The challenges of implementing collaboration tools

Much has been said for using the Web for team collaboration. But actually putting this technology into practice is a lot harder than it sounds. For example, I’ve had a lot of trouble convincing my staff to use Basecamp. I manage a geographically dispersed department within a large corporation that has number of cost reduction projects underway. Basecamp seemed like the perfect fit.

My motivation behind using Basecamp (which by-the-way is an amazing product) was to use the Messages forum to reduce the amount of email and provide a record of discussions, to introduce some simple project management, to provide a central place to store our files and to use the Writeboard to collaborate on important documents.

After having implemented Basecamp for a month I found that most of the staff were not logging in or participating in the discussions. While some of my team saw the potential for the application others complained that Basecamp added to their workload and that its easier to collaborate using email.

I used the Basecamp forums to find out if others had experienced the adoption challenge and if they had any advice on how to overcome it. I received a lot of advice. Later, I held an evaluation session with my staff and the outcome led me to a few conclusions:

  1. Basecamp (and other collaboration tools) work better on projects rather than daily activities.
  2. The sooner you get all of your projects into the collaboration tool the better.
  3. Everyone with a significant role on a project needs to use the tool (this was a bit of a challenge in my organization since not everyone wants to use the application and they don’t all report to me)
  4. Management derives the most immediate benefit from the collaboration tool because all the projects are nicely tracked in one place.
  5. Staff with minimal project activity view collaboration software as ‘just another tool they have to use’.
  6. Many staff are worried about the security.

To address some of these challenges I’m now switching to our corporate SharePoint (WSS) site. WSS solves a few of the above mentioned challenges:

  • WSS is obviously secure because the server resides within the intranet;
  • WSS is linked to the company directory (plus WSS is the company standard) makes it easier to include anyone on a project, regardless of whether they report to me;
  • Document storing, sharing and workflow work quite well.

That being said, it’s still hard as heck to try to get others on board for any WSS capability other than shared documents. Employees are hooked on email, and that’s that. And while SharePoint is highly configurable, it’s not as easy to use as Basecamp. Add to these challenges that the majority of the employees within an tradition corporation are not typically “web savvy”.

I believe the key is to integrate the use of collaboration tools into your processes, provide the prerequisite training and then enforce the use of the application. Once that’s done then I’ll circle back, find out who’s using it (and why), who’s not (and why), and just keep at it.

If you think deploying a collaboration application in the Enterprise is simple – think again!

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3 comments so far

  1. tia on

    Hi There,

    I couldn’t resist commenting. I know first hand that getting a group people on board with using a collaboration tool can be painful. Have you ever heard of Central Desktop? Central Desktop is a very simple to use collaboration and task management tool that was created for small business teams. CD enables you to manage projects, activities, share ideas and more through a shared online workspace. It’s also very easy to use too! It was Voted Business Week’s “Best of the Web” for Collaboration.

    …please check it out when you have a moment…

    http://www.centraldesktop.com/

    Best,
    Tia
    Community Manager
    tia@centraldesktop-inc.com

  2. chrisjschmitt on

    Looks interesting – I’ll check it out. I still maintain that getting folks in the “enterprise” to collaborate using Web 2.0 tools is a more difficult beast than it is for small businesses.

  3. mercurygrove on

    Hey Chris – I think you’re right about the difficulty of uptake in the enterprise.

    But I believe it is a cultural issue.

    Are the people in the organization “required to collaborate to be successful”? Can you cancel team and department meetings and let them communicate when they need to? Collaboration shouldn’t be forced on people, and collaboration tools need to reduce friction and make communication (and finding information) more efficient.

    Here’s what I have found has been the uptake with our collaboration software (groups.mercurygrove.com):

    1. Central file collaboration and sharing is the most popular…. at first
    2. Projects are used IF there is a PM who is responsible for keeping it updated (we have weekly “standup” meetings AFTER everyone has read the status report due the night before)
    3. Messages are used for broadcasting (“We hit our targets!”) or necessary collaboration (“Has anyone worked on XYZ before? I’m looking for some information…”) – This becomes the most popular section
    4. People only use it when it makes the most sense – and aren’t pressured into it.

    Still… its hard.


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