The Things We Ignore When Focusing on Technology

imageI was reading Marc Anderson’s (@sympmarc) post on the SPTechCon newsletter this afternoon, and after completing my slow clap with affirmative nod in his general direction, I thought I’d share a couple thoughts to reinforce his message that collaboration is NOT about the underlying technology, but about helping teams get work done.

In his post, Marc did what I often do when I write — I piece together seemingly unrelated thoughts that, at least in my head, form some kind of pattern. He identified the pattern within three observations:

  1. People talk about SharePoint as if it is important, but it’s not — what we are trying to do WITH SharePoint is what is actually important.
  2. There are many ways in which we can define collaboration, and guess what? They’re all the right answer. Because different teams use different tools and techniques, who cares what some vendors thinks collaboration looks like. Agree as a team on what it should be for your organization, and if it works for you, great.
  3. People don’t want SharePoint to look like SharePoint, and they can get hung up on the out-of-the-box experience — so we should build something that "fits" their expectations, in so many words.

Marc summarizes his thoughts as follows: "Well, to me it confirms yet again that the technology really isn’t the point. Unless we’re clear on what we want to accomplish, how it’s connected to the organizational strategy, and how we can make it happen (independently of the tools), we can’t succeed." And that is where Marc is spot on (he’s such a bright lad, after all).

But before I get to my point, here are the random thoughts that were spinning through my mind as I read his post:

  1. Far too many decisions are being made by managers and executives based on the "old way" of doing things, namely reading an in-flight magazine highlighting some new collaboration technology, thinking to themselves "Yeah, I need to get me some of that" and then instructing their IT team to make it happen. But they forget to have a detailed conversation with the people who actually need to use the platform being built to find out if it is what they want and need.
  2. Even if end users really like the features of the shiny, new collaboration platform, if those new features are not tied to the needs of the business, it’s all for naught. You can have a host of happy employees and yet be woefully inefficient and ineffective in your systems and processes department. (Having said that, I’d much rather be in an organization with a happy and enthusiastic employee base on the wrong technology track than a miserable employee base with the best technology, any day of the year)
  3. Just because you talked with your end users about what they want and need, and took the time to ensure that their requirements actually align with the needs of the business does not mean you’ll auto-magically have the right measurements in place to ensure the whole thing doesn’t get off track within weeks or months. If you cannot define success, you cannot measure it. If you are not proactively monitoring and adjusting those measurements, your business requirements and your end user needs with mature and shift and grow — and eventually those measurements will fail.

So how do I tie all of this together in my own head?

I’ll start by reiterating what Marc stated: technology really isn’t the point. We need to be clear on what we’re trying to accomplish — including both the user experience and business requirements. And part of that business alignment means putting the right measurements in place to ensure we’re actually meeting those requirements as we move forward — measurements which might tell us that the technology is falling short due to changes within the business climate, or changes in our user requirements.

Where we get in trouble is when we try to allow the technology to do our own jobs. I call this "management by spreadsheet" or the idea that a bunch of KPIs identified a year ago may still be relevant to my team, my goals, and the scope of my business.

At the end of the day, collaboration is not about technology — it’s about people and culture. Simply put, you cannot remove the human element from the management of your collaboration activities.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Apps & Services MVP, and the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Lehi, Utah, through which he provides fractional-CMO for partners in the Microsoft ecosystem.