“The act of working together with other people or organizations to create or acheive something” definition of Collaboration, Cambridge Dictionary
What is Collaboration
Collaboration is people or organizations working together to deliver value. Participants in a collaboration may have different perspectives on value, but a collaboration has a common objective. For example, two organizations may collaborate to deliver a software product. The value for organization A is to expand development capacity, while the value for organization B is to gain experience and learn new technologies. However, both organizations achieve this through the common objective of delivering the software product.
Collaboration often arises, where there is a need for skills, knowledge or resources from different parties in order to achieve a common objective.
The following are examples of typical parties involved in a collaboration:
Individuals – individual people with special knowledge or skills working together with other parties
Teams (Products/Services) – teams in the same organization which work with different products or services, collaborating to deliver greater value to a common customer
Business Units – collaboration on an organizational perspective, for example European offices working together with US offices
Capabilities – collaboration between the capabilities of the organization to increase value flow, for example Production working together with Sales
Partners – collaboration with external organizations, for example, suppliers or re-sellers
It is important for the architect, and the architecture practice, to identify and maintain collaborations which optimize value delivery. The architect plays a significant role in facilitating collaboration in every aspect of their organization.
Why Collaboration is Important
When collaboration works well, it leads to significant gains in productivity and provides vital access to skills, experience and knowledge. Without collaboration an organization may be forced to invest in training programs, and procuring experience in a given subject area, and this can take a long time.
Collaboration is not only about gaining skills and knowledge, it can also be about the positioning of an organization, initiative, product or service. For example, an organization wishing to launch a product on a new market, may partner with another organization which is already established in the market. This makes entry to the market easier.
Collaboration between parties with different skillsets or perspectives is also a driver for innovation. When the different perspectives meet, new ideas are born. Insight into different viewpoints strengthens all parties in the collaboration. It can also provide motivation for change, or disruption, giving the organization a competitive advantage.
Networks of collaborations between the different capabilities within an organization strengthen value streams. This provides an effective delivery mechanism for value.
It is important for an architecture practice to collaborate well with the different parts of the organization. This allows the architecture practice to gain traction and coverage throughout the organization. This leads to respect and understanding for the architecture practice itself, and the architectures that the practice produce.
Know the stakeholders
The parties participating in a collaboration have an invested interest and influence, on the outcome of the collaboration. These participants are stakeholders. In order for a collaboration to be successful, it is important to understand the stakeholders needs. This ensures that the participants can work well together, and that the participants will be motivated and satisfied with the outcome of the collaboration.
Many organizations create a structure in order to make the organization manageable. This structure contains organizational units which may be based on, for example, geography, capabilities or special business functions. It is common that organizational units become silos (vertical communication and collaboration), looking after their own concerns, neither sharing or collaborating with other organizational units. This is sub-optimal as it reduces potential for innovation and shared solutions. A typical indication of a silo culture is the duplication of very similar solutions or processes across different organizationalunits. Horizontal collaboration and communication in an organization can help break the silo structure, and promote re-usable solutions and processes across the organization.
Buy-in and win-win
In order for a collaboration to be successful there has to be “buy-in” for the participants. That is to say, that the participants have to gain something from the outcome of the collaboration. Participants in a collaboration who have no vested interest in the outcome, are unlikely to be motivated to ensure the collaboration is a success. The best collaborations have a “win-win” scenario for all parties.
Collaboration does not happen by itself
Collaboration requires time and effort. The architecture practice can provide technologies, solutions, structures and processes which nurture a culture of collaboration, and even more specifically can pin-point areas in the organization which can be optimized by collaboration in order to deliver greater value.
Work Out Loud
Work Out Loud is a way of working, in which individuals are encouraged to work transparently, and actively share what they are working with. This way of working uses two principals, observable work and narrate work. Observable work is just as it sounds, individuals make their work available where others can see it and comment or contribute. Narrating work means that individuals describe what they are doing in a log, for others who are interested to follow, rather like social media. This method of working promotes networking and collaboration throughout an organization.
In order to drive collaboration forward it is important that decision-making runs smoothly, especially in joint ventures. Collaborations may rely on collective decision-making between the different parties and this can take time. It is important to ensure that there are structures in place, which can be used, if the parties cannot resolve a decision or situation. This may be a committee or steering group which is impartial and can support the decision-making process.
In a collaboration between several parties, it is normal that each part will place expectations on the other parties. If the responsibilities of the parties are not clear, this can lead to friction within the collaboration, where expectations are built up but not fulfilled by one or more parties. To avoid this, it is important to define the responsibilities of each part, so expectations are clear.
On the Outside
Collaborations with parties outside the organization is usually achieved by creating some sort of partnership which is advantageous to value delivery. Collaboration with partners does have its limitations, since the partner is not likely to have the same kind of access to information that an internal collaboration will have. Since the partner cannot be steered by the organization, contracts or partnership agreements are sed to ensure that responsibilities, conditions and principles are adhered to. A partnership agreement takes time to work through and often involves a review of legal conditions. This means that it can often take some time to get a partnership up and running, compared to an internal collaboration.
Collaboration with partners can be really useful to an architecture practice. It can open doors to new technologies, competitive rates (for products or consulting services) or access to learning new skills.
On the inside
Collaborations within an organization can take many forms. In order to facilitate good collaboration, tools like collaboration platforms, document management systems, wikis or the organization's intranet can be used. These provide a good starting point for the organization to share knowledge and information. The value streams within the organization require collaboration between different parties in order to effectively deliver value. So good collaboration is essential to effective value delivery.
Key factors in collaboration are transparency and trust between the parties. A collaboration with little trust is defensive, and makes working together difficult. This can arise if there are conflicting expectations on parties involved, this may be regarding the valued gained from the collaboration, or the outcome of the collaboration. Trust is affected by transparency, if the parties involved in the collaboration are not open with each other, this will negatively affect the trust between the parties.
It is important for an architecture practice to work well together with the different areas of the organization. This helps to promote the practice of architecture, and spread architectures throughout the organization. It also provides the architecture practice with a substantial network of knowledge and stakeholders, which aid value delivery.
Key Considerations for Collaboration
Different parties participating in a collaboration may have to adhere to different rules regarding confidentiality. This is true both for internal and external collaborations. Confidentiality can hinder a collaboration as it restricts information to certain participants, and if handled incorrectly can lead to feelings of exclusion. If confidentiality substantially restricts the information flow between participants, it may well be that a collaboration between the participants is not feasible.
Internal politics influence and affect collaborations. Stakeholders, internal or external, will have vested interests in the different outcomes of the collaboration. These stakeholders are likely to try and influence the collaboration to their best advantage. Analysis of the stakeholders in a collaboration is important, managing stakeholders in the right way can make some aspects of a collaboration much easier. For example, securing financial backing, spreading positivity or providing access to resources.
Communication is one of the most important factors in a collaboration. Good communication ensures that participants work well together, and that all parties in the collaboration get the information they need. When starting a collaboration initiative, it is a good idea to consider a communication strategy.
The communication strategy helps to define the methods by which information is communicated to participants in the collaboration. It is also used to plan communication to stakeholders who are interested in the outcome of the collaboration. The canvas above can be used as a method for helping to define a communication strategy.
In large organizations there is often a complex structure for the organizational units and capabilities. These organizational units have their own interests (political, financial, influence, competition, etc..) and this can create organizational barriers to a collaboration. A value stream may rely on several organizational units working together effectively in order to deliver value, organizational barriers represent a threat to efficient value delivery. To reduce organizational barriers, make sure key stakeholders from the organizations are well represented, and that the participants have a vested interest in the successful outcome of the collaboration.
When the participants in a collaboration are not placed in the same geographical location, finding a flow in working together can be challenging. If the collaboration is running over several countries, then aspects such as time-zones become an issue. It requires much more planning to set up meetings and get all participants in attendance.
There are many tools which help in working remotely (remote meetings, knowledge sharing, collaboration platforms), however there is a lot to be said for face-to-face meetings. Human factors such as the atmosphere of a meeting, and the body language of participants, are difficult to convey over remote tools. Meetings which are innovation based, or require complex conceptual thinking, also require a certain interaction between the participants, and this is difficult to achieve when using remote tools. It is important to get the right balance between working remotely and working face-to-face, as in many cases it may be more productive to meet people in person.
In collaborations which span across different countries, language can be a barrier to good communication. There are a number of tools which can help aid communication across different languages, such as translation tools, and in the case of remote meetings auto-translation and close captioning.
However, in these types of collaborations it is important to document communication, as it can be easy to misunderstand verbal communication. Verbal communication in many cases can rely on the tone of the language to convey meaning, which might not be easy to pick up. Providing documented communication allows all parties to verify the meaning of the communication and leads to a better understanding between the participants.
Cultural differences within a collaboration may create tension. Companies and organizations nurture their own cultures. In addition, cultures may differ depending on country and even regions within a country. A collaboration which involves many cultures can be challenging and require a lot of effort and tolerance from the participants. At the same time, it can also be very rewarding and spark innovation which simply may not occur if the culture is homogonous.
Collaborations may involve the inclusion of individuals from several different professions (UX, Development, Test, Business Management, Subject Matter Experts), like an extended team. In such collaborations it can be challenging to find a common way of working. Each profession has their own working practices and it is important to take time to build a collaborative process which works for all participants.
Planning a Collaboration
Not all collaborations require planning, sometimes they just grow organically. However, if a collaboration is required for a business-critical activity or deliverable then it is wise to perform some planning for the collaboration. For example, a service to customers which requires the collaboration of several suppliers, a large solution project with several product teams or a new strategy for security over a portfolio of products. These all require collaboration between stakeholders or teams which belong to different organizations.
In order to help plan for a collaboration, the Collaboration Planning Canvas can be used.
The Collaboration Planning Canvas highlights several different areas which are valuable when planning a collaboration.
The Objective describes what is to be achieved by the collaboration. All participants should be agreed on the objective.
The Outcome describes the value delivered from the collaboration. Again, all participants should be agreed on the outcome.
Preconditions is an important consideration. There may be requirements on legal grounds, organizational, tools or special working environments which have to be met before the collaboration can begin.
Participants and Stakeholders describes a list of both the active participants in the collaboration, and stakeholders who have an active interest in the outcome. Contribution is a description of what a participant expects to contribute to the collaboration, while Gains is a description of what the participant expects to get out of the collaboration.
Contribution and Gain are important as this sets the expectations for the participants and avoids confusion later in the collaboration. From the start of the collaboration, it will be clear what each participant contributes and what they expect to gain.
This is very useful to the architect when entering a joint venture with different parties, or even as a tool to assess which stakeholders and participants may be required for a given initiative. Even once the collaboration is up and running, it is worthwhile to periodically review the Collaboration Plan, as objectives, outcomes and expectations tend to change over time. A review will help maintain the collaboration on good terms as time progresses.
Collaboration is something which is highly desirable within an organization but it is difficult to measure broadly. Collaborative projects can be measured on the outcome of the project, but informal collaboration between individuals in an organization or collaboration as a whole is much more difficult.
A common way of measuring collaboration is to commission a survey, and ask relevant questions about collaboration to the members of the organization. The result of a survey is highly dependent on how the questions are constructed, and managing a survey can involve heavy administration.
Collaboration can also be assessed by measuring collaborative activities. Some examples of these activities are:
- Document management
- Schedules and tasks
- Status/progress report management
- Calendar management
- Responsibility management
- Sharing notes and Ideas
- Sharing knowledge sets on Wikis
- Sharing knowledge sets on Blogs
- Sharing contacts
- Social networking
- Search queries
These activities can be measured in terms of number of persons performing the activity, or hours spent on the activity.
Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) is a technique by which a network is visually constructed to show how communication and information flows through an organization. This provides a tool for analyzing collaboration and identifying bottlenecks, critical knowledge flows and areas which are peripheral in the organization (potential for better collaboration).
There are also a number of technical solutions which can help in measuring collaboration. An organization can measure the digital flow of information (email, chat, collaboration tools…) between the members of the organization and use this information to visualize collaboration. AI can also be leveraged to facilitate collaboration within the organization. However, gathering this type of information will require the consent of the organization’s members, and careful consideration should also be given to legal issues.
References and Further Reading
Work Out Loud, Bryce Williams Work Out Loud
Organisation Network Analysis, Deloitta Organisation Network Analysis
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