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Implementation Strategies Maximize the Value of Collaboration Tools

Collaboration_ThoughtsJust as Excel fails as a tool for managing bill of materials (BOM), so does email fall short of the knowledge-sharing potential that only next-generation collaboration solutions can unlock. For innovative product companies, a modern collaboration tool breeds co-creation, shared value and a culture of communication that can be leveraged beyond the network.

Look no further than to Facebook or Twitter, which now trump email as the primary means of sharing information in the consumer world. Likewise, manufacturers are now looking to harness the power of collaboration solutions to improve business results.

A while ago, PLM expert Oleg Shilovitsky discussed the unproductive nature of introducing collaboration platforms without preplanned strategies for scaling and both restricting and encouraging organization-wide participation.

“Collaboration was and still is one of the most overused words in PLM and probably in enterprise software too. For the last few years, CAD and PLM vendors are trying to bring new concepts into the world of collaboration. Some of them are called “social”. However, it is less important how to call them. What is important is that some of them are repeating the same mistake of broadcasting messages to a wide group of people.”

He continued, “I think CAD/PLM vendors must learn a lesson of inefficient collaboration in large broadcasting tools. Having even department group of 50-100 people posting messages in activity stream can be an annoying behavior…I’d like also to have the ability to collaborate in small groups of people focusing on a specific problem or design issue.”

I agree with his perspective that a collaboration strategy can’t simply be introduced to its supply chain team with a “have at it” attitude. More is not more when it comes to collaboration strategies if no amount of process, rigor and dissemination is not overlaid to manage it. Instead, companies must have rollout strategies to ensure collaboration solutions and initiatives are maximized.

A rollout strategy addresses the different ways that enterprise social software can be deployed across the supply chain and where to place the focus within the organization.

Viral Rollout

Many innovative product companies choose to take a viral approach to deploying their solution.

Rather than target any particular business unit or employee group, a company can opt to announce the collaboration solution and let teams voluntarily join and invite co-workers to participate. However, even a viral rollout strategy demands structure; for instance, there should be a shared requirement in that there has to be agreed upon interdisciplinary leadership within each of these distinct groups for momentum to build. Optimally, these leaders possess: the gravitas, enough business card ethos, social collaboration skills, technical competency and the ability to confidently encourage others to participate.

Phased Rollout

Many enterprises opt to deploy their social collaboration solution in a phased approach to help focus the efforts and provide more executive control over the initiative. Rather than launch the tool to all users at once, specific groups are targeted. For instance, a company could choose to first launch an engineering targeted program with the addition of more focused training, messaging and end user support with the hopes of developing an advocate or “bell cow” to lead the others to adoption. Because the business processes and objectives of operations will be different than engineering, it is important to identify and profile the unique challenges and needs of each group.

A phased deployment centers on having a roadmap that shows the deployment timing for each group. This approach has the added value of generating buzz and demand from the groups who are not yet a part of the program. As other groups see and hear how the solution is used and the potential value it provides, heightened anticipation and its follow-on demand in other functions will percolate. In fact, many companies generate demand with a managed rollout by publicizing the success of other deployed groups.

Enterprise Rollout

The opposite of the phased rollout approach is an enterprise-wide rollout, where the solution is deployed to all users at the same time.

While this approach does require far more governance and upfront planning, and perhaps more risk, the upside is it can quickly mobilize the number of users activated on the solution.

If the decision is made to do an enterprise-wide rollout, high-level executives can have tremendous influence on how employees perceive their own participation within the new solution. Active participation from leaders coupled with effective communications to the workforce, demonstrates management commitment to the program. In essence, executives can serve as a role model to others for how to best utilize the solution.

There are new, socially UX familiar, collaboration tools that have the ability to help companies move past inefficient collaboration “methods” for sharing design files. Sending individual emails, datasheet files and standard operating procedures does not work. To maximize these collaboration tools, I believe an organization needs to consider a rollout strategy that will motivate employees to participate in an efficient manner. There’s the whole leading teams to the water—and then there’s making them drink.