Collaborative leverage is the ability to apply the right technology to the right process at the right time with the right people. It’s a concept I developed for my company,Collaborative Strategies, Inc., which talks about how to integrate collaboration into a work stream for the best adoption and highest return.
The value of collaboration
For the last 20 years, when people asked me about the value of collaboration they were mostly asking about the ROI for collaboration. It’s a hard question to answer — mostly because it’s the wrong question to ask!
Here’s why. Collaboration ROI is not like a slot machine, where you put X coins in, and you get Y coins out. It’s much more complex than that. You have to ask yourself, What degree of value do I want to assign to collaboration based on some outcome?
Collaborative value has to be taken in context, and the best context for collaboration is how it contributes to the desired outcome of a specific process. People see the value of collaboration when it’s part of a process, and people are willing to pay for a solution if it makes the process better. As a matter of fact, collaboration vendors who offer these process-oriented solutions have told me they can charge 10 times what they would for a general (non-process oriented) collaboration solution.
Where to apply collaboration and get leverage
To illustrate this practice, here are six areas within any company were teams can generate collaborative leverage.
1. Department: Sales, Account Management
Context: A sales guy gets a request for a big proposal, but it has a tight deadline and will need some specific expertise for a winning proposal. Normally, he might go through the current enterprise collaboration tool (SharePoint) which has a lot of overhead (and would take months for IT to make a specific application for proposal development), and fight for the expert’s time and attention.
Collaborative leverage: The sales person finds a online, collaborative project management tool that everyone he needs to work with on the proposal can access. He can then assign the expert to specific parts of the proposal, and bring in his manager to work on the pricing part. Because this and many other collaboration tools have task tracking, our guy can make sure everyone’s part is in on time, he can assemble the proposal, have the team and necessary managers review it and then get it to the prospect on time.
Benefits: Win more proposals, increase revenues, involve experts and deliver proposals on time.
2. Department: Customer Service and Support
Context: About 8 percent of the time the FAQ page or first line of support can answer customer questions. It’s that other 20 percent of the time, when a customer asks a complex question for which there is no easy answer that ends up taking up 80 percent of support resources. The goal is to focus on those 20 percent and make the responses more efficient.
Collaborative leverage: Use customer service tools that support specific in-context collaboration. In other words, something where the support rep can post the hard questions to a general discussion group where another reps may have dealt with a similar problem. Also give reps a common database that lets them post those hard-question answers to a knowledge base system, so the information is there for other reps who encounter a similar question. In this way the customer gets the best answer in the shortest amount of time, and the company saves on support costs.
Benefits: Give customers better answers for complex questions more quickly; happier customers.
3. Department: R & D, New Product Development
Context: Before a product prototype gets passed on to manufacturing, it’s critical that teams spend time bouncing ideas off each other and thinking the product all the way through to come up with the best ideas, specs, plans of action, adding margins of error, etc.
Collaborative leverage: Have a well-honed process of collaboration, coordination, and both a high level of interaction and security to get that first prototype in motion. Take IBM for example: If a strong collaboration process helps them get a chip to market a month sooner it could mean millions of dollars in revenue and market dominance.
Benefits: Quicker production time, greater revenues, market leadership.
4. Department: Supply Chain Management, Distributed Project Management (DPM), and Project Management
Context: Let’s say you have a team that’s spread globally (U.S., Mexico, China and Germany) and is working on the initial build of a new electric car. As it turns out, the steel coming from China – for assembly in Mexico – is not up to the standards specified in the initial requirements.
Collaborative leverage: Establish a secure collaborative space where your entire team can work through this supply chain issue (across time, space, language and culture). It could be a collaborative project management software tool, a digital communication or video systems, translators, visual aids – anything that brings all the groups together to work through problems and keep the project on schedule.
Benefits: Ability to partner with both customers and suppliers. Happier customers, better relationships with suppliers, better prices, more on-time delivery and the ability to efficiently manage complex supply chains.
5. Department: Training
Context: When I was a product manager at Oracle (many years ago) the initial marketing materials for a product was not always what the development team delivered. Sometimes, in order to meet critical deadlines, some functions weren’t included in the initial release, but could be included in an upgrade release soon after. This information had to be given to all the sales people so they don’t over promise if we under deliver.
Collaborative leverage: A large web conference with all the sales and marketing people involved is often required to explain what is in the current release, how to spin it with customers and what will be in a later release. Along with the web conference there have to be new marketing materials, and all of it has to be tied to a discussion, so that the same questions don’t have to be answered more than once, and all the information is in one place.
Benefits: Better company alignment around the brand, message, service. Guarantee that the sales and account teams are selling the right version of the product the right way!
6. Department: Crisis Management
Context: Let’s say you run a product line for a pharmaceutical firm. The product you sell is a well-known brand of an over-the-counter analgesic. Reports start coming in from various stores that people are getting sick from taking your analgesic.
Collaborative leverage: You need to pull a team of experts together that include a PR person, a chemist, a production person, a distribution person, and the sales people covering the territories with the worst outbreaks. Through a secure collaborative space (planning software, wiki, secure website) you can post all known data about the incidents. You can have the sales people get samples from the stores in question. You can coordinate your team of experts to determine if it’s a manufacturing problem, or something else. With all the data and experts at hand you determine that someone externally has been tampering with a few shipments. After leveraging your collaborative network, you can report to the public that the tainted lots of product have been removed from sale, and that an arrest has been made, thus saving your brand and revenues.
Benefits: Ability to quickly harness an expert team; deal with issues correctly and swiftly. Regain customer trust, avoids law suits.
“Collaborative leverage” is a powerful concept. To practice it requires a shift in your mental model, from one of general collaboration to process-specific collaboration. Once you make this shift, then you also have to find the right pain point in the right industry and the right process to apply.
How about you? Do you have your own spin or experience on collaborative leverage in action? Tell us about it in the Comments box – we want to hear from you!
David Coleman is the founder and Managing Director of Collaborative Strategies, Inc. (CSI) and he has followed the collaboration/social market for the last 25 years both as an industry analyst, writer, blogger and speaker. David can be reached at 650-342-9197, or on Twitter and Gmail @dcoleman100, or firstname.lastname@example.org. He welcomes your comments and questions on this blog/article.