days so prospects feel more at home with the aroma.

A similar experience seems to happen with technology purchasing prospects - what a lovely place to live, way better than my email inbox etc. We all know what happens - we move into the new place to live with all our stuff and it quickly becomes cluttered and crowded, and we can't find anything. Same thing happens with tech - and I'm pretty sure Wall Street is suffering from the same syndrome right now around social technologies. Keep your objectivity intact when looking at enabling environments for your goals, don't move processes into a space that's not fit for purpose.

The Tokyo swimming pool above is how the disinterested prospective user can see a busy, noisy environment - no wonder they carry on collaborating through other channels. Our goal is to make life simpler and more pleasurable for people so they can be more efficient.

Relying too much on MC Evangelist Hiring decisions around the people whose job description and goals are to support and grow the new collaboration channels are all to often influenced by the fluffy evangelical roles endlessly discuss online by enthusiasts. At whatever stage of the proceedings it's imperative to allow the environment to grow organically and avoid being dominated by a few overbearing characters - particularly personality types who take it upon themselves to be Master of Ceremonies. Collaboration and social marketing initiatives can attract busy bodies who annoy the bulk of the people you want to engage, particularly the shy retiring types. Watch out also for over reliance on individuals running the collaborative space who leave the company with no succession plan. Think enabling concierge not Master of Ceremonies. 'Management by magazine'

Or blog, microblog trend, movement. 'Management by magazine' is an exec term for being influenced by what you just read and got  lit up about. Vendors and analysts keep the fast moving tech sector fashions moving in a way that rivals the catwalk collection trends that sweep through Manhattan, Milan, Tokyo, London and Paris every season. The symbiotic relationship between the big analyst shops and tech companies ironically creates a moveable feast that can make prospective buyers scared to put a stake in the sand in case they are caught wearing last years cullottes after doubling down on a decision. Keep your eye on the core business needs of your organization and don't be swayed by the latest social trends. Be very wary of big company roll ups of competitor ideas baked into new versions of old platforms. Think 1970's integrated music centers as a worst case scenario, although the are plenty of perfectly acceptable products out there - just make sure they do what you want to do…

The fork in the road

Software as a Service products, if allowed in your organization, can be marvelous. What happens if the product you grew into and now have scads of materials connected together in a collaborative spiders web has a major update push out - and it is now focused on a different market's needs to yours? Where you can choose to remain on version four point one on premise because you don't need the features of five point two, a weekend automatic SaS update can upset your ways of working in serious ways. This needs thinking through before choosing foundations on which to build.

There are plenty of other planning pitfalls that make life a lot more complex than it needs to be, but putting people before technology looms very large, and assumptions about adoption and migration have embarrassed plenty of well meaning budget seekers in the past.

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