Why Johnny can’t collaborate

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Personal agendas versus online collaboration platforms

As a technical writer, I am a believer in online collaboration. The launch of an online collaboration platform starts off with the best of intentions but seems to collapse like a house of cards when it hits a technical, political, or business process snag. However, the fact remains that too often is “Johnny can’t collaborate.”

Platforms like SharePoint, Office 365, and productivity applications like Microsoft Office 2013 and even Adobe Acrobat enable project teams to collaborate on documents online without having to resort to email. There are also startups including Huddle, Asana, and Slack that are proving to be appealing options for team collaboration.

Here are some reasons why Johnny can’t collaborate:


There is much hype around online collaboration and collaboration tools in particular. With new “SharePoint killers” launching everyday and expensive consultants touting productivity gains that even if implemented the organization may never realize.

All of this noise goes to further muddy the waters for those seeking a collaboration platform that meets their business requirements.

The barrier for entry for collaboration platform startups can be surprisingly low, so I always advise people to pilot new collaboration platforms first and do their due diligence.

The email inbox has always been there

We can all bemoan the state of our email inboxes today. However, there is a sizeable population of users that use the inbox for project management and document management, which is unlikely to change unless management drives a stake into the email inbox as a document repository will change occur, and the move towards collaboration begin.

We don’t need no stinking change!

Regardless of whether an organization needs change in their document management and communications or not there are always going to be folks who don’t think there is a need to change. Some people dig in the heels when the way they’ve always done it is about to change.

No real budget and executive sponsorship

Moving to online collaboration requires executive sponsorship and budget to make it happen. It then takes the project team to make it happen. Moving to SharePoint or other similar platforms may fall under a larger initiative as the company going through a Sarbanes Oxley or COSO audit.

Fear of change in real or implied power structure

While even a SharePoint document library needs a site manager, when employees have documents, presentations, and other project artifacts on their local hard drives they have the power over what I like to call their “secret stash.” People have to come to themselves as the gatekeeper of their documents giving some personality types a feeling of power. Moving all documents to a collaboration platform like SharePoint, Huddle, or wiki changes that power structure even if it is just in the minds of some team members.

Collaboration isn’t in the corporate culture

When I’ve seen collaboration tools work, it has often been more about the corporate culture, not the technology choice. Organizations with a high percentage of remote workers, contractors, and freelancers already have online collaboration in their cultures. In more staid organizations where the majority of the workers are roosting in one cubicle farm switching to online collaboration, is a break from the routine.

Inadequate requirements gathering, training, & documentation

Deploying collaboration tools needs to be undertaken with the same care as any major technology initiative or implementation. Let’s say, you roll out SharePoint to your organization and teams expect to adopt it for document management and collaboration. There needs to be the resulting analysis, training, job aids, and other documentation. Short change analysis, documentation and training then users can be left in a lurch.

Bottom line

Sometimes the biggest challenge to online collaboration is the business user. My advice is to include the user community up front and spend the time managing change and involving the power users amongst the end user community in driving the development and ongoing management of your collaboration platform.

The original version of this post appeared on my personal blog.


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