How to avoid collaboration snares

Collaboration software designed to help project teams work together more efficiently is widely used in the private sector and beginning to make inroads with federal and state governments. One popular tool is Microsoft’s SharePoint software. But while applications such as SharePoint offer the potential for increased efficiencies, program managers must watch out for some pitfalls when they prepare to get a project off the ground, warned Scott Lock, principal consultant with Excella Consulting

Lock said setting up a SharePoint or any other collaboration software project is less about the technology and more about the underlying information architecture and governance. By making the experience user-friendly and seamless, he noted that customers would be more likely to adopt SharePoint. He warned that the advantage and disadvantage of SharePoint is that “you can do a lot out of the box.” But without strong information assurance and governance practices, there will be customer dissatisfaction.

A common failing in both the commercial and private sectors is a lack of prioritization in projects, Lock said in an interview. He explained that it is ultimately the organization’s responsibility to prioritize activities such as whether it is more important to identify all the people involved a project or to document all of the effort’s goals.

Federal agencies often need the advice of an outside vendor when attempting to set up a collaboration project or an information-sharing web page, he said. Lock added that he had yet to see a situation where the clients and end users were ready to set up a collaboration system by themselves. “In any effort you need a coach — whether it’s strong software development practices, accounting governance or golf — the best in the world have coaches. … It all boils down to having a strong lead to guide them through the process,” he said.

Prioritization is the key best practice for a successful SharePoint implementation in state and federal government, he said. After prioritization, attention must be paid to information architecture and governance. Managers should also take time and care to understand how they will roll out a program. “Know the problem you’re trying to solve. You can throw all the hardware you want at it, you can have all the bells and whistles and stand it up and say ‘OK here you go. Start using this.’ But if throw it over the fence, the adoption will be horrific,” he said.

Lock explained that “big bang” rollouts often fail. He said that managers should focus on small, typically department sized rollouts. They must demonstrate that they can successfully collaborate or build something, such as an application. Helping to solve business problems and demonstrating value will also help spur adoption, which will attract departments and groups within agencies. “If you don’t have users, then you don’t have people who are going to adopt and make it breathe,” he said. Lock estimated that about 20 percent of the government market is now using the Microsoft product. SharePoint 2010 recently received approval for use across the Defense Department.

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