Assess the Business Before Choosing Collaboration Technologies

A version of this post originally appeared on the CMSWire blog.

No one cares about collaboration. Business and IT people are paid to solve business problems.

Forget about collaboration, focus on the business.

I’m on a five-hour flight to Houston from meeting with a large, east coast financial services client where I facilitated a workshop on collaboration, and my biggest takeaway is “forget about collaboration.”

What I mean by that is that no one cares about collaboration (or is paid to collaborate.) They care about (and are paid for) solving business problems. So instead of talking about collaboration, let’s talk about the business problems that can be impacted positively by improving capabilities when it comes to collaboration.

Creating the right focus on collaboration.

Step one is to forget about collaboration. Instead, focus on the business problems collaboration can (potentially) impact.

Start by creating a list of business scenarios or processes that theoretically can be impacted by the application of collaboration technologies. When creating this list, look for items at the level of “retain more inter-generational wealth management clients” or “reduce slack time for preventative maintenance by 20 percent.” (See our May 2018 post: Building a Collaboration Strategy for Agile Environments.)

Chose specific business scenarios.

This is far more specific and impactful than creating a list that includes “working together to serve clients” or “operating more efficiently.” Choosing more specific business scenarios allows you to coordinate with just-as-specific capabilities—a key to being successful with enterprise collaboration.

At this stage you want to cross-reference your collaboration scenarios with collaboration capabilities to identify where there are overlaps and gaps. The best way to do this is to create a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet with a row for each scenario and columns for each capability. Then you mark an “X” in each column where a scenario requires a capability.

Build a decision matrix that helps identify what collaboration capabilities are needed.

This matrix indicates what capabilities are required to support the scenarios you’ve identified as critical. Given that most collaboration initiatives die on the vine due to scope issues, this approach allows you to hone in on the right scope: you still need to deliver on your promises, but now you have a reasonable place from which you can start. (See a related CMSWire post, 5 Places Where Social Collaboration Tools Help Business Processes.)

Once you complete your scenarios-to-capabilities matrix, you can tie the capabilities dimension to your technology portfolio. This is where the real value of the model comes in: given business needs, which technologies (a.k.a. solutions) provide you with the needed capabilities?

You must decide how to manage your tech portfolio for maximum value.

And based on that, what technologies should you invest in, maintain or sunset? That is, how do you manage your tech portfolio for maximum value for the dollars you spend? (See: Collaboration in 2018: More Integrated, More Social.)

The key result of all this work is that your roadmap for making progress becomes crystal clear: whether six months, 12 months, two or three years, or more. Once an organization adopts this approach to addressing collaboration, it’s much easier to justify the work that needs to be done, as well as the associated cost and effort.

Another result of this approach is it makes determining what success looks like (and measuring that success) far easier. That’s because you have everything you need to tie capabilities gains to process improvements—the holy grail of IT development.

Tie business scenarios and tie them to collaboration capabilities.

The end result is you can take the collaboration business scenarios most critical to end-users and tie them to collaboration capabilities. These are then linked to collaboration technologies, all of which allow you to prioritize what collaboration technology to invest in and what collaboration activities to support.

This is a far cry from the typical all-too-generic “we want to improve collaboration” mantra heard at most organizations. Taking this approach will enable you to deliver collaboration capabilities that match business needs—and to articulate the value of that delivery in business terms rather than in IT terms. And that, ultimately, enables higher value from your IT collaboration efforts.


Rich Medina
Joe Shepley
I’m VP and Practice Lead, focusing on developing Doculabs’ InfoSec practice and its applications in a wide range of industries.