Managing Collaboration – As usual, it’s going to be a culture thing for the Mutable Business, not just a technology thing.

I’m an analyst, I spend all my time talking about the importance of collaboration in the mutable business workplace, it goes with the job. However, my observation is that a lot of collaboration initiatives never really deliver; and my work experience is that being able to do everything myself better than anyone else is the recipe for personal career success!

Nevertheless, I really do believe in collaboration – as an integral part of effective business processes. Team working is best, because the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. Being good at everything stops me from being excellent at any one thing (no time); and a collaborative team of people who balance general expertise with excellence (which they are prepared to share) in particular areas will really deliver. The Mutable Business that can crack collaborative team-working will win. But, it’s a cultural thing, much more than a technology thing (at first, anyway). My employer must arrange things so that my personal success comes from being a sharing collaborator, not a multi-talented prima donna!

Strangely, declaring that those who don’t collaborate will be sacked and spending big bucks on a collaboration “solution looking for a problem” that can do everything, if you can only afford the consultancy to work out how (you all know what I’m talking about), doesn’t really work.

A quick search on “collaboration project management tools” (and ignoring the ads) comes up with about 9 comparative tool reviews on page 1. It was page 2 before I got to something about actually managing projects – and that was attached to a tool one can buy. It wasn’t until page 5 (my Google search is not your Google search) that I reached something tool-agnostic, and that was Wikipedia, Collaborative project management.

OK, different search terms (and a different search history) would give different results. Leave out “tools” and you still get tools, but the Wikipedia article moves to page 1 and I find Here’s why project collaboration is just as important as project management, out why project collaboration is just as important as project management, but the results, rather unscientifically, tend to confirm my prejudices:

  1. There is plenty of interest in collaboration and collaboration tools;
  2. The idea that one should get the objectives and culture for collaboration right first and only then go out looking for tools isn’t generally accepted;
  3. “Collaboration” is (wrongly) thought of as a thing in its own right, rather than as an aspect of all business processes.

That last is interesting. Project management, for instance, delivers business outcomes. Collaboration helps it to deliver the right outcomes, cost effectively, but it isn’t an end in itself. It is especially important to the mutable business, in a constant state of evolution, because a single all-competent “change expert” will be a bottleneck, but it is only one aspect of effective project management (and will enable many other processes).

However, if you just have project management, you do get business outcomes, even if not as efficiently as you might like. If you just have collaboration, then you don’t have anything much.

Nevertheless, although culture and business vision come first, tools are still important. The right tools can facilitate cultural change and ensure that it is “sticky” (that is, that a dysfunctional culture doesn’t return when management oversight moves on).

In future blogs, I’ll look at building collaborative cultures that deliver business outcomes (usually through project/program/portfolio management) and at some tools that actually do help assist with this.

David Norfolk

My current main client is Bloor Research International, where I am Practice Leader with responsibility for Development and Governance. I am also Executive Editor (on a freelance basis) for Croner's IT Policy and Procedures (a part-work on IT policies). I am also on the committee of the BCS Configuration Management Specialist Group (BCS-CMSG). I became Associate Editor with The Register online magazine – a courtesy title as I write on a freelance basis – in 2005. Register Developer, a spin-off title, started at the end of 2005, and I was launch editor for this (with Martin Banks). I helped plan, document and photograph the CMMI Made Practical conference at the IoD, London in 2005 ( I have also written many research reports including one on IT Governance for Thorogood. I was freelance Co-Editor (and part owner) of Application Development Advisor (a magazine,, now defunct) for several years. Before I became a journalist in 1992, I worked for Swiss Bank Corporation (SBC). At various times I was responsible for Systems Development Method for the London operation, the Technical Risk Management framework in Internal Control, and was Network Manager for Corporate group. I carried out a major risk evaluation for PC systems connecting across the Bank’s perimeter to external systems and prioritised major security issues for resolution by the Bank’s top management in London. I also formulated a Security Policy for London Branch and designed a secure NetWare network for the Personnel Dept. Before 1988 I was an Advisory Systems Engineer in Bank of America, Croydon in database administration (DBA). on COBOL-based IMS business systems. Before 1982, I worked in the Australian Public Service, first as a DBA in the Dept of Health (responsible for IMS mainframe systems) and latterly as a Senior Rserach Officer 2 in the Bureau of Transport Economics. Specialties: I have the ability to extract the essence of significant technical developments and present it for general consumption, at various levels, without compromising the underlying technical truth.

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