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Collaboration 101 - Things to Consider

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 4 months ago
Collaboration Tools 101
Things to consider when choosing collaboration tools
Microsoft Word documents:
Many people today are using collaboration tools without even knowing it simply because they were either chosen by someone else or by default. Take word processing as an example, in the beginning Word Perfect was the software to use and own and then Microsoft introduced Microsoft Word, and because so many people use Windows it is only natural that they have captured so much of that marketplace. So, without so much as a thought Microsoft Word typically ends up being the default system, unless someone makes a conscious choice to select and use a different word processing program.
Interestingly, Microsoft Word documents are mostly exchanged as unlocked files attached to unencrypted emails sent over the open Internet to systems with questionable security. Spam filters may delete the email before it reaches its intended destination. If you are designing an effective document collaboration system from scratch this would be a poor system choice.
What to consider:
Before you selecting collaboration tool or migrating to new ones, consider how you work with them now.
Basic Principles:
  1. You already have a system or systems for collaboration. Do you understand how any of it works? Did you or someone else choose them, and do you use them?
  1. Your technology decisions must keep in mind the system you already have in place. Frequently people try to implement a paperless office without understanding the flow and life cycle in your office, thus your chances of implementing a practical and reliable solution could be slim.
  1. When selecting any collaboration tool, it must either (a) improve an existing system or (b) implement a new system that is measurably better than the one it replaces. If you understand your system this will increase your chances of success.
  1. Choices about collaboration tools will be made collaboratively. Other individuals within your firm will need to be consulted to realize the different concerns, wants, options, budgets, and other constraints. 
  1. Culture tends to drive technology choices more than the technology itself. The tools chosen to collaborate with others often match up well with how you work.
Keeping these five principles in mind will greatly aid the selection of the right tools for implementing a collaboration platform. Too often many jump right to where they want to be without giving much thought as to where they are in terms of the technology platform. With collaboration tools, the more effort put into determining where you are now – point A – will make it easier to determine where you realistically need to be – point B. 
Twelve-step Process for developing a plan for collaboration tools:
Step 1: The Collaboration Audit – The Process
Understand how you currently collaborate in your day-to-day work.
Inside the Firewall – Internal Common Collaborative Processes:
1.      Routinely communicating with coworkers
2.      Delegating work
3.      Managing workflow (including status and deadlines)
4.      Reviewing and approving work
5.      Producing documents
6.      Scheduling
7.      Receiving internal news and updates (including “water cooler talk”)
These processes can occur in both formal (structured) and informal (much less structured) ways. Even where formal systems have been implemented, the bulk of the activities involved in these processes happen on an informal basis.
Outside the Firewall – External Collaborative Processes:
1.      Routinely communicating with those outside the office
2.      Delegating work/Initiating new projects
3.      Managing workflow (including status and deadlines)
4.      Reviewing and approving work/obtaining signatures on originals
5.      Producing documents
6.      Scheduling
7.      Receiving news and updates
Collaboration outside of the office can be captured in the movement from the intranet – an internal website used by and accessible to members of a firm or organization – to the extranet, a private, secure website available over the Internet to anyone with permission to use it.
Remember just collect information, do not make judgments or reach conclusions. Take note of bottlenecks, sources of frustration, inefficiencies, and just plain silliness in the way you work with others.
Step 2: The Collaboration Audit – The Tools
Make a complete list of all of the tools currently used, including mail, messengers, and conference calls.
Step 3: The Collaboration Audit – Painting a Picture of Where You Are
Take the information gathered in the first two steps and analyze it. Prepare a chart that allows you to list your processes and the tools you actually use in each process. Leave space for notes.
Collaboration Audit – Processes

Process Descriptions
Tools Currently Used in Processes
Other Tools Under Consideration for This Process

Collaboration Audit – Tools

Tools or Software Used
Collaboration Process
Other Tools Under Consideration for This Process

By filling these charts you will gain a much better idea of point A and be ready to define point B.
Step 4: Brainstorming Where You Want to Be
Classic brainstorming should be used when determining point B.    Group brainstorming makes the most sense when considering collaboration tools. No idea should be ruled out. The main purpose is to generate ideas; they can be sorted out later.
Step 5: The Client Survey
Think of the term “client” in the broadest sense. Consider the people with whom you collaborate on a regular basis, especially those with whom you would like to improve your collaboration. Contact your clients to ask them for their input on making the working relationship easier and functionally productive. The survey should be followed up with a phone call.
Step 6: Define Your Point B
Take your own ideas and the survey input from your clients, and see if any themes emerge. Next try to define how these themes will get you to the next point.
Step 7: Determine What Your Existing Tools Can Do
Most people use but only a fraction of the capabilities available in the programs on their computers. Collaboration functionality is increasingly built into software. Given the notion that users already have software that they do not fully know and understand should encourage people to actively pursue getting more out the software they already possess. Manuals, reviews, websites, and vendors are good resources for learning how to maximize the use of their current software. The more you can use the tools you already have, the cheaper, easier, and less disruptive your collaboration efforts will be.
Step 8: Research Familiarity with the Current Landscape for Collaboration Tools
It is surprising how many people who are simply unaware of common collaboration that can suit their needs across a wide variety of disciplines. Many people think that there are perhaps only one or two products in a particular category of collaboration, when in fact there may be dozens. Step 5 can help you to figure out how to take advantage of the knowledge and experience of others. By becoming familiar and informed with the available collaboration tools it will translate into better choices. Attending vendor webinars (live meetings over the Internet or by conference call), getting demos, and evaluating trial versions of software or services can be helpful in researching collaboration software.
Step 9: Set Some Priorities
Learning to work more efficient with others begins with a number of steps, and likely several tools. As you reach point B, you may decide to use a bundle of tools rather than a single, multipurpose, one-size-fits-all tool. As with most technology implementation projects its important to start by taking small steps that address common concerns and frustrations and deliver good “bang for the buck.” Historically speaking there have been numerous failures when trying to implement large scale software projects that were never accomplished. To be successful it makes sense to keep your focus on what you use on a daily basis to accomplish your workload rather than trying to build a sophisticated and robust collaboration system right out of the gate.
Step 10: Get Buy-in for the Project
Technology projects succeed when people want them to succeed, and where there is solid support from the top, with all groups represented. If your firm or organization’s management is not behind the effort the chances for success are diminished.
Step 11: Consider Your Culture
Your collaboration project will see he best results when you work while your firm or company culture and do not significantly change the way your coworkers go about their business. Solicit feedback, be receptive to suggestions, and be the first to admit that you do not have all the answers. Observe and listen.
Step 12: Treat This as a Process
Occasionally go back to Step 1 and rework the steps. To get started on developing a collaboration strategy, ask your coworkers a question: “How can I make it easier for you to work with me?” If you ask this question, and the follow the twelve-step program to create a collaboration plan, you’ll be well on your way to enhancing your working relationships with clients, colleagues, and everyone else you encounter in the course of work.     
Sample Client Collaboration Technology Survey
Survey Question
Part 1: Help Us Work with Your Technology – General
  1. What word processing program do you use (name and version)?
  1. What email program do you use (name and version)?
  1. Do you have a preference for whether we communicate with you by email or other means?
  1. In what format do you prefer to receive documents (Microsoft Word, PDF, etc.)?
  1. Do you have existing systems that we might make better use of (extranets, electronic billing, etc.)?
  1. Do you currently have any compatibility or other technology problems when working with us (please describe)?
Part 2: Help Us Work with Your Technology – Collaboration
  1. Do you routinely use instant messaging or other forms of communication in addition to email? If so, what software do you use?
  1. Do you use Microsoft Word’s Track Changes or a redlining software program to show revisions in draft documents?
  1. Do you readily have available Adobe Acrobat?
  1. Do you have any preferences or expect any problems in receiving (or sending) PDF files?
  1. Do you use a conference call service, or would you prefer that we set up conference calls with our staff for you?
  1. Do you already use extranets with customers, partners, or other service providers?
  1. Would you like to learn more about using an extranet for your work with the firm?
  1. Our clients have found the following benefits of extranets valuable. Please indicate which of the following benefits would be valuable to you:
a.      Access electronic copies of filings and final versions of documents.
b.      Access electronic copy of your “file” in one place on the Internet.
c.      Check on status of filings, due dates, and information.
d.      Track various matters in one place.
e.      Review and comment on drafts in progress.
f.        Send direct messages to others working on a specific matter.
g.      All your team members to access documents and files.
h.     Obtain information about billing and administrative information.
  1. Do you have any special security or firewall issues that we will need to address in working with you?
Part 3: Help Us Work with Your Technology – Moving Forward
  1. Do you have questions about the technology we use and ways that you might be able to work more efficiently with us?
  1. Have you noticed ways that we might make better use of technology to save you money (e.g., reducing copying and postage)?
  1. Who is the best person for us to talk with about technology issues when working with you?
Thank you for your help. Please fill in the blanks below with your contact information and return the form to _______________________________________________________________
Name: ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­________________________________________________________________
Company: ________________________________________________________________
Telephone: ________________________________________________________________
Email: _________________________________________________________________


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